On paper, the prospect of a country-music album from Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler seems worrisome. A ploy for radio? A pandering gesture toward the only brick-and-mortar establishments that still move units — say, Walmart?
Best not to jump to conclusions about “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere,” released July 15 on Big Machine. When Tyler, 68, explains Nashville’s appeal in a press release about the LP, you can’t just dismiss his argument. “Country music is the new rock ’n’ roll,” he claims. “It’s not just about porches, dogs, and kicking your boots up. . . . It’s about being real.”
What constitutes realness to Tyler, judging by “Somewhere,” is pretty much same as it ever was: revelry, raunch, regret, and respect for musical forebears. Even if you question his assessment of an industry town’s authenticity, give him credit: Tyler didn’t just parachute into Nashville for a visit, but walked around and breathed the air. (Lately he’s talking about planting roots there.)
For an album that credits five producers — Tyler, seasoned hands T Bone Burnett and Dann Huff, longtime collaborator Marti Frederiksen, and the Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston — much of “Somewhere” sounds remarkably consistent, even organic. Tyler, who co-wrote all of the album’s strongest material,
Take the melancholy “My Own Worst Enemy,” co-written with the Warren Brothers: “I could blame Jesus, I could blame Momma, I could blame Brahma for all the bull that’s in my head,” Tyler sings to a lover who’s made tracks. “I could blame midnight for bad decisions, and blurry vision for what I didn’t see.” It’s not Aerosmith gone cornpone, and it rings true.
The best songs on “Somebody” — “It Ain’t Easy,” “Somebody New,” “The Good the Bad the Ugly & Me” — share that integrity; less so “Red White & You,” a hit-bound “Party in the U.S.A.” knock-off with lyrics that namecheck Tom Petty when they’re not making you squirm (“We spinnin’ on a roller coaster/ Free fallin’ into your yum yum”).
A dark recasting of “Janie’s Got a Gun” falls flat, curiously, indicating what made the original vital was its deft balance of gripping topic and glossy vehicle. Tyler sounds like a visitor on the guest-penned “Love Is Your Name,” the album’s anodyne first single, and “I Make My Own Sunshine,” whose banal twinkle is best suited to a TV spot for a budget-travel website. But when he gets his Janis on for an ecstatic “Piece of My Heart” with the Loving Mary Band (now backing Tyler on his solo tour), he demonstrates exactly the “Somewhere” he’s coming from.
Steven Tyler performs at the Citi Wang Theatre Sept. 4.Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.