The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: November 29, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
2. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
3. Luke Combs, “Cold As You” 0 (5/10)
4. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
5. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
6. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
7. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
8. Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt” 0 (5/10)
9. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
10. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
11. Kane Brown, “One Mississippi” +1 (6/10)
12. Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots” 0 (5/10)
13. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
14. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
15. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
16. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
17. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
18. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
19. Sam Hunt, “23” -1 (4/10)
20. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
21. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
22. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
23. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
24. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
25. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
26. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
27. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
28. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
29. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
30. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
31. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
32. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)
33. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
34. Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love” 0 (5/10)
35. Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” 0 (5/10)
36. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
37. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
38. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
39. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
40. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
41. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
42. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
43. Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” 0 (5/10)
44. Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” -1 (4/10)
45. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
46. Taylor Swift & Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” -1 (4/10)
47. Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” -1 (4/10)
48. Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” +3 (8/10)
49. Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll” -1 (4/10)
50. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) -1
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +4
Overall Pulse +3
Change From Last Week
+4 😎

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” (recurrent)
  • Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me” (down below #50)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominon, “I Can’t” (finally recurrent)
  • Old Dominon, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (down from #1 to #3)
  • Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” (down from #4 to #7)

In Real Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (up from #15 to #14, but gained only twelve spins and lost points)
  • Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” (holds at #20, lost spins and gained only eight points)
  • Toby Keith, “Old School” (up from #34 to #33, but gained only twenty-seven spins and 110 points)
  • Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (up from #40 to #36, but lost its bullet)
  • Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (up from #39 to #37, but is bullet-less for a second consecutive week)
  • Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” (up from #42 to #39, but gained only twenty-six spins and lost points)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable” (up from #48 to #41, but gained only twenty spins and eighty-nine points)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (up from #46 to #43, but gained only four spins and nine points)
  • Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (up from #45 to #44, but lost its bullet)
  • Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” (up from #50 to #47, but gained only ten spins and ninety-two points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” (up from #48 to #42, but gained only fourteen spins and seventy-three points)
  • Dylan Scott, “New Truck” (up from #44 to #40, but gained only forty-three spins and 111 points)
  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (up from #49 to #45, but gained only seven spins and lost points)
  • Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll” (debuts at #49, but gained only two spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (up from #33 to #28)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (up from #43 to #38)
  • Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (up from #36 to #32)

Is Thanos (at least for now):

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (only a single-week #1; is the king’s grip on the throne starting to loosen?)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • Midland, “Sunrise Tells The Story”
  • Niko Moon, “PARADISE TO ME”
  • Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”

On The Way:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t”
  • Lee Brice, “Soul”
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”
  • Ingrid Andress & Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”

Overall Thoughts: How can a week have a lot of action and no action at all at the same time? When the dam breaks and a bunch of tracks depart at once, leaving plenty of spots for other songs to fill despite posting awful gains themselves, which leads to rare sights like Brothers Osborne jumping four slots and losing their bullet at the same time. The same spin inequities and playlist shortening that we’ve been discussing all along are still here, and most of the eye-popping position gains fall into the ‘nothing to see here’ category (but some don’t; in particular Rhett and Johnson appear to be legit after back-to-back strong weeks). There are still some songs that I’d like to see on the exit ramp (Barnes, Lane) and a few that look shaky even in the top half of the chart (Block, Clark, Allen/Paisley, and even Pardi), so woth a few more big songs on the horizon there could still be some significant movement before the holiday deep freeze takes hold.

On the coronavirus front…you already know what’s coming, right? “Omicron” went from an anonymous middle-of-the-alphabet character to humanity’s greatest fear in the space of a week, as a new coronavirus variant was discovered and scientists quickly discovered that it was already everywhere, including in the United States. The current messaging is that we still don’t know much about the variant and that it’s too early to panic, but with the delta variant already driving cases and hospitalizations back up here in the States, the prevailing emotion I’m hearing from people is despair: Are we ever going to get out of this mess? If the answer if eventually going to be “yes,” you know what we have to do:

  • Wear a high-quality mask and maintain proper social distance from others when in public. (And if you’re going to gather for the holidays, take steps to minimize the risks to yourself and others.)
  • If you’re not vaccinated yet, get your shots at the earliest opportunity, and be sure to get your booster shot once you become eligible. The shots may be less effective against mutated variants, but they’ll still provide a sizeable degree of protection, and manufacturers are already preparing to tweak their formulas to target different variants as needed.
  • If you’re in a position to do something to minimize the spread of COVID-19, do it. More incentives, more mandates, reducing access barriers…whatever it is you can do to help, do it.

If omicron winds up being delta’s successor, there’s a good chance that we’ll be in for a repeat of the last few months, and could endure further stress on our lives and our health care systems. It’s important to remember, however, that we’re not powerless in this fight: If we continue to follow best practices and take the necessary steps to protect our communities, we can help limit the amount of needless suffering and eventually bring this pandemic to a close.

Song Review: Parmalee, “Take My Name”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

As much as the Boyfriend country trend annoyed me, the members of Parmalee probably wake up every day thanking their lucky stars that it came around. After several years of embarrassing failures (“Hotdamalama,” anyone?) and complete irrelevance, the group teamed up with Blanco Brown and did their best Dan + Shay impression for “Just The Way,” a forgettable Boyfriend track that nonetheless broke the band out of their slump and put them back at #1 (even if it took nearly ten months for it to happen). With no other options or redeeming characteristics, the band has decided to ride this train to the end of the line, and thus we’re now getting “Take My Name,” a boring by-the-numbers love song that feels consciously and conspicuously crafted to be a part of every wedding playlist in 2022. The track is equals parts cheesy and synthetic, and will be quickly forgotten once the newness wears off.

I feel like analyzing the production here is a complete waste of time, because let’s be honest, you already what instruments are here and what the mix sounds like. The song is primarily piano-driven, and while there are other instruments present (some acoustic and electric guitars for background noise, some steel guitar notes for flavor, and even what sounds like a token banjo buried deep in the arrangement), they don’t add a lot to the sound, and for the most part you won’t realize they’re even there (even the electric guitar solo is so short it feels kind of sad). Still, pianos are the ultimate “serious song” indicator are at least a defensible choice for the song, I can’t say the same about the percussion, which is dominated by a slick, synthetic beat (real drums occasionally pop in, but they sound dull and canned). The beat clashes badly with the song’s subject matter: If you’re trying to create/celebrate a love that is supposedly deep and everlasting, leaning on percussion that sounds this cheap and fake really undercuts your argument (after all, these are the same beats used in all the sleazy pick-up songs we’ve gotten over the last few years). I’m also not a fan of the overall feel of the sound, with the piano sounding too dark and the minor chords being too prevalent to let the song feel happy or romantic. In other words, this whole thing feels like a series of bad decisions, and simply doesn’t establish the right vibe for the writing.

On “Just The Way,” I declared that “Brown is the only big addition to Parmalee’s bland formula,” and with him gone the group reverts back to their usual bland mediocrity. Lead singer Matt Thomas avoids any technical issues on the track, but there’s nothing compelling about him as a vocalist (or distinct either; if you told me that, say, Matt Stell was singing this song, I would believe you). I’m sure the narrator cares a whole bunch about their significant other, but Thomas fails to allow the audience to share in those feelings, and thus he can’t convince them to give two you-know-whats about their love story, and as a result the song simply bores them to tears (seriously, I would have walked away from this song after the first listen if I wasn’t reviewing it). The rest of the band is as invisible and replaceable as ever: There’s nothing distinct about their sound or their harmonies, so why does Stoney Creek bother keeping them on the payroll? This song has been done a million times before (heck, Dan + Shay have done it several times themselves, although whether they did it any better is a matter of debate), and with nothing special to catch your ear from the vocals, you’re not missing anything by missing this one.

