Sound — 8
First things first, I'll admit that I've taken jabs at Jason Aldean in some of my other reviews. At those times, I was very frustrated with the modern country scene and was overlooking the rest of his music based on a couple of image-related tracks that got overplayed. Quite frankly, when Aldean veers away from image and concentrates on what he does best - traditional themes with surprisingly unique instrumental arrangements - he's easily one of the best artists on the national radio waves. "Night Train" is the perfect example. Only one of the 15 tracks approaches "Dirt Road Anthem" territory, and that is the laughably bad "1994". Otherwise, there's only one other dud on the record - "The Only Way I Know", an awkward collaboration with Luke Bryan and Eric Church. It's not that the song doesn't have potential. Its problem is that it has three artists with three significantly different sounds trying to adhere to one stripped down arrangement, and it doesn't work. Now that I've dissected the two bad songs on the album, let's talk about how impressive it is that this record has 13 stellar songs on it. You don't find this often in country radio, Eric Church being the only exception. Aldean has always released solid albums. They're worth the money, and "Night Train" is no exception. You can expect distorted guitars, faint steel rides, and soaring vocals. Highlights include "Wheels Rollin", "Talk", "Staring At The Sun", "Black Tears", and "Water Tower".
Lyrics — 7
The only downside to Jason Aldean is that he rarely writes the songs he records. This is the second straight record that he's released without penning a single track, and as a writer myself, I hold a special place for the creator when it comes to art. The creator makes the performer relevant. Anyway, the lyrics on this album are surprisingly good, now and then dipping into cliche country territory without overkill, but otherwise meandering into surprisingly heavy topics ("Black Rain"). The thing about Aldean as a performer is that he convinces you that he feels what the song portrays, and he's always been able to do that. Is he the best singer in the world? No, his vocal range seems a bit flat to be honest, but who cares when he makes you feel the song? Lyrical highlights include the wonderful "Talk", the incredibly moving "Staring At The Sun", the punishingly dark "Black Tears", and the incredibly nostalgic "Water Tower", a gone from home country song that for once feels legitimate. Not since Alabama's "Down Home" has a song about home hit me so hard.
Overall Impression — 7
I really want to rank this as an 8 or 9 as a whole, but "1994" is not allowing me to do that. The song is just God awful. It fails in every way that "Dirt Road Anthem" succeeded. It is a blatant attempt to capitalize off of prior success with the idea, and it fails miserably. It'd be fine if the song was just a dud, but it's an obnoxious dud that sticks with you as a listener, and then you combine it with the laughably mediocre "The Only Way I Know", and the album has to take a hit. Aside from those two laughers, the album is incredibly emotional and far from run of the mill, though people tend to dismiss Aldean like I admittedly used to. The truth is, you can go back through all of his albums and find incredibly touching music underneath the bravado and fire. "Night Train" is perhaps the best example of that since the incredible "Relentless". Some may call this album a step back, but to this listener it's a stellar return to form.