Song Review: Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You”

Chris Lane: The poster boy for stranger danger since 2015.

Much like Dylan Scott, Lane seems to be treading water in a sea of faceless young male country artists, desperately searching for a solid foothold in the genre. Since his Metro-Bro breakthrough hit “Fix” in 2015, Lane has struggled to maintain his relevance, with the actually-decent “For Her” taking over a year just to reach #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and his forgettable Tori Kelly collab “Take Back Home Girl” only marginally improving on that showing (it made it to #8, and still took ten-and-a-half months to do it). Now, as he faced a sink-or-swim moment in his career, Lane and his team decided to go back to their “winning” formula and release “I Don’t Know About You” as the second single from his Laps Around The Sun album. The song is basically “Fix” without the drug references or unfounded narrator confidence, and winds up having no memorable (or redeemable) qualities at all.

The bright, echoey opening guitars give the listener a brief sense of hope…which is immediately crushed when the effect is cleaned up and the synthetic beat and clap track jump in, and the mix turns into the same sanitized guitar-and-drum arrangement everybody else leans on (complete with the eventual introduction of real drums and an uninspired guitar solo, although the latter sounds like it was stolen from a porn video). The slower tempo and simple I-V-vi-IV chord structure leave the song with absolutely zero energy (which was the one thing “Fix” brought to the table), and while the mix tries to set a serious tone, it overshoots the mark and comes across as melancholy and depressed, clashing violently with the writing’s underlying message of”let’s get out of this bar and make out.” (Seriously, by the sound of it, hanging out with the narrator is the opposite of a good time.) In other words, the production here is generic, an awkward fit for the subject matter, and overall just a complete mess.

Lane must have been through a lot since “Fix,” because the cocky, cheerful narrator from that tune has been replaced by a lethargic narrator who just sounds more tired than anything else. His range isn’t tested here (which is a bit of a shame; his falsetto is decent and about the only thing distinct about his voice), the tempo doesn’t push his flow at all, and when given the choice of sounding gentlemanly or creepy, Lane chooses door #3 and winds up sounding weary and defeated, like he expects the other person will reject his advances. Instead of elevating the narrator and writing, Lane weighs them down so much with his gloomy attitude that even Eeyore is telling him to lighten up.

Tell us something we didn’t know, Chris. (Original images from Pinterest and Billboard)

Instead of passing a romantic or emotional vibe onto the listener, Lane makes them wonder if he has any more faith in the song than he does in his pickup lines. Either way, it’s not something I’m interested in revisiting.

Lyrically, the song makes a halfhearted attempt to pull the wool over our eyes: The narrator opens with some lame excuses about not usually being here this early and not usually talking to strangers, and then immediately peppers the other person with questions about their life, as if this is the first person the narrator has seen in twenty years. It’s all mean to look like thoughtful inquiry and signal that the narrator has serious interest in everything about the other person, but in the second verse the narrator reveals the real reason behind their advance:

I don’t know about you
We can dip, we can slip out of the back
Leave the scene put your feet on my dash
Find a spot past the railroad tracks and never look back

Yep, it’s just another one of those tunes, and the narrator is just another one of those meatheads who’s just looking for a hot partner to get it on with. There may not be any explicit objectification going on here, but you know darn well what’s going through the narrator mind (and it’s not “what’s your sign?”). Part of me thinks I should be offended that the writers thought the audience would fall for such a terrible bait-and-switch, but honestly, it’s like watching an incompetent cartoon burglar stumble through a bank robbery: Nothing’s really going to happen, and everybody in the room knows it. Most likely the target of this charade saw right through it, and they shut the narrator down with either a sharp “no” or a drink to the face.

Beyond that, there’s nothing really unique or interesting here: The setting, the drinking, the evening drives…most everything from the Bro checklist can be found somewhere in the song. It’s a generic wolf in the world’s most ill-fitting sheep costume, and it doesn’t offer the listener any reason to pay attention.

2019 has been a year of extremes in country music thus far: There’s a lot of quality out there, but there’s also a surprising number of unwelcome Bro-Country retreads getting foisted onto the public, and “I Don’t Know About You” falls squarely in the latter category. In fact, it’s probably the worst retread I’ve heard so far, as it combines all the usual tropes and topics you expect from such a song with a depression mix, an uninspired Chris Lane, and a lyrical fake-out that’s more obvious than that basketball wannabe you met at the Y who always pump-fakes the first time. “I don’t know about you,” but it all adds up to a song that I’d prefer to skip.

Rating: 3/10. No thank you.

