The long awaited return of the genre-bending post-bro-country poster boy is finally upon us, but can Sam Hunt live up to the stratospheric success of his debut full-length Montevallo and 2017’s record-breaking Body Like a Back Road single?
2013 marked the peak of the phenomenon known as bro-country, that much is true. The stomach-churning grunts and dated bling-era hip-hop references of Luke Bryan’s enjoyable-in-irony-only single That’s My Kind Of Night left the less financially-inclined members of the country music community weary, tired, but hopeful for a new dawn. A dawn free of camouflaged pop songs with snap beats and blue jean objectification in equal measure, to bring the genre back to the organic instrumental tones and emotive tumbleweed textures it once knew.
Enter Sam Hunt. Unapologetically committed to neither of the aforementioned desires, yet nonetheless an exceptional breakout star in the genre. More groundbreaking than nostalgic, gargantuan singles such as the boom bap-ing House Party and the pedal steel-hinted EDM anthem Break Up in a Small Town took all the youthful energy that made bro-country so successful, and channeled it into an album stacked to the rafters with tasteful crossovers. Its clout in Hunt’s discography was only surpassed in 2017, when the laid-back R&B-tinged single Body Like a Back Road reached unprecedented commercial heights, breaking the record for the most consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot Country Chart with 34.
It seemed like Hunt could do no wrong. His smooth voice, veteran songwriting talents and ear for progress prospectively placed whatever his next release was to be as the most anticipated in modern country history. It took over a year, but 2018’s Downtown’s Dead flopped, and flopped hard in comparison to its predecessors, becoming Hunt’s lowest charting single to date. The overly clean, processed instrumental harked back to his previous, frankly better singles and the underwritten hook just didn’t hit the mark with country fans; a safe move he was punished for, but one he could afford thanks to the name value amassed by his countless prior successes.
"Sam Hunt’s latest offering isn’t the next Body Like a Back Road – even Hunt himself probably knows that’s the case - but that happens to make Kinfolks a more enjoyable start-to-finish listen."
2019’s here, and Sam Hunt’s ready to give it another whack. Preceded by a minimal social media campaign (he really doesn’t need it at this point), Kinfolks is the title of the track, and it’s neither trailblazing nor safe - but it’s a good song, and that he does need.
The single’s opening, with all its naturalistic acoustic guitar tones, scenic pedal steel and understated drum work teases speculators that Hunt may finally be giving in to the down-to-earth revivalist movement now sweeping the genre, and they wouldn’t be entirely mistaken. Hunt sounds more relaxed here, more in tune with the trends of the genre than he was on the lacklustre Downtown’s Dead, and it shows in how comfortably he bends his faultless voice over the anthemic chorus. But by the time it comes around, any rumours that Hunt is planning to make like Midland and dust off the Georgia twang in his voice are firmly put to bed. The hook on Kinfolks is more Raised on It than Body Like a Back Road, but it still boasts the crashing snares and soaring production of a 21st century country A-lister.
"Unmistakable catchiness aside, Hunt feels honest, charming and likeable all the way through [Kinfolks]."
But it’s Hunt’s sentiments that really sell his latest single. A concise song focussed purely around the prospect of meeting a girl for the first time and instantly visualising her inside one’s treasured hometown, unmistakable catchiness aside, Hunt feels honest, charming and likeable for all three minutes. Lyrics “You know I ain’t ever have a type, having a type takes two/But I know what I like and you’re the only one of you” narrowly dodge the sharp, shallow edge of cocky bro-country and swoon Hunt into the realm of passion and affairs of the heart, making a match for the more grounded production values on display.
Image courtesy of Connor Dwyer
And the production here really is excellent, expertly using Hunt’s esteemed voice to transition from chilled-out verse to vast, singalong chorus with ease. A track as assured as Kinfolks could really do with a more obvious bridge though, as a post-second chorus set of muted vocal turns (“I don’t wanna wait around for the right time”) make for a mildly frustrating ‘what could’ve been’ moment as the track snaps grippingly from section to section with almost excessive concision.
All in all, Sam Hunt’s latest offering isn’t the next Body Like a Back Road – even Hunt himself probably knows that’s the case - but that happens to make Kinfolks a more enjoyable start-to-finish listen. With a chorus likely to stick to contemporary country radio for the foreseeable future and a casually relatable set of lyrics, the single is a pleasing return to form for the prodigal singer-songwriter.