There’s no denying that Lee Brice is well on his way to being one of the biggest names in modern country music. His breakout hit “Love Like Crazy” spent a record-breaking 56 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and garnered two ACM nominations, and at the time of this writing, the single “A Woman Like You” (from his new release Hard 2 Love) is sitting comfortably in the Number 2 spot on the Country Chart. So when the new record hit shelves this week, I was anxious to see what this talented singer/songwriter had in store for his sophomore release.
To be completely honest, my first impression was mild disappointment, but that quickly faded. Let me explain.
The bad news first: I felt the record had a little trouble finding its way at first. Brice started off in this business writing songs for other artists, and when that happens, it’s sometimes hard to find your own voice as an artist. I felt that a little bit with the album opening. The first four songs literally took me through four different sub-genres of country: opening with country-rock in the title track “Hard to Love;” then old-school country with “A Woman Like You;” pop-driven country with “That’s When You Know It’s Over;” followed by a bad-boy Toby Keith-esque raucous vibe with “Parking Lot Party.” It felt like four different records. Fortunately, as the tracklist progresses, Brice settles into his own country-rock groove, and the songs get more consistent in their flavor.
But here’s where I forgive the weaknesses of Hard 2 Love: lyrically, this record has a great deal of heart. There are some really poignant, deep, honest emotional moments here, without diving into sappy sentimentality. I dare anyone to listen to “I Drive Your Truck” without tearing up just a little; other key moments include “That Way Again,” “Life Off My Years” and “One More Day.” While musically the album doesn’t always know what it is supposed to be, in theme and content, Lee Brice is simply brilliant. In one area, he teeters on the precipice of sentimentality by tacking a couple of personal phone conversations onto the end of a couple of songs (one with his fiancée in “See About a Girl” and one with his son on “One More Day”). However, while a bit risky, it’s done tastefully.
My personal favorite song on the record came as a bit of surprise. “Beer,” Brice’s ode to hops, is particularly catchy, and is no doubt destined to become a live show favorite.
Hard 2 Love is not the best record I’ve ever heard, nor do I think it’s the best we can expect from Lee Brice. But then again, this guy’s come a long way for having just gotten started. Overall, Hard 2 Love…isn’t hard to love. I have a feeling this one will make it into the personal collections of millions of country fans.
ALBUM RATING: 3.5 Stars (out of five)