As another fall gets underway, that can only mean the debut release of the American Idol Season 10 winner. Scotty McCreery, who stuck by his country music heritage tooth and nail on the show, delivers a wholesome and all-American set with Clear as Day, which was produced by Carrie Underwood’s frequent collabortor Mark Bright. While Day oozes with teenage angst and boyish fantasies, each track clings tightly to a history that flourishes in storytelling and imagery.
“Out of Summertime,” co-written by Jonathan Singleton and Tim Nichols, gallops past the ear drums in a frollicking tale of love that only vanishes with the arrival of fall. In much the same way as Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” “Summertime” tells the tale of love that heats up in the summer and quickly dissipates in September. It kicks off McCreery’s debut with enough grit and passion to hook the listener into sticking around for more. Unlike “Wine,” “Summertime” does not linger on what should have or could have been, but instead crafts an easygoing take on the merriment of young love.
McCreery’s Idol coronation song and lead single, “I Love You This Big,” with songsmiths Ronnie Jackson, Brett James, Ester Dean, and Jay Smith at the helm, sets the stage as the first ballad entry on Day. The lyrics could have benefited from a more masterful undertaking, but McCreery is able to pump the right amount of power and emotion into the track without it coming across as cheap and unnecessary. Sure, a seventeen year old should never sing about loving “this big,” but it captures his journey to Hollywood perfectly. From the small country town of Garner, North Carolina, McCreery is grounded in the right set of beliefs and in down-home enthusiasm.
“Clear as Day,” the album title track, which was written by Phil O’Donnell, Casey Beathard, and Adam Wheeler, comes off as just another young love story until the last few lines take the song in an unexpected direction. McCreery’s soaring vocals drench the track with a gut-wrenching nostalgia for a relationship that died at the hands of fate. Reminiscent of Garth Brooks’ The Dance, McCreery reinvents an idea that could run stale with too many listens, but his smooth interpretation lingers on the listener’s heart without being overly dramatic.
His current single, “The Trouble with Girls,” written by Phillip White and Chris Tompkins, is a track with little vision or clever hook. With an album that was taking off nicely, McCreery plunges into mediocrity on this tune. Four tracks in, this is the third ballad in a row. Perhaps this set’s track listing should have been rearranged a bit, or “Trouble” could have been omitted altogether. McCreery talks girls, specifically “trying to figure out just what them girls are all about.” However, for McCreery’s incredibly loyal fan base, which is mostly teenage girls, they will eat this up.
“Water Tower Town,” envisioned by Cole Swindell, Lynn Hutton, and Tammi Kidd, is a celebratory anthem about small town life. “Working hard and livin’ right is the only life we know,” McCreery sings. That mentality, plus a shout out to sweet tea, is what makes this track a nice change of pace and a highlight of Day. Sure, a few cliches slipped themselves into the lyrics, but a country record would not quite be the same without a few sprinkled in. McCreery’s phrasing and handling of the steamrolling lyrics on the chorus, which have such an infectious hook suited for a single release, are impressive for his age and level of experience. With such feel good anthemic material, McCreery fits right in amongst contemporaries like Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean.
Another contemporary, Keith Urban, had a hand in writing the next track, “Walk in the Country.” With this song, Urban gives McCreery a page straight out of his playbook. Featuring plenty of guitar-infused solos and metallic arrangements, McCreery fits “Country” like a glove. On Day, it is as if he is paying homage to the current greats of Country music. First Paisley and Aldean, now Urban directly influences a new generation of music makers. It is interesting to hear exactly how McCreery’s idols have influenced him, even more so to see how that informs his musical style and material. For a boy new to the business, he sure knows how to tell a convincing story.
“Better than That,” written by Chris Destefano, Jeff Cates, and Craig Wiseman, is a nice uptempo ditty about comparing love to the “first time I saw the ocean and dug my toes in the sand.” “Your love is better than that,” McCreery sings on the chorus. One could say a 1990s’ country influence was prevalent on this track, ala Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That.” However, an argument could also be made for a Zac Brown Band-inspired track. Either way, McCreery once again showcases his natural ability to take previous country formulas to create his own hits, and his vocals haven’t sounded better.
A ukulele should become McCreery’s signature instrument. With “Write My Number On Your Hand,” a song written by Jeremy Stover, Jamie Paulin, and Thomas Rhett Akins, McCreery meets a girl who is “only here for a couple of days.” He falls head over heels for her and begs to write his number on her hand. Every teen girl, and probably some adults as well, will gladly give McCreery their numbers. As a song hand-selected by McCreery himself (proving he knows how to pick winners and age appropriate tunes), “Hand,” coming in at a mere three minutes, is a Christmas-like surprise on an album filled with ballads and anthemic uptempos. This lazy day summer track could snuggle nicely up against any Jimmy Buffett or Alan Jackson (Chattahoochee, anyone?) number on country radio. Look out next single!
“Dirty Dishes,” a song every mother can relate to–and which passed the McCreery-mother-crying test–was written by Michael Dulaney, Neil Thrasher, and Tony Martin. While “Dishes,” which paints a picture of being thankful for the most unlikely of things (like slamming doors) is not the strongest effort on Day, it is heartfelt, and McCreery pours his soul into the vocals. He is proud of his familial heritage, and this track is not only a tribute to his mom, but to his entire family, who taught him admirable qualities that informs who he is today.
With the next track, “You Make That Look Good,” written by Rhett Akins and Lee Thomas Miller, McCreery returns to his fun loving, girl-crazy uptempo mode. The subject matter, which could have been exhausted at this point, remains vibrant and fresh as he sings about a girl who makes “that look good.” In case you missed the memo, McCreery is just a “country boy” singing about his life, and his life right now is being doted on by the female species. As another track that clocks in at just three minutes, McCreery doesn’t play around with unnecessary fluff or guitar solos, which makes Clear as Day such a fast paced and easy listening album. Other artists should take lessons in this; just because you add a strategic piano interlude doesn’t make the song better.
With all the gushing love stories out of the way, McCreery next lands with “Back on the Ground,” which was written by Neil Thrasher, Casey Beathard, and Tony Martin. At an initial glance at the lyrics, one would surmise “Ground” to be another maternal dedication, but that is not the case. Despite his rush of fame and fortune, McCreery has remained planted and simple-minded, which is probably why he pledges to finish high school and is already looking at colleges. Most young artists would immediately jump ship on education, but McCreery understands how important it is to life and bettering himself. Bravo!
A country boy with Christian values, McCreery did not forget to include a track that represented his beliefs. “That Old King James,” crafted by Phillip White and Mark Nesler, is a song that could have easily been cut by a younger Randy Travis. Unlike his other album performances, “James” is a straight up inspirational ballad, much like Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” her first country single from her debut album Some Hearts. “That Old King James,” a suitable end to a strong effort, tells the tale of a transcendiant book traveling through three generations of wear and tear and “through cancer, war, and crazy kids.” McCreery even sings about “all the stupid things I did,” which is probably staying out too late at the most.
Must Listens: “Out of Summertime,” “Clear as Day,” “Water Tower Town,” “Write My Number on Your Hand,”
Rating: **** out of 5