Song Review: Luke Bryan, “Down To One”

Good grief, is “Metro-navirus” going to be a thing now too?

Luke Bryan makes some occasional forays into more-traditional country, but for the most part he’s made his name as the trendiest of trend-hoppers, especially the various flavors of Bro-Country (the raw, misogynistic edge of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the failed attempt to be less creepy on “What She Wants Tonight,” the nihilistic booze-fueled Cobronavirus offering “One Margarita,” and so on). Sadly, the hits keep coming (of his 25 singles in the 2010s and 2020s, only three have not topped the Billboard airplay chart), so Bryan keeps firing, which means we’re stuck with “Down To One,” the fourth single from Born Here Live Here Die Here and yet another unimaginative iteration on the generic Metro-Bro formula. I wasn’t interested in hearing it then, and I’m not interested in hearing it now.

The production here runs closer to the slicker Metropolitan sound than the brash, in-your-face sound featured on the Bro-Country originals, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable. The track opens with a echoing keyboard that’s a bit too loud in the mix and backs it with a slightly-restrained drum machine for the verses, which actually does a passable job of creating a spacious, even slightly-romantic atmosphere for the writing. Unfortunately, the chorus introduces the usual electric guitars and real drums, hitting the listener with an amorphous wall of noise that completely kills the mood and gives the song an utterly replaceable feel. The additional noise fails to translate into additional momentum, and it provides nothing distinct or ear-catching to entice the listener to pay any attention. In the end, the mix is standing idly by while the audience waits for something more interesting to hear.

Bryan is…here, I guess? He’s always been a solid vocalist, and while the song is not a technically demanding one, he delivers an easy, effortless performance with enough feeling to be convincing in the narrator’s role (given his experience with the Bro-Country movement, this isn’t a surprise). The problem is that beyond that, he offers nothing: He gives the listener no particular reason to care about his reminiscing, and his doesn’t do anything to put his stamp of the performance (stick anyone else behind the mic, and the song would sound pretty much the same). While the lyrics don’t give him a ton to work with (more on that later), it’s on the artist to take the story and turn it into something great, and Bryan only manages to blend in with the crowd rather than standing out from it. There’s just no reason to pay attention to this story, so the listener simply doesn’t.

The lyrics are where this thing really falls apart, as it comes across like it was generated by a machine-learning algorithm that was given the entire Bro-Country discography as input, with a few recent reminiscing tracks thrown in for a laugh. All the usual suspects are here: The trucks, the beer, the midnight moonlit makeout session with a “good girl” (which comes across as super demeaning), and so on. The “down to one [insert item here]” hook is weak and predictable, and the framing of the song as just a look back on a great moment of sex makes the whole thing feel kind of pointless, especially when we’re given zero context or any sort of conclusion. (What happened next? Are you still together, did she leave you for a more exciting lifestyle, or did you leave her because you had a crush on your hometown?) It’s overly reliant on the audience to fill in the gap with their own memories, and it makes Bryan’s claims about love feel a bit empty, as there’s little evidence beyond his charm that this was actually the case.

“Down To One,” like every other song I’ve heard this month, is a song I can’t be bothered to love or hateit simply exists without justification. The production is uninspired, Luke Bryan is uninteresting, and the writing just mashes two trends together and hopes they stick (and they don’t). I have so little to say they I feel like I had to pad out this review just to hit 700 words, and I have so little interest in listening to it that I was forever stopping this review to watch political rap battles and grade homeworks. If this is the direction country music is going this winter, I really need to rethink my overly-verbose review style, because this track isn’t worth wasting the paper that this post isn’t printed on.

Rating: 5/10. The streak continues…

Song Review: Dierks Bentley, “Gone”

So much for the career of Doug Douglason…

Dierks’s Bentley alter ego Douglason and the Hot Country Knights were intended to be a fun, bizarre, slightly-off-color tribute to the neotraditional sound of the 1990s, and looked like a shoo-in for the weirdest thing to happen all year. In 2020, however, they don’t even make the Top Twenty on the list of absurd occurrences for the year (heck, Old Dominion meowed their way through an entire album), and their official single with Travis Tritt “Pick Her Up” didn’t even crack the Top 40 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Now, Bentley has come back down from The Mountain to headline a single under his own name: “Gone,” a rumination on lost love and the presumed leadoff single for his next project. Unfortunately, Bentley seems to be stuck in the same malaise as the rest of Nashville these days: The song is a bland retread that simply fails to capture the listener’s attention.

The production is the first problem here: The deep, forceful piano on the opener piqued my interest, and the occasional dobro riffs were a nice touch, but for the most part this is a same standard guitar-and-drum mix that everybody else is using (most notably, there’s a slick feel to the arrangement that calls to mind Bentley’s Black album, not to mention the Metropolitan and Boyfriend country eras). The instrument tones and minor chords suggest a serious tone, and the guitars have some moderate texture in their lower range, but the vocals and percussion are a bit too loud in the mix, and the guitar stabs on the chorus aren’t sharp or emphatic enough to draw any attention (and yet the wall of noise that’s generated is just loud to push the dobro into the background and out of the way). It’s the sort of minimally-acceptable effort that establishes a melancholy mood for the track, but does so without providing any energy or momentum, and so the track just plods along from start to finish while the audience wonders “Is this it?” By the time it reached the bridge, I was already ready to jump ship and start working on my next review.