The lyrics are…well, they’re really just an extended marriage proposal, and frankly it’s so cheesy that you could serve it with red wine. The narrator is just so smitten with their partner that they’re throwing caution to the wind and asking them to “take my name” (which is pretty weak as far as hooks go). I understand trying to be “effectively vague” to make the song applicable to as many people as possible, but the song doesn’t provide any backstory for the narrator at all: No first meeting, no first kiss, no anything for the listener to visualize and imagine. The whole thing comes across as way more ephemeral than it should—it’s as if the pair just met and the narrator immediately decided it was forever (which is both creepy and par for the course for Boyfriend country). Another issue is that the song is heavily dependent on the performer’s charisma: With the narrator being the only character that’s even partially fleshed out (they’re declared to be “the last guy anybody think might ever be talking like this”), they’re reliant on the singer having a notable footloose-and-fancy-free persona to make the song believable, and Thomas isn’t really notable on any level (although anyone who sings a song like “Hotdamalama” might well be the last person you expect to make this kind of statement). In the end, this is a run-of-the-mill, paint-by-numbers love song that barely qualifies as the framework for a story, and we’ve all got better things to do than listen to a half-written song.

“Take My Name” is the country music equivalent of a no-op: It exists, but it does nothing, says nothing, and ultimately makes you feel nothing. The production is ill-fitting and bland, the writing is vacuous and half-baked, and Parmalee demonstrates all the charm and catchiness of a bag of potatoes. At a time when even Dan + Shay appear to have lost some of their luster (“Steal My Love” is barely crawling up the charts right now), I don’t see this off-brand version of that pair gaining much traction with this track, especially with wedding season so far away. You won’t hate the song if you hear it, but you’ll hate yourself for wasting valuable time listening to it, and by the end you’ll be telling this group to keep their crummy name as you head for the door.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t bother with this one.

So You Want To Beat The Kensa .52…

If you’ve played Splatoon 2 recently (especially in higher-level ranked modes), you’ve probably noticed that matches have been filling with a tacky-yet-powerful shooter, a weapon that Nintendo can’t seem to figure out how to balance: The Kensa .52 Gal. The weapons has been kicking around the game for three years now, but it’s gotten a steady stream of buffs ever since it was introduced, and the last few finally pushed it past its competition and turned it into an unstoppable, ever-present force, a weapon that excels both offensively and defensively and is darn now impossible to move once it stakes out a position. Even after the Splatoon developers finally realized their mistake and tried to rein in the Kensa .52, the weapon laughed off its weak painting nerf and special point increase and continued its reign of terror across Inkopolis, claiming any and all territory as its own.

If Nintendo won’t fix its weapon, then it’s up to us to figure out how to work around the weapon and find a way to neutralize its powers. So how do we beat a Kensa .52 Gal?

Why Is the Kensa .52 Gal So Good?

A wise man once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” so let’s start with the first part of that statement. What makes the Kensa .52 so powerful?

  • Slaying Power: Each shot from the .52 Gal has a base damage of 52 (huh, I wonder where the name came from), making the weapon a) a two-shot kill and b) one of the most-effective slaying weapons in the game. It ranks only behind its larger cousin the .96 Gal in terms of per-shot damage among shooters, and is outranked only by classic one-shot kill weapons (chargers, rollers, blasters) and a couple of sloshers.
  • Range & Efficiency: Of course, the Tri-Slosher also does 52 damage per shot and doesn’t suffer from falloff issues (i.e., the Tri-Slosher does 52 damage no matter how it hits, while .52 shots weaken to a minimum of 30 damage after they reach the maximum edge of their range). So why is the .52 preferred over our favorite green bucket of death? It’s because the .52 gives you more opportunities for slaying: It has a slight range advantage over the Tri-Slosher, and is way more efficient per shot (a full ink tank gives you 76 shots with a .52, but only 16 with a Tri-Slosher). The Tri-Slosher may be easier to aim, but the .52 lets you take more shots from farther away. This also means you’ve got more shots to chip in with painting and map control as well.
  • Main Power Up Buff: Of course, extra range and awesome power doesn’t help a whole lot if your shot don’t go where they tell them to. The .52 Gal is incredibly inaccurate, quickly going from a 2% to a 25% chance of being off-target (a number that jumps to 40% the moment you jump while firing). However, this weakness is partially mitigated by the Main Power Up gear perk, which can increase “shot accuracy when firing while jumping by up to 50%,” and can improve “accuracy while on the ground by up to 25%.” Naturally, if you look at the .52 builds of competitive players, most of them count at least two sub slots of MPU among their gear in order to counter the weapon’s biggest disadvantage.

So the .52 Gal features exceptional power, solid ink efficiency, decent range, and a shortcoming that can be covered by gear perks. This explains why the .52 is so popular…except that there are three variants of the weapon, so why is the Kensa .52 Gal everywhere while the vanilla and deco .52 variants barely appear in Top 500 matches at all? The issue is that while the weapon provides the offense, the Kensa kit provides the defense:

  • The Kensa .52’s Splash Wall puts an impenetrable barrier between the .52 and the opposition for up to seven seconds, and while you can attack the wall to shorten its lifetime, the .52’s two-shot power means that if your weapon can’t chew through the wall fast enough, it’s essentially impossible to challenge the .52 when it’s deployed.
  • The Kensa .52’s Booyah Bomb is a classic crowd-control attack that can be deployed at nearly any range and presents anyone within a fair radius of its landing point with a simple choice: Move or die. This special gives the Kensa .52 an option for dealing with nearly any weapon, as it can be tossed at a far-off sniping point to dislodge a pesky backline weapon, or simply thrown at a user’s feet to push back a Sploosh-o-matic or Splattershot (the user also gains a significant shield that absorbs damage as they float in the air while the bomb is charging, although some weapons get significant damage multipliers against it). Using the special also refills the user’s ink tank, which means a Kensa .52 can throw out another Splash Wall the moment they launch the bomb and hit the ground.

With this kit, the Kensa .52 Gal is able to take and hold whatever ground they please without fear, using the weapon’s offensive power to punish anyone who dares test them. Neither of the other .52 kits can match its ability to move from unstoppable force to immovable object in an instant.

So What Can We Do About It?

To take on a Kensa .52 Gal, we have to adopt the same mindset of an NFL defense taking on Tom Brady: We have to find a way to move them off their spot in the pocket without getting torched by all their weapons. So how do we do it?

