If I Know Me
When Morgan Wallen appeared on The Voice in 2014, he had a great story: An aspiring pitcher from Tennessee who tore his UCL and ended his major-league dreams while throwing a pitch, he decided to turn to singing after finding his voice in church. His audition with Howie Day’s early-2000s acousti-pop hit “Collide” impressed judges Shakira and Usher right away, and although he exited the competition early, he made an impression on people in the business and at home. Wallen established himself as a songwriter in Nashville, penning songs for the likes of Jason Aldean and Dallas Smith; his collaborations with Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley proved particularly fruitful and led to Wallen touring with the country-pop hitmakers when he was still mainly known as a reality-TV alum. If I Know Me, Wallen’s first LP, shows how he both forged his own path in Nashville and took key lessons from his former tourmates, who help him open the album. A laidback celebration of the weekend, “Up Down” boasts over a loping beat of the ability to “turn this parkin’ lot into a party/with an ice chest and some cold beer.” Wallen’s rise to stadium-headliner status is obvious in hindsight while listening to If I Know Me, which is a concise representation of what the early-’10s bro-country boom had evolved to later in the decade; there are cadences and breakbeats adapted from hip-hop, as on the bereft “Whiskey Glasses,” straight-up throwbacks to older Nashville eras like the two-stepping “Little Rain” and the rave-up “Happy Hour,” and stormy rock tracks that recall brooding post-grunge like “Not Good at Not.” Leading the way is the singer’s drawled delivery, giving extra despair to If I Know Me’s tear-in-the-beer tracks and adding insouciance to its more revelry-minded offerings.