In terms of vocals, this is easily one of the weaker efforts I’ve heard Bentley put forth in quite some time. From a technical perspective, while he deserves props for hitting some impressive low notes on the verses without losing his tone (he quickly returns to his normal voice, but even a few judicious demonstrations are impressive), his flow gets stretched a bit too thin in both directions (it comes across as slightly choppy in the first verse when the lines are stretched out, and then he struggles to get the words out on the rapid-fire section of the chorus). The biggest issue, however, is the lack of emotion in Bentley’s delivery: He sounds more like a political commentator than a heartbroken fool, over-emphasizing his lines with a mix of frustration and determination without giving us any sense of the pain behind them. It’s the worst of both worlds: He cares too much and he sounds too forceful to really be “gone,” but he doesn’t show enough vulnerability to make the narrator feel sympathetic and or convince the listener to care about his plight. It’s a surprising stumble from a veteran performer like Bentley, and one that makes me a little nervous for that next album…

The writing here is a mixed bag: On one hand, it does a nice job providing details supporting the narrator’s claim that they’re “gone” à la William Michael Morgan since the relationship ended: isolation from friends and family, the images of undone chores and empty bottles on the bridge, and so on. The problem is that by doubling-down on this tack, we get no details about how the relationship endedthe narrator claims to be “overthinking” the events that led to their partner leaving, but they never let the audience in on their thought process, so we have no idea how or why things went south. (Sticking those random rapid-fire lines in the chorus feels like a bad and unnecessary decision as well, especially when the rest of the song is fairly slow.) Using places like “memory lane” and “hotel heartbreak” to detail a mental road trip on the second verse isn’t nearly as clever as the writers think, and back-loading all the details about an unkempt house on the bridge feels like too little too late (by then the listener has likely already checked out). It’s the sort of song that feels like it has potential, but needed a few more drafts to reach it.

The truth is that “Gone” is a forgettable lost-love lament, nothing more and nothing less. The production lacks inspiration, the writing only tells half the story, and Dierks Bentley’s passion on the mic feels misplaced (too much force, not enough feels). There’s something missing from this genre right now, and it’s feeling, as if the constant drumbeat of bad news had made country music numb to the emotional ups and downs of life. As much I’ve (generally) enjoyed Bentley past work and as much as I hate giving out all these fives, I’m going to keep doing it until someone in this genre steps up and moves the needle.

Rating: 5/10. No one would care if this song were here or “Gone.”

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: October 19, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn 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. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
2. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
3. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
4. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
5. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
6. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
7. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
8. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
9. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
10. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
11. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
12. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
13. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
14. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
15. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
16. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
17. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
18. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
19. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
20. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
21. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
22. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
23. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
24. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
25. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
26. Luke Combs, “Better Together” +0 (5/10)
27. Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” +1 (6/10)
28. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
29. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
30. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
31. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
32. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
33. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
34. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
35. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
36. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
38. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
39. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
40. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
41. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
42. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
43. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
44. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
45. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
46. Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” -3 (2/10)
47. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
48. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
49. Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” 0 (5/10)
50. Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +18
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -1
Overall Pulse +17
Change From Last Week
0*

*By movement, the Pulse actually increased by one, but Combs’s preliminary score dropped by one after the review.

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Kane Brown, “Cool Again” (recurrent)
  • Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” (holds at #2, but is bullet-less)
  • Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” (down from #1 to #14)
  • Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” (holds at #24, but lost its bullet with a 400+ point loss, and is already down to #29 on the daily charts)

In Real Trouble:

  • Taylor Swift, “Betty” (down from #31 to #33, lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (down from #34 to #36, lost its bullet, and probably just needs to be put out of its misery)
  • Jake Owen, “Made For You” (down from #41 to #42, lost its bullet)
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” (down from #42 to #43, lost spins and gained only forty-six points)
  • Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” (down from #43 to #44, lost spins and gained only five points)
  • Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” (down from #45 to #46, lost its bullet)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (down from #46 to #47, gained only thirty-six spins and thirty-one points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” (down from #16 to #17, gained only thirty-three spins and 205 points, and has been stuck in the high teens looking much weaker than its competition for quite a while now)
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (down from #29 to #30, gained only sixty-two spins and seventy-nine points)
  • Runaway June, “We Were Rich” (holds at #39, but gained only twenty spins and forty-six points)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (holds at #40, but lost spins and gained only 55 points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Easy In The 90s”

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Better Together” (up from #47 to #26, so he found his Infinity Gauntlet)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Luke Bryan, “Down To One”
  • Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much”
  • Ashley McBryde, “Martha Divine”

Overall Thoughts: Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words:

This is why I don’t play Among Us.

Combs’s rebound from a “meh” debut and Hunt’s big jump into the top 50 sucked up whatever spins were left from Brown’s exit and McGraw’s drop, leading to some rough weeks for folks in the bottom half of the chart (four songs below #30 lost their bullets, and Swindell darn near made it five). If you think you’ve got a surefire hit on your hands, now’s the time to push it, because radio is just not getting on board with what’s being offered right now.

Unfortunately, the real killer among us remains COVID-19, which has now claimed over 221,000 lives in America and is surging all across the country (and the world), so much so that one expert is on record declaring that “the next 6 to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic.” The sense I’m getting now is that people are getting tired of the pandemic and just want life to get back to normal, but we have to remain vigilant about doing the things that keep us and our loved ones safe. Wash your hands, wear a mask, limit your outings, and reach out for help and support if you’re feeling isolated or depressed, because we’re all still in this together. Oh, and don’t forget to (safely) vote.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s”

For reference, breaking up was not easier in the 90s, but enjoying listening to country radio was.