  • Superior Range: The .52 Gal may be a two-hit kill, but it can’t kill what it can’t reach. There are plenty of weapons (from the Tetra Dualies to the E-Liter 4K) that outrange the .52, allowing you to safely challenge it without fear of getting splatted (or at the very least forcing the .52 to use its Booyah Bomb to go after you).
  • Object Shredder: Of course, pinning down a .52 with superior range and forcing them to sit behind a Splash Wall all day may not be enough—we may need to dislodge them from a key area and push them back. The most direct way to the Kensa .52 is through their Splash Wall, and Object Shredder will help you take it down faster through its 125% damage boost. (The gear perk also grants a small damage bonus against the Booyah Bomb’s armor as well.) Combined with superior range, we can keep the Kensa .52 from feeling too secure in any location.
  • Autobombs: Another possibility is to force a ‘move or die’ decision onto the Kensa .52 from a safe distance by launching our sub weapon over and behind the Splash Wall. Bombs of any sort can be used for this purpose, but Auto Bombs protect against the possibility of an errant throw by hunting down their target before exploding, so these are your best choice for the task if you’re unsure about your aim.
  • Torpedos: Torpedos feature the same auto-targeting functionality as Autobombs, but they lack one-hit kill power of the Autobombs and can be shot down before impact. Still, they can be a potential option to distract an opponent and potentially convince them to move.
  • Toxic Mist: Could the least effective sub weapon in Splatoon 2 actually come in handy here? Believe it or not, it can: Toxic Mist reduces the movement speed and drains the ink tank of anyone within its radius, and its radius is surprisingly large: Even when smashed against a Splash Wall, the effect will beyond and behind it and force the .52 user to move back. (The weapon may have the ink efficiency to sustain the mist for a short while, but since a Splash Wall requires 60% of the Kensa .52’s ink tank to throw, staying in the mist means they won’t have another wall handy when their current one fails.)
  • Tenta Missiles: This is probably the best counter to the Kensa .52, so much so that missiles are the main reason a number of weapons (such as N-Zap ’89) are seeing a fair bit of use in the current meta. Tenta Missiles can deal with the entire Kensa .52 kit: They can be launched from anywhere on the map, they travel over the Splash Wall to strike targets behind it, they have enough power to take down anyone who doesn’t move to avoid them, and they can even take down an armored Booyah Bomb user if they hesitate in the face of a missile strike. If you’re looking for a foolproof way to go after a Kensa .52, Tenta Missiles are a great choice.
  • Booyah Bomb: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The initial Booyah Bomb throw can be blocked by a Splash Wall, but the resulting explosion will go right through it, forcing the .52 to at least temporarily abandon its position.
  • Ink Storm: The Ink Storm is a slow-killing special, but it can be set off from a safe distance,it can completely ignore the Splash Wall, and it will knock out any opponents that dare to sit in the storm for too long. You won’t get many KOs with this special, but you will get people moving.
  • Stingray: Stingrays have infinite range and laugh at walls of any sort, so using on against a Kensa .52 will force it to abandon its position, although it can be hard to track opponents when firing the ray and it’s not a terribly fast kill against someone using a Booyah Bomb.
  • Ultra Stamp: The Ultra Stamp can easily smash its way through a Splash Wall and Booyah Bomb armor, and while the .52 has more than enough mobility to flank the weapon and attack the user, the weapons can still serve as an opening salvo, breaking through the line and allowing teammates to follow up.

In other weapons, through careful planning and the right kit, we can give ourselves several options to approaching and moving a Kensa .52 user.

What Weapons Are Best To Use?

Now let’s consider the “know thyself” portion of Sun Tzu’s quote. Any weapon that provides one or two of the above options can be somewhat effective against the Kensa .52 Gal, but there are a couple of choices that give use the most tools and the best chance for success:

  • Jet Squelcher: This weapon might be the perfect counter to the Kensa .52 Gal. It outranges the main weapon by a wide margin, it can apply pressure over the top with its Tenta Missiles (which they absolutely farm at 180 points), and even Toxic Mist provides some utility by helping to push the Kensa .52 back. This weapon also complements the Kensa .52 Gal as a teammate, so it’s an excellent when you’re stuck in a Turf War or Ranked solo queue lobby. Also consider: Custom Jet Squelcher.
  • N-Zap ’89: Not confident in your aim at long distances? The orange zapper might be right up your alley. You’ve still got Autobombs to force opponents to move, you’ve got Tent Missiles at a reasonable 190 points to charge, and it’s only slightly under-ranged when taking on the .52 head-to-head. This has been my go-to weapon for missile spam in ranked battles, and the .52 has to account for your entire kit. Also consider: Kensa Splattershot, N-Zap ’83.
  • Kensa Splattershot Pro: Once upon a time, the Kensa Pro was the weapon dominating the meta and drawing all the complaints. In a head-to-head matchup, however, this weapon still presents a challenge for its .52 counterpart: It’s got Splat Bombs for poking, it’s got longer range and better accuracy, and it can match the .52 Booyah Bomb for Booyah Bomb (although at 210 points and mediocre paint output, you won’t have it as often). It may not be the weapon du jour, but it can still get the job done. Also consider: Splattershot Pro.
  • Custom Dualie Squelchers: The vanilla Dual Squelchers have Tenta Missiles available (and aren’t a terrible pick), but the CDS features good range, a workable bomb, and a special (Ink Storm) that can still provide pressure on a dug-in .52, even if it’s not on the level of Tenta Missiles. Also consider: Dualie Squelchers, Custom Splattershot Jr.
  • Sloshing Machine: How about a pick out of left field? The sloshing machine is kind of an awkward kit on balance (it has the same problem as the .52 Gal Deco in that it’s a frontline weapon with a backline special), but all the pieces are there: A useful sub in the Autobomb, a workable special in Stingray, and a weapon that not only outranges the .52, but features the sloshing machine that can go over the wall and still land hits on the other side. If you can find the room to use your special, this one has some .52-countering potential. Also consider: Tri-Slosher Nouveau, Dapple Dualies Nouveau.

The Kensa .52 Gal is a powerful weapon with a kit that complements it perfectly, and it’s earned its prominent place in the Splatoon 2 meta. It’s not invincible, however, and there are weapons with the ability to counter and mitigate the impact of the polka-dotted menace. With the right tools and the right gameplan, you have the chance to defy the meta, fight through the .52 Gal, and find victory.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: November 22, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Luke Combs, “Cold As You” 0 (5/10)
2. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
3. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
4. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
5. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
6. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
7. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
8. Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt” 0 (5/10)
9. Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” -2 (3/10)
10. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
11. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
12. Kane Brown, “One Mississippi” +1 (6/10)
13. Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots” 0 (5/10)
14. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
15. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
16. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
17. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
18. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
19. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
20. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
21. Sam Hunt, “23” -1 (4/10)
22. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
23. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
24. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
25. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
26. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
27. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
28. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
29. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
30. Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” 0 (5/10)
31. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
32. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
33. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
34. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
35. Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love” 0 (5/10)
36. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)
37. Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me” +1 (6/10)
38. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
39. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
40. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
41. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
42. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
43. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
44. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
45. Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” -1 (4/10)
46. Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” 0 (5/10)
47. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
48. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
49. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
50. Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” -1 (4/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) -5
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +4
Overall Pulse -1
Change From Last Week
0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You” (recurrent)
  • Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” (down to #54)

Leaving:

  • Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” (down from #1 to #4)
  • Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” (down from #6 to #9)
  • Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (down from #23 to #41)

