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Album Review: Jason Aldean - Night Train

By: Dan MacIntosh

Last Updated: October 9, 2012 2:10 AM

Nothing Jason Aldean has recorded to date can ever prepare you for the beautiful revelation that is “Black Tears,” the Canaan Smith and Tyler Hubbard co-write that is the highlight of the country singer’s latest release, Night Train. Its lyric is about a stripper, to put it bluntly, and tells the story of an adult entertainment worker who has come to hate her life. You won’t get this negatively honest perspective from the HipHop world, that’s for sure. If that community is to believed, girls who dance naked are enthralled with what they do, and are having the time of their lives whenever customers ‘make it rain’ dollar bills onstage. This tragic story-song tells the truth, though, and it hits the gut till it hurts – just the way painful truth is supposed to do.

Aldean has gained the radio reputation for being a good time, party guy, and the album’s first single, “Take A Little Ride,” does nothing to dispel this firmly established persona. However, if you dig a little more deeply into Aldean’s new full-length, you find a more contemplative soul at work. “Walking Away,” for instance, presents us with a man who’s sincerely honest about himself. “You oughta be walkin’ away from me baby,” this guy advises his good girl, “instead of tryin’ to save me.” More often than not, bad boys in song are the ‘take me as I am’ variety. However, Aldean inhabits a man here that can foresee himself breaking an angel’s heart, and he just doesn’t have the heart – black as it is – to go through with it all.

The artist didn’t write any of these songs, so he relies on talented outside writers to eloquently express his needs and desires. He may not put his pen to page, but many of these songs help reveal the singer’s deep respect for the power of music. During “Staring at the Sun,” he describes a particularly memorable girl as one that can get “stuck in your head like an old song,” while other pleasant memories are characterized as “… comin’ through the speakers/That song you never want to end” on “Feel That Again.”

Musically, Night Train is mostly far closer to Southern rock than traditional country. Only “1994,” - a Thomas Rhett co-write - with its prominent banjo, comes nearest to a truly country sounding track. (By the way, though, isn’t it still too soon to be nostalgic for the ‘90s?). “The Only Way I Know,” which also features Luke Bryan and Eric Church singing over its chunky electric guitar riff, is more representative. Its lyric is a tough-talking song about laboring with a dedicated Southern work ethic. As with much contemporary country music these days, the style has more to do with geography than any distinctive instrumental combination. 

When Aldean sings about an exotic dancer’s black tears, he’s describing a woman that can’t hide her hurt and shame whenever the makeup runs. This side of life is not the nice, neat, got-it-all-together world of Nashville’s brightest and shiniest stars. Instead, Aldean is singing about dire circumstances where life gets a little messy. Yet it’s these messy moments that feel the most real. Such instances are relatively few and far between on Night Train. Then again, Aldean is not Merle Haggard. With that said, though, “Black Tears” puts a big dose of Haggard’s spirit into Night Train, and that’s more than reason enough to continue riding with Aldean. 

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