Luke Combs may have the Thanos nickname and the “king of country music” title, but that’s only because Sam Hunt passed on his chance to claim then. With Montevallo putting four songs in the Top 40 of the Hot 100 and “Body Like A Back Road” dominating the genre in 2017, the door to the genre’s throne room was wide open for Hunt to walk through. Instead, however, he passed to take an extended hiatus from music, and although he’s since returned to collect a few more No. 1 hits (including his last single, the posthumous collaboration with Webb Pierce “Hard To Forget”), he’s never really been able to recapture his old magic (even his old role as the genre’s biggest villain has been filled by people like Walker Hayes and HARDY). His latest attempt at relevancy is “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s,” and while it’s not the clone of Hayes’s “90s Country” that we feared (thank goodness), it’s also little more than a run-of-the-mill lost-love song with a bit of doomscrolling tossed in to make it seem more modern. It’s at best a lateral move from “Hard To Forget,” and it’s certainly not the kind of song that’s going to launch Hunt back into the stratosphere.

Hunt’s production has actually been drifting slowly from the synthetic to the classic side of country music over his last few singles, but the remnants of his original style still remain, and they’re the biggest issue with the mix on this track. The primary melody driver here is an acoustic guitar, and it gets a surprising amount of support from a dobro and even a steel guitar, making it seem like a fairly conventional arrangement at first glance. The issue, unfortunately, is the electric instruments: The percussion is handled mostly by a drum machine that is way too loud in the mix, and the electric guitars and bass create a low-end wall of noise (especially on the choruses) that overwhelms all the other instruments and gives the sound a much blander feel than it should. The regular minor chords and synthetic elements give the song a cold and serious feel, but overall the mix just doesn’t sound distinct enough for it to leave much of an impression.

Hunt’s vocal delivery here is more of a return to the form of his earlier work: The verses are half-sung and half-spoken while the chorus as sung more conventionally and with a bit more emphasis behind them. The style seems a bit less obnoxious this time around (if for no other reason than we’ve come to expect the style from Hunt), and it’s a decent fit for the depressed nature of this song. That said, his attempt to inject emotion into the song feels a bit over-the-top on the chorus, making the listener more apt to tell him to chill out rather than commiserate with him. While the writing does a poor job framing the narrator as a sympathetic character, a stronger artist would find a way to elevate the material and connect with their audience, and Hunt just doesn’t pull it offthe listener can see that the narrator is sad, but aren’t convinced that they should care about it themselves.

So about the writing, let’s start with this limp “breaking up was easy in the 90s” hook: Instead of referencing 90s music like you might expect, it’s an indirect reference to the fact that people weren’t perpetually connected via cellphones and social media feeds, and the narrator can’t tear themselves away from their digital life long enough to get over their partner. Unlike Instagram and iPhones, however, broken hearts were developed long before the 21st century, and given that lost-love might be the trope that defines this genre, breaking up is no harder than it’s ever been. Sure, Facebook and Twitter and missed-call notifications give us a unique window into the lives of other people, but couldn’t you just, you know, unfollow the other person so every detail of their lives isn’t sent directly to your eyeballs? The truth is that “modern hearts breaking” are just hearts breaking, given the subsequent lack of detail as to exactly why the relationship ended (and the lack of Hunt’s usual wit; “when I don’t miss your calls, I miss you calling” is the closest he gets), the audience is left unconvinced as to why they cry along with the protagonist, or even pay attention at all.

“Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” is just another song killin’ time while we all wait for better times and better material to arrive. The production drowns out all the interesting components with unnecessary beats, the writing fails to make the case that our overly-connected lives make heartbreak any harder to stomach than it’s ever been, and Sam Hunt can’t interest us in listening to the same old story. While Hunt’s last single was literally “Hard To Forget,” this one seems a bit too easy to forget, and only reinforces Hunt’s middle-of-the-pack status instead of pushing him towards the front. I don’t know if it’s me, Nashville, or 2020, but there seems to be a lot of songs with little to say and even less to feel right now, and Hunt once again passed on the opportunity to walk through an open door and deliver a message with some momentum. Who will benefit this time? (Spoiler alert: I see “Martha Divine” is coming to radio today…)

Rating: 5/10. It exists, I guess.

A Random Rambling: How Old Can “New” Be?

Image from Ebay

As I continue to dig into my collection of outdated audio technology, I’ve stumbled across a fair number of “various artists” compilation albums, where a bunch of hits from a bunch of artists are tossed together in hopes of enticing a casual music fan to splurge on an LP without any filler hits that they’ve never heard. (If the ‘Now That’s What I Call Music!’ series proves anything, it’s that there’s still a sizable market for these records.) The unifying theme of such discs can vary (they can range from the freshest radio darlings to the all-time greatest hits of a genre), but generally their marketing makes it pretty clear what you’re paying for.

One such cassette in my collection is Hot New Country, a 1993 collection distributed by CEMA (which, as its acronym hints, originally handled distribution for Capitol, EMI, Manhattan, and Angel Records). This was actually one of the first cassettes I remember “owning,” and given its title, one would expect that tape to contain the hottest and newest country music of the time, or at least the hottest and newest country music from labels CEMA handled.

