EMI Records / UMG Recordings
Release Date: January 27th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Dancin’ In The Country
- 5 Foot 9
- Baby Gets Her Lovin’
- Everybody Needs A Bar
- Me For Me
- I’m The Only One
- She Can
- Small Town Me
- Inside And Out
- Out This Way
- By The Way
- How Red
- Leave Me Alone
- Miss My Daddy
- Way Home
In 2021 a couple of years ago, we claimed that June 25th 2021 was a momentous day in history because of Brian Kelley’s debut solo album release. We reviewed Sunshine State Of Mind, but now it’s time for another momentous day. In January this year (January 27th 2023), Tyler Hubbard, the other member of the now defunct duo Florida Georgia Line, released his debut solo full length album, aptly titled Tyler Hubbard. With Brian and Tyler previously in the past alluding to a band hiatus or a band breakup or ‘spreading of the wings’ or ‘finding themselves apart from each other’ or whatever else they both classify this ‘breakup’ or ‘mutual band uncoupling’ as (which is now an official band break up!); the fact of the matter was that they both coined the ambiguous term of testing the waters to see how making music on their own as a solo artist feels like. Thus, we are here at a crossroads. The band has broken up, Sunshine State Of Mind was a critical success… and where does that leave Tyler as a songwriter, singer, performer and as a solo artist?
Florida Georgia Line, when they were active, were somewhat of a mixed, bag, are somewhat of an enigma. The country duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley have been in and around the country music since the formation of the duo in 2010- with their latest album Life Rolls On being their 5th album so far. However, even though Tyler and Brian have their die-hard fans (which doesn’t include myself- I’m only a casual listener!), they equally have their critics and their haters. Some would say these guys are too cliché with their generic lyrics about beers and trucks and girls and summertime and having a good time and more beer and cars and more girls. Yet others feel as if the band revolutionised the country genre and have put the fun back into country music. And there is a smorgasbord of reactions all across the board- and for a long time I was indifferent to the duo. However, I have for the better part of three years, dived deep into the country genre (read all my reviews here!). And let me just say that there’s something about country music that just tugs at my emotions- it’s super honest, emotional, personal and vulnerable holistically; and artists like Kelsea Ballerini, Jana Kramer, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae, Hunter Hayes, Carrie Underwood, Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Little Big Town and Sugarland to name a few (or a lot!), have all resonated with me greatly over the past few years.
Sadly though, FGL’s latest album Life Rolls On didn’t interest me one bit- I actually only decided to review their album and check them out properly purely based on the fact that Tyler and Brian were both heavily involved in the production of Chris Tomlin’s album Chris Tomlin & Friends. Alas, even though Chris Tomlin & Friends was a stellar album with hardly a weak spot; Life Rolls On was just… meh. It’s nothing special, but nothing bad either. Tyler and Brian’s hearts are in the right place though, and it’s clear that they’re still having fun here after all these years. And this brings me to Tyler Hubbard the album. While Sunshine State Of Mind is an ambitiously long (17 track!), relaxing and comforting album from Brian- and one that is thoroughly enjoyable for myself- with a running theme of the beach and having a relaxing time in the water and in the sand; there is an incredibly stark difference between Brian’s solo work and this bloated 18 track project from Tyler. Tyler Hubbard should be distinct, as a ‘debut’ album by a solo artist. It should sound like something different to FGL. But… Tyler Hubbard is unfortunately… more of the same old FGL. Maybe it’s because Tyler was the chief singer in FGL generally speaking. But for whatever reason, I expected this album to be like Brian’s album. I haven’t resonated with FGL and their latest effort (although I might revisit listening to their short but illustrious and divisive discography in the future!). And similar to FGL, Tyler’s album is unfortunately like the band’s discography. Promising in parts, underwhelming as a whole. Tyler’s passion is here, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something missing here, and until I figure out what it is, then this project (is it really deserving of being 18 tracks long!) is only going to be… quite mediocre.
