There’s an old saying that says to not judge a book by its cover. As great as that rule is, I think it’s safe to say that there are times when we all don’t exactly follow it real well. Nowhere has that been more apparent for me than in the music world. Heck, I had branded Jon Pardi as nothing but a worthless bro-country singer whenever he released “Up All Night”, and his debut album actually proved to be a pretty great slice of neo-traditional country music. After Jon, I figured that I would be able to avoid that kind of unfair branding again. That is, until I heard Drake White.
Now don’t get me wrong. I always thought Drake had good intentions with his music, but I would be lying if I said that any of his singles blew me out of the water. Even with that being said, I had always figured that there was more to Drake White than his singles suggested (a common occurrence for mainstream country acts), and I was definitely eager to check out his debut album, Spark.
This album’s greatest asset is arguably Drake White himself. Having a natural charisma is one of the most underrated talents out there in the music world, and much like Jake Owen, Drake is a singer who gives his full effort no matter the song. Most of the album is rooted in upbeat, more brighter sounding songs that really are the best examples of accentuating that natural charisma Drake has. Songs like “It Feels Good”, “Story”, and “Elvis” are all hard to dislike thanks to that full vocal effort. Of course on the flip side he can also tackle more serious subject matter and give the appropriate vocal performance to fit the mood like on “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” or “Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work”. To accompany Drake’s charisma, he’s also got a knack for very tasteful, catchy melodies that really do stick with you for awhile. Coincidentally, the one song he didn’t have a hand in writing, second single “Livin’ The Dream” is the one that doesn’t really do much to stick with you.
Of course, while having a knack for charisma and tasteful melodies is certainly helpful, it’s even better if you can pair them with the right instrumentation. I think the best way to describe the overall sound of the album would be a mix of country, rock and blues, not far removed from say, Eric Church or early Zac Brown Band. It’s honestly kind of a unique mix that certainly if nothing else plants Drake as one of the more interesting artists in mainstream country these days. I may not have been in love with “It Feels Good” at the time it was released (mostly because at the time we were inundated with enough “feel good” songs as it was), but nowadays I’m just really enjoying how the song grounds itself in an upbeat, swampy sound relying mostly on acoustic instrumentation. Seriously, if there was ever a way to make a “fun” song that’s it. I also enjoyed the playful fiddle work in “Story” as well the crunchy, southern-rock vibe of “I Need Real” and to a further extent, “Elvis”. Heck, it’s fitting that I made the Zac Brown comparison earlier seeing as how Drake manages to fit a more beachy sounding song with “Equator”, a song that while not lyrically great (more on this later) is still an overall fun song that’s hard to hate.
When it comes to the songwriting on this album, I’ll be honest and tell you that it’s probably the least interesting part of the project. It’s not bad mind you, and honestly it’s better than many of Drake’s peers these days. It’s just that I feel it could better, which I’ll come back to. If you’re looking for an underlying theme on this album, it would most likely be staying true to yourself and being real. Nowhere am I happier to hear that than on a mainstream country album by the way. I couldn’t help but grin during “Elvis” as Drake somewhat implies that he’s not going to chase fame or fortune. He’d rather work his ass off for it knowing he earned it rather than being given it. And hey, it might work. After all, Elvis wasn’t born “the King”. I also really enjoyed “Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work” for pairing a semi-spacious production with a story about a man whose down on his luck and just waiting for the whiskey to kick in so that he can forget his troubles. Sure, it’s a little conventional by country music standards but there’s a real sadness to the song that I really liked. Add in some great harmonica and organ to give the song some flavor and you’ve got arguably the best song on the album. Heck, even “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” is a solid blues inspired country love song.
Of course, while I am glad that there is an underlying theme to this album, I will say it wears out its welcome after awhile. Sure, songs like “It Feels Good”, “Livin’ The Dream”, “Heartbeat”, “I Need Real”, “Live Some”, and “Take Me As I Am” are all decent to good songs, but there comes a time when they start to say the same thing – life is going to go the way it goes so you might as well live it up and be yourself. While I do overall enjoy songs like “Story” and “Back To Free”, I can’t help but feel the writing is a little more checklist than it needs to be. Both offer several examples relating to the song’s theme instead of hammering down and focusing on specific examples to help bolster a verse or two. Again, not a major complaint but still, just something I noticed.
On some level however I feel like criticizing the writing too much is a little unneeded. After all, as I said before, this album (and for that matter Drake White himself) grounds itself as an album focused on delivering smart melodic hooks complete with very interesting instrumentation and production all around. And like I said, Drake White himself is an energetic performer as well.
At the end of the day, Spark by Drake White is definitely a fun, highly enjoyable album. Again, I’m not quite sure there’s a song here that will quite blow you away, but it is damn solid all around. There’s plenty to like on this album. Drake White has proven that he’s going to be an interesting artist to watch over the next few years. Spark comes recommended.
Best Songs: “Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work”, “Story”, “Elvis”