Is Montevallo the most underrated country music album?

In my long work commutes that many young college graduates suffer through, I have invested my time into not just listening to a playlist or song, but trying to appreciate an album in full. I start off by taking my favorite artists, or favorite songs, and seeing if the whole album is worth the listen. This brought me to Montevallo by Sam Hunt.

Montevallo is Sam Hunt’s debut album, released in 2014. Hunt was a quarterback at the University of Alabama, but picked a career in music over his NFL draft selection. He moved to Nashville, and once there began dating a girl from Montevallo, Alabama. She is the inspiration for the album, and Hunt conversed with her so much he joked she should be a co-writer for the album.

Now Montevallo did not win the acclaimed awards. Although nominated for Best Country Album in 2016 at the Grammys, Hunt is sometimes given some grief for his unique style, incorporating some R&B and rap into his country sound. Maybe a factor as to why he didn’t win that much. But in listening to the album in full, there are really four songs of the ten that I can argue are not popular hits. How is an album with so many songs playing on repeat on popular country music radio or at any country lover’s backyard cookout not be recognized for it’s greatness? It’s underrated, and if you want the Moby Dick version, I’ll go song by song to prove why. I listened to the album in full, each song with the lyrics, and a music video if there was one to conduct my analysis. As a note- all the interpretations are my own. I firmly believe music speaks to us all in different ways, so although these are not necessarily how Hunt wrote them for, it is what I feel when listening to them.

Song by Song

1. Take Your Time

“I don’t have to make you love me, I just want to take your time”

Hunt wastes no time getting into his own style of country. The opening verse goes right into his rap influence starting out with with talking about seeing a girl who may have been looking at him. The song feels like he is in a small town where everyone knows that one girl, the one everyone is in love with. Hunt doesn’t “wanna come on strong” but just wants to say hello and take a chance. It speaks to anyone who is a little timid, afraid of being too vulnerable by putting himself out there with the obvious pick up line or display of interest, definitely not the confident guy at the bar who will go up to a girl and offer to buy a drink. The music video does not reflect this at all though. The video shows a small town, but the girl is displayed as being poor, with an abusive husband and a child. Hunt does not step in until the very end where she tries and succeeds in escaping her boyfriend/husband. He doesn’t even say anything to her, just holds him back while she runs. It certainly was not what I was expecting, but maybe that’s what Hunt was thinking more of when he wrote it.

2. Leave The Night On

“It’s still early out in Cali, baby, don’t you wanna rally again”

This upbeat song makes any country party playlist. Leaving the night on, of course meaning staying out instead of going home, talks about Hunt telling a girl they don’t need to go home yet. This incredibly catchy song really does it for me with the above lyric and “We’ll be rolling down the windows, I bet you we’re catchin’ our second wind“- just the way he ends the line with that unique Sam Hunt way is like a pop singer hitting that high note that everyone has to sing along with. The music video for this song is much simpler, with Hunt driving a taxi cab and ending up at a party.

3. House Party

“So I’ll be at your door in ten minutes, whatever you got on, babe, stay in it”

Hunt goes back to back on the upbeat party songs with the appropriately titled House Party. Hunt tells a girl to come over because he knows she’s just sitting at home being a homebody. It’s a simpler song, but incredibly catchy. There are actually two music videos on Hunt’s official Vevo youtube account. One is simply Hunt on a couch in a house basement, singing, dancing, and showing a lot of people having a good time. The other is one of Hunt on tour with some behind the scene shots mixed in with the audience dancing and singing along. House Party is a must have for any summer backyard day drink.

4. Break Up In A Small Town

“She was over me before the grass grew back where she used to park her car” / “Cause it’s my fault, I let her go”

I’ve shed a few tears to this song, I’ve jammed to this song, I’ve laid back and chilled out to this song. Break Up In A Small Town is by far my favorite song on the album. Similar to Take Your Time, Hunt shows his unique style and versatility in this song. I couldn’t decide between my two favorite lines here so I had to go with two. Having someone move on from you quickly is painful, because it feels as if you weren’t important enough to care about. And what’s worse is when you know it is your fault. That is why I had to pick both lines. The music video for this song was the one I was most looking forward to, and I was not disappointed. Hunt is shown running through the streets, sitting in a burning bedroom or house, while a girl with a pixelated face is shown with another guy. There is also a basketball hoop and a car on fire within the video. The fire is symbolic of the memories he had with her at these places, with the fire of the memories they had burning in his mind. Her face is pixelated because he needs to try to move on, and forget her image because she is no longer his. Or maybe, as an alternative, it is because he is forgetting the features that he once knew so well, since she is no longer with him. Maybe both? I’m open to thoughts. Lastly, he is running because as he closes the song, “You gotta move or move on, when you break up in a small town.”

