Breland – Cross Country

Atlantic Records

Release Date: September 9th 2022

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Breland– Cross Country (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Here For It (feat. Ingrid Andress)
  2. County Line
  3. Praise The Lord (feat. Thomas Rhett)
  4. Natural
  5. Told You I Could Drink (feat. Lady A)
  6. For What It’s Worth
  7. Happy Song
  8. Growing Pains
  9. Throw It Back (feat. Keith Urban)
  10. Thick
  11. Cross Country (feat. Mickey Guyton)
  12. Good For You
  13. Don’t Look At Me
  14. Alone At The Ranch

I was writing songs pretty much throughout high school and college. I grew up in a musical family—my parents are both gospel singers. So I’ve always been singing in church and in choirs. I think it was in high school that I got serious about songwriting. By the time I got to college, I started to look at what I wanted to do after school, and nothing brought me more joy than writing songs. So it was something that I wanted to try build a career on, and I’m grateful that I’ve been able to do that.

I think sonically, while this project is definitely rooted in country, what makes it unique and why the album is called Cross Country, is that it’s a combination of country music and everything else. I didn’t feel that I had to choose between genres or which sound I was gonna go for…I was able to merge it all into one. Each of these songs seem country to me because they’re all narrative records…they sound country in a way but sonically they’re all different. There are certain songs that have more hip-hop orientations, some songs that are more gospel, some songs are pop leaning, and songs that are old school soul-blues. But the real thing that ties each of these songs back to country music is the lyric, and the fact that I’m making sure every song on the project is lyrically sound and is telling some type of story.

This album was made with an air of creative curiousity. I love blending genres—it’s been my calling card over the past two years and it’s something I started experimenting with “My Truck” and my debut EP. Since then, I’ve moved to Nashville and I gotten more involved with the songwriting circuit here, and I’ve done a lot of cool collabs with different people. I feel this project is the culmination of a lot of the growth that I’ve experienced both as a person, as a songwriter, an artist and entertainer since moving to Nashville. So you’re gonna see elevated songwriting from previous works of mine. You’re gonna see me get a bit more bold with some of the choices that I’m making vocally, and wanting to showcase some of the vocals on this project. But really, the process of putting this album together was me just taking all the songs that I could really hear and find myself in the lyric of. And finding the 14 songs that ultimately became this album are the ones that I love the most and resonate the most with me. And I hope that people relate to them as well.

I think by now you could probably call me a country fan. It was around three or four years ago when Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty released, and I listened to that entirely, and reviewed the album, when I realised that the artists who are deep and vulnerable and have something worthwhile and inspirational to say, aren’t limited to Christian artists at all. Fast forward until now, and I’ve listened to so much country music. Probably not a lot though if you’re a ‘true’ country fan… but enough for my standards at least. And it’s enough for me to declare that quite possibly some country artists are even more honest and vulnerable than Christian artists. Or maybe I should say artists who record music for CCM and worship… because an artist can be Christian but still recording music for the mainstream, and that’s another discussion all together. God has turned my definition of what He uses on its head, as I am gladly dismantling my preconceptions of music and putting them all back together again. This involves me spending a lot of time listening to country music- the genre I now find the most interesting out of all of the ‘mainstream’ genres.

Nowadays, I’m much more inclined to listen to and resonate with a country album, than with a worship album or a CCM album. Yep, that’s how much I love country music, and this year alone, as a site we’ve reviewed country albums from Walker HayesThe ShiresCarrie UnderwoodThomas RhettMiranda LambertKiefer SutherlandReba McEntireMaren MorrisTenille TownesHailey WhittersMaddie & TaeBrett EldredgeKylie MorganShania TwainHigh Valley, Jimmie Allen, Tyler Hubbard, Luke Combs and CCM artist Anne Wilson. We’re also planning to review in the future, albums from Mitchell TenpennyKane BrownLittle Big TownRita Wilson, Lainey Wilson, Kelsea Ballerini, and Ingrid Andress. I firmly reckon there’s never been a better time to listen to country music than this year… and this sentiment is confirmed in this next album that I am reviewing. Breland (full name Daniel Gerard Breland) is a multi-genre (inclusive of soul, R&B, pop and gospel… but mainly country) new-ish artist, who has released plenty of hit songs and powerful collaborations. His duet with Mickey Guyton in “Cross Country” was one of last year’s most impacting, moving, poignant and inspiring tracks; while he has also sung with Thomas Rhett (“Praise The Lord”) and Keith Urban (“Throw It Back” and “Out The Cage”). If you’re up to date with the country music scene, or even just semi-up to date with the music scene in general… then you probably would have to agree with me that Breland is one of today’s most promising and exciting new talents. His debut album Cross Country released this past week- and as I’m always in a country music mood, I thought I would review his music. After all, what better way to read about this year’s Emmy award wins than to read along with some Breland pop/country music? Standing semi-tall at a large-ish 14 tracks, we are met with an earnest and powerful album- and one that I have indeed been inspired and impacted by. It’s somewhat a tad on the long-ish side, but Breland has immeasurable passion and heart, and the dedication and bravery in these heartfelt and impacting melodies, shows very immensely and incredibly.

