With a stunning batch of new songs that push and pull at country music's borders, Jerrod Niemann returns with the best album of his career – and quite possibly the most relevant country release of the year. This Ride, the singer-songwriter's fourth album and his first for Curb Records, reminds fans, country radio and all of Nashville that Jerrod is one of the genre's most engaging vocalists and entertaining performers. A singer of songs, he delivers a lyric with conviction and emotion, and is just as gifted in the studio, where he nods to country music's history while reinventing the sound for today's audience.
On This Ride, produced by Jerrod with Jimmie Lee Sloas, Jerrod continues the outside-the-lines approach he began with 2010's Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury and its Platinum-certified Number One hit "Lover, Lover." But he does so with a maturity and experience that only comes from a nearly decade-long career on the charts, the road and the radio.
"This album is like Life 2.0 for me," says Jerrod of his creative rebirth. "If This Ride were a movie, it'd be told from the point of view of the man in the story instead of the boy. Challenging yourself as a human being and as a man is what life is all about, and it's been rewarding to put that into my music."
Debut single "God Made A Woman" is a prime example of that hard-won personal growth. The ballad is a classy, gorgeous love song that rightfully returns the object of affection to a pedestal. After a deluge of colloquial "hey girl" shout-outs on the radio in recent years, "God Made A Woman" restores dignity to country lyricism.
"You realize really quickly that the weight of the world is easier to hold with two sets of shoulders," says Jerrod, who married wife Morgan in 2014. "That's what I think about when I listen to this song."
It's also indicative of Jerrod's willingness to help country grow up. "There are a little less songs from the liver on this album, and more songs from the heart," he quips.
Like "God Made A Woman," the moody breakup saga "But I Do" also digs deep, and shows off Jerrod's well-thought vocal delivery. Never one to race through a lyric, he lingers over lines like "everybody's got good intentions / everybody's got bad advice" to allow the phrase to sink in, reinforcing the romantic conflict of the song.
The dark "Comeback" is similarly fraught with relationship turmoil, to delicious results. Beginning with a brooding rhythm, the track builds to a climactic resolution, as Jerrod bares a vulnerable heart to the lover who is toying with his emotions.
Meanwhile, in "Whiskey Waitin' On Ice," which he co-wrote, he paints a picture of the ideal date night. It's the hand-in-hand partner to "God Made A Woman."
"It's a tough love song. Guys are always tough in front of their friends, but when they get home, they're big softies," says Jerrod. "This is about a guy realizing that, because of life's rat race, he has accidentally put his wife on the back burner. And he says, 'Let's fix this.' It's good for everyone to realize that in life you have to make time to live and love too."
Like the remarkable Free the Music in 2012 and 2014's High Noon, with its Platinum-certified multi-week Number One smash "Drink to That All Night," This Ride also boasts its share of fastballs, anthems meant to blare out of arena speakers and barroom jukeboxes alike. Opening track "Zero To Crazy" is a furious rocker with hints of R&B, and "Out Of My Heart" opens with a lead banjo lick before exploding into a thumping wall of sound – both perfect additions to Jerrod's already high-energy concerts. And "I Ain't All There," a harmony-heavy slice of honky-tonk with guest vocals by Nineties giants Diamond Rio, keeps the album firmly rooted in classic country.
While Jerrod is one of the genre's most educated historians – he can discuss artists from Lefty Frizzell, whose name he has tattooed on his forearm, to Garth Brooks, for whom he wrote "Good Ride Cowboy," with equal knowledge – he actually looked to today's string-based indie-rock while crafting This Ride.
"What I really enjoy about indie-rock right now is that those artists are recording with a lo-fi sound and using more instruments than even mainstream country music. Some would argue it's more organic and sounds more traditional than contemporary country," he says. "Everything today is oversaturated with tracks and compression and all the other bells and whistles of the studio. But I want every single note in a song to count."
Jerrod hits that mark on "I Got This," a breezy, easygoing jam destined for summertime playlists. Written by Rodney Clawson, Josh Osborne and Luke Dick, "I Got This" drops the listener right inside the song, thanks to visual lyrics and the air that exists between them. Even the artist himself isn't immune to its imagery. "It puts me in the driver's seat of that car in your mind," Jerrod says, "looking for someone to join me on the ride."
Or, as the case may be, on this ride. With his new album, Jerrod puts the pedal to the metal on the journey he started way back in his native Kansas. It's a trek with twists, turns and the occasional glance in the rearview at what he's learned along the way.
"I love and respect the entire history of country music, but if you're ever going to leave your own mark, you have to have your own voice and vision," he says. "And while it's easy for people to sum you up from what you've done in the past, it's our job as artists to show behind the curtain and reveal what else we have to offer."
With This Ride, Jerrod provides a revealing look into country's most progressive artist.