In Real Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (holds at #15, but lost its bullet)
  • Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” (down from #19 to #20, gained only fifteen spins and 103 points)
  • Toby Keith, “Old School” (down from #32 to #34, lost its bullet)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” (down from #37 to #38, bullet-less for a second consceutive week)
  • Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (down from #38 to #39, lost its bullet)
  • Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” (holds at #42, but lost its bullet)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (holds at #46, but gained only eight spins and twenty-six points)
  • Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” (down from #49 to #50, lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (up from #11 to #10, but gained only thirteen spins and fifty-eight points)
  • Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” (up from #27 to #25, but gained only forty-three spins and ninety points)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (holds at #43, but gained only twenty-eight spins and 111 points)
  • Dylan Scott, “New Truck” (holds at #44, but gained only twenty-six spins and fifty points)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable” (down from #45 to #48, gained only thirteen spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” (debuts at #30)
  • Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me” (debuts at #36)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (up from #39 to #33)
  • Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (up from #40 to #36)

Is Thanos (at least for now):

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (has to pull out the big label to leap from #4 to #1; this is easily his weakest single to date)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t”
  • Lee Brice, “Soul”
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”
  • Ingrid Andress & Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”

Overall Thoughts: This was a week of not-so-radical redistribution: As Hurd/Morris, Hayes, and Old Dominion start releasing spins into the wild, big debuts from Swindell/Wilson and Adele/Stapleton and a big push from Thanos (which feels like one of those artificial pushes that Combs has never needed befoe) were there to hoover them all up, and the result was a lot more of the same: Decent gains at the top, pitiful numbers at the bottom, and a bunch of songs facing a critical question/Clash single: Should I stay or should I go? With a few more singles slated to land this year and holiday tracks primed to tighten the spin squeeze further, I don’t expect the numbers to get any better in the short-term, and there are definitely some artists who would be better off pulling the plug now and preparing to make a bigger splash in 2022.

On the coronavirus front…folks, we are definitely in trouble again: New coronavirus case averages are up 25% over the last two weeks, and the CDC is now forecasting that hospitalizations and deaths will rise over the next month, with 800,000 deaths nationally being a real possibility. With vaccinations rates growing at a snail’s pace (we just barely reached the 59% mark) and Thanksgiving gatherings being ready-made risks for spreading the virus, the next month is going to be a dicey one, and if we’re going to have any chance of avoiding this 800,000 mark, we’ve got to do all we can to protect ourselves and others:

  • Wear a mask and maintain proper social distance from others when in public. (And if you’re going to gather for the holidays, take steps to minimize the risks to yourself and others.)
  • If you’re not vaccinated yet, get your shots at the earliest opportunity, and be sure to get your booster shot once you become eligible.
  • If you’re in a position to do something to minimize the spread of COVID-19, do it. More incentives, more mandates, reducing access barriers…whatever it is you can do to help, do it.

I know people are tired and just want this whole pandemic mess to be over, but it’s not going to end unless we all take concrete steps to help make it happen. We still have some say over how bad this winter ends up being, and if we all do the right things, perhaps we can keep the unnecessary death and suffering to a minimum.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (November 2021 Edition)

With the end of the year approaching and song reviews being some of the least-interesting posts that I make, it’s time to take a wider view of the genre and try to cover our bases for the end-of-year lists coming next month. I think the genre has improved slightly overall from the bland soundalike tracks we got for most of the year, but if the Pulse scores are any indication, there’s still a lot of uninteresting junk flooding the airwaves right now. So how does our latest crop of singles fare? Let’s start with the biggest of the bunch:

Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me”

This song has dominated the Hot 100 basically since it arrived on the scene, and bringing in Chris Stapleton seems like a dream pairing of two of the best power vocalists in the business today…so why is my reaction to it so muted? Part of it is that the writing here is surprisingly weak and vague, as it doesn’t really make it clear who the song is aimed at (I thought it was at her ex, but apparently it’s for their son?), and the narrator’s story and explanation just isn’t that compelling or interesting (people making relationship decisions that they later come to regret makes up at least 25% of Nashville’s entire catalog). The two artists have decent vocal chemistry and it’s nice to see a Stapleton feature that actually uses him to push the song’s emotional boundaries (probably because Adele is one of the few singers in the planet he can’t out-sing), but he adds a rougher edge to the vocals (especially when he’s screaming them out on the bridge) that clashes with the softer, slicker feel of the piano (which is the only non-vocal instrument present here), and the tracks veers hard into ear-splitting territory when both singers turn it loose on the bridge. In the end, the song is okay, but there are a surprising number of tracks on the Mediabase chart right now that I’d pick over it.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few listens, I suppose.

Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never”

This song is trying way too hard to be something it’s not. The tale of two star-crossed lovers who just can’t seem to makes things work beyond the physical attraction is a tale old as time, and the song tries to use minor chords, dark, foreboding instrument tones, and loud, hard-edged guitars and percussion (which bounces between a drum set and a slicker beat) to inject a sense of drama and danger into the song. Unfortunately, the garden-variety off-and-on relationship in the lyrics simply doesn’t warrant the hype (it reminds me a lot of Travis Denning’s boring “After A Few”), and while both Lainey Wilson and Cole Swindell put their hearts into their performance (honestly, I like their vocal chemistry far more than Adele and Stapleton’s), they can’t convince the audience of the story’s importance. It’s just an oversung, overproduced batch of empty sonic calories, and I sincerely hope that Swindell and Wilson find some stronger material to work with the next time around.

Rating: 5/10. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to remember this one.

Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone”

Parker is a Georgia native who’s attempting to make to leap from songwriter to performer after signing with Warner Bros. in either 2020 or 2021 depending on the source you find, but he’s not going anywhere with his debut drivel. The song features yet another delusional narrator waiting for a traveling ex to come back and imagining how much she misses him (give it up bro, she ain’t coming back), and the fact that he occasionally admits the futility of his feelings (“maybe you really are long gone and I’m just fooling myself”) isn’t enough to make him a likeable or sympathetic character. Everything else here is cookie-cutter and generic: The reliance on a buzzword-filled waiting spot featuring beer and trucks in the evening (also, what’s the point of specifying that he has a “BP PBR”? It sounds as dumb as me saying I’m drinking a Hannaford’s Powerade), the bland guitar-and-drum production, and Parker’s undistinctive voice that could be mistaken for five other singers in the genre (put anyone else behind the mic, and the song wouldn’t change at all). The song offers no compelling reason to listen or pay attention to it, and I’m getting really tired of indistinguishable tracks like this, especially one that feature an annoyingly-presumptuous attitude from the narrator. I didn’t put up with it from Tucker Beathard or Taylor Swift, and I won’t do it here either.

Rating: 4/10. Pass.

Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait”

George Strait’s gotten enough name-drops in the last ten years to fill an encyclopedia, and has been around so long that this isn’t even the first song built around his song titles (forget Brad Paisley’s “Bucked Off,” I remember Tim McGraw singing “Give It To Me Strait” all the way back in 1994). I’m kind of torn on this one:

  • McCreery is a talented vocalist, but he’s not terribly believable in this role (he’s seven years younger than “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” so was it really his ex’s favorite song?)
  • The song is just a by-the-book lost-love song, but it does a decent job balancing the genuine sentimentality of a breakup and the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of hating a singer because of it.
  • The song title references are hit or miss: Some work okay (“Blue Clear Sky” is probably the best of the bunch), but some feel really forced (the “Give It Away” and “I Hate Everything” ones especially).