I’m really proud of all the collabs I have on this project. I wanted to keep the project as limited in collabs as possible, because it’s my debut project and I wanted to make sure that my voice is heard. But each of these artists who are featured on this project bring such a great energy and they’re all incredibly versatile. And the songs that they’re on are all different. The song that Ingrid is on is one that we wrote together because we’re friends here in Nashville, and we’ve gotten to know each other since I moved here. With “Here For It,” it was initially a song that we were thinking about for her project, featuring me. But when it didn’t make her project, I was like, “I really love this song,” so we flipped the parts that we sang.

“Here For It” sounds totally different than “Praise The Lord” with Thomas Rhett or “Cross Country” with Mickey Guyton or “Throw It Back” with Keith Urban. So I think all of these features, it’s me in the different sonics that I feel comfortable in, but also giving some of these artists an opportunity to say and do things that they might not normally do on the songs that they’re usually on. Mickey Guyton has made a lot of incredible music, but a song like “Cross Country” gives her the opportunity to tell her story more autobiographically. And a song like “Throw It Back” gives Keith the opportunity to get on a song that has a real hip-hop undercurrent, and to be able to perform in a slightly different way than he normally would. For Thomas Rhett, we found a real down-home black gospel beat. I love being able to collaborate with an artist because I either get to do something different, or they get to do something different, or a combination of both. I think all the collabs we have on this project are special.

Mickey has been a big inspiration for me, based on the obstacles she’s overcome as a black woman in country music. She someone who’s a friend to me, but also a mentor figure, because the amount of time and years that she’s put into this. So I love the idea of being able to get her on a song. And once I wrote “Cross Country” and put the original version out, she responded to it and said that she loved the song. So I was like, “Would you want to do a second verse and put out a different version?”

I love adding her on the song so much, that when I was trying to decide which version of the track I would put on the album, it made the most sense to put the version with her on it based on what she represents. And whatever areas we can help provide visibility for one another and for the rest of the black community and for the industry, we’ve all gone out of our way to do that. So it made sense to get her on the song, and it means a lot for me as a black artist in country music, to have artists of color featured on the project because it’s such a big part of the narrative. I know that I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if it wasn’t for some of the barriers broken by artists like Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Darius Rucker, Mickey Guyton and obviously Charley Pride.

No matter which way you slice it, Cross Country is simply just a good album! 14 tracks may be too long for some of you… but for me, I didn’t feel the album drag at all. Opening track “Here For It”, a duet with Ingrid Andress, is a gospel infused pop/country melody, and a real pick-me-up- the best way to start an album. A jovial and celebratory melody where Breland and Ingrid sing about being there for a friend in need, they powerfully relay to us that ‘…you know I’m here for it, got a whiskey and a beer for it, or if you wanna have a dead sober, head shoulder, cry it out kind of night, you know I’m good for it, droppin’ knuckles on the wood for it, any time you need a pick me up, hit me up, I’ll be waitin’ right outside…’; letting us know that we should all have that ride-or-die friend on speed dial. That someone who will just come to your side no matter the time of day or night. “Here For It” sets up Cross Country quite nicely; and lets us know that we should turn to our friends whenever we need help or just whenever we need or want someone to talk to.

