Luke Bryan’s voice justifies a multitude of sins, chief among them his 18(!) #1 radio singles.
Free of crags or edges, Bryan’s voice is instantly identifiable on the country radio format he basically owns. Imagine the roundest, comfiest object in your home—maybe your well-worn papasan cushion, or the cashmere sweater you bought for your no-good precious dog, who treats everyone else with contempt when you’re not looking. Now picture crawling inside that comfort object, naked. Don’t worry; Bryan pictures you naked in roughly a fourth of his songs, albeit naked with Luke Bryan.
Still with me? Now imagine you and your enveloping comfort object are soaked: not soaked in a bracing Spring Break… Here to Party way, but in a still, calm, sensory deprivation tank way, cocooned by Bryan’s larynx and the juices that flow therein. Bryan’s voice has a unique physicality. Even while he’s inviting you, warmly, to share in indistinguishable good times and some ever-shifting philosophical construct he calls “Country,” the voice beckons more slyly and sinuously, inviting you to lose yourself inside its master’s cavernous throat.
That throat can hold multitudes. Whatever your type on the Country Enneagram (I tend to be an “Improvisational Gardener” with a “Frequent Cusser” wing), Bryan’s vision of country has a place for you. His own Georgia backwoods upbringing “might not have been you, but [he] can’t judge,” Bryan sings in “What Makes You Country,” a song he’s bound to sing Saturday night at Target Field, since it’s also the name of his tour. (Excepting “Muckalee Creek Water,” any Luke Bryan song title could also be the name of a stadium tour.)
Like his fellow stadium headliner (and former owner of country radio) Kenny Chesney, Bryan sings about every country type except over-the-road truckers and the incarcerated. From farmers to backroaders, beachcombers to chronic nostalgists, all have a place in his vision. He lingers on the genre’s unifying subjects: happy-go-lucky alcoholism, depressive-obsessive alcoholism, and rampant boning. But where Chesney’s sex jams draw from smooth ‘80s yacht rock, Bryan’s often sound steeped in millennial R&B, with drum machines and dripping effects. He’ll twang when the song calls for it, but you can tell he prefers to croon, opening that magic throat like a jewelry box to slip his laryngeal treasures into your tickly ear.
He can’t write songs worth a damn. A typical uptempo Luke Bryan number is a list of country signifiers with zero narrative significance. “Running bird dogs through the Georgia pines,” “‘cross a one-tree yard to a tin roof shotgun house,” “got me a jar full of clear”—fine images, but all as abstracted from felt reality as Bryan’s voice is immediate. He’s more believable singing tales of cell phone revenge (“Home Alone Tonight,” a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild composed with casual indifference to her vocal range) or cell phone addiction (“Light It Up,” not quite as harrowing as Tracey Thorn’s “Face”). Worst may be his entry into the field of Vapid List Songs Enumerating Deeply Felt Beliefs. That’d be Bryan’s most recent #1, “Most People Are Good,” with its works-righteousness heresy, “I believe them streets of gold are worth the work.” On the vapidity spectrum, the song falls somewhere between similar tunes by Savage Garden (“I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side”) and Don Williams (“I believe in babies”). To their credit, all three artists use their dogmatics to chip away at hetero-marriage norms, and all three sound extremely relaxed about it.
Still, while most Luke Bryan songs are bad, I believe some ain’t half as bad as they look. He generally gets everything right once per album. “All My Friends Say” is a rocking cry for help, “Move” obeys its title, and “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” and “That’s My Kind of Night” are world-historical cornfield dance parties. Bryan’s session players leave plenty of space in their arrangements, so when banjo ricochets off kick drum and guitar riffs snap everything into place, bodies move. If his live band follows suit, watch out—the whole of Target Field could get danced into the gaping abyss of the singer’s maw.
With: Sam Hunt, Jon Pardi, Morgan Wallen, DJ Rock
Where: Target Field
When: 5:30 p.m. Sat. July 21
Tickets: $44.75-$94.75; more info here