For his third album, Luke Bryan looks backward. This isn't to say that 'Tailgates and Tanlines' is a step backward in the singer's career; quite the opposite is true, as his voice has never been more confident nor his focus more keen. It's a wonderful thing to watch a new country singer finally find harmony with the business and the music and the fans and the touring ... there's supposed to be time for family in there too, right?

Bryan's performance of 'Country Girl (Shake It for Me)' at the CMT Awards made more than a few new fans. It wasn't just that the song is more contagious than cooties at a second grade lunch table. He owned the song, the stage, the crowd and, some would argue, the night. It'd be unfair to expect every song on his new album to be as effective, but there are enough of these moments to satisfy.

Pacing is a problem on 'Tailgates and Tanlines.' After 'Country Girl' comes four slow to mid-tempo reminiscent songs that pass quickly and quietly. 'Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye' is a B+ version of Chris Young's 'Tomorrow,' and 'Drunk on You' is a bright moment before we're pining for lost love again in 'Too Damn Young.' Bryan isn't a great storyteller yet, and this one gets told a little flat despite some very imaginative lyrics.

'You Don't Know Jack' is a standout track, and it would make a courageous choice for the next single. There have been few, if any, songs that tell an alcoholic's story with such painful sympathy. "If you think it's just a bottle / In an old brown paper sack / You don't know Jack." One's left wondering if Bryan has a personal story to tell here, although this is one of the five tracks he didn't co-write.

Beginning with 'Jack,' the second half of the album is much more dynamic that the first. 'Harvest Time' will sound just fine to anyone who's ever sowed a seed, and 'I Know You're Gonna' Be There' is a much more convincing story than 'Too Damn Young' -- Bryan's pain is real here. 'Muckalee Creek Water' is a descriptive tribute to time spent alone, freeing one's mind from life's great stresses. You can almost smell the Cyprus and taste the dirty creek water.

From there, the album begins to repeat itself, with 'Tailgate Blues' being another descriptive tribute to time spent alone thinking, and 'Faded Away' being another ode to a lost love. This song, however, is the best of the lonely hearts club songs -- the chorus is one long, delicious metaphor. Women will take to the album quicker than men as it generally takes guys longer to begin paying attention to a song's message. There's a tendency for men to focus on big and obvious guitar riffs first, and after 'Country Girl,' there aren't many rowdy moments on 'Tailgates and Tanlines.' It's Bryan pulling back his guard to reveal the emotional scars of his life.

Watch Luke Bryan Perform 'Country Girl' at the 2011 CMT Music Awards