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Adam Hambrick at City National Civic

In Music
ALL NIGHTER: Up and coming Nashville artist Adam Hambrick stops by the City National Civic for some pure country pop.

ALL NIGHTER: Up and coming Nashville artist Adam Hambrick stops by the City National Civic for some pure country pop.

It is derided as a lesser art form—not heady enough for the classical and jazz crowds; not gritty or pure enough for devotees of rock & roll, hip-hop and “real” country. It is manufactured, overly processed, formulaic.

It is simple.

But these critiques miss the point. There is something truly and sublimely beautiful in the simplicity of a perfectly executed pop country track.

Consider “Rockin’ All Night Long,” the debut single from young country newcomer Adam Hambrick. You’d be forgiven for dismissing it as little more than a slapdash collection of tired country tropes. First, there’s the song’s well-worn title, there’s the American car product placement, there’s romanticising of excessive alcohol consumption.

And then there’s it’s very first line: “There were Chevys and levies, whiskey and rye.”

But then, after all that, Hambrick proves that this is no hack regurgitation, taking the listener on an archetypal American journey—from the foolish exploits of youth, through the whirlwind of romance, finding true love and marriage, and then on to the joys and struggles of parenthood.

The greatest pop songs draw their strength from strong arrangements, powerful lyrics and common cultural touchstones. “Rockin’ All Night Long” has all of this.

After breezing through a two-measure instrumental intro, Hambrick dives into the iconic country imagery of classic cars and strong drink. But his “American Pie” is no cheap trick. Rather, it is a guidepost.

“Gas was cheap and the radio was free,” he continues, conjuring images of aimless summer nights. Reverberant slide guitar, percussive and delayed electric picking and a subtle bass line carry the song through its first verse and chorus without any drums. At just shy of the minute mark the beat comes in to carry the listener through a tale of falling head-over-heels in love.

“There’s a knowing you know kind of feeling you get,” Hambrick begins the second verse, winding his way to the song’s refrain a second time. Then everything is stripped away, except a sparse acoustic guitar and Hambrick’s earnest twang.

It is through this lullaby of a bridge that we come to find Hambrick in the present. Looking back on his wild years and recalling his and his wife’s honeymoon phase. Here he finds himself in a very different place.

“Now it’s 2am and I’m in a rocking chair in a room with pink everywhere,” he sings softly. “She’s got her mama’s smile and lungs like her dad. And she’s the best reason I ever had…”

And this is where the chorus—first sung as a wild-eyed youth and later as a starry-eyed lover—takes on its third meaning: “Bloodshot eyes, watch the sun rise, sleep when you die, phase of life. It’s a full heart, falling hard, singing songs to her in the dark. And drinking up every moment ’til it’s gone. Rockin’ all night long.”

Hambrick, who reaches me by phone from Nashville, is preparing to pick up the very daughter he fawns over in his new single.

“You kind of run out of songs to sing when you’re rocking a baby to sleep in the middle of the night,” he says, explaining how he hit upon the idea of juxtaposing the “beer-and-tailgates, goofy country lyric” with grown-up imagery.

“In that moment, ‘rocking all night long’ meant something different than it did when I was in my 20s,” he says. “I was amused by that thought.”

Still, it took some time for the song to be fully fleshed out. At the time, the Arkansas-born, Mississippi-raised Hambrick had already made some inroads in Nashville. He’d written a few well-known songs, including “Old Habits,” which was recorded by Justin Moore and Miranda Lambert. And after spending some time in a writing room, working on songs for other country artists, he struck out on his own, tapping industry friends to help him bring “Rockin’ All Night Long” to life.

But even then, it took a while to figure out how to bridge the late-night revelry with his late-night daddy duties. Finally, he landed on a verse that is largely open to interpretation. What causes the bloodshot eyes and all-nighters of his torrid romance? The answer is probably different for all of his fans. And he likes it that way.

“It is good for people to have clear visions of what a song is,” he says. “But I think it is an anchor point, not a boundary.”

Adam Hambrick
Mar 28, 8pm, $35+
City National Civic, San Jose

 

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