In his review of Scotty McCreery's Clear as Day, USA TODAY's Jerry Shriver calls the album "strictly paint-by-numbers country" with "starter-kit material." I wouldn't be as dismissive of the album as Jerry is, but I can understand how someone coming to Clear as Day cold might have that reaction.
I'm not likely to finish listening to George Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today or even, say, Ronnie Dunn's Cost of Livin' and think, "Boy, some Scotty McCreery music would sure sound good right now." That said, Clear as Day draws deeply from country music traditions, offering its own take on time-honored storytelling themes of God, mama and coming of age. It's an album of summer romances, Friday night football and memories of first kisses that are fresh in the mind. And that deep, honest delivery of Scotty's reflects an awareness of the genre's history that goes back farther than the singers he would've heard on the radio growing up. So I think of Clear as Day less as a starter kit and more as a solid foundation from which a young singer can grow.
Here's how the album sounds to me, track by track:
Out of Summertime. Clear as Day's sunny opener has a lively second-line beat, with a little banjo here and there. Scotty sings about a summertime romance with a girl "bright as sunshine, sweet as July" -- and that's a good way to describe this track.
I Love You This Big. Honestly, I've never been a big fan of this song. The syntax of the chorus grates on my nerves, I feel that the hook adversely emphasizes Scotty's youth, and the melody plays up some of the exaggerated qualities in his singing style that I'm hoping he'll grow out of. But have you ever heard the drums? I never even noticed them until I started listening to Clear as Day with headphones, which just goes to show you how subtly they work. But they absolutely anchor this track. Give them a close listen; you'll see what I mean.
Clear as Day. This is probably my favorite track on the album, but I'm a sucker for a surprise ending, and this is a nice twist on the contemporary, detail-rich love-song ballad. Most adults and too many teens will think of a particular person when they hear this song. For me, it's Diana Otto, the red-headed object of a summer-camp crush I never quite got over.
The Trouble With Girls. For my money, this is a much better single choice than I Love You This Big. The string arrangement strikes me as a little much -- the song's not that dramatic, not that romantic -- but, then, I'm not a teenager. And pretty much only a teenager could get away with this song: "The trouble with girls is nobody loves trouble as much as me" might sound a little creepy coming from a guy in his 30s.
Water Town Town. A small-town song with a four-on-the-floor stomp and banjo backdrop. Think Montgomery Gentry's My Town from a young perspective. There's no real plot here, just a laundry list of details about a place where "workin' hard and livin' right is the only life we know." Could be anybody's small town. Could be everybody's.
Walk in the Country. Keith Urban was smart to pitch this song from his The Ranch days to Scotty, and Scotty was smart to cut it. Like several songs on this album, it's got lots of deep, twangy guitar complementing the similar qualities in Scotty's voice. A definite highlight.
Better Than That. Backed by a bouncy, mandolin-rooted groove that just won't quit, Scotty runs down the list of all the things he thought were pretty cool until he met his new love: "First crush, first kiss ... first time I got a Chevy in my mind." The guys cooing "Your love is better than that" in the background sound kind of silly, but this is a cute song, and Scotty gets to show off his high range, something that he does more often on this album than you might expect.
Write My Number on Your Hand. A mandolin (or maybe it's a ukulele) starts strumming and is soon joined by a flirtatious fiddle melody. It's another summer-romance song, sexy and innocent at the same time, about two kids who meet each other at the local swimming hole.
Dirty Dishes. Moms will cry at the sweet, sentimental song about a suppertime prayer. With lyrics like "I want to thank you, Lord, for noisy children and slamming doors/And clothes scattered all over the floor/A husband working all the time, dragging in dead tired at night/A never-ending messy kitchen and dirty dishes," it sounds like the sort of anonymous poem that gets passed around via email. In fact, it sounds a lot like this one.
You Make That Look Good. Scotty sounds totally believable when he sings "I'm just a country boy/I drive a four-by-four/It's usually covered in mud from the axle to the floor" on this Stones-lite country-rocker. And the girl he's singing too makes him and the truck both look better just because she's with them. Songs like this are why hot models appear in music videos.
Back on the Ground. This is Scotty's I Ain't in Checotah Anymore. It's what the kid in Tom T. Hall's The Homecoming might have sung, if he'd been a nice, young boy. "Now, it's any reason to go back home," sings the 17-year-old who's trying to attend his hometown high school while launching his country music career, "that's what it's all about."
That Old King James. If Back on the Ground was Scotty's The Homecoming, this potential tearjerker is his update on Willie Nelson's hit Family Bible. It's a song that tells a family history through the pages of a tattered, leather-bound Bible. "You'll find it on every other page, yellowed lines and teardrop stains."
Highlights:Clear as Day, Walk in the Country, Dirty Dishes
Scotty McCreery's 'Clear as Day': A track-by-track review