It’s a wild musical exploration when Jerrod Niemann gets behind the controls. Blurring genres and leaping boundaries, Jerrod is set to release his sophomore album, Free The Music, on October 2. As the follow-up to his 2010 breakthrough, Judge Jerrod the Hung Jury, the new 12-song collection takes its title seriously with an envelope-pushing brand of country that mixes up a concoction of sound that includes honky tonk, pop, psychedelia and reggae – all with a 3-piece horn section.
Jerrod seems to delight in keeping the listener off balance. On Free The Music, arrangements burst with creativity, as songs like “Shinin’ On Me” and “Honky Tonk Fever” constantly shift underneath his voice. The former, which serves as the project’s lead single, subtly focuses on different instruments as dobro, organ and horns take turns supporting Jerrod’s easygoing and sunny delivery. The standout track “Honky Tonk Fever,” which plays like a long lost psychedelic country session from The Beatles, uses an unorthodox mix of tempos and ascending/descending guitars to assert its own independence. I could lose a day or two with the hippies out West or the Cajuns in the bayou, he sings before a New Orleans jam takes the song on home.
Vibrant horns are heard throughout the album, painting it with unique and bright textures at every step. From the old-time, crackling, Big Easy brass that opens the record on the mission statement title-track through to the thoughtful closer, “Fraction of a Man,” Free The Music is constantly energized by the living, breathing sound. “Fraction of a Man” is possibly the album’s best song, building from acoustic guitars, soulful inflections and clever phrasing (verses start just a fraction off beat) into an expressive celebration of life. I live my life of passion and love because I’m a man not a fraction of, Jerrod sings with a measure of confidence through the vulnerable lines.
A longtime Music Row songwriter with cuts by artists including Garth Brooks and Jamey Johnson, Jerrod knows his way around a lyric. On Free The Music, Jerrod wrote or co-wrote every song, and the varying sounds showcase his talents through the vastly different styles. The neo-traditional “Whiskey Kind Of Way” has the familiar feel of an old barroom. They say the truth comes out when you’re drinkin,’ he sings with a lovesick stroke before settling in with, I’ve been drinkin’ ‘bout her all day. Others, including “I’ll Have To Kill The Pain” and “It Won’t Matter Anymore,” carry an island vibe that would make Kenny Chesney proud. On “Real Women Drink Beer,” Jerrod, who serves as co-producer with Dave Brainard, gets tricky with the audio as he skillfully matches Dwight Yoakam-influenced Bakersfield Sound in the left channel with a reggae beat in the right. Seriously, isolate just the left channel and then just the right. It’s a nice little trick that works flawlessly.
Pop artist Colbie Caillat joins Jerrod on the subtle, piano-based ballad “I’m All About You.” Delivering shimmering harmonies through the chorus, Jerrod and Colbie sing, You know it’s true, I’m all about you, over well-placed RB-tinged horns.
On Free The Music, Jerrod creates a celebration of sound with abandon. Finding strength in its diversity, power ballads like “Only God Can You Love You More” and bad love send-offs like “Guessing Games” only build on the record’s dynamics. Free The Music might be an unorthodox collection, but it’s one that resonates with harmony as the music runs joyously free.
Key Tracks – “Fraction of a Man,” “I’m All About You,” “Honky Tonk Fever,” “Shinin’ On Me”