It's hard not to ascribe some meaning to the title of Old Boots, New Dirt, Jason Aldean's sixth album. Edging into his second decade as a star, Aldean's boots are getting a bit worn; he's no longer an upstart, he's a veteran who could almost be seen as an institution thanks to his long commercial track record. Stars have less reason to take risks -- why upset the apple cart if it's still generating revenue -- but there's some freshness on Old Boots, New Dirt, which means the second half of the title isn't just talk. Aldean and producer Michael Knox, who has been with him since the beginning, accentuate the singer's arena country with some decidedly modern electronics: splurting synths propel "Sweet Little Somethin'," while the slinky "Burnin' It Down" simmers to a skittering rhythmic loop. Usually, such electronic digressions indicate a bolder, even stylish, change in direction but that's hardly the case here. Despite the occasional four-on-the-floor pounder -- "Sweet Little Somethin'," "I Took It with Me," "Gonna Know We Were Here" with its gangly Keith Richards chords, all seemingly deliberately scattered through the record so it doesn't drag -- Old Boots, New Dirt is all ballads, slow burners, and midtempo anthems existing in a land that's a far cry from either "Hicktown" or "Crazy Town." Truth is, beneath that exaggerated swagger -- a macho strut he was always eager to emphasize -- Aldean's strength has been slower songs, whether it's the romantic "Why" or the mildly goofy "Big Green Tractor." He leans toward the romantic on Old Boots, New Dirt and he actually benefits from the extra layer of gloss Knox layers upon the album; even when he croons, Aldean retains a slight nasal edge in his voice and the electronics complement this characteristic well. This delicate balance is the greatest indication that both singer and producer are now old pros, knowing how to slyly underscore his star appeal, knowing that Aldean doesn't need to chase the sunny good times of bro-country. This casual, almost steely, assurance is appealing and even if the record goes on far too long at 15 tracks (18 in editions exclusive to certain retailers), this focus coalesces Old Boots, New Dirt, turning it into one of his best records.
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