Of course, as we saw with Clint Black’s first Super Hits album, marketing and reality don’t always align perfectly. So how close did CEMA come with this compilation?  Let’s (literally) go to the tape:

Artist, Song Peak Airplay Position Release Date
Chrs LeDoux and Garth Brooks, “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy” #7 July 1992
Reba McEntire, “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More” #1 October 1982
Alan Jackson, “Dallas” #1 December 1991
Suzy Bogguss, “Letting Go” #6 July 1992
Billy Dean, “Somewhere In My Broken Heart” #3 May 1991
Ricky Van Shelton, “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” #26 July 1992
Pam Tillis, “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 November 1991
Steve Wariner, “The Tips Of My Fingers” #3 February 1992
Brooks & Dunn, “My Next Broken Heart” #1 September 1991
Aaron Tippin, “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio” #1 February 1992

Okay…there are a pair of violations of the “hot” and “new” guidelines, so let’s investigate them further:

  • I’ll give this ’93 tape some leeway for including some ’91 and ’92 releases (these are release dates after all, and the songs themselves would not have blown up until later), but there’s no good explanation for including a song released over a decade earlier like “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More”…or is there? After further review, this appears to be an attempt to cash in the name of a popular artist that only half-succeeded because of label issues.

According to the tape insert, “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More” is copyrighted by Polygram Records, which owned McEntire’s initial record label Mercury. However, McEntire left Mercury in 1983 and moved to MCA, where she exploded to become Reba Freaking McEntire. Most of this collection is made up of artists who hadn’t been on the scene that long in 1993 (even Jackson wasn’t quite a blazing star yet, although the release of “Chattahoochee” in ’93 would change that), so whoever was in charge of putting together this album likely wanted to include a known quantity like McEntire to help sell albums. Given that “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More” is arguably the best single of her PolyGram tenure, it’s probably here because PolyGram was willing to play ball when MCA wasn’t.

  • Despite its age, at least McEntire’s song was a #1 hitVan Shelton’s Elvis cover doesn’t have that excuse. So what’s a #26 hit doing here, especially with a #2 hit like “Backroads” releasing just a month earlier? There doesn’t appear to be a label conflict here: According to the cassette insert, “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” appears “courtesy of Sony Music Special Products” and is copyrighted by Sony Music Entertainment, which had purchased Van Shelton’s label Columbia Records several years earlier. Shelton was also one of the longer-tenured artists featured on the album, with plenty of proven recent material to draw from (“I Am A Simple Man,” “Keep It Between The Lines”). So why was “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” picked for the track list?

My hypothesis here is that this was a speculative pick from whoever was calling the shots for this compilation. “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” was one of three songs released in July of 1992 that made the album, along with LeDoux’s “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy” and Bogguss’s “Letting Go.” These were the ‘freshest’ tracks (i.e., the most-recent releases) that made the cut, and they also wound up as the three lowest-peaking tracks on the country charts (LeDoux only made it to #7 despite Brooks’s appearance, while Bogguss peaked at #6). My guess is that the list had to be finalized not long after those songs were released, and CEMA took a leap of faith on these songs despite no having proven themselves yet. LeDoux and Bogguss’s tracks (mostly) panned out, but despite having the best track record of the three, Van Shelton’s didn’t.

Outside of these choices, the tracks selections are fairly easy to defend, especially given how some of the artists like Jackson and Brooks & Dunn took off over the 1990s. There’s one track, however, that seems like a glaring omission, a catchy tune that came to dominate 1992…

Most people today know Billy Ray Cyrus as Lil Nas X’s duet partner on “Old Town Road,” but it was his debut single that put him on the map in early nineties and made Some Gave All one of the best-selling debut albums ever. The song’s release date fits squarely within the window that Hot New Country was considering (the song was released in March 1992, and was already #1 by May), and Cyrus’s label Mercury Records was still owned by PolyGram, who had already agreed to let McEntire’s track be included on the album. So why wasn’t this track included here?

My guess is that just like everything else in life, it was all about the money. “Achy Breaky Heart” was a proven album-mover (Some Gave All is current just short of diamond status with 9,000,000+ sales), so why put money in someone else’s pocket by giving them permission to sell the song, and why give fans a potentially-more-enticing option to buy their hit single along with a bunch of familiar songs rather than take a chance on Some Gave All‘s unknown album cuts? (By this logic, I’m kind of surprised RCA let CEMA have Tippin’s smash hit for the disc, although maybe they figured they would be moving on to Call Of The Wild by the time this album dropped and wouldn’t be directly competing with it.)

My last question: Hot New Country has long been relegated to the bargain bin of history, but does its track list hold up 27 years later? I’d give it a firm “maybe”: We’ve got a few artists that wound up defining the neotraditional sound of the era (McEntire, Jackson, B&D, and even a Garth cameo), but outside of Tippin’s signature song, there’s nothing here that would jog the memory of the average 1990s country music fan (for example, “My Next Broken Heart” was quickly overshadowed by songs like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)”). In some ways, it’s understandable: This album was a quick and dirty way of cashing in on some promising new acts (it promised “hot” and “new,” not “seminal all-time classic”), and was not built to stand the test of time. Despite its perplexing song selections, however, the album did stand the test of time in my cassette case, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

Song Review: Luke Combs, “Better Together”

So apparently even Thanos is running out of ideas now…

If you ignore the murder hornets, the Greek-lettered hurricanes, and the coronavirus pandemic, life is going pretty well for Luke Combs right now. He’s released nine official singles so far, and not only have all nine reached #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart (and almost all of this have sat there for multiple weeks), but they’ve also all cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100, further confirming that Combs is the king of country music and powerful enough to snap half of the genre out of existence any time he pleases. As a critic, however, I’ve been a bit lukewarm (pardon the pun) on Combs’s single choices, and while I liked his last offering “Lovin’ On You,” I’m less enthused with his latest single “Better Together,” the fifth from his What You See Is What You Get album. It’s a watered-down version of “Beautiful Crazy,” and while there’s enough heartfelt feeling involved to keep Combs’s winning streak alive, it’s a song that feels like it should have stayed an album cut.

