Just in case you may be unaware, ‘90s country has certainly come back en vogue as of late. Insurgent stars such as Cody Johnson, Luke Combs, Jon Pardi and Aaron Watson have been building their neon-lit honky-tonk reputations on the sorts of blazing electric guitar licks and sensitive pedal steel kisses that Brooks and Dunn and Dwight Yoakam carried into stardom decades ago.
Retro-riffic, nostalgia-trip songs such as “90s Country” by Walker Hayes and Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies of the ‘90s” are perhaps the most obvious examples of the current generation of Music City hitmakers tipping their caps to the days when King George, Alan, Shania, Faith and the Dixie Chicks ruled the nation’s airwaves, charts and arenas.
Justin Moore’s new album Late Nights and Longnecks enjoyably reinforces his well-earned position as a current artist with a deft skill at looking back while sounding fresh. The Arkansas-native’s fifth studio record, produced by Jeremy Stover, revels in a straight-forward country production and writing style lacking any pretense in an effort to offer a simple, enjoyable sing-along collection. And judging by how much of the record discusses alcohol in one form or another, Moore’s aim is that you don’t simply hum or dance along as much as you drink along.
The up-tempo, album-opening “Why We Drink,” blends hard-charging electric guitar and soaring pedal steel in a way Garth couldn’t possibly frown upon. It’s a relatable ode to that magical period lying between Friday at five and Sunday night, and it would’ve undoubtedly hit No.1 had it been on the radio in 1996. It’s worth noting that bona fide ‘90s chart-topper David Lee Murphy, he of the majestic hair and classics like “Dust on the Bottle”, was one of the song’s co-writers.
And speaking of songs from this album Moore co-wrote with a ‘90s country stud, the humorous, bouncing “Never Gonna Drink Again,” featured the helpful pen of “That Ain’t My Truck” singer Rhett Akins. Moore, Akins and crew have a bit of fun with the head-aching side of hard partying by kicking off the song with the stereotypical, but cheeky, country lyric “I lost my job, and my dog ran off and my truck’s broke down in the yard, and my girlfriend’s got her own girlfriend, I caught ‘em making out at the bar.”
But it’s not all Saturday night sinning here, as there’s plenty of Sunday morning-style redemption to be heard as well. It wouldn’t be a Moore record without appreciative nods to the small-town life he’s long adored. The bluesy rocker “Small Town Street Cred” shouts out muddy tires and hunting while the album-closing “Good Times Don’t” even digs into nothing less than a day at the t-ball field.
One of the best elements of small-town life is how close you become with your neighbors. Their victories are your triumphs, and their tragedies are also your losses. In “The Ones That Didn’t Make it Home,” Moore believably sings about the soldiers and first responders who never came back, and the hometown scenes that commemorate their passing.
On an album full of addictively catchy anthems, some of the more unassuming ones are just as ear-grabbing. In the twangy “Jesus and Jack Daniels” he sings over a train track rhythm about how his saintly mother and hard-drinking dad were “a little bible and a little buzz, a little hell yeah and a little hallelujah.” With a delicate but prominent piano beside him, the soulful side of Moore’s voice gets its best showcase in the tear-stained “On the Rocks.”
Compared to much of the current pop-driven, modern country hits that employ a truck full of electronic effects and production tricks, Late Nights and Longnecks sounds like a throwback. It’s an immensely effective record made by a veteran artist secure with his place, sound and style, even in the midst of an ever-changing, evolving musical landscape.