Kristian Bush, famously known for being one half of Sugarland with Jennifer Nettles, wanted to do something to celebrate turning 52 in March this year. What better thing could he do than embark on a project to release 52 songs?! The first batch of songs, entitled ’52 ATL x BNA’ was released Friday (March 25th). Bush co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs with Nashville writers like Bob DiPiero, Liz Rose and Luke Dick whilst recording in Atlanta alongside R&B musicians, including famed drummer Jorei Flynn and Jerry Freeman of the Horns Unlimited and Black Bettys.
“Somewhere between the horns, the pedal steel and the background singers you get a glimpse at what it’s like to make Country music from Atlanta,’ Bush declares, ‘It’s like putting Lego pieces together.” He’s not wrong, there’s something joyous, reflective and redemptive about this first batch of songs that has echoes of Bush’s best solo work, the awesome ‘Southern Gravity’ album whilst also bringing something fresh and vibrant to the sonic feast.
The album opens with the uplifting ‘Everybody Gotta Go Home’. There are horns and drums everywhere here as Bush sings about finding peace and a homecoming for the soul. ‘Leave a mark and take a few scars……..forgive yourself for breaking her heart,’ sings the divorced father as he begins to make sense of his life whilst also planning for the future. ‘……Home’ is a funky mix of Georgia swagger and Nashville honesty and that mix is something that can be found throughout this collection of songs. On ‘Heart of Yours’, another song dripping in horns and funk, this time with a really evocative baseline too, Bush sings about not being able to fix someone’s broken heart. ‘Sometime ago, something inside of you broke,’ he says. The juxtaposition of Atlanta soul and raw, Nashville honesty is both unique and original and works superbly for Bush here and nowhere else is that more in evidence than on ‘After the Wine Wears Off’. This song is a Bluesy, guitar driven track with a few horns and organ flourishes thrown in for good measure. Some Gospel-esque backing vocals only serve to hammer home the message as Bush declares, with total honesty, ‘…and I promise you, baby, you ain’t gonna want to be with me after the wine wears off’. It somehow manages to tear at your heartstrings whilst making you want to sing along in the shower at full volume too, the mark of a great song for me!
Elsewhere on ’52 ATL x BNA’ there are lighter songs that serve to simply put a smile on your face. ‘I’m With You’ and ‘World Ain’t as Bad as You Think’ are two great examples of this. The former, a catchy, melodic ear-worm of a song, has a real sing-song cadence to it and will be a great live addition to Bush’s setlist whilst the latter, driven by a niggly, insistent and infectious guitar line, makes you want to stand up, dance and singalong with it’s positive vibes and ‘silver lining’ view of the world as it is right now.
Set amongst the horns, the bass lines and the soul are three low-key but incredibly evocative, atmospheric songs. ‘Mansion’, a real slow burner with chugging guitars, is perhaps the classiest song on this new collection with its restrained production and delightful piano flourishes. ‘Baby, let me be your mansion,’ Bush implores, ‘…close your eyes and imagine I can be your house on the hill.’ ‘Tennessee Plates’, meanwhile, feels like the pivotal song on the album in terms of what Bush is trying to achieve. It’s a reflective yet redemptive song with honest lyrics and slick production values. ‘It’s a prayer to begin this one year of music,’ Bush explains, ‘to bless the small town I come from and the city next to it that made me dream bigger in its shadow.’ But it is ‘Gasoline’, with its Petty meets Mellencamp vibes that might well go on to be the much loved fan favourite here. A portentous piano chord opening gives way to some classic chugging guitars on a nostalgic, bittersweet song about relationships, growth and the passing of time. Meaningful without being mawkish, ‘Gasoline’ is an evocative song full of honesty and melody.
What Bush has tried to achieve on ’52 ATL x BNA’ might well be summed up in the track ‘Unbroken’. It begins with a moody, atmospheric first verse but then explodes out in a joyous chorus full of Gospel vibes and Atlanta soul. There’s an almost spiritual like feeling as Bush sings about rivers and magic and that feeling can be found all over the album. This is a tremendous piece of work that manages to be meaningful, honest & raw and yet infectiously melodic at the same time. It is the work of a master songwriter channeling a lifetime of emotions. It feels original, fresh and vibrant whilst managing to be grounded in the sounds of both Georgia and Tennessee too, so for that Bush needs to be wholly applauded.
As a collection, ’52 ATL x BNA’ hangs together superbly – a binding narrative of redemption & growth ties the lyrics together whilst the guitars, horns and keys weave together from song to song in a magical, and yes, almost spiritual way at times. If this is the start of a 52 song collection I can’t wait to hear the other songs coming down the line but, at the same time, I’m a little bit nervous because I don’t know how they can better the ones already released here!
Track list: 1. Everybody Gotta Go Home 2. After The Wine Wears Off 3. Mansion 4. Unbroken 5. I’m With You 6. Tennessee Plates 7. Heart of Yours 8. World Ain’t As Bad As You Think 9. Gasoline 10. I’m Coming Around Record label: Songs of the Architect / Big Machine Records Release date: 25th March 2022 Buy ’52 – ATL X BNA’ now