Sam Hunt rocketed onto everyone’s radars at the beginning of the year, when he complained about Keith Urban’s ‘Cop Car’ being performed on the Grammys. Sam was a co-writer on the song (and on Billy Currington’s ‘We Are Tonight’ and Kenny Chesney’s ‘Come Over’) and he had a bit of an unwise bitch fit on Twitter where he seemed completely ungrateful for Keith cutting the song, because he apparently could not be happy that his song was being performed on the Grammys. I’m sure all other songwriters would give their right arm, and their left arm for that matter, to have their song be performed on that stage. Not Sam. So it seemed to transpire that he had wanted the song for himself as at the time he was gearing up to launch his own artistic career, but it doesn’t take an idiot to realize the only reason it was a hit was because it was cut by Keith, who has ridiculous star power. Either way, it was a bad start to things and a reminder to go through media training, because suddenly everyone’s backs were up through the audacity of some kid they hadn’t heard of, or if they had, they hadn’t heard a lot from him. Not the best way to launch yourself on radio.
Yet, here we are five months later, and Sam is releasing his second single ‘Leave The Night On’ to country radio. It’s his first release since the brief controversy; his real debut single was ‘Raised On It’ last year through independent label Combustion Music, but it was announced he had signed to MCA Nashville in January 2014. ‘Leave The Night On’ is a furthering of what those already familiar with his work are used to; country pop that frankly would equally fit quite happily on the pop charts with no mention of country music at all. Yep, just like Dan + Shay and countless others, Sam Hunt’s interpretation of country music is one that falls in line with the genre’s current desperate bid for youth, by shirking as many of the traditional elements as possible, leaving it quite at home on the Billboard Hot 100.
Really, Sam’s polished “pretty boy” voice and delivery, R&B beat and electro banjo just sound like beachy, summery pop, and the lyrics reflect that too. With lyrics like, “girl, you got the beat right, killing in your Levis, high on your lovin’’s got me buzzin’ like a streetlight”, and a reference to Train’s pop hit from 2002 ‘Drops of Jupiter’, “the sky is dropping Jupiter around us like some old train”, I think it’s safe to say that Sam’s more influenced by Ed Sheeran than George Strait. Indeed, there are so many lyrics in the chorus that at times his delivery turns into a semi-rap, keeping its melodic origins in a style that is very Ed Sheeran.
What’s interesting however is that Sam is being produced by Shane McAnally; I’m not sure if this song (or at least the version that is currently available online) was produced by Shane but certainly the rest of Sam’s album will be, and that’s something to consider when pigeon-holing him immediately. After all, while Shane has provided some huge country pop hits for top artists in the past, he has also worked extensively with Kacey Musgraves, and there’s no doubt of his country loyalties. Perhaps a radio cut of this song will be different to the one Sam has been giving away as part of a mixtape on his website, and perhaps we will see more depth from a future record, but for now we are stuck in a lyric about night time romance in a hick town and an R&B/pop sound that works well for summer but doesn’t give any indication as to why he has been signed to a country label. Maybe he’s “pushing boundaries” (ie: copying what artists in all other genres have been doing for years) and that’s why he’s in country. Maybe doing what is vaguely modern to the rest of the world is an easy sell in Nashville.
This is pleasant in some respects, but it’s not a stand out at all and I’m not convinced. He may have put his name on the map when he spoke out against his song being on the Grammys, but he’s got a long way to go yet.