Artist:
Lee Brice

Title: Hard 2 Love

Label: Curb Records

South Carolina singer-songwriter Lee Brice landed a record deal having penned hits for Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, and he's certainly a talented enough artist to be mentioned in the same sentence with those guys. His sophomore album, Hard 2 Love, is easy to like if you're looking for well-crafted country music that strikes the right balance between great relationship observations and good ol' boy fun.

Opening in the deep end, the title track is a pleasantly brooding confessional about a lopsided couple: Sometimes I drink too much / I am a short fuse / you're like a Sunday morning, full of grace and full of Jesus. First single "A Woman Like You" is humorous and sweet, a storytelling ode to marriage with a mellow spirit that suggests a welcome John Prine influence.

Lee can sink his sharp lyrical hooks into heartache numbers just as well. If Kings of Leon switched genres it might sound like the poetic yet pounding "That's When You Know It's Over." Stripped down to a guitar and orchestral accompaniment, "That Way Again" takes a hard look at a struggling marriage but with a hopeful twist. At the center of Hard 2 Love, a fallen brother is mourned on "I Drive Your Truck" with insight and word picturing that is worth serious attention.

Brice has also written for Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean, and he matches their cut-loose attitude on cuts like "Parking Lot Party"—a tailgating anthem for the masses—and "Friends We Won't Forget" (Here's to the nights we won't remember and the friends we won't forget).

There are also less inspired moments dedicated to stereotypical country fare like the obviously silly "Beer" and the against-the-grain rebelliousness in "Life Off My Years." As with most artists in this category, for every mild expletive and mention of heartily drinking it up there's a counterbalancing nod prayer and church attendance. As a listener, you have to know when to take it with a grain of salt and when to let your moral code kick in.

All things considered, Hard 2 Love is far above and beyond average, standing out based on the strengths of its nuanced songs and how the artist delivers them. That makes Lee Brice an entertainer to watch in the coming years and someone likely to raise the bar among other newcomers and veterans alike.

*This Review First Published 5/7/2012