Old Boots, New Dirt sounds good without really saying much. Jason Aldean’s sixth studio album rolls off into dirt roads of soft rock, hard rock, and classic country—with anthems, ballads, and even some R&B. The reigning Academy of Country Music (ACM) male vocalist of the year (admittedly a title that means very little) Aldean can sing pretty much anything. His thick falsetto is fused with power throughout the new album. Aldean’s voice and the appearance of musical variety define the album.
Indeed, Aldean dabbles in several forms here—soft rock in “Too Fast,” hard rock in “Gonna Know We Were Here,” classic country in “If My Truck Could Talk,” and in some R&B touches with “Sweet Little Somethin’” and “Burning It Up.” But adding some synth drums to real drums doesn’t really change the essence of Aldean’s style. It’s still about big choruses, trucks, and some moonlight. This isn’t meant to be a damning accusation. It’s just what he does best.
To his credit, Aldean has never dabbled in “Bro Country,” the sub-genre populated by the whiny likes of Florida Georgia Line and their crowd of cowboy dressed fraternity brothers. Aldean has more steel than “the country bros.” He doesn’t whine. When he says he loves a truck and a woman—like he does in “If My Truck Could Talk” and “Miss That Girl”—he sounds like he really means it.
Despite its title, Old Boots, New Dirt is surprisingly light on the obligatory beer, truck, and girl references, so far as country albums go.
Well okay, there are plenty of girls mentioned in the album, but country boys aren’t the only ones hung up on the ladies. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Drake. Sure, Aldean does have a track titled “If My Truck Could Talk,” to which I’m sure the truck would respond, “Eyes on the road, you weirdo.” But “the truck” or his first real hit “Big Green Tractor” has always been more than just a vehicle he can give pretty, jean-clad girls rides with. Aldean is obsessed with these images, these little immaculate country moments—“the southern sky, sitting back behind that moon” in “Tonight Looks Good on You.”
It’s generally pointless to read into Aldean’s lyrics. He’s not telling much of a story here. He doesn’t operate with the lyrical wit of Brad Paisley or lyrical fury of Eric Church. But he can sing. He’s got the vocal chops to match pretty much anyone in music. And while his steely voice is in fine form here, it’s hard to tell if Old Boots, New Dirt carries the same heavy-weight mashers as the previous two albums (Night Train and My Kind of Party). Those songs, like title track “Night Train” and “Dirt Road Anthem,” told just enough of a story to go with Aldean’s booming voice. Most of Aldean’s songs sound nice the first time you hear them and generally remain nice for a little while before they, like most songs, become repetitive. But a good Aldean song sticks with you.
Unfortunately, it takes the album a full 15 tracks to finally show off the best of Aldean with “Two Night Town.” It’s the only song that tells an interesting story, one of a man who spends “three nights in a two night town.” Other songs tell some moonlit tales, but none that really capture the listener like the last. “It was women / It was lovin’ / It was alcohol / It was everything the Bible said will make a man fall.” Aldean’s voice takes center stage, away with the melodramatic riffs and unwieldy synths—just the voice and a ringing, lingering guitar.
With the right words and the right arrangement, Aldean can make one honky tonk of a song. And even without that combination, Aldean can make good songs for easy listening. Most of country, however, does fall into this category of easy listening, and to be great in the genre demands a bit of an edge, and much of Old Boots, New Dirt is lacking that.
Featured Image Courtesy of Broken Bow Records