Chris Young, "Neon"

3.5

After flirting with the half-million sales mark on 2009's The Man I Want to Be, Chris Young is clearly going for the gold this time out. The "Nashville Star" champ's third album is a meticulously produced, precisely written, ballad-heavy set that showcases Young's deep tenor amid rich arrangements and heartstring-pulling lyricism. Nowhere is that more true than in the eve-of-breakup first single "Tomorrow," with its swelling chorus and weepy pedal steel, and in "Flashlight," an unapologetically sentimental ode to father-son bonding. Young, who co-wrote seven of these 10 tracks, doesn't play it strictly sober. He makes a smooth, sly come-on in "I Can Take It From There"; runs away with his mate in the spirited "Lost"; and goes green through the "Save Water, Drink Beer" campaign of one of Neon's outside tracks. With a career clearly on the ascent, Neon lights the way for Young's next move up.