Ka-Ching…with Twang – Tyler Hubbard

Six of the songs on the debut album by the ‘Georgia’ bloke from the platinum-selling duo Florida Georgia Line appeared last year on an EP called Dancin’ In The Country. Rather than repeat myself, here’s the link to it.

There’s one addendum: because my ears had switched off for the outro, I missed Tyler rattling off names of bars on Lower Broadway on Everybody Needs A Bar (‘Blake’s got Ol’ Red!’ he mentions), as well as the line ‘Carrie-oke Underwood’.

I described Tyler’s new direction using the term the McGraw Pivot, since he was trying to stay successful in his second decade as an A-Lister. In 2023 as in 2003, the sound of contemporary country has moved on and the star has to get with the times or risk irrelevance. Remember how Tim McGraw had a UK number one singing the hook on Over and Over by Nelly, then brought out his career song Live Like You Were Dying? That sort of thing.

Tyler Hubbard hit paydirt by following this to the letter. FGL had a 55-week Billboard Country number one Meant To Be, a duet with Bebe Rexha whose durability was due to a stupid rule that any country song that crossed over to the pop charts would have their streams linked to its country performance (which was why Despacito was a number one Latin hit for over a year too). As a thank you, Bebe is in the credits to Tough, a song about holding on and being strong, especially with ‘my faith to pull me through’. I am near certain there will be a second version or a live performance where Bebe shows up. I am just as certain it won’t make as much money as Meant To Be.

I really liked Me For Me when it emerged a few weeks before the album. Written with both Russell Dickerson and Thomas Rhett, it’s a certain single and has a brilliant chorus that contains a gorgeous diminished chord. The message of the song is the same as ‘love your perfect imperfections’, which made John Legend richer even than Tyler. It also reminds me that FGL, though a duo, were the closest thing to a country boyband in the 2010s, dancing around and rocking jeans with holes in them, which is funnily enough a reference on Me For Me.

To his credit, Tyler is credited as a writer on all 18 tracks as well as co-producing the album which is brought out via Hubbard House Records, an imprint of Universal Music. As you would expect for the solo album of a big-ticket performer, big Music Row names were in the room to write the songs. Ashley Gorley and Ben Johnson joined Tyler for Leave Me Alone (‘I love the way your love won’t leave me alone’), the sort of song Luke Bryan has made (or rather Gorley has given Luke) for a decade and which also processes Tyler’s vocals much as Tim McGraw’s had been on Southern Girl.

Rodney Clawson was there for Paradise, a piano ballad which paints a utopian picture. It sounds like a McGraw song on purpose, right down to the melody lines; it might as well be called Meanwhile Back at the Beach. 35’s, meanwhile, chugs along with our narrator singing of his desire to ‘slow down…make some time to kill’.

Canaan Smith co-wrote three tunes: as well as Baby Gets Her Lovin’, which first appeared last year as part of the EP that teased the album, Canaan contributes to the funky meet-cute By The Way – which has a pretty pedal steel solo but little besides that to elevate it beyond filler – and the album’s closing track Way Home, which is all about Tyler’s spiritual leaning which he hinted at on songs like Dirt. It’s his take on Amazing Grace, since he once was lost and now, with Jesus at the wheel, he is found.

Elsewhere on the album, there’s the typical Music Row interpretation of rural themes. Out This Way’s hymn to rural life is enlivened by a half-rapped delivery; it’s basically a rewrite of Up Down set to the chords of Ridin’ Roads by Dustin Lynch. It’s filler. Small Town Me sees millionaire, diamond-selling Tyler recall a time before all the excesses when he had a ‘beat-up pawn-shop guitars’ and ‘talked to Jesus, I believed John 3:16’.

Not for the first time when listening to Tyler’s music, Bo Burnham’s Pandering popped into my head. How Red (‘is your neck of the woods’) is a fun way of asking a listener how rural they are, again through the form of questions and signifiers: ‘If you say “hell yeah, hot damn!” I can see us getting along.’ The song shows two things: the influence of Hardy on contemporary songwriting in Nashville, and that pandering can be charming too.

She Can, which more than anything else reminds me of The Candy Man from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is one of those songs which could work as Christian music with a different protagonist. Instead, it’s a familiar love song which is perfect for wedding video montages.

Miss My Daddy is a 100%-er. I could imagine McGraw going on about his dad, who died in 2007 before Cruise made Tyler a millionaire (did I already mention that he’s rich?) teaching him ‘how to work a clutch’ and how if the pair could talk now ‘his grandkids talk about the man they never knew’. As long as Nashville is making money, its big acts will put songs about their late parents as the penultimate track of an 18-track album.

I’d say that preferred Brian Kelley’s Florida beach album from last year, but it’s not a competition between FGL members. I would put money on Tyler Hubbard playing C2C 2024, on an undercard which features Tim McGraw as headliner. That’d be a good show full of hits, even though most people will be waiting for Tyler’s old favourites rather than his new, McGraw-influenced pop music.

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