Album Review: Chris Janson’s ‘Real Friends’

This album offers a little something for everyone...

Written by Kelly Dearmore
Album Review: Chris Janson’s ‘Real Friends’
Chris Janson; Photo credit: Conner Dwyer

If the changing media landscape over the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that people love lists. “The Top 87 T-Swift Songs Ranked,” “101 Funkiest Airbnb’s of the Southwest,” “44 Ways to Know Your Man is a Gilmore Girls Stan.” There’s even a veritable cornucopia of articles featuring lists of other internet lists.

What’s not to love, right? Lists are easy to consume, thanks to their concise, bullet-pointed brevity. Lists, or “listicles” as they’re often referred to as, give us just enough meat from the bone so we taste just enough flavor without being weighed down with, you know, a ton of actual substance that will likely only distract us from having a light chuckle or the sort of brief OMG moment we’ve effectively replaced with actual understanding and learning.

Chris Janson; Cover art courtesy of pfa Entertainment Media & Marketing
Chris Janson; Cover art courtesy of pfa Entertainment Media & Marketing

It’s not just us cubicle-dwelling phone scrollers who love a decent list. Modern country artists have found the utility of lists so helpful many have decided to skip actual story development in favor of rolling out lists of things that point towards a song’s intended meaning. It’s not always such a bad thing, really. A list song can still be catchy, still rock, still roll, still provoke, still sadden.

On Real Friends, his third full length album, Chris Janson aims to become a sort of Music City List Master. As a co-writer for each of the catchy record’s 14 tracks, Janson teamed with songwriting stars including Shy Carter, Ashley Gorley, Craig Wiseman, Rhett Akins and David Lee Murphy on his own version of one of those web articles that list other lists.

The album-opening lead single “Good Vibes” is fist-pumping dose of pleasantness featuring a heartland rocking, sunny side up look at downhome goodness with the truck windows rolled down. Somewhat refreshingly, “Normal People,” comes to its listing from a slightly different angle.

Rather than simply start at the top with the stuff that’s particularly party-ready and country-approved, Janson lists ways that regular folk “keep it simple,” by offering up alarmingly specific lines such as “we got problems, we got issues, we got bathrooms low on tissue.” Of course, a lack of toilet paper doesn’t get in anyone’s way of finding the joy in “normal” stuff like barbecue and church, at least, not in this song.

And the lists, and perhaps, hits, just keep on coming. “God’s Gotta Be A Good Ol’ Boy,” rolls out a line of individual items that any reality show casting director likely assumes a country fella appreciates. The groove-heavy, pedal-steel kissed “Beer Me,” itemizes the many various occasions when it’s appropriate to be beered, including “when the party gets loud and the Hank breaks out.”

 In the album’s title track, a stomping, garage rock-style duet with fellow Music City List Titan Blake Shelton, Janson and Shelton unfurl a number of key buddy traits (“same twang, different mother,” they sing at one point.) “Country USA” and “Say About Me” are a couple more rock-heavy, amp-blasting lists about, well, country stuff and Jason’s personal likes and dislikes, respectively.

The only song on the album that offers a more fully formed story is the soft, poignant “Hawaii on Me.” With a folky, acoustic-driven arrangement, Janson sings about his wish for his loved ones to not mourn his death in the standard, formal manner, instead celebrating his life in a carefree, easy-going way. It’s the only tune here that recalls some of his best earlier work such as the heart-tugging 2018 hit “Drunk Girl.”

But just to be certain, Janson isn’t trying to hide from his insatiable list lust. The hard-charging bro-country anthem “Check” is, you hopefully guessed by now, indeed a checklist of things he finds particularly kick-ass. Trucks, barns and boom boxes are just a few of the individual items available to be quite literally checked off in order to have a country good time.

Overall, Real Friends is a fun record. It’s rocking, catchy and offers something for everyone. Well, everyone except lame-o types who hate lists.