The Steel Town to Music City journey of Steve Moakler informs his pop-friendly country songs, making them relatable to hard-nosed Midwesterners. Toss in a beat here and there that would sound at home on the radio, and you've got potential pop gems that clear the barrier between Americana and the country charts. It's similar to the innate ability of Dierks Bentley (singer of Moakler co-write "Riser"), Luke Combs and Eric Church to perform a workman-like version of popular country.
New album Born Ready furthers Moakler's image with its standout title track, plus 11 more new songs. It pushes forward the Nashville-via-Pittsburgh singer-songwriter's creative vision, as heard on 2016's "Suitcase" and the following year's "Wheels."
The album begins with its title track, a Luke Laird and Barry Dean co-write. It and working man's anthem "Breaking New Ground" mixes modern country storytelling with the hooky Heartland rock of John Mellencamp. Instead of just namedropping Jack and Diane, Moakler and his co-writers put a personalized spin on a time-tested country-rock formula.
Things stay upbeat with the soaring riffs of "Crazy Does" and the organ-driven "Nightlife." Later in the album, "Devices" offers a more pop-accessible take on Chris Stapleton's soulful material. On the softer side, there's the introspective "Thirty," beach music send-up "Chesney" and a love letter to life on the road titled "One More Troubadour."
From there, "One of Those Nights," "Hard Not to Love It" and "Slow Down" sound more like what's on the radio now, just way better.
The title track and "Crazy Does" would be fun to blare at full volume while barreling down the highway. Maybe that's why Mack Trucks sponsored Moakler's Born Ready Tour back in the spring. Truck drivers will recognize the album's faster-driving tracks as surefire highway anthems, suitable for that next trek across state lines.