A quick glance across this track list and a quick listen reveals a formulaic and tired approach, and an album that seems to be not focused nor niche. It’s as if Tyler rounded up a bunch of his friends, wrote whatever they felt like regardless of theme or cohesiveness, threw it up in the air, and settled for whatever stuck. Yes, there is passion. But passion alone can only bring you so much. Album opener “Dancin’ In The Country” is extremely poppy and catchy where Tyler speaks about taking his wife out to his favourite bar where they can go dancing until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a melody that isn’t especially deep, and for a country song, this melody is underwhelming, considering that a lot of country songs are lyrically deep and meaningful. Co-written with Keith Urban, “Dancin’ In The Country” isn’t anything to be excited over, but it does speak about treating your spouse to a great night out (similar in theme to Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like”)… so I guess the song earns points on that front? The sweet but super corny love song “5 Foot 9” follows, where Tyler pours out his praise for his wife and relentlessly reiterates how much he loves her- yet this track is cringe at its best and boring and mediocre at its worst.
The rest of the self-titled album suffers an identity crisis. Tyler is all over the map musically, and it shows with the lazy lyrics, as we are treated to a solid album, but nothing more. “Baby Gets Her Lovin’” is a high point on the project, and is a country/pop/rock melody that is quite unique melodically due to the presence of fiddles and strings and strong electric guitar, as Tyler champions his wife and places her on an incredibly high pedestal; while Tyler unfortunately presents his lowest point on the album next with the lyrically lazy and musically bland “Everybody Needs A Bar”, where he painfully lists of many reasons why he loves going to his local bar. “Me For Me” is as corny and cliché a single as you can get, with Tyler singing about how is wife loves him just the way he is (is he indirectly championing stagnation in life?); while the guitar and piano ballad “Tough”, co-written with Bebe Rexha, is a high point, but is somewhat distasteful, as Tyler reiterates that what doesn’t hill us makes us stronger (like in Kelly Clarkson’s song!), but people going through tough times would think this song is sacrilege and mocking their plights and issues. “I’m the Only One” is sadly another misstep, as it seems to be a rehash musically and lyrically of “Inside And Out” (a song further down the track list)- with Tyler saying that he’s lucky to have his wife… but this time in a lyrically lazy way. Conversely, the aforementioned “Inside And Out”, probably the most vibrant and emotional song on the album, is a reason why I will still keep giving Tyler a chance, as this melody is a brilliantly sung and beautifully recorded love song from Tyler to his wife, with him declaring that he loves her inside and out.
“She Can”, another ‘praise-worthy’ song directed to Tyler’s wife, is a soothing, serene and beautifully created album highlight- but the song loses its value with the bloated hour long track list; while “Small Town Me” is typical FGL. There’s some banjo here that lifts the track, but only barely, as Tyler lazily conveys that he’ll always have his small town and his roots at the heart of the matter- even when he goes off into the city and the big, wide, world, his heart is seemingly still at home in his small town. And that’s a fine sentiment, but is it believable, coming from a successful artist who has been successful because of the city? Granted, I do not know Tyler’s hard, and it’s likely that he is genuine in this song. But I find it hard believing Tyler when he says that he’ll always be a small town guy. Call me crazy, but that’s how I feel at the moment. Sadly, “Out This Way” is an equally nonsensical and painful version of Thomas Rhett’s “Redneck Be Like”, with Tyler describing his life out in the country; however “By The Way”, another gracious and inspiring song, speaks about Tyler’s love for his wife and about how we all should treat our spouses or our partners as well- with unconditional and unequivocal love.
“Paradise” (high point), is a cleverly crafted ballad about how Tyler is so, so, much in love with wife; but the album is followed by the song “How Red”, which… well, the less said about that one, the better. Tyler frustrates me, because he writes some powerful pearls of wisdom followed by utter rubbish, and that is the case with this album. there’s incredible potential here, but it’s wasted in my opinion, because half of the songs can be cut and the album will be more fantastic for it. “35’s” (a reflective ballad about growing up and slowing down), and “Leave Me Alone” (a solid yet forgettable praiseworthy and celebratory track directed to Tyler’s wife for being just who she is) follow. But it is really “Miss My Daddy” (a heartbreaking and emotional song about Tyler’s late father) and “Way Home” (a confessional prayer to God and somewhat of a worshipful melody) that give me hope for the rest of Tyler’s solo career, because he really has saved his two best songs for the end of the album!
I would say I was definitely impacted by losing my dad in a lot of ways. I tried to be really intentional at that time. I was 20 years old — I was still a kid. I was still figuring things out, but I’d heard enough stories to know, “OK, this can go one of two ways.”
