Chris Young gained national exposure, and a consistent fan-base, when he won the fourth season of the USA Network’s Nashville Star singing competition. Only season one’s winner, Buddy Jewell, had gained any real traction with country radio – and even his was very short-lived. Some contestants, notably Young and Miranda Lambert, were releasing music to some critical fanfare, but country radio was initially hesitant of both artists’ singles.
Winning Nashville Star landed Young a contract with RCA Nashville, and the label stuck with him through 3 failed single releases over a nearly three-year span between ‘Drinking Me Lonely’, a stellar self-composed ballad Young whips out his falsetto to belt, and the breakthrough #1 hit ‘Getting You Home’. It should be noted though, that RCA didn’t ship Young’s second album, The Man I Want To Be, until ‘Getting You Home’ was established as a major hit with country radio. Now, with back-to-back chart-toppers and respectable sales numbers, Young is poised to be the next big thing for new traditional country.
The song that launched the album, or put it on the shelves at least, is a slow-burning number guided by a rolling steel guitar and a singable melody. A woman’s fantasies are realized here, which could be a major reason for its success. Whether or not it’s your desire in life to put on, and then slip off, your little black dress doesn’t even really matter when you hear it anyway – it’s a pleasing song to the ears, and a welcome addition to country playlists since its release.
‘Voices’, this album’s lead single faltered during its first run and barely made the top 40. It has been re-released as the lead single to the EP of the same title released in May. Chris’ new-found name recognition with a larger section of the country audience has already helped to propel the keep-your-head-on-straight song to a still-rising peak of a few slots higher than its first time out.
Waylon Jennings’ 1986 hit ‘Rose In Paradise’ is reprised as a duet with Willie Nelson. Here, the two stay close to Waylon’s own take on his final #1, only slightly slowing the tempo and moving the guitars farther back in the mix to allow the vocals more room to be heard. Young’s voice becomes a commanding baritone with material as substantial as this, and his chops deserve more. Willie’s coming in on the second verse – apparently to fill in the gaps a man of Young’s generation doesn’t know – give this story of a banker’s wife running off with the gardener song a small-town legend feel.
The more traditional offerings seem to get by on so much sentimental emotion that they get lost in a shuffle of the rest of the like-minded songs. ‘It Takes A Man’ relies far too much on its predictable, but marketable hook to allow me to really like it. ‘The Shoebox’ gives nuggets of advice amid a light ensemble of acoustic instruments, but the aesthetic far outweighs the message in the lyrics. Likewise was the title-track and second #1 hit. ’The Man I Want To Be’ has a stone-country sound, with fiddles, steel, and even a light honky tonk piano thrown in; but here, the narrator is asking God to make him into a ‘better man’, the ‘man he wants to be’, never giving any glimpse into the man he is or why he wants to change.
The Man I Want To Be won’t go down as a landmark release for Chris Young outside its opening the door to mainstream success, but it proves another young man to be able and ready to “just try those shoes on”, as Alan Jackson might say. Nobody can fill ‘em, but I think Chris Young has what it takes to try them on for size.