I think what sells me on this one in the end is the production: It starts as your typical guitar-and-drum arrangement, but once the steel guitar shows up it becomes the defining feature of the mix. It gives the sound some warmth and texture, while also helping it stand out from other tracks around it, most of which sprinkle the instrument in just enough to convince Billboard it’s “country.” It allows the song to pass the context test, as it wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Strait’s own material. That’s enough to elevate it above the mediocre masses for me.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see how it hits you.

Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll”

While McCreery paid homage to Strait, Rice tried to tip his cap to the latest member of the name-drop club, Eric Church…except Church’s material is far better than anything Rice could dream of putting together. From the filtered guitars to the textured drums to the restrained vocal delivery, Rice and his producer do their darnedest to copy Church’s signature country-rock style on this track, and while they end up with a half-decent reproduction in the end, the song falls completely flat thanks to its random, pandering, borderline-nonsensical lyrics: It uses an overly-simplistic “if I was X, I’d be Y” setup to work in references to Dale Earnhardt, the SEC, Johnny Cash, and Jesus Christ, it uses a bizarre flag-patch reference to shout out the military, and it throws in a grandfather/grandson bit that is both blatantly obvious and completely pointless. This is about a scattershot a track as you’ll ever hear, and its weak attempt to bring it all together on the chorus as a lost-love song doesn’t work at all (and the generally-upbeat production doesn’t help matters). The bridge is the closest the song comes to tying everything together, but it paints the narrator is an unflattering light: It lays out a blueprint for what he should do if he was “a smart man,” while at the same time insinuating that that’s exactly what he didn’t do. Listening to this track is an exercise in frustration, and the only good thing that could come of it would be for Church to sue Rice for trademark infringement and doing damage to his brand.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar”

While this track is at least up front that it won’t be plowing new ground, it doesn’t make it any more interesting to listen to. My first question is why Mitchell Tenpenny was allowed anywhere near this thing: It wasn’t written as a duet, the presence of a second person adds nothing to the song, and Tenpenny’s weak, raspy voice is completely outclassed by Young’s solid baritone. Where McCreery passes the context test, this song really doesn’t, as its paint-by-numbers guitar-and-drum doesn’t fit in with either a classic bar setting or the 90s song it name-drops (“Brand New Man,” “Time Marches On”), and by taking a more-neutral and serious approach to a bar song, it deftly avoids all the reasons people actually listen to a bar song in the first place (i.e, it’s either to party hardy or cry in your beer). The imagery and scenes are exactly what you’d expect to see: Love being found, love being lost, bartender stories and (of course) lost and lots and lots of alcohol. By focusing on what happens in the bar, the song fails to give the place any atmosphere, or make it seem like somewhere that you would actually want to go. Toss in the fact that the song feels half-written with only one-and-a-half verses, and you’re left with a bland snorefest that exists merely for the sake of existing.

Rating: 5/10. There are way better beer-joint odes to spend your time listening to.

Song Review: Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t”

You can put off reviewing a song to cover other topics…”‘Til You Can’t.”

A few years ago, Cody Johnson seemed primed for success, making the leap from the Texas independent scene to mainstream country music at a time that the genre seemed to be shifting back towards more-traditional material. The shift never materialized, however, and acts that were banking on it (Midland, anyone?) were pushed to the fringes of the Nashville scene. Johnson went from narrowly missing the Billboard Top Ten in 2018 with “On My Way To You” to completely missing the top fifty with “Nothin’ On You,” and last year’s collaboration with Reba McEntire “Dear Rodeo” still hit a wall outside of the top thirty. Despite it all, however, Johnson kept plugging along, dropping a double album Human last month and releasing “‘Til You Can’t” as the leadoff single for the project. While the song follows Johnson’s typical formula and thus is probably doomed at radio (although it has made it to #40 on Mediabase so far…), it’s easily my favorite Johnson single since “With You I Am,” and it’s a poignant reminder of a) the things that we all casually put off when we really shouldn’t, and of b) what country music should aim to do in the modern era.

The production here does a nice job of pressing the importance of the topic while maintaining a breezy, uptempo feel that makes the track go down easy. The song opens with an acoustic guitar and a piano carrying the melody (there’s an organ in the background as well), but the instrument tones are soft and breezy (as opposed to the heavier piano ballads we tend to get), and the mix slowly builds out from there: The louder electric guitars jump in, the drums increase in intensity, and a steel guitar steps in to flavor the mix and fill in the gaps. (There’s a fiddle here as well, but it doesn’t get a ton of screen time and its impact on the mix is minimal.) A track like this runs the risk of feeling cheesy and saccharine, but the gradual buildup of the arrangement avoids this issue by bringing an overwhelming sense of urgency to the sound (especially on the choruses), and the brisk tempo keeps things moving and doesn’t allow the track to get bogged down in its sentimentality. There’s a real energy to this mix, and while it briefly acknowledges the sorrow of missing one’s chance at something, its main goal is to pull you off the sidelines, kick you in the butt, and tell you to just do that something already. Compared to a song like Easton Corbin’s “Before You Wish You Had,” this is a sound (and thus a song) of action, and is much more effective as getting its message across and actually spurring change.

I’ve criticized a lot of artists for adjusting their delivery for the worse to match ill-advised production choices, so Johnson deserves a lot of credit for stepping up his game to match the solid production. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of here, and he does a nice job maintaining his vocal tone even while matching the power of the sound during the choruses (seriously, the man is literally screaming at us near the end of the track, and it sounds far better than it has any right to). Unlike other artists that push people away with their snarling intensity (*cough* Blake Shelton *cough*), Johnson’s feelings come from a much more understandable and relatable place: He projects both hard-won experience and an underlying sorrow and regret with his delivery, helping him break through to the audience and stress the importance of not putting off the important stuff. Honestly, in the end I think Johnson pushes the song’s message more strongly than the sound does, and his performance does a nice job catching the listener’s ear and inspiring them to consider the things that they should have gotten around to a while ago.

The lyrics here have a simple message: People and opportunities don’t last forever, so take the time to do the things that matter with the people that matter while you can. It’s not exactly a novel topic and the the song covers the exact scenarios that you’d expect it to (marriage proposal, family fishing excursions, rebuilding old cars), it spends enough time with each one to flesh out the details and let you picture the payoff you’re missing in your mind, and it uses scenes that are broadly applicable and allow the listener to fill in the story with their own details and missed opportunities. The song takes a straightforward approach to getting its point across: There aren’t any clever turns of phrase (“a dream won’t chase you back” is the closest the song comes) and the hook is acceptable at best, but the underlying message is solid and the writers try not to put any barriers between it and their audience. Where so many songs tell us to ignore things and push them aside (often for another beer or six), this one implores us not to forget that time marches on, and to chase dreams and cherish the people around us while we have the chance. In other words, it’s exactly the sort of track that deserves a home in country music, giving us a story that moves us to think about our own.