The production here is…a piano. Seriously, that’s all you get hereno guitars, no percussion, no token banjo or steel guitar, nothing. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (some of my favorites songs have been primarily piano-driven, such as Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”), when you’re literally the only instrument in the room, you need to bring way more presence and volume than the weaksauce melody we get here. (The producer also botches the volume balance badly here, as Combs’s vocals are so loud that they drown out the piano for most of the track.) While it does manage to set a suitably serious tone for the track, there’s little buildup to give the song any momentum, and it’s Combs that ends up doing most of the work creating the atmosphere. (Honestly, he could have done this whole song acapella, and you wouldn’t notice the difference.) Less can be more sometimes, but in this case less is basically nothing, and that’s exactly with this production adds to the song.

Combs may be the Garth Brooks of our time with his everyman charm and charisma, but getting left with no backup as he is here is something that should only be attempted by the strongest of strong voices, like Brett Eldredge or Chris Stapleton. Instead, Combs gets hung out to dry, and his limitations become painfully apparent: He’s not terribly smooth as a vocalist (his flow can be choppy and occasionally cuts out abruptly), and you can really feel him strain to apply power as the song progresses. Luckily, that everyman charm and charisma didn’t go anywhere, and Combs still does a nice job injecting some sincerity and feeling into the narrator’s role. (Like Aaron Watson, Combs turns his not-so-effortless style into a strength, using that audible straining to signal the intensity of his feelings.) You can tell that the narrator is definitely smitten with their partner, and the audience still kinda-sorta feels it themselves despite the deck being so stacked against the singer. The song is a testament to Combs’s skills as an artist, but it’s also a painful reminder of how much better he is with proper production support.

Speaking of support, Combs could have used a bit more help from the writing as well. The narrator tries to convey that they and their partner are, like many pairings in life, are “better together,” but the comparison just boils down to a laundry list of items that range from the moderately novel (“Your license in my wallet when we go out downtown”) to the painfully generic (most of the first verse, and the “good ol’ boys and beer” line on the chorus). The reliance on old tropes keeps the song from feeling personal, and saying “The way you say ‘I love you too’ is like rain on an old tin roof” doesn’t strike me as all that flattering. The marriage-proposal twist is a nice touch à la Dierks Bentley’s “My Last Name,” but on the whole this is nothing more than a cheesy, run-of-the-mill love song, a topic that Combs did a much better job covering with “Beautiful Crazy,” and the lyrics do nothing to help Combs’s sentiment resonate with the audience.

The biggest indictment I can make of “Better Together” is how many times I took a break while writing this review to listen to something better. This song, with its non-existent sound and its cookie-cutter writing, just doesn’t stack up against Luke Combs’s past work, and only rises to the level of radio filler. Combs is much more comfortable on the fun side of country music (“When It Rains It Pours,” “Lovin’ On You”), and while he’s got the chops to deliver a decent love song, he never seems to have the sound or the lyrics to match up. Of all the pairs that are “Better Together,” Combs and this song aren’t one of them.

Rating: 5/10. Stick with “Beautiful Crazy” instead.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: October 12, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn 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. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
2. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
3. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
4. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
5. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
6. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
7. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
8. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
9. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
10. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
11. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
12. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
13. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
14. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
15. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
16. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
17. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
18. Kane Brown, “Cool Again” -1 (4/10)
19. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
20. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
21. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
22. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
23. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
24. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
25. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
26. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
27. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
28. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
29. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
30. Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” +1 (6/10)
31. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
32. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
33. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
34. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
35. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
36. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
38. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
39. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
40. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
41. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
42. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
43. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
44. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
45. Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” -3 (2/10)
46. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
47. Luke Combs, “Better Together” +1 (6/10)*
48. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
49. Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” 0 (5/10)
50. Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +15
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +2
Overall Pulse +17
Change From Last Week
+1 🙂

*Preliminary grade

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” (recurrent)
  • Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” (recurrent)
  • Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Kane Brown, “Cool Again” (down from #7 to #18)

In Real Trouble:

  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (up from #35 to #34, but gains only six spins and eighty-three points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” (up from #44 to #42, but gained only thirty-one spins and seventy-five points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (holds at #46, but is bullet-less for a second consecutive week)
  • Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” (holds at #49, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (up from #39 to #38, but gained only twelve spins and sixty-five points)
  • Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” (down from #42 to #43, gained only forty spins and eighty-eight points)
  • Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” (holds at #45, but gained only twenty-six spins and seventy-seven points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” (up from #47 to #37)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (up from #25 to #20)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” (up from #10 to #6)
  • Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” (up from #11 to #7)
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (up from #37 to #33)
  • Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” (up from #48 to #44)

Technically Qualifies for “In No Trouble At All,” but has been on the chart for so long that I refuse to put it on the list:

  • Dylan Scott, “Nobody” (up from #32 to #28)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Better Together” (debuts at #47, which is significantly lower than I expected…has Thanos misplaced the Infinity Gauntlet?)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” (so was listening to the radio…)

