Audio Mixer: Patrick Thrasher.
Recording information: Sound Emporium, Nashville, TN.
Photographer: Joseph Llanes.
As a partial architect of bro-country, Cole Swindell can't be expected to jettison the swaggering sound once it starts to get a little long in the tooth. As a commercially savvy songwriter, however, he knows he needs to expand his reach for a second album, which is what he does on 2016's You Should Be Here. Dialing back the party tunes that gave him number one hits, Swindell nevertheless doesn't entirely abandon his suburbanite anthems. He does, however, move his way toward minor keys and adopts hints of the looped R&B rhythms Sam Hunt popularized in 2015. Tellingly, he also embraces themes that bely a slight maturation, or at least heartbreak: he's no longer chillin' while asking a girl to dance for him, he's wishing the party wasn't over and grappling with memories that don't leave. Such ruminations mean You Should Be Here moves along at a slightly slow gait -- the one time the tempo really gets kicking is in "No Can Left Behind," a drinking song stowed away at the end -- but that does give it a casual crossover vibe, one that never suggests Swindell is gunning for the middle of the road. That slyness turns out to be his greatest asset: beneath that everyday grin he not only knows what sells, but he knows how to look like he's not selling any wares, which is the key to a successful country-pop artist. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine