For most artists, following up a debut album is a serious creative challenge. But when that debut happens to be a meteor of breakout country success like Brett Young's, the stakes get even higher.
"Going into this project, I was terrified," Young admits about Ticket to L.A., his second album for BMLG Records. "A lot has happened, the first record has been really good to me and I'm really, really proud of it. But just having a new batch of songs - it's like breathing new life."
After nearly a decade of under-the-radar work, Young made his PLATINUM-certified entrance in 2016 with the restless romance of his #1 hit, "Sleep Without You," then proceeded to own the top of the charts with three more singles from his self-titled PLATINUM-album debut. The tender "In Case You Didn't Know" spent two weeks at #1, selling over 3 million copies and becoming the second-most purchased/streamed country song of 2017, followed by the three- week #1 "Like I Loved You" and the heart-rending "Mercy" - another pair of PLATINUM- certified smashes.
Co-writing each of those career-defining hits himself, Young's emotionally fluent brand of country soul didn't exist elsewhere in the genre, and fans connected with it deeply. But it was all born from a painful time in the Southern Californian's life - one he's since emerged from.
"I think the first album was a really good way for me to introduce myself," Young explains. "It was extremely honest and vulnerable, but me and my girl were broken up, and I was new to Nashville and hadn't built a friend base yet, so that made it easy for me to go a little bit somber."
With his hotly anticipated sophomore album, Ticket to L.A., Young once again embraces his gift for vulnerable honesty - but this time in a much different capacity. That girl from the first album is now his wife, and Nashville has become the easy-going crooner's second home. So rather than double down on brokenhearted balladry, he's inviting fans to explore a brighter chapter, as he turns up the heat on his mellow SoCal-meets-Music-City style.
"There's a lot of Southern California's DNA all over the record," Young says. "It's very light - intentionally - and sonically it's very upbeat. That doesn't exist as much on the first album, so I wanted to showcase a bit more versatility this time around. We're still doing the same thing, it's just coming from a completely different moment in my life."
Sticking with same studio team behind his extraordinary debut - producer Dann Huff, executive producer Jimmy Harnen and engineer/mixer Justin Niebank - Young doesn't reinvent his sound so much as build off what was uniquely him to begin with. The tempos on Ticket to L.A. are indeed quicker - but the heart behind each track remains front and center. The sonics are more vibrant - still sophisticated but emboldened with a pinch of R&B playfulness. And the themes have shifted away heartbroken, sliding easily toward a sense of romantic serenity.
Over 13 new tracks - 10 of which Young co-wrote with hit makers like Shane McAnally, Hillary Lindsey, Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley and more - the star brings fans ever deeper into his world, basking in the transformative power of love.
Lead single "Here Tonight" shows off the new approach with a rush of romantic energy. Passionate, dynamic and framed by that smoldering, sensual vocal, it feels like a soundtrack to moments you wish would never end. "When I hear it, it actually makes me go to the night I proposed," he admits. "When she said yes, that was one of the best moments of my life."
The title track, "Ticket to L.A.," follows a similar emotional flight plan, opening the project with a laid-back combo of country charm and left-coast cool. The plot twister may not trace the contours of Young's own relationship, per se, but it does reveal his renewed faith in love, imagining a couple who fall head over heels while waiting out a delay at New York's JFK airport. "What made me excited was when we decided he wasn't even on her flight, but he never told her that the whole time," Young explains, a mischievous grin betraying his usual calm-and- collected demeanor.
Revisiting his signature honesty, Young goes on to lead fans through a soulful country-pop ballad, a hometown-to-hitmaker look in the rearview at his path to stardom which finds him teaming up to write and sing "Chapters" with one of his inspirations Gavin DeGraw. Naming the album Ticket to L.A. was no accident, Young explains, saying that for him it represents a connection to his roots which no amount of distance can break.
Meanwhile, classic-R&B grooves pepper the project, with tracks like the flirtatious "Reason to Stay." The irresistible "Catch" feels like the musical equivalent of a beachside sunset, toasting the moments that take our breath away in relaxed perfection. And the smooth blues-pop of "Where You Want Me" puts Young's smoky baritone on blast, lamenting a courtship which would feel right at home on any 1960s-era Stax hit.
"Change Your Name" and "The Ship and the Bottle" add more territory to Young's kingdom of slow-burning romance, laying bare the supercharged emotions intrinsic to the start - and end - of any life-changing love, while "Let It Be Mine," takes quiet devotion to new heights.
"1,2,3 Mississippi" offers a playful coming-of age-anthem - a winking nod to Young's time as a baseball-slinging undergrad at the University of Mississippi. And "Used to Missin' You" is straight-up fun, with its upbeat tone never losing interest in the pursuit of happiness.
But it's "Running Away From Home" and "Don't Wanna Write This Song" which put a poignant cap on the album, with Young taking the laid-back longing and unvarnished honesty he's become so famous for, and pushing it into the present tense. Defined once again by romantic regret, they're actually much different than his past hits - perhaps because now, he has so much that's worth fighting for.
Coming into this project, Brett Young had as much to lose as any young artist in country's history, but he's never been one to hold back. There is far more to his story, and he's learned that in life and music - just like in love - growth is really nothing to fear. With Ticket to L.A., the journey continues.