Four years ago, Kip Moore was stuck in a no-man’s land peculiar to country music. He was signed to a Nashville major and had airwave hits in his past, but the radio wasn’t playing him. At the same time, his mainstream connection prevented him from cultivating the sort of “alt country” or “Americana” credentials that appeal to coastal listeners dabbling in country’s fringes. Moore was simultaneously too country and not country enough.
This has more to do with marketing than music; understandably frustrated, Moore did perhaps the only thing an artist in this situation can: He wrapped his outcast status around him like armor. In interviews, Moore often uses alternate metrics to evaluate his success — instead of sales or airplay or CMA Award nominations, he speaks of concertgoers shouting along to songs, rather than just singing along like more pedestrian fans. And he tours like a man on the run from the law, proving — like Eric Church before him — that the mainstream country audience likes plucky underdogs as much as radio champions, at least when it comes to male singers.
All this led Moore to the best album of his career, 2015’s The Wild Ones, which distilled his strengths — Bob Seger growl, raise-your-lighter hooks and whomping, 1980s rock production — into a series of tracks about unapologetic characters toughing it out. The record was engineered to make rooms erupt, and they responded accordingly, night after night after night.
Moore’s follow-up, Slowheart, which is out this Friday, holds this course. You’ll recognize the sound, based in FM rock from 1983 to 1988; the topics, from untameablity to backseat sex to crumbling romance; and the attitude from songs like “Try Again:” “I’ll try, try, try, no I won’t quit / I’ll fight, fight, fight, you can count on it.”