It’s been a long road to get to the sophomore album Southside for Sam Hunt. Following the massive success of Montevallo and the hits from that, Hunt took his time creating a record that would measure up to that tight, cohesive mammoth of a debut project. An instant star, Sam Hunt brought a new sound to the mainstream of country music and while he suffered from traditionalists for it, Hunt became the biggest star of the genre while also bringing in new fans. So how did he follow up that success? Well, first he dropped “Body Like A Backroad” which became the biggest hit of his career (to date) and it was prudent to add that song to Southside (even if its a 3 year old track prior to the album’s street date). The two other singles released prior to the album’s announcement were “Downtown’s Dead” from 2018 and “Kinfolks,” released in late 2019. The former song almost derailed Sam Hunt’s career but the singer recovered with the latter a song which is really a perfect bridge song from Montevallo to Southside.
“Young Once,” features mile-a-minute vocals with spare percussive elements backing up the melodic mixture of banjos and sounds that are more associated with arthouse pop but it somehow works. The dynamics of the verses to the choruses allow for the song to stand out. The album’s opener “2016” is easily the most traditional country sounding song he’s ever recorded. It has a confessional singer/songwriter feel to it. Something you’d more likely hear it at a songwriter round at the Bluebird than hear it as the opening track on a Sam Hunt album in 2020 but here we are. It’s an easy to like song and could very well become the song which tells traditionalists that Hunt actually is a country singer (which, duh, he is). “That Ain’t Beautiful” is a slow burning dose of honesty about the one you love showing their bad side. It has that talking/singing thing he’s known for and it works and doesn’t stay longer than it has to.
A propensity for songs that don’t drag on has long been a strong point for Sam Hunt and not one song on Southside lasts longer than 3:55 minutes long, and that’s the first song on the record. “Let It Down” has a twangy, sing-a-long feel to it and while it doesn’t really say too much, it’ll work well in Sam’s live show and could very well become a radio hit with its programmed drums mixed with bluegrass harmonies and instrumentation. “Sinning With You” was a digital preview track a little while back and while it really didn’t feel like something a modern radio station would play, it did show a different time and sound to Sam Hunt, the same thing which can be said about “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s,” a song which blends sounds of R&B, 90s country and 2020s production techniques to give me the sense of what could become another big hit for Hunt on the radio.
Like Montevallo, Southside is largely about Hunt and his relationship with his now wife. It chronicles the ups and downs and ins and outs of their relationship and perhaps nothing feels like that than Southside’s closing track, “Drinking To Much” does for Hunt. There’s an emotive honesty to the music he makes and that’s probably why it’s hard for him to make records the way others make records. Six years is a long time for any artist to survive between records but it’s also hard for most artists to follow an album like Montevallo and Southside, while not as immediate and radio-ready as Montevallo, is a successful collection of songs and one that showcases an artists growing into his own stardom, even if he’s as uncomfortable with that role as his UMG label mate Chris Stapleton is. Sam Hunt is a unique star in country music and in a world of sameness, it’s nice that he’s around making records like Southside.