Overall Thoughts: This was an interesting week: The spin inequities we’ve been documenting continue to be a problem, but the point numbers are much more equally distributed, suggesting that some songs are at least getting more-favorable playlist placement rather than being relegated to the 3 AM slot for eternity. “Better Together” debuting at #47 is a bit of a disappointment for Thanos, but it’s not overly surprising: Combs is basically competing against himself at this point, and “Lovin’ On You” is still hanging around and putting up incredible numbers (it would still be at #4 had it not been disqualified by the recurrent rules). Besides, other artists were more than willing to pick up the slack: Urban, Ballerini, and Chesney’s continued growth was not a surprise, but Dickerson’s eye-popping 2700+ point surge makes me wonder it that was a last-ditch effort to crack the Top 5).

To be honest, however, the overall vibe I get from the charts is one of inertiasongs aren’t climbing the charts as much as they’re being dragged up them to fill the void when someone goes recurrent. (How else can we explain Scott’s undeserved rise into the Top 30?) There’s just a lot of “meh” going around, both among new releases and those that are already on the chart, and it’s not a great look for country music heading into the winter.

Sadly, Dickerson’s surge was nothing compared to that of the coronavirus, which has now killed over 215,000 Americans and is setting off alarm bells across the Midwest as case numbers continue to grow. Unfortunately, growing case numbers seems to be part of the official White House strategy these days, which involves infecting as many people as possible in an attempt to reach “herd immunity.” Never mind the fact that there are now confirmed cases of people getting reinfected by the virus, or that pursuing such a strategy without a vaccine amounts to playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives and could easily push the death toll into the millionsPresident Trump wants to reopen the country, and he doesn’t care how many people have to die to make it happen. Perhaps that’s why another number that’s been growing lately is Joe Biden’s lead in the polls.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Carly Pearce, “Next Girl”

If you “know what happens next, girl,” why don’t you ever tell us?

Carly Pearce’s career has been a roller coaster ride since her debut in 2017: “Every Little Thing” got the standard debut-single treatment to reach #1, but she was then pushed further and further into the background over time (“Hide The Wine” only made it to #13 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Closer To You” hit a wall at #28) until teaming up with Lee Brice to ride “I Hope You’re Happy Now” back to the top. After a few months of silence, Pearce is back with yet another album (normally I would complain about only getting two singles from her previous discs, especially when her last album was released less than a year ago, but these days I suppose getting an album at all is an accomplishment given the number of EPs that are flying around) and a new single “Next Girl,” sending out a warning about a fly-by-night ex who’s prone to dropping the L-word without really meaning it. It’s okay and all, but okay is all it is: This is a bland track with a lot of missing pieces, and the biggest omission is the emotion and attitude needed to make listeners pay attention in the first place.

Let’s start with the production, which is far too bouncy and upbeat for a track like this one. The foundation is formed primarily by a pair of deep-voiced electric guitars, with some acoustic guitar sprinkled in and a dobro whose role expanded from in-between coverage to backing the verses and chorus. The percussion is a mix of real and synthetic instruments, but it’s not particularly notable except on the closing lines of the chorus, and the YouTube video mentions a synthesizer that’s pretty much invisible. There’s some decent instrumental texture to this mix, but the brighter tones, soft edges, and especially the brisk tempo give it a fun, energetic, and even happy vibe that clashes badly with the lyrics. This thing doesn’t sound like a warning it all; it sounds like a lightweight jam that encourages you to think less and move more. The producer simply doesn’t treat this track with the seriousness it deserves, and as a result, neither does the listener.

This pandemic must have really drained the life out of Nashville: I just knocked Keith Urban for a lifeless performance on “One Too Many,” and Pearce’s performance isn’t much better here. There aren’t any technical issues with her delivery (the range and flow demands are minimal at best), but there are two major pieces missing here: urgency and attitude. I’m not looking for a repeat of Gabby Barrett’s snarl from “I Hope,” but I’d at least expect to hear a bit more seriousness and gravity in her voice. Instead, Pearce comes across as incredibly nonchalant and even positive, making it feel like she’s just wishing the next person luck (“I really hope it works out! BTW, the dude’s a total liar.” Even then, however, her tone doesn’t signal much frustration towards her ex at all). Such an out-of-touch delivery detracts from the song’s core message and makes the listener question the narrator’s believability, and the whole thing ends up feeling way more awkward than it should.

The lyrics here are intended as a heads-up from the narrator to whoever dates their former partner: I’ve seen everything you’re seeing now, it didn’t end well then, and it likely won’t end well now. What’s problematic, however, is how front-loaded the details are: The narrator spends forever talking about how the relationship probably started and how their ex is probably acting, but next to nothing is said about how the story ended beyond the implication that it didn’t end well. I understand that you want to focus on how the relationships compare initially to convince the “next girl” that you’re on the level and establish trust between the two people, but at some point the next girl is going to start asking “what’s going to happen next?”, and the narrator has no answer. The ex is painted as untrustworthy, but there are no examples of the relationship going south that the next person can watch for, and no specific scenes of bad behavior to paint the ex in an unflattering light (they’re basically just called a liar for the entire song). There’s a huge gap in the story that the writers never bothered to fill in (and at a mere 2:44 running time, they certainly had room to do it), and it leaves the song feeling incomplete and unimpactful.

