Lee Brice literally let go of his fifth studio album, and the end result finds him pivoting once again. Fans will meet a less-shielded version of the "One of Them Girls" singer on Hey World. The 14 songs shrink the outsized legend of Brice to something more manageable and approachable.

It's a funny thing, this legend of Lee Brice. He's like a country Bill Brasky without the sum-a-bi--h reputation. This big ol' country boy from South Carolina seems to be about 6-foot, 10-inches tall, 350-pounds. He's a former college football player (at Clemson University, no less) who fills his stage with heavy country love songs, masculine romancers, anthemic guitar riffs and beer-guzzling jams like "More Beer," an outlier on Hey World. Vocally, he leaves little space between sound and story. Few singers on the radio today are as present as Brice on his first four albums, a result of production and approach as much as anything.

The reason that changed on Hey World is that Brice let co-producer Ben Glover take control. Previously, Brice says he was in the room for every micro-decision. Mixing, mastering, sequencing — none of it happened without the singer signing off. The pandemic forced him to give up control to a point, but really he just decided to trust a man who he calls his professional soul mate.

"So he said, 'Oh yeah, I’d love to come have a beer backstage.’ I’m like 'Nah, brother I’m not talking about coming back here to have a beer’"

“So Ben went and made a really groovy, groovy, groovy record,” Brice tells Taste of Country. “It was nice to be able to let go of the reins for a minute and let my ears rest and hear stuff fresh.”

Since debuting with “She Ain’t Right” in 2007, the 41-year-old Brice has proven to be a dynamic vocalist, capable of infusing his country style with R&B, soul and country-rock. “A Woman Like You” (2011) was his first pivot, coming after his vocal introduction on the hit “Love Like Crazy.” “I Drive Your Truck” showed his extraordinary storytelling abilities, but “I Don’t Dance” (2014) is the song that first found him looking inward. That's where the married father lives during the signature songs on Hey World. He shares a bit of his past.

“I went through a time … where I was bullied really hard through middle school. A lot of it was mental," Brice says in the context of "Sons and Daughters" and "Lies."

"I’d get ganged up on because I was so big, they knew they had to come like 50 of ‘em. But it was scary. So then with “Sons and Daughters” it was like I could see that happening via social media.”

While not quite 6-foot, 10-inches tall (the internet says 6-foot, 3-inches), Brice is still able to take care of himself physically, but he knows that's not the case for those most affected by social media bullying. His oldest son, Takoda, is 12 years old.

"He’s just so sweet. He doesn’t understand why people would be mean or rude. He doesn’t comprehend it. It’s not in his nature," Brice says.

The Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe written "Lies" digs even deeper. Over little more than a piano, fans find Brice spilling all the tea on his insecurities. It's a stunning purge that completes the conscience of this album.

"I'm lost, I'm broke / I'm ugly, I'm old / Got an empty that nothing can fill in my soul / I'm dumb, I'm numb / I'm weird I'm scared / Not pretty enough to be repaired / Can't win, can't change / All I do is fail / Can't put my crazy back on the shelf," Brice sings.

"Yeah the cruelest lies of all the lies we tell / Are the ones we tell ourselves." 

“I remember I was opening up for Luke Bryan on the stadium tour,” Brice begins. "And somebody said something that was completely wrong and ... really put a bad message out there about me and about my show. So I tweeted out right at that moment, I said, ‘Look dude, why don’t you come say that to my face, come see me backstage and we can handle this.’"

The assertions were off-base and without merit, the singer says, adding that followers on Twitter backed him up. So Brice pressed on.

"So he said, 'Oh yeah, I’d love to come have a beer backstage.’ I’m like 'Nah, brother I’m not talking about coming back here to have a beer,'" he adds with a laugh.

“But there are kids every day — I hate that they take so much heart in what people, friends that they have and/or people that they don’t even know, say about them,” the "Memory I Don't Mess With singer adds. “It’s such a type of bullying.”

"Save the Roses" (a tribute to his late cousin) is another sort of emotional purge on Hey World, but he's not wrong in saying the album overall is "groovy." There's a sexy middle to this album that's centered on the infectious "Soul," a pop-written song Brice never thought would make the final cut.

“My only issue with the song was it didn’t have a hook, a lyrical hook," Brice says, again starting to laugh. "The biggest lyrical hook is the rhyme Moses with toes-es."

Fans can decide how Hey World ranks among his catalog, but commercially, he's undeniably on an upswing, perhaps his biggest to date. With three straight No. 1 hits and several CMA nominations in his rearview mirror for 2020, Brice humbly admits this has been a great year for him (he talked to Taste of Country prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis).

“All that is happening, and normally it’s like I’m on the road beating the bushes, like pounding the pavement," he says. "This year we’ve only done a handful of shows, and we’ve had a bunch of success on the other side. Can’t complain now. Can’t complain.”

Curb Nashville

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