Last year, with her breakthrough single “My Church,” Arlington native Maren Morris struck gold by suggesting that her holy redemption came not in the pews but in the car, singing along to country radio. A remarkably similar conceit can be found on “Saltwater Gospel,” the leadoff track to—and first single off—the Eli Young Band’s sixth studio album, Fingerprints (Valory Music Co., June 16): “I’m in Heaven watchin’ all these waves roll in / Amen / When I’m lost I know where to get found again,” Mike Eli sings, finding the sort of solace in the seashore that Morris found in Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. It’s a beach anthem and, at first glance, a seemingly thinly veiled bid for summer playlists. Thankfully, though, it avoids the sort of binge-drinking, girl-leerin’ bro-country hallmarks that might have all but guaranteed it radio play.
In short, “Saltwater Gospel” is a perfect example of the balancing act that has earned this Denton-bred quartet a handful of top-ten albums and singles; the band has become one of the Texas country movement’s biggest exports by knowing how the game is played while genially refusing to fully commit to playing it. Fingerprints glides along on the big, classic-rock guitar tones that have become the band’s trademark and lyrics that bounce between lust and heartache, but it never panders; the group is more focused on how these songs will play live than how they’ll fare on the radio. By the time Fingerprints wraps up with “The Days I Feel Alone”—a smart meditation on the toll the touring life takes on the band’s families—it’s clear that an album that may not yield a succession of big singles is also the band’s most consistently satisfying record. For that, give ’em a hallelujah, and an amen.