“‘Til You Can’t” is a good, well-constructed song that winds up feeling greater than the sum of its parts. It takes a solid foundational message, backs it with production that gives the track a sense of seriousness and urgency, and uses a charismatic performance from Cody Johnson to maximize its potential impact. Radio hasn’t been kind to Johnson lately and it’s hard to say if this will be relegated to light rotation or not, but it’s a song that I think people need to hear, especially as the coronavirus has spent the last twenty months reminding us of our mortality. Nothing lasts forever, so if you’ve got the chance to pursue a passion or bond with your friends and family, you should take it before it vanishes for good. You may not say you were glad that you did it, but you’ll always say you were sorry that you didn’t.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a YouTube channel to grow! But maybe I should call home first…

Rating: 7/10. Take the time to listen to this song while you can too.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: November 15, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
2. Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You” +1 (6/10)
3. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
4. Luke Combs, “Cold As You” 0 (5/10)
5. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
6. Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” -2 (3/10)
7. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
8. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
9. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
10. Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt” 0 (5/10)
11. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
12. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
13. Kane Brown, “One Mississippi” +1 (6/10)
14. Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots” 0 (5/10)
15. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
16. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
17. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
18. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
19. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
20. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
21. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
22. Sam Hunt, “23” -1 (4/10)
23. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
24. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
25. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
26. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
27. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
28. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
29. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
30. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
31. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
32. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
33. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
34. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
35. Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” -1 (4/10)
36. Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love” 0 (5/10)
37. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
38. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
39. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
40. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)*
41. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
42. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
43. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
44. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
45. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
46. Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” 0 (5/10)
47. Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” -1 (4/10)
48. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)*
49. Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” 0 (5/10)*
50. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) -5
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +4
Overall Pulse -1
Change From Last Week
-2 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left” (dropped to #51)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You” (holds at #2, but is slowly losing steam)
  • Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” (down from #1 to #6)
  • Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (down from #8 to #23)

In Real Trouble:

  • Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” (up from #20 to #19, but lost its bullet)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” (down from #37 to #39, lost its bullet)
  • Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (down from #39 to #41, gained only twenty-five spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (down from #43 to #46, gained only eight spins and lost points)

In Some Trouble:

  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down from #24 to #25, gained only thirty spins and four points)
  • Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” (holds at #38, but gained only eighteen points and twenty-six points)
  • Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” (down from #40 to #42, gained only twelve spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #41 to #43, gained only thirty-five spins and forty-three points)
  • Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” (down from #44 to #47, gained only two spins and lost points)
  •  

In No Trouble At All:

  • Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” (debuts at #35)

Is Thanos (at least for now):

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (holds at #4)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t”
  • Lee Brice, “Soul”

Overall Thoughts: With Hurd/Morris’s massive push to #1, Aldean/Underwood doing their best Thanos impression, and Swift/Stapleton hitting the chart with a big splash, spins were hard to come by up and down the chart (we saw four songs either lose spins or gain less than 100 spins in the teens, and even two songs in the Top 10 posted sub-100 scores, not including Aldean/Underwood’s losses). As usual, the songs in the bottom half (and especially in the bottom quarter) struggled the most, and while there are some songs that have overstayed their welcome (Monument really needs to pull the plug on Smith/Old Dominion, but Barnes, Lane, and possibly even Brothers Osborne need to start thinking about their next move), there are also some others (notably Bentley/HARDY/BRELAND, McGraw, and Dan + Shay) that have taken far longer to launch than I expected. These days, if you can’t find a ramp onto the express lane, you’re stuck in traffic for months on months, and if you’re lucky enough to make it to the Top 10 after all that, everyone’s moved on by the time you get there. With the holidays coming and most new releases being saved for 2022, the charts are likely to stay pretty static over the next few weeks (especially if Aldean/Underwood somehow get their bullet back), so everyone will have the time to reflect and decide whether to push on or let go.

On the coronavirus front…folks, we may be in trouble again: New coronavirus case averages are on the rise again, and with Europe staring down a fifth wave of the virus, the specter of such a surge is starting to rise here in the States. With our stubbornly-low vaccination rates (the rise in fully-vaccinated numbers seem to be slowing down a bit, even with the number of shots going up thanks to booster shots and child vaccinations) and a likely rise in both travel and large gatherings over the holidays, I’d say the odds are good that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Thus, we need to do everything we can to limit the virus’s spread and protect the people we care about, meaning:

  • Wear a mask and maintain proper social distance from others when in public. (And if you’re going to gather for the holidays, take steps to minimize the risks to yourself and others.)
  • If you’re not vaccinated yet, get your shots at the earliest opportunity, and be sure to get your booster shot once you become eligible.
  • If you’re in a position to do something to minimize the spread of COVID-19, do it. More incentives, more mandates, reducing access barriers…whatever it is you can do to help, do it.

Every precaution we take, no matter how small it is, helps fight back against the pandemic, and if we all come together (metaphorically) and do what we must to keep ourselves and our community safe, we will get through this one day, no matter how bleak things may look right now.

Song Review: Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me”

Sorry Taylor Swift, but I didn’t put up with this attitude from Tucker Beathard, and I won’t stand for it from you.

There are a few unbreakable axioms in life: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger,” and you don’t ever, ever, ever mess with Taylor Swift. Case in point: Scooter Braun and later Shamrock Holdings purchased the master recordings of Swift’s first six albums looking to make some easy cash off of her work, only to see Swift start to re-record those albums to devalue the originals and cut off Braun and Shamrock’s potential revenue stream. Red (Taylor’s Version) was released just last week, and it’s basically a deluxe version of the original: All 20 tracks from Red are here, plus six new tracks that were cut from the original release and four others that had not been released on her album previously, including “Better Man” (recorded by Little Big Town in 2016) and “Babe” (recorded by Sugarland in 2018).

One of the tracks “from the vault” is “I Bet You Think About Me,” which features Chris Stapleton on harmony vocals and was officially released to radio today. Unfortunately, it’s easy to see why this one got dropped from Red originally: While it features Swift’s trademark sharp songwriting and includes a hint of social commentary, the song reminds me a lot of Beathard’s whiny tire fire from last year and is simply too sour and bitter to be enjoyable.

The production for this song feels like little more than a placeholder, and really doesn’t do a good job setting a proper mood for the subject matter. There are some interesting arrangement choices here (leaving the guitars mostly acoustic, giving the piano a prominent spot in the mix, and most notably the generous helping of harmonica to try to give a song a folksy feel), but they don’t add up to much in the end, and the harmonica ends up doing more harm than good in the end (it’s much louder than other parts of the mix and is badly off-key at points, turning the song into an ear-splitting wall of noise). The 3/4 time signature and loping cadence of the arrangement makes the song feel like a bar sing-along, but it clashes with the more-serious nature of the subject matter, and the mostly-neutral instrument tones and occasional minor chords keep the song from gaining any momentum. Where a song like “Mean” used its sound to draw the listener in and make the track fun and enjoyable even with its serious connotations, this song is stuck in an awkward spot between being catchy and being moving, which keeps the listener from feeling anything at all in the end.

Swift is no stranger to these sorts of no-holds-barred, this-is-how-it-was tracks (“Picture To Burn” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” anyone?), but she usually balances her irritation with a sassy, confident attitude that draws the audience over to her side), and much like the production she doesn’t pull it off this time. There aren’t any technical issues with her performance, but in striking a more-serious posture on the track, her bitterness really bleeds through the track, and as cathartic as doing so may be for the artist, it’s more than a little off-putting to the listener. (In a way, Swift has outgrown this kind of track—this sort of over-the-top reaction is more suited for a younger artist who can pull off being heartbroken for the first time, not an industry veteran with several high-profile relationships and breakups on her resume.) She comes across as so joyless and dour that it keeps the audience from sharing in the schadenfreude she’s imagining, and instead it makes her feel more like the aggressor than the aggrieved. (For Stapleton’s part, his harmony adds absolutely nothing to the song, and restricting him to lower harmony parts keeps him from using his range and power to help drive the narrator’s point home.) It’s one on Swift’s weaker performances overall, and makes me wonder how the rest of the Red re-make turned out.

