After an initial scan through the track-list for Tennessee-born country artist Dustin Lynch’s Tullahoma, you could be forgiven for presuming this is going to be a fairly standard, perhaps even predictable, country album. With names like ‘Momma’s House’, ‘Dirt Road’, and ‘Little Town Livin’’, the songs set the scene for this interpretation pretty well.
Or so you think. It’s clear from the very moment that the first chorus hits that the album isn’t going to be all back-porch sunsets and whiskey-shooting Friday nights. The album opener, ‘Momma’s House’ is a stormy cry of anguish, with Lynch blinking back the tears as he confesses he would burn his hometown down just to erase the memories made with his ex-lover, if it wasn’t for his ‘Momma’s House’. It could easily sound spiteful and bitter, but instead Lynch delivers it with a sense of complete emotional accountability, and as listeners we cannot help but be drawn in.
‘Little Town Livin’’ and ‘Dirt Road’ tread a more typical country path, following the blueprint that gave Lynch his first number ones with songs like ‘Cowboys and Angels’ and ‘She Cranks My Tractor’. The whole album is a tribute to Lynch’s hometown Tullahoma, and it happily meanders like the Mississippi river through small-town tales of falling in love under the stars, driving an old truck down quiet backroads, and cracking open a cold one with your friends. This wistful imagery, coupled with our storyteller’s raw emotion and charismatic drawl, forms the charming and picturesque backbone to the album.
However, underneath the familiar scenery and ear-worm hooks characteristic of Country music, there’s a certain depth and sincerity that makes Tullahoma especially endearing. He reaches back to tales from his past and present with a sense of vulnerability and honesty that’s hard to come by nowadays. This is especially evident in the way that he displays the movie-moment he had when reconnecting with an old flame on ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’:“Don’t be sorry for calling me up right out of the blue/I was just thinking bout you.” a song on which American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina adds a striking second verse. He tips his stetson to the greats that influenced him on ‘Old Country Song’: “I’m gonna love you like George Jones loved to drink/Like Johnny loved some June”
Despite not being one of the lead singles, ‘The World Ain’t Yours and Mine’ is a standout. It’s a classic ode to an undying love, with Lynch finding himself planning to keep the relationship in question going until the end of time – until “The world ain’t yours and mine/Like it is tonight”. Part of the allure of country music is the way that it is able to tell a story that evolves into a beautiful, lucid picture over the course of three or four minutes, and Lynch has an eye for detail that adds great colour to his songs. He sings the touching motif, “The paint on the Pontiac’s faded/Got me thinking baby maybe we’ll make it”
The other key ingredient that should go into a good country album is, I believe, to have a happy ending. On his vivid and rich road-trip through through Tullahoma Lynch certainly provides, completing it on a high note. ‘Country Star’ is a joyful tribute to his girlfriend, model Kelli Seymour, before he closes the album with the loved-up and heartfelt ‘Good Girl’ “Still can’t believe I found you/Can’t imagine life without you”.
Lynch is a maestro at lulling his listeners into a false sense of security: taking them down the country lanes that they are used to before infusing what he knows best with refreshing R&B tinges and subtle experimentation. There is an overwhelming theme of nostalgia, but the mood is generally uplifting and heartwarming, carried by his lyrics that are saturated with emotion. The fact that this project opens with the angst of ‘Momma’s House’ only serves to intensify the sense of jubilance as we see Lynch move on from bitter heartbreak to ending the album content and in love.
The setting for Lynch’s new record is his beloved hometown of Tullahoma, but the emotional palette the country hitmaker draws upon is so eclectic and kaleidoscopic that you don’t have to be from Tennessee, the US, or even the countryside to find something in this album that really resonates. The language that Lynch speaks is a universal one, and leaves his listeners with a feeling of much-appreciated optimism.