Since Big & Rich rose to prominence back in 2004, Big Kenny Alphin has always been a quirky, larger-than-life personality, and his likable brand of weirdness and foreceful persona have made up for some of his shortcomings as a musical artist. That balance still applies to his second solo album, The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy, with some terrific, oddball flourishes—the tribal chant that kicks off the album and leads into opener “Wake Up,” the banjo-driven, vocally distorted prelude to “Be Back Home,” and the whistling that punctuates the chorus of “Share the Love”—masking some of Kenny’s more clichéd lyrical turns and thin vocals. He can sell the album’s uptempo material with real panache and presence, but Kenny often sounds like he’s straining for notes and for believable emotion on ballads like the overwrought “Less Than Whole” or “Go Your Own Way.” His persona is just too outsized and, frankly, too sarcastic for a song like “Long After I’m Gone,” a poor choice for a lead single, to ring entirely sincere.
That he’s more convincing in this mode than erstwhile partner-in-crime John Rich isn’t much of an accomplishment; instead, it’s more significant that his songwriting and production display a more intuitive awareness of his actual strengths than Rich did on his still-steaming Son of a Preacher Man. Though the album is misnamed (with its clipped, in-the-red production, it’s anything but quiet and often sounds as bad as Miranda Lambert’s Revolution), the production here recalls the balance of punchy guitar-rock punch with the traditional country songwriting conventions of Big & Rich’s best work. “Happy People” and the slow-burning “Drifter” succeed thanks to standout hooks and Kenny’s inimitable swagger. If he spent a bit less time on drippy, unconvincing romantic ballads, the album would work better as a career re-launch.