For any pop fan keeping score at home who might be having trouble telling their Manful Country Himbos apart: Jason Aldean is the one who raps.
On last year’s behemoth hit “Dirt Road Anthem,” he showed off a pretty decent flow. On his new album, “Night Train,” Nashville’s most polite outlaw tackles the hip-hop/country track “1994” with even greater furniture-chewing zeal. “1994” is a blissfully weird ode to then-country-star Joe Diffie, and Aldean’s fealty to his musical elder takes any potential sting out of his urban border crossing. (Substitute the lyric “Hey Joe, Joe/Joe Diffie” chorus with “Hey Jay, Jay/Jay-Z,” and it would be a different story.)
The rest of “Night Train” is made with equal, constituency-tending care, a selection of well-chosen songs (Aldean doesn’t write his own material) done extravagantly well. “Night Train” trawls the shallow reaches of country, hip-hop, rock and pop, takes a leisurely drive down the New Jersey Turnpike in search of stray Springsteen and Bon Jovi riffs, and comes up with something entirely . . . the same, only better.
Aldean’s music is often barely distinguishable from that of peers such as Luke Bryan and Eric Church, but because he’s more famous than they are, all the best clichés were saved for him. His sad ballads about being lonesome (“I Don’t Do Lonely Well”) are better than other people’s sad ballads about being lonesome. His it’s-okay-that-you’re-a-stripper-honey number (“Black Tears”) is better than other folks’ moderately understanding songs about strippers. His songs in defense of things most people aren’t actually against, such as small towns and pickup trucks, are more vehement than anyone else’s.
The only misstep: “Wheels Rollin’,” a road anthem with a thematic resemblance to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” (”Here I go/Down this road”) is so pronounced that it feels less like an homage and more like karaoke.
“This Nothin’ Town,” “Take a Little Ride,” “1994”