Old Do­min­ion brought its sharp pop-coun­try lyrics and hooks to a sold-out show at the An­them.

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The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY SCOTT GALUPO

The state of Vir­ginia is, at the mo­ment, un­ex­pect­edly fraught. A legacy of racial bru­tal­ity and vi­o­lence has reared its head again.

Old Do­min­ion, the pop-coun­try band whose name should ring a bell with ev­ery­one who’s made it through the fourth-grade Vir­ginia Stud­ies cur­ricu­lum, doesn’t like to dwell on all that. The bruised feel­ings it sings about are more likely to stem from dis­ap­pear­ing bub­bles on a ro­man­tic text thread.

At a sold-out An­them show on Satur­day night, as the band re­called hum­ble gigs at places such as Ar­ling­ton’s Rhode­side Grill and the shut­tered Grog and Tankard, the mem­bers of Old Do­min­ion were clearly en­joy­ing the fruits of nearly two decades’ work in the busi­ness of craft­ing songs for the coun­try mu­sic main­stream.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of it — one ir­re­sistible hook af­ter an­other — was ec­stat­i­cally fun and yet some­how strange: These are grown men, push­ing or past 40, with fam­i­lies. The magic that they — and, let’s face it, the entirety of coun­try ra­dio pro­gram­ming — bot­tle is the con­vic­tion that, no mat­ter how old you are, that mo­ment in the back seat of a truck on a dirt road should al­ways feel like it was yesterday.

A big rea­son for this dis­con­nect is that Old Do­min­ion’s suc­cess has been any­thing but me­te­oric. Me­ta­mor­phic would be a bet­ter way of de­scrib­ing it. Al­though the guys have ties to Vir­ginia state uni­ver­si­ties, they ac­tu­ally formed in Nashville. Their ini­tial goal was to break into elite song­writ­ing cir­cles and sell hits for other coun­try artists. They’ve done that for the likes of Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Sam Hunt and many oth­ers. On Satur­day, the band’s core three song­writ­ers — Matthew Ram­sey, Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi — show­cased a hand­ful of these hired-gun gems. They could have con­tin­ued in­def­i­nitely; the band’s song­writ­ing ré­sumé is as long as your arm.

At some point, they re­solved to keep some for them­selves and make it on their own shin­gle. Two col­lec­tions (2015’s “Meat and Candy” and 2017’s “Happy End­ings”) have re­sulted so far. Both are ex­cel­lent, and the An­them’s clos­est-thing-they-have-to-a-home­town crowd de­lighted in “Be With Me,” “Break Up With Him,” “Ho­tel Key,” “Beer Can in a Truck Bed” and on and on for 90 ef­fer­ves­cent min­utes. The songs hew to au courant pro­duc­tion trends: elec­tronic snap and clap tracks, hiphop-like verses that min­gle with pop melodies and the req­ui­site whoa-oh-ohs to keep you busy.

The abil­ity to car­pen­ter such songs is any­thing but ef­fort­less and should never be taken lightly. It in­evitably re­quires an eye for the clever turn of phrase that has de­fined coun­try hooks for decades. Old Do­min­ion’s eye is par­tic­u­larly sharp (“I guess I’m mak­ing all the right wrong turns tonight”). “Song for An­other Time” might have set a record for most song ti­tles ever amassed on a sin­gle track: “Be­fore we lose that lov­ing feel­ing / Let’s go danc­ing on the ceil­ing.”

One of the band’s best and most heart­felt hits — “No Such Thing as a Bro­ken Heart” — hinted at a pos­si­bil­ity of one day grad­u­at­ing be­yond the mi­lieu of col­lege hookups and into the world of adult con­cerns. Ram­sey sings: “What am I gonna tell my kids when they see / all of this bull---t that goes down on TV? / When the whole world is down on its luck / I gotta make sure they keep their chin up.”

Some­thing a lit­tle less cal­cu­lated and slightly more con­fes­sional shouldn’t be too much to ask from Old Do­min­ion as they move into this phase of hard-won fame of their own.

THE AN­THEM

Vir­ginia coun­try quin­tet Old Do­min­ion played a sold-out show at the An­them on Satur­day. In ad­di­tion to writ­ing pop­u­lar songs for other coun­try artists, the group cap­ti­vates with its own heart­felt hits.

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