These days, albums don't generally hover for months on end near the top of the charts the way they once did. (Unless they happen to bear the name of one Taylor Swift, that is.) In the words of Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, they're generally "here today, gone later today."
It seems Sam Hunt didn't get the memo.
Hunt's country debut, Montevallo, infuses classic country themes and sounds with some surprising, decidedly non-country elements. Like, say, tossing in some almost rap-style segments. You'll even hear a smattering of pseudo-dubstep Skrillex-y synth stabs here and there, too.
Call it new-millennium country.
It's the kind of artistic risk that could have come off as just plain weird. Instead, Montevallo connected with country fans. And then just kept connecting. (Nearly 10 months after its debut, it's still loitering in the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 album chart.)
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
"Take Your Time" turns some well-worn country clichés on their head as Hunt tries to convince a woman to give him the time of day. He insists he's not drunk ("No, girl, I'm not wasted"), not interested in a one-night stand ("I don't wanna steal your covers/ … I don't wanna go home with you") and not an obsessively needy loser ("I don't wanna blow your phone up") who's likely to monopolize all her time ("I don't wanna steal your freedom"). Instead, he says simply, "I don't know you, but I want to/ ... Come on, let's see where it goes."
Among the memories of country life Hunt praises on "Raised on It" are "Mama's prayers and Daddy's speech," things he admits he couldn't fully appreciate until he was older ("A little too young and dumb to see/Just what it all meant to me"). The song also praises hard work and respecting your roots.
But "Raised on It" glorifies such things as fight-filled riverside parties ("Trunk music and headlight fights/Dodging the smoke from a riverbank fire") fueled by excessive alcohol consumption ("PBR and burnt CDs/ … We stayed up all night long/Made our drinks too strong").
"Speakers" luxuriates sensually in a pickup-truck hookup, replete with romance-novel specificity about the carnal contact. It ends with the declaration, "Love in the back of the truck with the tailgate down." Later, Hunt adds even more Harlequin-like details (among them, "I know your body language, you ain't gotta translate it"), panting, "Girl, I'm on fire, girl, you're on fire." Likewise, "Leave the Night On" narrates a story of staying out all night with a woman … with predictable results ("We'll find a road with no name, lay back in the slow lane"). And yet another all-night soirée crosses into disturbing-the-peace territory on "House Party," where Hunt brags of the loud goings-down, "We'll wake up all the neighbors 'til the whole block hates us/And the cops show up and try to shut us down."
A guy on "Ex to See" realizes that the reason his new girlfriend is being so affectionate in public is just to make her ex jealous ("You don't want me, you just want your ex to see"). But in the end he decides to just go with it despite the fact that he knows he's being used ("I guess I can play along/ … Girl, come here and kiss me/I just want your ex to see"). On "Single for the Summer," Hunt recognizes that a breakup is "messing me up," then "copes" by indulging lust and alcohol ("Tanned legs sliding out of the sea, stilettos at the crosswalk/ … I'm drowning in the freedom/Blame it on bikinis, party girls and martinis in the sunshine/ … Saying the wrong thing's right, chasing midtown girls, holding hands and forgetting their names/ … All these pretty young thangs/Can make you forget a good-bye's sad").
Lines on "Make You Miss Me" suggest that a couple has been sleeping together ("Girl, I'm gonna make you miss me/Make you wish you were sleeping in my shirt"). Two lovebirds trespassing at an airport (they're parked and watching planes take off) get arrested but fall more in love in the back of the police cruiser on "Cop Car." "Take Your Time" has Hunt saying a woman he's attracted to could have "told me to go to h---."
Some country purists have debated whether Sam Hunt's debut is actually country at all. As I mentioned, rap, rock, pop and even EDM elements certainly imbue Montevallo with sounds rarely heard in a genre traditionally defined by twang and drawl.
If you ask Hunt, though, the former Middle Tennessee State and University of Alabama at Birmingham quarterback insists that his material still qualifies as genuine. "I do think I'm country," he told Rolling Stone in 2014, shortly after Montevallo's bow. "But your definition of that word might be different from my definition. In my opinion, country music, the sound of country, has always evolved. But the one thing that has not changed is the story element. And I think country songs are truthful songs about life written by country people."
I have to side with Hunt here—though not in a particularly positive way. Because for all that might superficially sound new and modern on Montevallo, in the end, Sam Hunt's debut is a pretty standard country album: We get a smidgen o' prayer, a pinch o' hard work, and a bushel full o' glorified, countrified misbehavior in the back of a pickup truck parked down by the river.