Luke Bryan, "What Makes You Country" (Capitol Records Nashville )
If Luke Bryan has faced criticism from some country purists that his anthems aren't true to the music form's roots, he's got an answer — a polite one, mind you — for them.
The opening title song on his 15-track CD "What Makes You Country" offers a welcoming, big tent view of the genre the includes cowboys in Texas, hunters in Georgia and folks hauling bails or fishing or "covered in peanut dust."
The message is clear — whether country is in your blood or you were converted by a song on the radio, don't judge. "You do your kinda country/I do my kinda country," he sings.
Bryan's country is playful, inclusive, flirty and good-natured on the album. He's still knocking back a few — "Hungover in a Hotel Room," ''Drinking Again" (and later a cute shout-out to Beyonce with the lyric "drunk in love") — but his optimism is undiluted by booze.
Few other people could sing the sappy "Most People Are Good" and get away with it. (Also, he gets kudos for the apparent embrace of same-sex couples, a logical extension of his big tent inclusiveness: "I believe you love who you love/Ain't nothing you should ever be ashamed of")
The album sags somewhat in the middle — "Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset," ''Bad Lovers" and "She's a Hot One" are a little weak — but Bryan roars back with the sweet and fatherly "Pick It Up" and the sexy rocker "Driving This Thing."
"What Makes You Country" feels a natural extension of 2015's "Kill the Lights" and is filled with tunes you'll be stomping along with long before they've even finished their first spin. One of the highlights is "Light It Up," in which he confesses he anxiously checks his cellphone every few minutes for word back from a lover: "I get so neurotic about it, baby."
Bryan also gets a songwriting credit on seven of the songs — and they're among the strongest. Call what he does whatever you like — modern-country, bro-country, arena-country or crossover-country — Bryan is not going to have trouble getting his calls returned.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits