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Morgan Wallen, "One Thing at a Time" (Republic)

Wallen isn't about to tamper with a winning musical formula. The biggest country star of the 2020s — and one of the biggest stars in pop, period — sticks to exactly what has already worked for him on his new album. Its 36 songs show abundant craftsmanship and barely a hint of new ambition or risk.

The dozens of new songs are variations on scenarios from Wallen's two previous albums, 2018's "If You Know Me" and 2021's "Dangerous: The Double Album." Nearly every song on the album mentions drinking. Plenty of them revolve around breakups: some with regret, some with relief. Pickup trucks and chewing tobacco get name-checked. Life in rural eastern Tennessee — bars, fishing, backroads, moonshine, boots, the Bible — is a point of pride and a yardstick for whether a partner is worth keeping, especially if she's a city gal.

Despite his being ostracized in the music industry for being caught on social media uttering a racial slur in 2021, Wallen's combination of proud rural roots and well calibrated arena country was unstoppable.

There's ample skill on display on the new album. Old-school country-music wordplay is at the core of songs like "Days That End in Why" and "You Proof," both about trying to drink away regrets. Producer Joey Moi makes every track gleam, using overarching pedal steel guitar and Wallen's proud Tennessee drawl to mark the music as country while cannily drawing on Eagles, Tom Petty, the arena marches of U2 and even hip-hop.

But over the lengthy course of the album, the songs tend to cycle through just a handful of approaches. Eventually, the nasal grain of Wallen's singing starts to feel like Auto-Tune or another studio effect. Now and then, a human voice peeks out of the country machine, notably on the album's title track.

The album takes a turn for the devout as it's about to end. In "Don't Think Jesus," a guy who "starts writing songs 'bout whiskey and women" and falls into "chasing the devil through honky-tonk bars" finds consolation through prayer. Songs about whiskey and women are clearly a habit he's not about to kick.

JON PARELES, New York Times

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