Summertime, good-lookin’ women and small-town livin’ are just a few of the things that show up on Luke Bryan’s sixth album. They’re all subjects that might be expected on an effort titled What Makes You Country. Other songs, however, delve into a perhaps less-familiar topic: the heart of fatherhood.
When asked about his role as a father, Bryan recently told tasteofcountry.com, “When you start having a family and boys, they certainly influence who you are as a person and as an artist.” He also added, “Just enjoy every moment. It certainly does fly.”
We hear wistful wisdom on certain songs here, as well as stories about putting down roots and investing in the relationships that matter. When, I should say, Bryan’s not taking the town by storm and “livin’ the country life” with a drink perpetually in hand.
In “Pick It Up,” Bryan shares his passions with his sons, hoping one day his boys will embrace them, too: “I put a fishing rod by your bed/Right next to a Bible/I leaned a guitar in the corner of your room/ … Hoping you might pick it up one day.” He wisely realizes his influence as a father: “‘Cause I helped make you/But I didn’t never try to make you pick it up/You just pick it up, pick it up.” And he hopes they’ve noticed how Bryan treats their mother, so they can one day imitate him: “Dancing and kissing your Mama in the kitchen/Treatin’ her like a princess, hoping you might pick it up one day.”
“What Makes You Country” offers potential examples of what makes someone country (“Did it come from your daddy and mama?/Were you converted by an Alabama song on the radio?”), but ultimately suggests it’s a kind of inner authenticity that transcends stereotypes: “Just be proud of what makes you country.” “Hooked On It” also shares some reasons Bryan loves the country life, including “the feeling of summer in the South” and “the dust flying up from a plow.” And in “Win Life,” a man says that love and raising children are what matter most, and that life is “more miracles than magic tricks.”
“Most People Are Good” majors on old-fashioned values such as innocence, wonder, forgiveness and hard work. Bryan declares, “I believe kids oughta stay kids as long as they can/Turn off the screen, go climb a tree, get dirt on their hands/I believe we gotta forgive and make amends/ … I believe in working hard for what you’ve got.” He also counsels that humanity isn’t as bad as we might think if all we do is watch TV: “I believe if you just go by the nightly news Your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose.”
In “Land of a Million Songs,” Bryan lists the reasons why he’s “always searching for a little something different to say” as he writes music. He warns a man to treat his girlfriend right in “Like You Say You Do” And in “Out of Nowhere Girl” a man is blown away by a remarkable woman who came “out of nowhere.”
“Hungover In A Hotel Room,” which features Emily Weisband, is a seductive conversation between a man and a woman. She entices him, saying, “If you want it baby, call me back.” After that, sex, alcohol and tobacco mingle in said hotel room: “Spent the whole night last night all messed up, making love.” The next morning, he finds her “stretched out/Lost somewhere in a dark whiskey dream,” and he orders “two bloody Marys and some cigarettes” from hotel concierge.
Elsewhere, Bryan is mesmerized by an inebriated woman in a club, gushing, “She’s A Hot One.” She “skips the d— line/She starts feelin’ the buzz about shot one/… She might be a mess, but she’s a hot one.” In “Drinking Again” Bryan lists all the scenarios in which he might find himself with a “cold beer” as well as “the shot tray” and tons of “friendly” girls. “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” and “Drive This Thing” also allude suggestively to sex.
“Bad Lovers” attests to the fact that while a couple may be “all messed up, and everything in between,” they’ve never, “not one time,” been “bad lovers” while “under the covers.” And in “Light It Up,” a dysfunctional relationship glows as a man checks his phone after a fight—never mind that he’s both drunk and driving.
In “Most People Are Good,” Bryan refers to the “neon lights” of a bar and seemingly affirms any kind of romantic pairing: “You love who you love/Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.”
“What Makes You Country” tips the hat to “wild-a– buddies.” “Win Life” says that “if your glass is half full, you better make d–n sure it’s whiskey.” A “cold beer” and “honky-tonk buzz” have Bryan “Hooked On It.”
So what, exactly, does make someone country? In an interview with CMT News, Bryan answered that question himself:
“I think that what makes me country is where I was raised (in) Leesburg, Georgia. How I was brought up saying ‘Yes sir,’ ‘No sir,”Yes, ma’am,’ ‘No, ma’am,’ hopefully with manners, and raised with a work ethic, and raised in the outdoors fishing and hunting and playing sports. I would say definitely it starts with my small-town upbringing and how we were raised; church on Sundays as much as we could. But just enjoying life and living life in a small town.”
That sounds like a way of life most of us would embrace. It’s no wonder Bryan strives to pass it down to his boys. He wants them to be raised with their Bibles, to love their future wives and to enjoy life. If only he’d stopped right there.
But he doesn’t. Because for all his affection for family and fatherhood, Luke Bryan’s not quite ready to let go of songs that exalt excess in the form of wild nights, sexual exploits and drinking for any ol’ reason.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, loving raising their little guy, Judah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).