With ‘This Ride,’ Jerrod Niemann Aims for Substance Over Style
With This Ride, Jerrod Niemann has released his most focused album to date. The "God Made a Woman" singer literally turned the volume down to let the lyrics stand tall. The album took several years to make, and the 38-year-old is not the same man he was when he started.
Most obviously, he's married and signed to a different record label (Curb instead of Sony). Niemann thinks about kids and fertility more than the 34-year-old version of himself did when High Noon dropped in March 2014. Those topics don't find their way into this fairly straightforward (by today's standard's) country album, but there's a maturity that's impossible to overlook. These 13 stories aren't necessarily his story — every love song isn't about wife Morgan and every breakup song isn't about an ex — but he finds himself in each. "Come Back" stands out as a highlight that comes across as autobiographical, but isn't.
"We've all been in that situation," Niemann tells Taste of Country, "where you're ready but the person you met is still hung up on somebody else. So you invest your feelings and they think they're investing their feelings in you but still at the end of the day ... that dude is gonna win."
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"God Made a Woman" is the nucleus of This Ride. The biographical love song is one that makes him think of his wife, and it's the song that dictated how the rest of the songs would sound. At every turn, Niemann asked his production team to turn the volume down to give each instrument a chance to be heard. He also knows that songs get compressed when uploaded for digital download or at radio, so there's no need to do it ahead of time. That only distorts the purity of his emotion.
The beachy "I Got This" is one song that he says pushed him the furthest sonically, but it won't remind anyone of "Drink to That All Night." Diamond Rio replaces Pit Bull as the album's signature collaborator. "I Ain't All There" is country mid-tempo reflection that would fit in any era.
"Well I'm here / Cause I ain't all there / Like a broken bobber off a cane pole I'm drifting away," he sings in the chorus. "Well I'm here / Cause I ain't all there / I'm just wasting time on a wasted day."
Niemann is a fascinating study because he's a country music historian that's willing to lean into a drum loop or the nouveau-banjo sound popular in pop-country mixes. "Out of My Heart" is the most heavily produced song on This Ride (released Oct. 6), but because of (not in spite of) what he knows about the legends, he's comfortable stretching.
“The more I learned about the history of country music," he says, "the more it made it easier to come out and be more of a progressive artist, for this reason: You start realizing those artists that we idolized were singing the most progressive stuff that they could do for their time.” Niemann cites the Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song "Write Your Own Songs" as an example.
"Mr. Purified Country don't you know what the whole thing's about / Is your head up your ass so far that you can't pull it out," Jennings sings during his verse.
In 2017 songs with emotional depth are a risk. Ballads are difficult to find on country radio even though many of the standards are slow, heart-wrenching expressions of love or loss. Niemann leaned into those kinds of songs more on his fourth studio album.
“I think there are some pretty great songs that have been around," he says, "even like ‘Three Wooden Crosses.’ That’s a great story and it takes you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. ‘Paint Me a Birmingham.’ ‘In Color.’ It’s a bummer that when you put out a song like that (today) ... why can’t it be played?”
For Niemann, this album is a beginning. He's anxious to find his own lane once again and settle into a long career at Curb. He's also excited about his future with Morgan. Yes, they want kids and yes, they're trying.
“What’s funny is she’s always like ‘Yeah, you would be out of town when I’m ovulating again,'" he says with a straight face. "I guess it’s, 'Must be present to win.'”
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