Their collective appellation – Dan + Shay – may not be the most imaginative name ever, but the singer-songwriter duo of Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney wasted no time in establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the competitive country music scene. While the pair’s first two albums, 2014’s Where It All Began and 2016’s Obsessed, were clearly country-pop affairs, it is difficult not to think of their third record, the self-titled Dan + Shay, as a straight up-and-down pop release.
Opening number, Alone Together has a very weakly country-vibe underneath its indie-ish acoustic guitars, and lead single Tequila features a subtle slide-guitar to add atmospherics and complement the string arrangement, but neither song feels very country. What Keeps You Up at Night again uses slide and adds extra ‘spank’ to the guitar to bolster the country credentials, but these are merely embellishments on a classic power-pop track which runs too long despite the attempts of the guitar to build energy and engagement.
Kelly Clarkson lends her vocal prowess on Keeping Score, and even though the listener can sense that she is holding back in her performance, there is never any doubt about her power and skill as a singer. Throughout Dan + Shay, Smyers and Mooney amply demonstrate their own vocal talents, but on Keeping Score they also illustrate their songwriting chops by working Clarkson’s contribution organically into the song.
Make or Break has a big, anthemic beat and a chorus that is clearly designed for crowd sing-a-longs, but the production is too polished to truly deliver a powerful punch. Despite Smyers and Mooney’s vocal skills, Speechless sounds as though auto-tune was applied, and the backing vocals on No Such Thing are unnecessarily over-effected, which adds to the fact that the song is attempting to tick too many boxes. Dan + Shay is no more than notionally a country album, and as a pop album it demonstrates the underlying skills of Smyers and Mooney but doesn’t sink its hooks as deeply into the listener as a good pop album should.