Mediocre ideas can sometimes be executed to perfection, but “Next Girl” feels like a promising idea that was botched at every turn, leaving us with a unimpressive result. Neither Carly Pearce nor the producer try to match the tone of the (half-baked)  writingin fact, it feels like they’re trying to spin it as a fun, enjoyable experience. What ultimately made songs like “I Hope” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” enjoyable was how they allowed the audience to revel in the narrator’s revenge (whether real or imagined), whereas here they tried to inject fun without injecting any feeling to go along with it. Ultimately, this is a forgettable disappointment, and at a time when Pearce has already lost the “Next Girl” title to artists like Barrett, Ingrid Andress, and Ashley McBryde, without better material she runs the risk of being forgotten herself.

Rating: 5/10. Next song, please.

Song Review: Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many”

As long as you’re not driving, I don’t really care if you’ve had “One Too Many” or not.

Keith Urban has become somewhat of a mad scientist over the last few years, stretching the genre boundaries as much as any generic Metro-Bro artist. Sometimes his experiments work (his foray into blues with “Blue Ain’t Your Color” was pretty solid), but more often than not they fall flat (“The Fighter,” “Never Comin’ Down,” “Comin’ Home”). After the mediocre “God Whispered Your Name” only made it to #8 on Billboard’s airplay chart, however, Urban went back to his experimental ways, bringing in pop/rock artist Pink and breaking out an generic adult-contemporary sound for “One Too Many,” a forgettable duet about two combustible narrators who want to be together despite the drama. While “uninteresting” is still better than much of Urban’s work, it’s a far cry from being anything I’d be keen to hear on the radio.

The production is the sort of slick, somber sound that doesn’t seem to have an idea of what it’s supposed to be (and there’s no better sign of this than the random seagull squawks that serve no discernible purpose). After the opening electric axe, we’re left with a choppy, punchless acoustic guitar and Grady Smith’s favorite snap track for much of the first verse. A piano jumps in to close the verse, and some heavier drum machine beats try (and fail) to pump up the chorus (there don’t appear to be any drums here at all). By the end of the song, the instruments mostly just run together and form a bland wall of noise, and neither the tempo nor the beats inject any sort of energy into the track. (Urban adds a semi-interesting solo to the outro, but by then it’s too little, too late, and the listener has already tuned him out.) In the end, the mix adds absolutely nothing to the song: It doesn’t set the mood, it doesn’t help support the story, and it really doesn’t engage the listener. Where Urban once had a sound that was at least kinda-sorta distinct, he’s now saddled with the aural equivalent of an amateur watercolor painting, with all the colors blending together into a soggy gray mess.

Sadly, Urban seemed to be afflicted with the same formless malaise as the production here. The performance is tolerable from a technical perspective (neither his range nor his flow are tested here), but he doesn’t bring any passion to the table, complaining about being scolded for getting home late with all the passion of a Xanax user reading a grocery list. Truthfully, Pink sings Urban under the table here: She climbs the ladder to show off some impressive range, breezes through rapid-fire lyrics without breaking a sweat, and at least tries to bring some flair to her delivery on the verse. Her chorus harmonies completely drown out Urban  (and then the group that jumps in at the very end drown both of them out), and whatever sad feel the choruses have are completely her doing—Urban feels like a placeholder by comparison. Duets are nice and all, but they don’t work terribly well if only one person holds up their end of the bargain.

The lyrics here tell a story of an on-again, off-again couple who can’t stand each other, but who ultimately can’t stand being apart either (at least once they’ve had “one too many”). Once again, Urban gets the short end of the stick: His narrator whining about getting yelled at for coming in at four in the morning just reeks of immaturity and selfishness (Oh, but you’ve been working sooooo hard this week? So has everyone else in the world; cry me a freaking river). Pink’s narrator isn’t terribly sympathetic either, but at least they’re not actively unlikable like Urban’s. The biggest issue, however, is just how boring the story and unengaging the story is: Crying over a lost love in a bar might be the original trope in country music, so you’ve got to bring something extra to the table to make your tune stand out and justify its existence. Instead, we get nothing: no details about the location or atmosphere, minimal backstory as to what led to the final showdown, and perhaps most importantly, no real reason for why the pair should bother rekindling their romance. (It seems like an oil/water situation to me, especially given the attitude of Urban’s character; why not look for a partner that’s not going to cause some much drama?) The audience simply doesn’t have a reason to care about the plight of this pair, and the flavorless nothing provided by everything else fails to convince them otherwise.

I get that we’re living in chaotic times right now, but that’s no excuse for songs like “One Too Many” to try this hard to put me to sleep. The production is lifeless, the writing is pointless, and Urban’s surprisingly poor performance (Pink’s is just okay) makes this feel like a song that exists simply for the sake of existing. Unfortunately, this song is emblematic of the rut country music has found itself in over the last few months: The unrelenting pandemic seems to have sucked the life out of the genre, leaving us with a playlist full of dull, familiar mediocrity that can’t seem to figure out what to say. I’ve heard “One Too Many” of these snorefests recently, and if Urban can’t find any more to say than this, maybe he should’ve stayed silent until he did.

