Recording information: Black River Soundstage; Blackbird Studios; Superphonic.
Photographer: Eric Brown.
Chris Janson's story is not atypical. For years, the Nashville native toiled away as a songwriter and performer, sometimes coming close to the spotlight only to find well-laid plans crumble at the last minute. He wrote songs strong enough to attract the attention of established stars -- Tim McGraw released "Truck Yeah" in 2012 -- but it wasn't until he released "Buy Me a Boat" -- a wry aspirational country-rocker with a theme not a million miles away from Brad Paisley's "River Bank" -- in 2015 when he struck gold, and deservedly so. "Buy Me a Boat" is sharp and funny, demonstrating Janson's skills as a writer and singer -- he knows how to deliver the punch lines -- and if its accompanying album isn't quite up to its standards, it's nevertheless the work of an accomplished writer who knows how to sculpt a song for a wide audience. If Buy Me a Boat can be faulted, it's because its diversity often plays like a demo tape, with Janson crafting songs for any possible contemporary country audience. He doesn't push the bro-country button too hard, but he has party anthems ("Power of Positive Drinkin'") and hooky rockers ("Right in the Middle") mixing next to sticky ballads and odes to Jesus. All the different sounds feel like Janson is covering his bases, hoping that one of these tunes will click, and this can sometimes show the limits of his performing range: whether he's singing a rocker or a ballad, he's better when the production is a bit beefier, as it contrasts with his appealingly thin voice. This means that Buy Me a Boat is a debut, one with where the highlights shine brighter due to its occasional muddle, but even if he's sorting out his own distinctive voice, it's clear Janson has the chops to get him where he wants to go. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine