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Chris Young Pushed to Stretch His Style, Vocal Limits on ‘A.M.’

Chris Young
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

For Chris Young, a new album is an opportunity to push himself further both creatively and vocally. This comes with risks. It’s easy to push too far and find your fans responding with criticism, or even worse, ambivalence. That doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem for this 28-year-old.

‘A.M.,’ which hit stores on Sept. 17, features songs that Young admits he’s not sure how he’ll sing live. Approximately half of the 11 new tracks will get dropped into his setlist. Following up the rowdy ‘Aw Naw’ with a more subdued, but vocally challenging, song like ‘Goodbye’ is like sprinting 100 yards and then diving to the bottom of a 10-foot-deep swimming pool.

“Why did I do that?” Young often asks himself after every album drops. He’s kidding, of course, as this hasn’t truly been an issue — not one fans have noticed, anyway. But still, he keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing …

‘Aw Naw’ was the one song that pushed him outside his comfort zone as a songwriter, the singer told Taste of Country during a phone interview from his tour bus in Idaho. Chris DeStefano came up with the title of the song, and at first Young thought it was ridiculous. “You’re gonna have to tell people how to spell that,” he says he told his co-writing partner.

The country-rocker is louder than any single he’s released to date, but the Tennessee native says he wasn’t concerned about the reaction to it. It was time for something different, because an artist that isn’t pushed becomes stagnant, predictable and (over time) irrelevant.

“The record sounds different than what we’ve done in the past,” Young said previously. “I feel like my songwriting on this record moved a little different and we wanted this record to be a little bit different than what we’ve done before.”

He admits now that he may have overstated this, as there are still plenty of love songs, ballads and moments where fans of his traditional country voice can stand back and say, “Dang!” ‘Text Me Texas’ is a song that’s unlikely to become a single, but it’s one to marvel. ‘Goodbye’ may be his favorite of the ballads, Young dishes, admitting that it’s a likely single.

‘Forgiveness’ is the one song that might offer the biggest surprise, however. This easy-to-sing organic cut finds Young stepping back from the microphone for a softer performance. He says he loves the “left-footed” descriptions of love in the song. He doesn’t have anyone on his mind while he sings this track, but chose it above others he’d written because it’s such a strong lyric.

It ain’t hiding in no bottle on a shelf / Or lying in the bed of someone else / I can’t feel it on some Sunday morning pew,” he belts during the next-to-last song’s chorus. “And one sleepless night it dawned on me / The piece I need so desperately / Is buried in the one place I can’t get to / Girl, it’s gotta come from you.”

As for the rowdy, the title track and ‘Nothin’ But the Cooler Left’ join ‘Lighters in the Air’ and ‘Aw Naw’ as quasi hell-raisers. The Top 20 single is by far the loudest, but Young stays true to his promise that this album will better reflect his live show.

Since releasing ‘Neon’ in 2011, Young has toyed with headlining shows, scored an ACMs nomination for Male Vocalist of the Year and landed his first Platinum single, in addition to two more No. 1 hits and a Top 5. ‘A.M.’ represents the next chapter — one Young hopes will be bigger and louder.

A Platinum album and a headlining tour are among the singer’s unofficial goals for this project. Ultimately, he wants to be playing arenas, because “Why not?” he asks matter-of-factly.

While fans and industry folk might call him one of the best pure vocalists in country music, Young won’t say that about himself. When asked who his top three are, he considers the options carefully.

Carrie Underwood,” he says before pausing for a long time. “Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert.”

As for himself? Well, he’ll never admit he’s in that class of singer, but his fans will. ‘A.M’ isn’t a pure vocal showcase, but Young is moving forward by stepping backwards, in a way. The new project proves him to be a more well-rounded talent, not just a sexy, singing powerhouse.

Next: Chris Young Kicks Out a Rowdy Concertgoer

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