Two sounds that didn’t make Meat and Candy, the debut full-length by pop-country band Old Dominion, are almost as revealing as the 11 that did. Warm-up singles “Dirt on a Road” and “Shut Me Up” initially got the quintet on radio, but the former was more blatantly rapped, the latter more boisterously rocked, than anything that ultimately made the group’s album. Hip-hop and rock (and reggae for that matter) still flow through the act’s veins on Meat & Candy, only in a more subtle, relaxed way.
In the past few years, members of Old Dominion — four guys from Virginia (hence their name), one from suburban Detroit — have had a hand in writing country-radio hits for such acts as The Band Perry and Kenny Chesney, plus two tracks on Sam Hunt’s Montevallo. That record’s urban nuances echo throughout Meat and Candy, more a case of parallel evolution than direct influence. “Break Up With Him,” the album’s love-triangular breakthrough hit, has lead singer Matthew Ramsey hitching Hunt’s style of relaxed, talk-sung come-ons to elastic soul inflections. Elsewhere, Old Dominion borrows all manner of hip-hop tricks: multiplex rhyming, “heyyy!” chants and twinkling electronic percussion.
But hip-hop’s only part of it. “Said Nobody” rides the lightest jam-band groove; “Nowhere Fast” — which refers to a couple cruising the highway, not its tempo — starts with acoustic strums aptly echoing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” And though the gimmicky “Song for Another Time” names songs from another time by George Strait and Hank Williams alongside ones by Lionel Richie and Katy Perry, red-state signifiers are mostly minimized, give or take one beer can in a truck bed. In every last upbeat tune, a presumably young, unmarried man romances a presumably young, unmarried woman. There’s more candy than meat, but that’s no crime.
Opting for a diner waitress in lieu of a band photo on the group’s kitschy album cover and opening with a single called “Snapback” that might require Nashville fans above millennial age to consult Urban Dictionary, Old Dominion cares about coming off crafty, fun and young; country is fine, too, but that isn’t the point.