5. Single For The Summer

“I know in September, I’m gonna remember how much I love her”

This is the first song on the album I’d argue is not a hit. And I wonder why it didn’t come up later once people cycled through the bigger hits, a la Firework by Katy Perry after Teenage Dream had it’s run. This is my go to song for this summer when I’m trying to not be super depressed listening to songs that make me want to cry (see above). Single For The Summer is by far the longest song on the album by almost a full minute. It has a techno vibe with the music, kinda like you’d like to be lounging with a beer out in the sun when listening to this song. Hunt talks about being single for the summer with so many pretty girls. He knows once he is back at school in September he is going to be reminded about his former girl, but for now he is single (shoutout to co contributor on this site, Jon, for that attitude). The video follows a girl at the beach who looks very much like Taylor Swift, although I know no interaction between Hunt and the recently-back-on-Spotify Swift. It’s a simple video for this lesser known song, but captures the vibes of the song very accurately.

6. Ex To See

“You’re making it hard to have feelings for you now”

Ex To See is about a girl using a guy to make her ex boyfriend jealous. At first, Hunt spends the song complaining about being used as a pawn, but eventually gives in to her good looks and temptation, even if it is empty in intentions. I personally love the way “ex to see” sounds so close to “estasy” the way Hunt sings it, as if she isn’t just using him to make her ex jealous but for the estasy that comes with flirtation. I doubt that was intentional, but still is something I think about each time I hear the song.  This song is another hit, and a more emotional and vulnerable song on the album.

7. Make You Miss Me

“Every boy you ever met, was too easy to forget. Well, I ain’t going out like that”/ “Girl I’m gonna make you miss me, make you wish that you were sleeping in my shirt”

Make You Miss Me is the slowest and softest song of the album with a much simpler musical background with less effects. Make You Miss Me is a great follow up to Break Up In A Small Town- while Break Up displays frustration in the outcome, Make You Miss Me is, in a sense, empowering. The song opens about a girl changing from he worn out shoes and favorite music station to some new ones, alluding to starting a new relationship instead of staying with the comfortable one. Hunt sings that he will make the girl miss him, that she will think of him. It is tough to say you want your ex to miss you, it feels selfish. But Hunt hits the nail on the head in this song, because we all want to feel that important that you are always on their mind. The female artist that comes in for harmonizing, Hillary Lindsay, is a well known song writer who has written for artists like Keith Urban, Bon Jovi, Michelle Branch, and others. Make you Miss me is filled with lyrics that make it feel personal, such as the two above. It is the last “big hit” of the album (my standards at least) giving 6 of the 10 songs a “every radio station plays this song once an hour” hit.

8. Cop Car

“You tried to sweet talk ’em. They didn’t fall for it. But I did.”

Cop Car is popularly known for Keith Urban’s recording, but Hunt is actually an original co-writer of this song. That is why he still kept this song on the album, as he believed it had a place. Cop Car is like a rom-com in a song, with the innocent girl who never did wrong going out with the guy, getting arrested, and wanting to run. Hunt’s version of Cop Car is a softer song, like Make You Miss Me. Although this is similar to Urban’s version, Hunt makes the song his own with his style of rap. While Urban sings through the shorter lines, Hunt, in his soft spoken way, raps through them.

9. Raised On It

“We stayed up all night long, made our drinks too strong”

Raised On It gets back to the uptempo feel, again hitting that summer bbq feel. Hunt talks about just a good summer night, staying out, drinking, with some classic country trucks and muddy boots. For me, I love the chorus; it is catchy and makes you want to sing along. But the verses are just okay. It’s my least favorite on the album for that reason. However, that is like asking which player in the NBA All Star Game is your least favorite on talent. There’s some better than others, but everyone is great. The video gives the vibe of summer fun as well, with a summer day of swinging into lakes and riding on mattress being pulled by quad dirt bikes. A very good song, but not the greatest.

10. Speakers

“I know your body language, you ain’t gotta translate it. Let it talk to me, till i can’t take it. Your lips, your hair, your smile, your touch, your kiss, your stare, your vibe’s too much, it lights me up, you got me set”

The album closes with a stronger emphasis on Hunt’s style, as this song has some strong rap in the chorus when he goes “love in the back of the truck with the tailgate down just us and the speakers on.” He sings about being out with a girl in the back of a truck and how he is so infatuated with her. He refers to being wrapped up in focus on her and being so high because of her effect on him. I picked the longest lyric out of all the songs for this one, because the whole part of this verse is just so cool (for lack of a better term) the way it is sung and the words being said. The end of the verse is the best part of the song too, that kind of moment in a song where you just close your eyes because you feel it. If it were a rap song, I’d be saying “bars!” As a county guy, I’ll just let out a satisfactory “mhmmmmm” when Hunt sings “going up in flames.” For an album with a lot of upbeat songs, it is interesting for Hunt to end with a song that is almost eerie. There is even another thirty seconds at the end of the song that is almost an echo in a forest.

 

There’s the play by play of an album that I cannot understand how it did not win every award out there. Top to bottom, I don’t know many albums that have as many hits. Hunt is coming to my area later this summer and I look forward to seeing how this album that I find very intimate and personal translates to the big stage.

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