South Album is the first of four albums correlating to the cardinal directions to be released in 2023
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Brett Kissel has always been ambitious. From the age of 12, the St. Paul-born musician has been recording country music, in between winning Junos and singing the national anthem before Oilers games. Now in his 30s, his aspirations have reached a Prince-level zeal with a plan to release four new albums in 2023.
Dubbed the Compass Project, the first of the offerings, South Album, is being released Friday. South Album is a traditional Kissel album, consisting of modern country music tracks geared toward radio play, what Kissel describes in a press release as having “the heartbeat of Nashville pulsing through.”
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South Album is straight-on contemporary country music, a sound Kissel has found success with especially on Canadian airwaves. The music is precision-polished, with tracks expertly crafted to land on radio stations and playlists. ‘Bro Country’ still reigns supreme in modern country, but Kissel is too earnest — ahem, too Albertan — to be lumped in with the other ballcap-wearing dudes who blatantly swipe hip-hop lingo and percussion to colour their country-pop schmaltz. There isn’t much experimentation or pushing of musical boundaries on South Album, as Kissel largely plays to his strengths. Still, the resulting album is some of the best music he’s produced in his career.
Album single Never Have I Ever kicks off the collection with a sing-a-long chorus and lyrics about drinking and making memories, soundtracked by glossy guitars. Ain’t The Same follows the same formula, dropping details about small-town water towers and ice-cold beer, but it’s joined by the silky harmonies from elder boy-band heartthrobs of 98 Degrees. If that sentence gave you a brain cramp, just remember contemporary country music and ’90s pop music are one and the same.
South Album shines when Kissel drops the pop sheen, such as on Starts and Ends. The song slows the tempo and adds a bit of twang and organ in an ode to love. Also enjoyable is Standing in the Dark, a rollicking rocker about a spurned woman marching out on her man.
A song many people will latch onto is Our Home. Kissel never mentions his home province in the track, but the lyrics about freedom and fighting for what’s right sound like they were written for an Alberta political campaign.
Kissel will be following up South Album with East Album, described as a stripped-down, “coastal-inspired” record. After that, he will release West Album which embraces traditional country music and will pay tribute to Kissel’s Albertan family roots. Rounding out the project is North Album, a collection of live recordings of Kissel’s hits, billed as a tribute to his fans.
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