I’ll be damned. Jason Aldean might’ve just released the best album in the last decade-plus of his career.
The problem for Jason Aldean though, is that he’s set such a low bar for himself, that’s still not saying much, at all. Jason Aldean is the Charlie Daniels of releasing one note, bellicose, blue collar odes full of mindless beer chugging and small town bluster. It’s the kind of music you blast in a lifted truck you’re two payments behind on when you’re trolling past your ex-girlfriend’s house after she just took out a restraining order on you.
The truth of the matter is when you actually take the time to listen to the studio albums of some of country music’s worst modern offenders such as Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and so forth, you’re often surprised at the amount of album cuts that are actually decent. Jason Aldean though? Not so much. In the back half of his career, Jason Aldean has become the true embodiment of the great American meathead in country music form, and he machine guns out shallow tracks with uncanny consistency. His last studio record 9 might be the prefect example of this.
So expectations couldn’t have been lower. In fact, the only reason the commitment was made to even listen to this thing was in hopes it would be a conduit to vent all pent up frustrations from 2021 by mercilessly roasting what could only be a country music monstrosity. Preambles from Jason Aldean about how this album embodied a return to his roots were cast off as the sophistry these smokescreens almost always are. In fact, the more proclamations of authenticity from mainstream artists, the more likely the work is to be a letdown.
And Macon is a letdown if you’re an actual country music fan. But I would be lying if I didn’t confess that I was actually somewhat surprised by the content of this album named after Jason Aldean’s hometown. Again, this is not a “good” album by any stretch. But it’s good for Jason Aldean, and might symbolize a change in direction from him, which makes it an interesting specimen.
Commonly Jason Aldean’s songs never address the sad side of life, unless they’re lamenting the evaporation of rural America, which he does in some respects on this album in the song “Small Town Small”—his current single. But Macon is one sad heartbreak song after another. Songwriting wise, this is an old school country music tearjerker. Of course, turning these songs into arena rock anthems, and adding the artificial beats of hip-hop intros addles the effort, at least in the first half of this record.
But the second half of Macon you could easily compare to some of mainstream country’s more traditional artists such as Jon Pardi and Lainey Wilson. “Story For Another Glass” is pretty standard mainstream country song, for about 2006, which makes it a bit more welcome in 2021. Aldean’s cover of “Heaven” by Bryan Adams is surprisingly soulful, and sticks pretty much to the original.
“This Bar Don’t Work Anymore” is a good “bottle let me down” concept for a country song, and by golly, you may even hear some steel guitar coming through in the mix. “The Sad Songs” is an even better concept, and the steel guitar is even more prominent until it’s outright blazing near the end. Here Jason Aldean sings about how his “rowdy raise ’em up songs ’bout some honky tonkin'” (which this album surprisingly has none of) don’t present his whole story, and to know him, you have to hear his sad songs too. And again, sad songs is about all Macon is.
The album basically ends with “Watching You Love Me,” which may have more of an R&B heart to it, but again draws you in with the steel licks, the hooky chorus, and the quality writing, until all of a sudden you’re asking yourself “what if’s” about Jason Aldean’s career, and why he’s burying this kind of quality content in the back half of his tenth record as opposed to hanging his hat on it.
Macon ends with five live tracks from Aldean’s first few albums. I’m not sure it’s worthwhile to critique them, because as mild as Aldean’s studio work might be, his live stuff does it one worse. But when you hear him tear into his early hit “Amarillo Sky” from 2005, it does remind you of a time when Jason Aldean wasn’t terrible. It’s then followed by the song “Johnny Cash” that also became an early Aldean hit, and was originally recorded by Tracy Byrd.
Again, don’t worry that Saving Country Music has gone all soft. Jason Aldean’s Macon is not something worth writing home about. But it does represent somewhat of a sea change from what we’ve come to expect from Jason Aldean and artists like him. Perhaps with more country-sounding artists like Luke Combs setting the pace, someone like Jason Aldean has no other choice but to lean back into his roots, find better songs, and make them sound more country.
We’ll see what the 2nd half of this 2-release project has in store when Georgia drops in April 2022. But for now, Macon makes a surprising move towards better, and more country-sounding songs that we should encourage from an artist like Jason Aldean.
1 1/4 Guns Down (4/10)