I really wanted to stay on a path that would make him proud and serve me well. I tried to be intentional about that over the years. If I developed anything unhealthy, I tried to deal with it and tried to just maintain good mental health and emotional health around that.
I did [show the track Miss My Daddy to my mother]. I figured maybe in some way it would be helpful for her to hear it too. She liked it and said she was emotional and she could relate and missed him a ton. I just thought it might be cool for her to hear my heart, because we don’t talk about it that often, about how we’re currently feeling or doing.
The power of music is incredible. A lot of times it can be really healing and therapeutic, and also, just the emotions that music can bring up. It’s pretty special. It’s a gift and I take it as a responsibility to lean into that gift a little bit.
With FGL ‘parting ways’ so that both members can go solo, but with the band theoretically and technically not breaking up, one could have said that Life Rolls On marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. There’s no denying the passion here as Tyler and Brian as a duo are one of today’s most ingenious and enthusiastic groups… yet their potential is yet again not realised here. Life Rolls On is good- but it’s not great. Tyler Hubbard’s solo album is a mixed bag, and unlike Brian Kelley’s solo effort, which took me by surprise in a good way, this album (save for the incredibly hard-hitting final two tracks), is much more expected, with some powerful melodies mixed in with some underwhelming ones. As a singer and a songwriter, Tyler’s best moments are superb (see “Inside And Out”, “Miss My Daddy”, “Way Home” as the perfect examples), while other songs are head scratchers (“Everybody Needs A Bar”, “How Red”, “Out This Way”… really?); and so I do believe that Tyler can succeed and resonate more with myself if he can sing more of the vulnerable stuff. At this rate though, this self-titled album is only ok… but if you resonate with all of it, that’s more than ok because we all have different tastes. I’m still hanging out for Tyler’s sophomore album whenever that may be, because I’ve heard enough to be intrigued. But as a debut solo album, I’ll only cherry pick some tracks. Should you all do the same? Well that depends on whether you love bro-country or not.
There are a lot of pluses, there are a few negatives. I have to take full responsibility for every decision, full responsibility for my own destiny, which is really a plus. I don’t have anybody else to blame anything on. There’s a lot of freedom in stepping into this new season, especially after 12 years of being a “we,” and now having more of an individuality and ultimately connect with people on a more personal level. You can go even deeper when it’s just you personally, and so it’s been really fun to step into and experience that.
You take that song [Miss My Daddy], you take “Me for Me,” “Small Town Me,” you can even take “Way Home” — they’re very autobiographical, very on-the-head personal, telling my story almost directly. Those types of songs I’ve never had the opportunity to explore writing, just due to the dynamic of being in a band, and so it’s a cool opportunity that I really didn’t expect or see coming.
Well, it’s hard to say [whether FGL is coming back]. If we have learned anything over the last three years, it’s that we can’t predict the future, right? But for me, it’s a stop. I’d never say never, and I’ll continue to say that because I feel like you never know. But I’ll follow that up by saying I’m extremely happy and fulfilled in the role that I’m in. This is not a one-off for me. This is a long play. This is a career shift
I realized multiple things, [including] that the stars have to align so much for this type of stuff to happen — and so I have a new gratitude for every little piece of success. I’ve reminded myself the second go-round to slow down and really celebrate the little victories, and not just think about the ultimate goal, or see how quickly I can get to stadiums. It’s like, “Let’s enjoy this ride, because it’s the fun part.” I feel like I’m a little more mature than I was at 25 years old, so to get to have that life experience — and to get to come home to three beautiful kids and a wife — it’s just a really sweet spot I’m in in life right now.
It was intentional [no collaborations]. If it were up to me, I’d probably always make music with friends, but I felt like it was important if I wanted to introduce myself to the world as an artist and an individual to be an individual. I have always made music with a partner, so it was a unique thing for me. For this first project, I want to introduce Tyler Hubbard by myself, to give the fans a clearer perspective and a clear introduction. And then after that, I can get back into what I love so much in doing collaborations and features. It was hard for me. I had to say no to a lot of friends and to a lot of great songs. I was just like, “Give me a year and a half. I’ve really got to stick to the strategy here.”
3 songs to listen to: Baby Gets Her Lovin’, Inside And Out, Miss My Daddy, Way Home
RIYL: Blake Shelton, Kelsea Ballerini, Lady A, Thomas Rhett, Hardy, Luke Bryan