Lee Brice‘s new album ‘Hard 2 Love’ feels like a half thank you note, half apology to his soon-to-be wife and their son. Not all of the 13 cuts were written by the ‘A Woman Like You’ singer, but put into the context of what is going on in his life, many come across as extremely personal love letters.

Songs like ‘Beer’ and ‘Parking Lot Party’ add tempo to the project, but the best songs — the meat of the album — are the soulful and revealing ballads. Songs like the first single and ‘See About a Girl’ (co-writer by Kyle Jacobs and inspired by Kellie Pickler) are easy to fall into. They’re sweet without being sappy or corny. Brice is at his best when he pushes a man’s emotions to the limits of comfort in words he’d use to open up. He hits another home run on ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think,’ an uptempo love reminder that seems fit to be a single, but may have too much competition.

The end of ‘See About a Girl’ features a brief phone call with his fiancee Sara, a dangerous trick he repeats on ‘One More Day’ with his son Takoda. It’s difficult to criticize a talented songwriter like Brice for making a song too personal, but by turning the story inward, he risks alienating an audience that regularly favors songs they can call their own. ‘Seven Days a Thousand Times’ is a dark and beautiful lyric — perhaps the most vivid and emotional story Brice has ever told — but it also remains inaccessible until one listens for the fifth or sixth time.

The real winners on ‘Hard 2 Love’ are those that trade in brushes of imagery for melody. In most cases these are ballads, like the tear-jerking, surefire single ‘I Drive Your Truck‘ and ‘Life Off My Years.’ ‘A Woman Like You’ and ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think’ are the best uptempo examples of that perfect marriage.

‘Hard 2 Love’ isn’t Lee Brice’s ‘Revolution’ (Miranda Lambert‘s break-thru album) but it’s quite possible his next one will be. It feels like the singer hasn’t quite perfected the recipe for his brand and style. He’s got all the right ingredients, he’s just slightly off on the measurements.