The rest of the album is a giant ball of fun, as Breland tackles a myriad of issues (some superficial, some deep!) in a way that doesn’t seem preachy or intrusive. “County Line” speaks about Breland’s childhood life, and though the rap/pop melody lyrically is rather vague- you still get the sense of that close-knit family and the camaraderie that he felt when around people. Similarly, “Praise The Lord” is a communal melody fit for church on Sundays- where there are lots of people. “Praise The Lord”, sung with Thomas Rhett and co-written with Hardy, is a powerful, inspiring, and impacting worship melody, with Breland and Thomas giving Jesus thanks for just about everything on the planet. Again, it’s a vague song with a broad brush stroke… but how could you not be inspired and how could you not jump for joy, when these words are being sung?: ‘…praise the Lord for southern women, Hemi engines, crispy chicken, praise the Lord for east Atlanta, Country Grammar, and my nana, praise the Lord that I got everything I want and need and more, I might turn up on Saturday, but first thing Sunday morn’, I praise the Lord…’. “Natural”, a vibrant, eclectic, and rock-infused melody, speaks about Breland’s girlfriend or ideal girlfriend, and subtly encourages us to find someone who shares our values and morals- as he also relays that she is a natural country girl, and then goes on to describe her characteristics in detail; while the sobering (no pun intended!), reflective, moving and powerful “Told You I Could Drink”, is a collaboration with country trio Lady A. Charley Kelly, Hillary Scott and Breland’s voices combine together in harmony so well; and as Breland and Lady A sing about having a drink to get over the heartache of a broken relationship, I’d say that this song might be too close to home for Charles, who has taken a break from Lady A in order to pursue sobriety not too long ago. Still, this message of always drinking to numb your own feelings that you can’t control or comprehend, is a message we all need to process and grasp; and Breland and Lady inspire us to make a change in our lives where we don’t always have to rely on the bottle to make us ‘feel’ better.

Probably the most ‘country’ sounding song on this album is “For What It’s Worth”, an emotional, heartbreaking plea to an ex, with Breland relaying that he hopes and prays that the ex has found happiness, even if it isn’t with him, that ‘…for what it’s worth, I hope that you’re happy now, and that you found what you didn’t in me, for what it’s worth, I’d trade everything I have for what I had, I know that talk is cheap…’; while “Happy Song” sadly isn’t a happy song, but instead a reflective melody that speaks about Breland noticing that ‘his and his ex’s song’ comes on the radio far more often now that they’ve broken up rather than when they were together- hence the song isn’t happy for him anymore. These ballads are emotional and maybe toiling on the listeners (don’t you wish the album could be happy songs all the time?); but Breland is authentically and vulnerably describing the ups and downs of life, and the reality that everything isn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time. “Growing Pains”, while great in concept, isn’t great in practice, as this somewhat inspiring melody about dusting yourself off from trouble and getting on with life despite adversity, is lyrically quite stale and unimaginative; while thankfully this seems to be the only ‘bad’ track, with “Throw It Back” with Keith Urban following the lowest point on the album- and as the energetic party song speaks about letting your hair down and having a good time, this melody puts some much needed spark in the middle of the album, where it could have been easy to let the project meander along.

“Thick”, a highly poppy yet unnecessary song, speaks about Breland’s taste in women- a track that you’d have to imagine was thrown into this track list just for laughs; but it really is the title track that is the heartbeat of the album. Sung with fellow country trailblazer Mickey Guyton, this melody is a song that defies genres and speaks to the soul of everyone. With Breland and Mickey singing an inspirational song about carving your own way and about not caring what the general public think about the success that you yourself have rightfully earned; this melody feels a lot like similar lyrically to Switchfoot’s “Dare You To Move”, which encourages us to also go against the norm. And as both vocalists unashamedly praise and champion the other in their interview, let us remember to always champion diversity and inclusion when it comes to the arts- because having a different voice to give us different perspectives (regardless of if you agree with those perspectives or not!), is always something that should be advocated for.

Mickey Guyton about “Cross Country”: I really felt so honored, because I’ve been watching what you’re doing and as someone from the outside—which I know exactly how that feels—you’re so brave and bold and beautifully you. And you’re bringing so much love, such love, and light into Nashville. And to be able to be a part of it—I was actually intimidated because of how amazing of a singer you are and how amazing of a writer you are. And I just wanted so hard to do you justice.

You would think a girl in L.A., from Texas, how does she get to Nashville? Where I am right now in my life, I can’t take credit for it, honestly. It’s still unbelievable to me. But I said I wanted to sing country music and I had no way of knowing how to do that. I did a year’s worth of Zoom sessions, educating many people in the country music industry about my experiences as a Black person, as a Black woman. And here we are, it’s 2021, about a year later, and I don’t see very many female or male Black, brown artists being signed at record labels. And granted we’re in a pandemic, so I’m trying to take note of that and be understanding of that. But where is the change?

