Remember 2016?

Hunt’s new album is nostalgic — but not always for better days


Photo from Universal Music Nashville

Sam Hunt’s album, ‘Southside,’ is his first full album since ‘Montevallo,’ which was released in 2014.

Emily DiSalvo, Staff Writer

Sam Hunt hasn’t released an album since 2014, but smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic he dropped another.

In a moment when everyone is yearning for a simpler, easier time, Hunt’s album, “Southside” brought nostalgia and reflection to the airwaves on April 3.

The album is so backward-looking that its very first tune is called “2016.” The first words of this somber song are, “I’d put the whiskey back in the bottle/ I’d put the smoke back in the joint.” The song is about regret, second chances and “putting the tears back in the eyes” of a girl whose heart he broke. He sings, “I would take 2016 and give it back to you.”

Hunt fans assume he is talking about his wife, Hannah Lee Fowler, with whom he had an on-again-off-again relationship for several years.

Unlike many of Hunt’s hits, the song is raw and almost plain. It lacks his usual rap-style, and the lyrics are more earnest than catchy.

“That Ain’t Beautiful” is a much bolder song, typical of Hunt’s old style. He starts talking, as he so often does, but this time with a series of taunting commands: “You can cake on all that makeup and steal your roommate’s dress/ Take pictures of your good side at the bathroom at the bar, call your friend a slut for leaving the party early.”

He begins to sing, alternating with regular talking, listing off all these things that this woman can do: split an Adderall with a stranger, send a text message to an ex, but it becomes clear he thinks she is above all that.

The chorus, “That ain’t beautiful, naw that ain’t you/ You can do better, you can do better, better” instrumentally sounds like rap, but paired with Hunt’s distinctly country voice creates a funky mixture of sounds and moods.

The most unusual and striking song on the album is “Drinkin’ Too Much.” It starts out with Hunt’s voice sounding like he is underwater. As he slowly emerges from the water, his voice becomes clearer and stronger with a series of apologies for his wife: “I am sorry I named the album ‘Montevallo’/ And I’m sorry people know your name now, strangers hit you up on social media.”

This is the listener’s first sense that his relationship issues with Fowler might have had something to do with his rise to fame after the release of “Montevallo” in 2014. He is mostly talking, rather than singing as he says, “I wish you would let me pay off your student loans with these songs you gave to me.” He reveals he was onstage drunk at one point, “Barely holding on, on ABC.”

This is the darkest, most honest Hunt song I have heard to date. Many know of Hunt’s drinking problem that resulted in a DUI this fall. However, this song is an eerie confession of how he turns to alcohol in times of strife. He sings, “Since you’ve been gone, I can’t get gone enough.”

The album also includes huge hits like “Body Like a Back Road,” “Downtown’s Dead” and “Kinfolks.” These are all songs you can drive around town and listen to. They’re catchy and have messages typical of other country songs.

“Drinkin’ Too Much” has an entirely different feeling. I couldn’t drive to it, or dance to it — it would just be uncomfortable to have fun to the tune of so much suffering. It reminds me of songs that some rappers sing about drugs. “Lucid Dreams” by Juice Wrld comes to mind as an equivalent. The song might be catchy, but you can’t help be concerned by lyrics like, “I take prescriptions to make me feel a-okay.”

Hunt’s album is a nice distraction for country music fans stuck at home during the pandemic. It reminded me of “2016,” but it also renewed my concern for Hunt and his drinking habits. Heartbreak and global crises are definitely hard to deal with but “Drinkin’ Too Much” isn’t the solution.