“Coming from my first album, I still didn’t feel accepted by Nashville,” rising country star Kane Brown told Apple Music shortly before the release of his second LP, Experiment. “So, for this album, it was like a second chance.” In a genre sometimes criticized as conservative, Brown stood out from the beginning. Yes, he looked different—heavily tattooed, rocking diamond earrings, mixed-race in a predominantly white scene—but his career was just as novel by Nashville standards: The Georgia native gained fans and record label interest by posting performance videos on Facebook, rather than emerging fully formed via the usual industry machine. “People have a picture of what they think country should look like,” Brown said. “They look at my tattoos and my style that I wear, my clothes, and my earrings, and it’s always, ‘Oh, Waylon and Cash are rolling in their graves right now. Just put a cowboy hat on. Where’s your belt buckles?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not me. Why be something that I’m not?’” But Brown’s image and career path have obscured the fact that when it comes to his actual music, he isn’t throwing out modern-day country conventions—he’s honing them. He has a warm, deep voice in the classic Nashville mold, and he and his skilled band favor a clean blend of country and classic rock, with banjos sitting comfortably alongside electric guitar and heavy drums; album opener “Baby Come Back to Me” even borrows the high-school bleachers backbeat from Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Like his self-tltled freshman album, there are nods to hip-hop and R&B—see the trap hi-hats on “American Bad Dream” or the Mint Condition-esque band hits on “Weekend”—but these songs are undeniably country. Brown may have started out as a Nashville outsider, but he’s making himself right at home.

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