There is a television show that has had several productions around the world. It’s called The X Factor. It’s named after that indefinable quality that seems common to star performers of the musical and acting variety (although, in the case of the show, just musical). While it’s debatable if any of the contestants on these shows have that X factor, there is no question that Lachlan Bryan possesses it. Or maybe it’s magic, because he produced magic on his last two albums, Shadow of the Gun and Black Coffee, and he’s done it again on his latest, The Mountain.

Part of Bryan’s magic no doubt stems from something he identifies on track 9, ‘Fool for Love’, when he sings that he has always been a complicated boy. Complication is a seam running through his whole body of work, along with melancholy, guilt and responsibility. These are high-stakes themes to work with, but he also knows the difference between grand and grandiose. That said, on every album Bryan reliably produces several songs that are destined to break a listener’s heart. On this album it’s ‘Afraid of the Light’, ‘View from the Bridge’ and ‘Fool for Love’. But lest anyone think he’s spending too long in the shadows, he’s not afraid of a major key, as songs like ‘The King and I’ and ‘I Don’t Make the Rules’ attest. 

There is one mystery on this album: the song ‘The Secret I’ll Take to the Grave’ appeared on Shadow of the Gun and no reason is given why it’s repeated here. Still, long-time fans are advised that you’re not confused: it is the same song. Otherwise, all the songs are original to the album and they show both the talent that has always been evident in Bryan’s songwriting and his maturation as a writer and singer. They also give the Wildes plenty of opportunities to display their own talents, and this does sound like a band’s album rather than Bryan superimposed over session players. 

Bryan has a distinctive voice: rich, often smooth, never brittle. That voice is more relaxed and also more commanding on this album than in the past. In general Bryan sounds more at ease, and so he should. He knows what he’s doing, we know what he’s doing, and while he could never be accused of producing ‘easy listening’, it is very, very easy to listen to an album as good as this one.  

The Mountain is out now through ABC Music/Universal.