On previous albums, Colt Ford backed himself into a tight corner, insisting he’s not rap while spitting rap-like messages of country life, love and fun. The singer admits that by aiming to please everyone, he left most feeling a few bites short of a full meal. This isn’t a problem on ‘Declaration of Independence.’ 

For the most part, the hokey wholesomeness is gone from Ford’s patter. He’s still singing about family values while sharing stories from his life, it just sounds much more honest. On songs like ‘Happy in Hell,’ ‘DWI’ and ‘Driving Around Song’ (featuring Jason Aldean), the 41-year-old gives hip-hop a great big bear hug by including electronic instruments, adding heavy vocal effects (is Aldean on auto-tune?) and including guests like Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men.

And it all works! OK, it mostly works. The low points on the album are those songs that don’t stand apart from the more exotic pairings, and those that fall into the Ford formula he invented years ago. ‘All My Tomorrows’ and ‘Way Too Early’ with Darius Rucker are two songs that get lost. One or two others, like ‘Hugh Damn Right,’ are just bad ideas, but with 15 songs to choose from, there are far more dishes that will delight than will disgust.

The most country song on the album is the Kix Brooks duet called ‘All In.’ If Ford is going to have a hit on country radio — and his fans know he deserves one — it will be this song. Brooks sounds like a man paying Ford to be on the album. He dives head first into his chorus like he did on the best Brooks and Dunn songs, while Ford swallows a little more gravel and does his thing over a honky tonk fiddle. ‘Ain’t Out of the Woods Yet’ is another that should be a hit at live shows for years to come. Montgomery Gentry were the perfect choice for the swampy, acoustic-driven country rocker.

“I say hey y’all and I reckon so / With Mossy Oak from head to toe / Corn fed, cornbread, country as a boy can get / No I ain’t out, ain’t out of the woods yet,” the duo sings during the chorus.

Ford’s voice is a nice compliment to the softer vocalists like Jonathon Singleton on ‘Lucky’ and Corey Smith on ‘Room at the Bar.’ He’s overpowered by the LoCash Cowboys and Redneck Social Club on ‘DWI,’ but the electrifying boombox could become a club favorite.

Just like Taylor I’m swift baby / And I mean it’s a gift baby,” Ford raps on ‘DWI’ before name-checking about 15 different country songs.

Aside from the opener, ‘Answer to No One’ (Ford’s biography), and ‘Back’ with Jake Owen, the most personal songs come late. Two lyrics in particular leave one wondering about the singer’s future, and whether or not life on the road is wearing the big man down. “Between happy and hell / That’s where I’m living now,” he sings on ‘Happy in Hell,’ and “Sometimes I feel I sold my soul for a song” he says on the spiritual ‘Angels and Demons.’

There’s more party than pity on ‘Declaration of Independence,’ but one can’t help but wonder what his next move will be should this album not produce the hit he so badly wants.

4 Stars

More From Y95 Country