One Thing At A Time

One Thing At A Time

“I ain’t no Superman, I’m just the way I am,” Morgan Wallen drawls on the title track of his third album. That everyday-guy status—as well as a voice smooth as bourbon—had helped propel him to the top of the charts in the late 2010s. After a short stint on The Voice gave him his first visibility in 2014, his 2018 debut, If I Know Me, went to No. 1 on the country charts, and its 2021 follow-up, Dangerous: The Double Album, firmly established him as a crossover star. Apple Music’s top album of 2023 continues the path of Dangerous, packing in three dozen tracks about whiskey, women, and world-weariness that add high-concept metaphors and surprising cross-genre pollination (downcast nu-metal balladry, twitchy trap snares) to sturdy Nashville songwriting. Wallen’s voice ties the whole package together, his conversational delivery helping tracks like the swaying recollection “Last Night” sound as natural as morning-after phone calls; his fluid twang is a big part of his appeal, giving the way he digs into his imperfections and asserts that he’s a regular dude a shot of realism believable enough to attract stadium-size crowds. One Thing At A Time’s 36 tracks offer country fans of all generations, whether raised on honky-tonk jukeboxes or genre-melding streaming services, something to grab onto. The rollicking “Everything I Love” interpolates The Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” while the besotted “180 (Lifestyle)” borrows its boastful chorus from Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle.” There are also ingenious metaphors; the rueful “’98 Braves” uses as its central conceit the legendarily thwarted run of the baseball team that at one time represented the playoff hopes of the entire South, and “You Proof” charts a lover’s allure alongside alcoholic beverages’ potency scale. It’s not the most surprising analogy, but it rings true—and it illustrates Wallen’s ability to turn life’s details into modern country anthems.

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