Rating: 5/10. Meh.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: October 5, 2020

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-reborn 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. Lee Brice, “One Of Them Girls” -1 (4/10)
2. Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” +2 (7/10)
3. Jason Aldean, “Got What I Got” +2 (7/10)
4. Jameson Rodgers, “Some Girls” 0 (5/10)
5. Tim McGraw, “I Called Mama” +4 (9/10)
6. Matt Stell, “Everywhere But On” 0 (5/10)
7. Kane Brown, “Cool Again” -1 (4/10)
8. Blake Shelton ft. Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere” +1 (6/10)
9. HARDY ft. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson, “One Beer” -1 (4/10)
10. Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To” 0 (5/10)
11. Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown” -1 (4/10)
12. Parker McCollum, “Pretty Heart” -1 (4/10)
13. Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always The Cowboy” 0 (5/10)
14. Chris Lane, “Big, Big Plans” +1 (6/10)
15. Kenny Chesney, “Happy Does” 0 (5/10)
16. Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed” 0 (5/10)
17. Lady A, “Champagne Night” 0 (5/10)
18. Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” +1 (6/10)
19. Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” -2 (3/10)
20. Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole In The Bottle” +2 (7/10)
21. Darius Rucker, “Beers And Sunshine” 0 (5/10)
22. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
23. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
24. Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” -1 (4/10)
25. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
26. Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song” +5 (10/10)
27. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
28. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
29. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
30. Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers” +1 (6/10)
31. Brothers Osborne, “All Night” -1 (4/10)
32. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
33. Maren Morris, “To Hell & Back” +2 (7/10)
34. Taylor Swift, “Betty” +1 (6/10)
35. Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” 0 (5/10)
36. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
37. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
38. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
39. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
40. Runaway June, “We Were Rich” +2 (7/10)
41. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
42. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
43. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
44. Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” 0 (5/10)
45. Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” -3 (2/10)
46. Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” +1 (6/10)
47. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)*
48. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
48. Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” 0 (5/10)
50. Old Dominion, “Never Be Sorry” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +12
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +4
Overall Pulse +16
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Yet another preliminary song grade, but hopefully we’ll cover it on Friday.

Best Song: “Stick That In Your Country Song,” 10/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Lauren Alain, “Getting Good” (recurrent)
  • Ryan Hurd, “Every Other Memory” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Kane Brown, “Cool Again” (down from #2 to #7)
  • Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are” (down from #13 to #19)

In Real Trouble:

  • Kip Moore, “She’s Mine” (holds at #18, but gained only eighty-four spins and 168 points, and is much weaker than its immediate competition)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Gabrielle” (holds at #35, but gains only thirteen spins and sixty-one points)
  • Runaway June, “We Were Rich” (holds at #40, but gained only twenty-nine spins and forty-six points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Noah Cyrus, “This Is Us” (down from #43 to #44, gained only twenty-two spins and thirty-three points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (holds at #46, but lost its bullet)
  • Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys” (down from #48 to #49, gained only twenty-nine spins and fifty-four points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Eric Church. “Stick That In Your Country Song” (down from #23 to #26, lost its bullet)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (up from #42 to #41, but gained only forty-two spins and eighty-four points)
  • Robert Counts, “What Do I Know” (up from #47 to #45, but gained only thirty-nine spins and fifty-nine points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • No one qualified this week.

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Lovin’ On You” (up from #3 to #2 despite losing its bullet)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Thanos, “Better Together”
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time”

Overall Thoughts: If last week was fluid and static, this one was just static.

Outside of the continued exits of Brown, Rice, and (eventually) Thanos, there was barely any movement to speak of in the top half of the chart, and while there were more spins to go around this week for the bottom twenty-five, there wasn’t a whole lot of movement to go with it. This week was pretty much a win for the status quo, with the gap between the haves (mostly in the top twenty-five, but also some scattered songs in the bottom half like “Long Live” and “7 Summers”) and have-nots continuing to grow. (Honestly, when I see folks like Larry Fleet and Priscilla Block being pushed to radio, I have to ask “why?” The way radio is shortening its bench and clinging to its veterans these days, this doesn’t seem like a great time to be pushing a new artist.)

Speaking of bench-shortening, it’s not just the playlists that are suffering these days: Country Aircheck’s big feature this week was on the rise of syndicated shows on radio stations that are letting their local personalities go. While this trend comes as no surprise if you’ve been following the Pulse posts and Sam Wilson’s updates, there’s a quote near the beginning of the article that feels more than a little out-of-touch:

“Network radio has been growing in lots of different ways, and it’s all about resources, meaning that we provide resources that local stations need. Country has more stations in America than any other format – almost 2200 – so it has more room for more players, hence all the shows you are seeing.” Andy Denemark of United Stations [emphasis added]

“More room for more players”? Every time I look at country radio, it seems to be contracting, not expanding, and what good is having the room offered by over 2200 stations if they’re all playing the same darn shows and songs? The point of having all these syndicated shows is to do more with less, and in this case “less” means less playlist diversity, less people on the payroll, and less of a connection to the community. In other words, I’m not sure the push towards syndication is a good thing.

Unfortunately, while country radio was doing a lot of nothing last week, COVID-19 kept itself too busy for comfort: America’s total case count now exceeds 7.5 million, with over 210,000 fatalities, and that 7.5 million number now includes the president, the first lady, and a number of high-ranking White House staffers and GOP officials. While I sincerely wish President Trump a full and quick recovery (seriously, this is a nasty virus that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy), it’s awfully hard to feel sympathy for a man whose hosted close-contact, maskless gatherings, even after he had been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. Obviously, Trump is not a Midland fan, otherwise he’d know that “if you put your hands on the flame…you know it’s gonna leave a mark.”

My advice: Keep your masks on and keep your distance from other people, because the next few months are going to be a bumpy ride.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!