Breland about “Cross Country” and Mickey’s inclusion on the track: You did your thing and I’m so grateful and even more honored. You are a young legend in the making and for me to have you on this song at this time in this type of a year and climate is so significant to me, and I’m just blown away that I even have you on the record in the first place.

“Good For You”, an acoustic ballad of lamentation, has Breland contemplating on a failed relationship, relaying that he was good at doing everything else, except for loving this person that he should have- which in hindsight meant that he wasn’t actually good at everything else (because he lost her in the end, and ‘everything else’ was done primarily in service to the one he lost!); while “Don’t Look At Me” celebrates a new burgeoning relationship, with Breland singing about how his current partner makes him feel giddy and all kinds of happy, even when he’s supposed to feel angry and mad. Cross Country then ends with “Alone At The Ranch”, a song of love to his partner, letting her know that he wants to make love to her while they’re ‘alone at the ranch’.

“Cross Country” is definitely a mission statement. I consider it a social movement. You’ve got music and sports, and not a whole lot else that can bring two completely different people with different backgrounds and perspectives together. But if I want to reach a bunch of different people, I have to paint on a broader canvas. A lot of other genres, R&B, hip-hop and pop are all playing together, and I realize that country is often isolated and siloed on its own.

I would love more collaboration across genres. I think there’s a lot of incredible music that plays on the periphery of country or includes elements that a country audience might be interested to hear, but there are systems in place that don’t allow for that to happen. But this album has the potential to do that, just based on the way we put it together: Every song is rooted in country in some capacity, but we’re also playing around with a lot of other elements of soul, gospel, hip-hop, pop, just playing around with these different intersections. The whole album is a hypothesis really — asking the question, “What if country music sounded like this?”

It’s a lot of things [what else the industry can do to support diversity], but seeing a diversity of acts on tours [would be big]. I thought it was cool to see Kelsea Ballerini on a Jonas Brothers tour. I think it comes down to A&R at labels, where if an artist has a song that doesn’t fit super cleanly into a traditional country box, let them put it out and see what happens.

But then it comes down to country radio, because artists are still playing a game of trying to get something to country radio — but who knows how diverse country radio could actually be, if no one is willing to test certain things against the market? At some point, we have to see if a song like “Grand” by Kane Brown can have as much success as a “One Mississippi” or “Like I Love Country Music.” And then, from a DSP perspective and streaming, where people are more open to the possibility of cross-genre collaborations, we need more crossover playlists.

Cross Country by Breland is definitely a hybrid album. It’s a country album, but it’s more than that. It’s a brilliant debut, and a project that definitely will be on my playlists on Spotify for many months and years to come. There are a couple of melodies that could have been omitted to make the track list tighter and more cohesive (“Growing Pains” and “Thick” come to mind); but all in all, this is an impressive debut. Breland isn’t a household name- not just yet. But I hope through this full-length debut album; that people won’t continue to sleep on him, and that he will finally get the recognition that he deserves. Sure, Breland’s songs aren’t totally country, but who these days sticks to one genre for their entire career? One may think that Cross Country is a mishmash, the story of someone trying to find out his identity, but I for one see a common thread- Breland collaborating with his friends and creating honest music that people can relate to- the title track is evidence of this fact. On the whole Cross Country is one of the few shining lights amongst a sea of sameness in country music (or in music in general!), and believe you me, an energetic and positive album like this is just what we need during the never-ending pandemic! So, if you’re feeling down and miserable, why don’t you put on Cross Country and start singing along? I guarantee it, it’ll bring a smile to your face!

I wanna reach underserved communities, people who might really love this music if given a chance. If I can be the person that helps someone challenge a preconceived notion, or a prejudice that they have against something, that’s what I am equipped to do.

The people that I look at for inspiration are like Pharrell and the Jamie Foxxes and the Justin Timberlakes, the Donald Glovers. I definitely see music continuing to be at the forefront of what it is that I do, but having a bunch of other projects, — whether it’s in TV, film, comedy, activism, a lot of different mediums… I’m an ambitious person. I’m always thinking of what the next moves are gonna be.

4 songs to listen to: Here For It, Told You I Could Drink, Throw It Back, Cross Country

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, Lady A, Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line

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