The narrator tells the sad tale of how their relationship fell apart because the other person couldn’t escape their obsession with status and the superficial nature of their lifestyle. The narrator tries to position themselves as the grounded individual surrounded by judgemental, class-conscious upper-crusters, giving the song a whiff of the urban vs. rural conflict that other artists (*cough* Blake Shelton *cough*) are stoking, but Swift and Lori McKenna and good enough writers to actually bring the receipts and give the listener enough to visualize their warts and see who they really are (honestly, this song works better as a commentary on high-class society than anything else, calling out those people who read and talk about problems but don’t actually do anything to solve them). However, by taking such broad aim at a target, the writing doesn’t do enough to paint the ex as a villain, with only a few lines spotlighting their transgressions (“you laughed at my dreams, rolled your eyes at my jokes”) that barely register with the listener. Instead, the narrator wastes time imagining how the other person must regret giving up the relationship and how bad their life must be, even though they admit in the first freaking verse that “they’re just fine.” It makes the narrator feel petty and whiny, clearly painting themselves as the one who’s actually struggling to get over the relationship while providing no evidence of the other person feeling that way. It’s the sort of “you should feel bad, darn it!” attitude that annoyed me about Beathard’s “You Would Think,” and instead of feeling bad for Swift’s character, I wish they’d just move on already.

I’m glad that Taylor Swift is getting to own her material and perform it the way she wants to, but “I Bet You Think About Me” just feels like wasted time and potential to me. Swift has pulled off plenty of songs like this in the past, and could have easily followed that same formula to make the song more interesting and enjoyable without dulling its edge. Instead, thanks to unfocused writing, uninspired production, and a bitter vocal performance, this song comes across as unnecessarily-sour grapes, and doesn’t motivate people to rally to the cause like before. It’s a track that probably should have stayed on the cutting room floor (or at least relegated to album-cut status), and in six months, I’ll bet you don’t think about it.

Rating: 4/10. No thank you.

Why Is Every Country Song About The Same Thing?

Back when I discussed the nostalgia for 1990s country music, I made the following statement:

“I’d posit that the airwaves both now and then fit roughly the same bell curve: Some really good songs, some really bad ones, and a lot in the middle that could go either way depending on your taste.”

As we’ve gone through 2021, however, I’ve admittedly started to waver on that statement. While there have been some decent releases in the closing months of 2021, country music this year has felt objectively worse than in years past, and I’ve been struggling to put my finger on why I feel that way.

After thinking about it, I’ve come up with two reasons I’m unsatisfied with the genre:

  • For lack of a better word, there’s been a lack of maturity in modern country music—everything artists champion today feels so shallow and ephemeral. Jody Rosen put it best in his defining piece on Bro-Country:

“If rock strives to ‘hold onto 16 as long as you can,’ as [John] Mellencamp once put it, country aims for the opposite. Young country singers have learned to project gravitas beyond their years, singing songs about home and hearth and other grown-up stuff.

Bro-country breaks with that tradition. [Tyler] Hubbard, 26, and [Brian] Kelley, 27, pay lip service to ‘little farm towns’ and pickup trucks and such. But what they care about is getting drunk and laid…For Florida Georgia Line, it’s always Saturday night—here’s to the good times, all the time.”

To me, the defining attribute of country music is experience, with singers talking about what they’ve seen, what they’ve learned, and how it makes them feel (even when it’s just a love or heartbreak song). In contrast, country music these days is dominated by inexperience (witness how often we talk about hookups, aimless drinking, and generic nostalgic trips), and increasingly tries to get people to not feel anything.

  • Of course, “shallow and ephemeral” songs have always been a part of the country music catalog to some degree. The problem is that it feels like it’s the entire country music catalog these days. It’s as if country songs are legally required to include certain words in them (“beer,” “truck,” “dirt road,” etc.), and every writer in town is playing a game of Mad Libs trying to fit them all in.

The result is a homogeneous wall of noise on the airwaves, with every artist singing the same darn song over and over with no one to change the subject. (This homogeneity extends to the sound as well—just look at how many times I’ve used the phrase “guitar-and-drum mix” in my reviews—but for this post, we’re going to focus only on the writing.) So what’s going on? Why have we switched from an ocean’s worth of subject matter to drawing from a kiddie pool?

It turns out that some of the trends we’ve been tracking in our Pulse posts played a role in this shift, as well as some larger trends that have been lurking in the background:

  • For one thing, there just aren’t as many writers as there used to be. It’s no secret that Nashville’s writer pool has been shrinking for decades: The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) stated that the number of songwriters in town had “dropped from 4,000 in the ’90s to approximately 1,000” in 2020. A smaller talent pool is going to lead to fewer perspectives and a less diverse set of ideas (especially if the songwriters that are left get used over and over), and thus we’re going to be hearing the same things from the same people.

The first question I have here is: Why? The music industry has certainly suffered through some hard times over the last two decades, but were they drastic enough to cut out 75% of Nashville’s writers?

The short answer is “Yes.” The paradigm shift from selling physical/digital copies of a song to simply streaming it meant that songwriters took a massive hit to their bottom line. Where a writer would get 9.1 cents for each song they had on a album when it was purchased, streaming has cut that fee to a paltry .0005 per listen. As bad as even 9.1 cents might sound, it was enough back in the day to earn a “healthy five or low six figure income” if you could get a few songs on an album. In contrast, it takes 2,000 streams of a track for a writer to earn a single cent, and 18,200 to match the value of a single purchased track.

But 18,200 streams must be easy to get for a hit song, right? Perhaps, but here is where larger radio trends start to rear their ugly head:

  • Radio consolidation means that stations are “playing a narrow variety of artists, fewer songs and relying on cookie-cutter programming,” which means that there are fewer openings for songs to jump on the chart escalator and get their shot. In our Pulse posts, we’ve talked about the impact playlist-shortening has on performers, but songwriters are subject to the same pressures, as there are fewer opportunities for scoring that hit song that allows them to be self-sustainable.
  • Back in the day, the radio featured a lot more turnover, with more-frequent single releases giving writers more chances for radio success. Today, on the other hand, songs are spending for-freaking-ever on the charts these days (remember when Dylan Scott took sixteen months just to be a Mediabase-only #1?), limiting the amount of chances an album cut has to become a radio smash. (Even when album cycles get extended into six or seven singles, it often means that an artist is dropping a deluxe version of the disc, bringing in new material for singles instead of using what they’ve already got.)
  • The number of people in the room when a song is written has grown as well: As Forbes notes, “in the ’90s it was normal to see only one or two names listed on country song credits,” but “today, writing sessions can amass four or five writers including a producer or ‘track guy’ who often sits in the room and helps build the song from start to finish.” We’ve occasionally poked fun at the sheer number of writers listed on rudimentary-sounding tracks, but the truth is that adding more cooks to the kitchen means that everybody’s share of the eventual pie is smaller.

In other words, writers today are in a system that pays them less for their work, gives them fewer opportunities for exposure and success, and forces them to share the spoils of whatever they get with more people. This doesn’t exactly scream “sustainable business model” to me (at least from the writer’s perspective), which is why we’ve lost so many writers over the years, and thus we’re stuck hearing from the remaining subset over and over.

