In a world where superstars are seemingly made overnight in some sort of factory, it’s taken Chris Janson more than a minute to become the star he was destined to be. I first heard him sing live on a Holly Williams album a decade ago and then saw him perform a solo set and knew he was a star at that very moment because seeing Chris Janson live is believing. Three record label deals later (the first two folded), Chris Janson finally broke through a couple years back with “Buy Me A Boat” and three albums later, we have his third #1 single “Good Vibes” opening up Real Friends, a record which is entirely co-written by Chris Janson himself and features a team of co-producers in Brett Cecil, Zach Crowell and Brock Berryhill. Throughout it all, Janson is the consistent thread as he comes into his own, not only as a writer/producer but as a singer too.
There’s a bit of Hank Jr-like swagger on “Say About Me,” the mile-a-minute talking song that’s as boastful as a Kid Rock song as it is humble about where he’s come from (and will serve as a great show opening song) while “Good Vibes” really is a song of it’s time as it’s about having a good time, a good life and ignoring the problems of the divisive world. “Waitin’ On 5” is a song that could have Janson taking over “Finally Friday” as the radio song to hear at the end of a work day, only this one could very well be one that’s played by country radio stations nationwide every day at five. “Hawaii On Me” implores Janson’s family to have a good time on him when he shuffles off this mortal coil (and does so in a tuneful, Earl Thomas Conley-like way).
As a general theme, Real Friends is an album where songs come and go in a quick clip. They’re fun, fresh, and — at times — emotionally impactive. There’s dance-club jams like “Check” mixed with thoughtful (“Everybody’s Going Through Something”) to general Blake Shelton-like vibes throughout in terms of Janson’s vocal style and approach (which definitely is interesting when they duet on title track “Real Friends,” a song which very well could be a single down the line). Chris Janson is not unlike most stars in that he knows who he is and definitely knows what he isn’t. He’s a country music singer, songwriter and entertainer. So even when rapper Offset joins in on a remixed version of “Say About Me,” it doesn’t feel fake. It’s just another way to expand his audience a little bit. The fans of other genres and sounds may come along but they know who he is.