The term, “masterpiece,” and Brett Eldredge’s discography may not sound like they go together in many country music listener’s minds. The Wanna Be That Song singer has had fairly strong success commercially, scoring 5 #1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and 7 songs certified platinum by the RIAA. However, you would still be hard-pressed to hear anyone say that Brett Eldredge delivered an album that can be referred to as a masterpiece. That changed on July 10, 2020, with the release of Sunday Drive.
Coming out in the midst of the pandemic, Sunday Drive never quite had the opportunity to be toured behind and promoted in the way that his previous albums, Illinois and his 2017 self-titled record were. This ultimately left Sunday Drive to, unfortunately, get lost in a wave of sporadic releases during the pandemic. Though it did peak inside the Top 5 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, it failed to have lasting chart success compared to his previously-released albums. Sunday Drive’s two singles, Gabrielle and Good Day, also failed to gain any traction on the charts as well.
The question that remains is: “Why did an album as good as Sunday Drive fail commercially?” If I had to guess, I would have to boil it down to Eldredge diverging from the usual pop-country sound that he had success with previously. It’s no secret that his hits, particularly Lose My Mind and Drunk On Your Love, are extremely pop-leaning and overall very radio-friendly. Outside of the aforementioned Gabrielle, Sunday Drive doesn’t contain a lot of songs that generally appeal to modern country radio.
This comes down to Sunday Drive having a very distinct sound and style. It doesn’t quite sound like Eldredge’s previously released albums, and it surely doesn’t sound like anything being played on the radio. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the album sounds much closer to independently-released records compared to your standard major-label releases. It has a very distinct jazz-influenced sound that sounds simply incredible. Given that Eldredge has played with a jazzy style in his two Christmas albums, Glow and Mr. Christmas, it feels very natural and authentic that he would lean into a more jazz-influenced sound on the record. That being said, the production is quite sparse for the most part. Though every song feels well-realized and full, there’s just enough room for the lyrics to breathe and the storytelling present to shine through the equally gorgeous compositions.
It’s the authenticity that has made me come back to this album so many times over the past three years. Cowriting 11 of the 12 songs, Eldredge packs Sunday Drive with a wide range of emotions. It truly feels like he is wearing his heart on his sleeve here, touching on feelings of loneliness, nostalgia, love and loss throughout. The variety of songs present also makes this album a delight to listen to from top to bottom; he crafts the highs and lows brilliantly here. Whether it’s the infectious Magnolia that reminisces about young love in high school or the tear-jerking Sunday Drive that touches on aging and the simplicities of life, the record truly feels like Eldredge is writing to a love letter to his up-bringing.
Sunday Drive is ultimately an unexpectedly brilliant album. Much in the vein of Randy Houser’s 2019 record, Magnolia, Eldredge really produced a self-reinventing gem. While not all of the album sounds traditionally “country,” I quite frankly don’t care given the quality of the songs both lyrically and musically. It’s quite sad that it never got the attention it deserved; however, it is safe to say that Sunday Drive is a certified hidden gem.
Listen to Gabrielle, Sunday Drive and The One You Need here: