Dexter Roberts takes a spin of the bottle at bro-country on his debut Dream About Me EP. There’s certainly plenty of pressure for the newcomer, who dazzled audiences on American Idol last year, and while he’s quite the showman onstage, his creativity doesn’t shine through as brightly on record. “This is Gonna Be” is a blue-collar, rock-focused anthem—doused with steel guitar and fiddle—and does little to allow Roberts to make any sort of impression in the mainstream. His grounded vocal is far more convincing than either Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan, but it follows the Jason Aldean playbook a little too closely. “Who You Are” is a similarly structured polished track, pinned together with vivid country imagery and a sweeping hook; as far as mid-tempos go, it’s memorable enough and gives the singer a chance to find a more specific direction.
Lead single “Dream About Me” (which name drops the Dixie Chicks) is cut from the same cloth as most summer radio hits. There’s a charm here, though, that could propel him into the spotlight further, but he has his work cut out for him. The landscape is already packed with a ton of aspiring male vocalists like him, vying for support; he’ll have to work at his live shows to build a loyal fan base going forward. While the record’s first three songs do little in way of carving out a specific Roberts niche, it’s the closer and piano-seared ballad “Heaven is a Small Town” that is an accomplished and stunning story-song that makes the four-track project worth a listen. The vibrant intro is reminiscent of Billy Joel‘s “New York State of Mind” and sets the stage for a truly compelling performance, in line with early Travis Tritt (“Anymore”) or Collin Raye (“If You Get There Before I Do”). “Bible says it’s a beautiful place, paradise behind those pearly gates, a mansion there for everyone, when time here on earth is done,” Roberts sings on the faith-based song’s opening lines. “They say you won’t believe your eyes when you see what’s waiting on the other side. Nobody knows how it’s going to be, but if you ask me, I believe that heaven is a small town.” Religious themes and imagery stretches as far back in country music history as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family, and it’s use here as the backbone of the song is refreshing—especially considering how radio has lost (most of) its own faith in recent years (except for Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water”).
What makes Dream About Me a solid first introduction is its diversity and deep understanding of country’s roots. He has woven central format themes into a fresh contemporary record; now, he only needs to take this groundwork and let it fuel him even more. He zips from party-hard anthems to tender, emotionally-charged stories with ease and never once compromises who he is.
Must-Listen Track: “Heaven is a Small Town”
Make sure you grab a copy of the EP on iTunes now!