Universal Music Group Nashville · April 3, 2020
Much like attending class, Sam Hunt’s album is better in retrospect. Five years after his debut album Montevallo captivated a bored country music fan base, Hunt delivers Southside with 12 country-fusion tracks fit for radio. Country fans will welcome Sam Hunt’s familiar sound and cordial lyrics, now more than ever.
Young couples are trying long-distance for the first time. Older couples are glued together in the same house for weeks at a time. We’re stepping on a couple dozen egg shells and the faults of our loved ones are shining brighter than before. Hunt’s message of love from the “old normal” offers up a bit of musical healing amidst the chaos.
Hunt’s country music falls into a category many are calling Boyfriend Country because his music strums a broad chord with people who are in or looking for love. Many of his songs are inspired by the long and rocky history of his relationship with his now wife Hannah Lee Fowler. The couple separated shortly after the release of Montevallo, and Hunt’s long road to regain her trust inspired the songs “Downtown’s Dead,” and “Drinkin’ Too Much.” Though his attempt to weave an emotional lowpoint into the album is sweet, the melodramatic lyrics of each song yield more laughs than tears.
“Everywhere I go looks like the place to be
I see people that I know
And I feel like there’s no one here but me.”
– “Downtown’s Dead” by Sam Hunt
Hunt faces criticism for his repetitive sound. Some of these remarks are fair; he uses a finite set of synthetic beats and lyrical progressions, and fancies placing sing-song verses in tight spaces with little regard for continuity. Over the past five years, those aspects of his music have not changed. What has changed is his perspective on a great love story—his own. Though we’ve heard many of the songs before, Hunt delivers a sincere apology in a time when we could all use a lesson in compassionate love.
“I’d put the whiskey back in the bottle,
I’d put the smoke back in the joint,
Look up at the sky and say ‘Okay, okay, okay,’
I think you made your point.”
– “2016” by Sam Hunt
The album opens with “2016,” a song most likely written about the year of boozing and disregard that led to separation from Fowler. The song softens us up with admirable levels of self-awareness as he begs us to hear out his argument for the long break between albums.
The album’s largely successful singles, including “Kinfolks” and “Body Like a Backroad,” act as strong tethering points for the argument that he can pull off country fusion. Then, with “Nothing Lasts Forever,” Hunt uses a sad fiddle between verses to connect the song’s R&B beat to country roots. Acoustic guitar and banjo accompany the bass drop and dubbed background vocals on “Young Once” to create an impressive arrangement, which serves as his most dynamic fusion of hip-hop and country to date.
Southside dips in quality with the failed moral teaching of “That Ain’t Beautiful.” His attempt to reinforce individuality is dismembered by his condescending tone when telling a young, struggling woman that her life choices aren’t beautiful. His failure to read the room is short-lived as he moves forward with “Let it Down,” a southern mix of twang and pop that showcases his ability to add a taste of his home state, Georgia to a track worthy of airtime on any radio station.
Sam Hunt’s Southside is saturated with hits. The album tells a story, albeit a choppy one, of an insecure man who worked hard to win a woman back. Sam Hunt & Hannah Lee Fowler’s love story comes with the fallout, triumph and reconciliation that would make for a great episode of Modern Love. Until that happens, Southside gives Hunt’s fans a few tracks worth cherishing in his return to album production, as well as messages of love from the “old normal” we are all missing.