  • There’s been a silent-but-strong push towards singer-songwriters in the industry. Remember when it was rare to have an artist like Clint Black that wrote most of their own material? Today he would be the rule rather than the exception, as current artists are being encouraged (and even required) to have a hand in writing their own songs.

Let’s consider the same questions here: Why? If a song is good, listeners have never cared whether or not an artist actually wrote it, so why do artists and labels put so much stock in this distinction?

From a label perspective, my guess is that it’s all about the money: Labels have to pay mechanical royalties to publishing companies whenever they sell their song, so having their artist (who is likely a member of the label’s own publishing company) involved in the process likely reduces the amount of cash they have to lay out for a song. (This would also explain why cover songs have pretty much disappeared from the radio: Why record someone else’s song when you could make an artist write a soundalike one themselves? At worst you’ll just have to cut the original writers in on the deal.)

What I didn’t realize is how much sense this makes from the artist’s perspective, as the changing financial landscape is squeezing them as well:

“These days, the artists not only feel like they want to be a part of the song, but also monetarily, with the lack of album sales, they have to make it up somehow.”

—Blair Daly, as told to Annie Reuter, May 2020

Artists have realized that they hold a lot of leverage in the songwriting partnership, because their sign-off is required for them to actually put the song on their album. Songwriters have little choice but to cut the artist in on the deal, but they may be then faced with another problem: What if the artist isn’t good at or interested in writing?

Researchers (and yes, I was just as surprised as you are to find out people did research on this stuff) have found that songwriters have developed some sneaky tactics to dealing with artists that are poor writers:

  • “Bespoke facilitation”: The writers will simply try to build something off of the artist’s backstory and/or brand. I had theorized that part of the reason songs had become less mature was because they were leaning on the limited experience of a younger artist, but I didn’t consider how much the other writers in the room might be facilitating this.
  • “The manipulation dance”: Basically a writer comes up with an idea and then tries to fool the artist into thinking it was actually their own idea. The article explicitly mentions that this is effective in pushing songs with “more artistic merit.”

Basically, it appears that forcibly injecting the artist into the song creation process had led to more-formulaic and less-interesting material overall. While there are certainly artists that defy this characterization, the fact that we’re getting so many songs featuring artists praising their raising and shoving their country cred in our faces tells me that this tactic is causing more problems than it’s solving.

When I declared that “I don’t think we can discount the money angle” in my 90s country article, I have to admit that I didn’t realize just how deep this thread might run. It’s not just about having the cash to bring in the musicians and marketers to put your best foot forward—it’s about having a business that’s thriving enough to support the talented people behind the scenes and not forcing them to cut corners, fight over scraps, and eventually walk away from the scene entirely. Unless we can do something to make songwriting a more stable and sustainable profession, we’ll be stuck in our current buzzword Mad Libs situation for the foreseeable future.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: November 8, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like” -2 (3/10)
2. Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You” +1 (6/10)
3. Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat” +1 (6/10)
4. Luke Combs, “Cold As You” 0 (5/10)
5. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
6. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
7. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
8. Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” -2 (3/10)
9. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
10. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
11. Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt” 0 (5/10)
12. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
13. Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave” 0 (5/10)
14. Kane Brown, “One Mississippi” +1 (6/10)
15. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
16. Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots” 0 (5/10)
17. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
18. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
19. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
20. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
21. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
22. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
23. Sam Hunt, “23” -1 (4/10)
24. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
25. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
26. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
27. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
28. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
29. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
30. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
31. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
32. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
33. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
34. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
35. Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” 0 (5/10)
36. Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love” 0 (5/10)
37. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
38. Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece” +1 (6/10)
39. Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” +3 (8/10)
40. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
41. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
42. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)*
43. Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” 0 (5/10)
44. Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots” -1 (4/10)
45. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
46. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
47. Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” 0 (5/10)*
48. Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left” +1 (6/10)
49. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)*
50. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25) -1
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +2
Overall Pulse +1
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “I’m Not For Everyone,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Elvie Shane, “My Boy” (recurrent)
  • George Strait, “The Weight Of The Badge” (dropped below #50)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day” (holds at #8, but it’s down to #12 on the daily charts with 1000+ spin losses, so it looks like they pulled the plug)

In Real Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (holds at #15, but gained only fifty-one spins and seventy-six points)
  • Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t” (down from #33 to #35, gained only nine spins and lost points)
  • Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (down from #38 to #39, gained only thirteen spins and ninety-eight points)
  • Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty” (down from #42 to #43, gained only twentu-one spins and twenty-three points)
  • Drew Parker, “While You’re Gone” (holds at #47, but lost its bullet)
  • Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left” (up from #49 to #48, but gained only thirty-seven spins and eighty-one points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (down from #10 to #12, gained only twenty-two spins and seventy-five points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (debuts at #30)
  • Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (up from #48 to #42)

Is Thanos (at least for now):

  • Luke Combs, “Cold As You” (holds at #4)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t”

Overall Thoughts: Winter may be coming, but I didn’t expect a freeze this hard this early.

The spins that seemed to have vanished over the last week or so have returned, and they brought the whole family with them. Even with Rhett’s big debut and Aldean/Underwood’s slow descent, there were a lot of high-quality spins to go around. The problem, unfortunately, is that they didn’t go around that much: Gains were concentrated in the Top 10 and with A-listers as low as Rhett’s #30 debut, and a whopping fifteen songs posted 1000+ point gains (and nine broke the 1500 mark). (McGraw’s 19 adds, Shelton’s 17 and Bryan’s 13 were nothing to sneeze at either.) Those at the bottom of the chart/food chain didn’t fare as well, but the quality of the spins that were out there at least allowed most songs to post triple-digit point gains. In the end, only half of my prediction came true: The chaos (and position movement) was minimal, but the bigger names asserted their dominance, and everyone else is just fighting to get by. The only silver lining for those who are struggling: The charts are likely to slow down as we get into the holiday season and the end of the year, giving folks a respite and an opportunity to find their footing before the competition picks up again in January.

On the coronavirus front, it’s hard to tell exactly where we’re going at this point: The significant drop in the daily case average seemed to have dissipated (in fact, the two-week rolling average is actually up this week), and a few new hot spots are beginning to emerge (northern New England appears to be in the virus’s crosshairs right now). The fully-vaccinated numbers haven’t risen much this week (they went from 58% to 58.4%), but the number of shots given out has gone up significantly over the last few weeks, driven likely by booster shots and from newly-eligible children ages 5 through 11 getting the shot. With studies raising concerns about how vaccine effectiveness may fade over time, it remains critical to keep taking precautions and following best practices when going about your day:

  • Wear a mask and maintain proper social distance from others when in public.
  • If you’re not vaccinated yet, get your shots at the earliest opportunity, and be sure to get your booster shot once you become eligible.
  • If you’re in a position to do something to minimize the spread of COVID-19, do it. More incentives, more mandates, reducing access barriers…whatever it is you can do to help, do it.

I’ve had a surprising number of people raise the question of “Is this ever going to end?” in conversations over the last week. My answer is always the same: As hard as it is to believe, we will get through this eventually, and by doing the right things to keep ourselves and our communities safe, we can minimize the unnecessary loss and suffering along the way.