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The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: January 13, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct 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 official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
2. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” +2 (7/10)
4. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
5. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
6. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
7. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
8. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
9. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
10. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
11. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
12. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
13. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
14. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
15. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
16. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
17. Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” +1 (6/10)
18. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
19. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
20. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
21. Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” 0 (5/10)
22. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
23. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
24. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
25. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
26. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
27. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
28. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
29. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
30. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
31. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
32. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
33. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
34. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
35. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
36. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
37. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
38. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
39. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
40. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
41. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
42. Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” +3 (8/10)
43. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
44. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
45. Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” -1 (4/10)
46. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
47. Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” 0 (5/10)
48. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
49. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
50. David Lee Murphy, “I Won’t Be Sorry” +1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +10
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +1
Overall Pulse +11
Change From Last Week 0

Best Song: “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (15 songs)

Gone:

  • Kane Brown, “Lose It” (recurrent)
  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” (recurrent)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” (“thank you country radio!” ad posted in Country Aircheck)
  • Dan + Shay, “Speechless” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Kip Moore, “Last Shot” (down from #6 to #11)

Aging:

  • Midland, “Burn Out” (#10 after 38 weeks)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” (#9 after 37 weeks)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (#24 after 36 weeks)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (#28 after 36 weeks)

In Real Trouble:

  • Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” (down from #20 to #21, passed by three songs, and looks a lot weaker than the songs around it)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (up from #40 to #37, but gained only eight spins and seven points this week, and at 21 weeks it’s starting to age)

In Some Trouble:

  • LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” (up from #32 to #31, but gained only twenty-one spins and less than 150 points)
  • Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” (holds at #41 but loses its bullet)
  • Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” (up from #44 to #42, but only gained twenty-four spins and seventeen points)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (up from #46 to #44, but lost spins and gained less than fifty points)
  • Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” (holds at #45, but gained only five spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” (up from #22 to #17)
  • Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” (up from #48 to #43)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Things have finally returned to normal on the charts, and the result is…well, I suppose it’s okay.

I certainly can’t get mad at a week in which “You’re In It” disappears and “Last Shot” finally runs out of gas, but the songs currently jumping in to fill the gaps fall somewhere between decent and forgettable, despite the fact that January has started out surprisingly strong on the new release front. I’m also still not thrilled at the traction some less-than-stellar songs are getting (Davis is the poster boy right now, but more concerning is the number of negative scores creeping into the thirties, headlined by Atkins’s should-have-died-months-ago “Caught Up In The Country”). Better songs are coming, but we’ll have to fight through a bit more mediocrity to get to them.

On a lighter note, Warner Bros. made me laugh with their Country Aircheck ad touting Evans’s eight-spot jump over the last month…which appeared the same week “Day Drunk” lost its bullet and got passed by Pearce and Swindell. Sounds like someone’s getting demoted to the mail room…

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

Song Review: Aaron Watson, “Kiss That Girl Goodbye”

I might have said that Cody Johnson had a higher ceiling than Aaron Watson, but I’d also say Watson’s is pretty high by itself.

I was so high on Watson’s previous single “Run Wild Horses” that I declared it my favorite song of 2018, but apparently I stood alone at that hill, as the song found little traction at radio and peaked at a mediocre #33 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Undiscouraged, Watson turned the page on Vaquero and shifted his focus to his upcoming Red Bandana album, releasing “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” as the disc’s leadoff single. It’s a hard-driving track that harnesses much of the same negative energy as “Run Wild Horses,” but uses it to accomplish a feat that’s almost unheard of the country music these days: Create a “break up with your boyfriend” track that isn’t creepy or self-serving. It doesn’t have quite the horsepower (literally) of “Run Wild Horses,” but it’s a pretty solid offering nonetheless.

When the song’s recent Country Aircheck ad declared this track had “tempo, tempo, tempo,” it wasn’t kidding: This song pushes the pace with the most authority I’ve heard since Dierks Bentley and Brothers Osborne’s “Burning Man.” While it doesn’t have the low-end oomph that Bentley showed off, it compensates by adding more top-end instrumentation, featuring the snare drum more prominently and using a bluegrass-flavored arrangement with a definitely-not-token banjo and some strong fiddle work (especially on the solo). The electric guitar gets its turn on the solo as well (and provides some general background atmosphere besides), and the mix moves nimbly from busier arrangements on the choruses to a keyboard-only bridge,  and even drops to nothing but hand claps (!) right before the choruses to accentuate the impact of the noise when it hits. There’s a ton of energy here, but the plethora of minor chords the mix uses indicates that something’s not right with the world, and lets the listener know that the narrator has something important to say. Whoever put all this madness together did a masterful job of setting the tone and getting all the instruments to pull in the same direction, and the result is a standout sound that really leaves its mark on the audience.

In comparison, I’m significantly less impressed by Watson’s performance on this track. The song forces him to stay in his upper range from start to finish, which makes him sound less distinct and robs him of the power and emotion he demonstrated on “Run Wild Horses.” (There’s also a noticeable drop in effort from Watson compared to his prior single, but that’s more because his delivery from “Run Wild Horses” was just that impassioned—he’s not mailing it in here by any means.) The backing vocals on the chorus help mitigate this issue somewhat by giving Watson’s thinner vocals some extra power, but they sound too much like a second melody line rather than a harmony, and in the end they subtract about as much as they add from the performance. When Watson gets hung out to dry on the verses, his vocals are just too weak to really drive his point home, forcing the production to pick up the slack. (His flow also feels a bit stilted on the verses, although he handles the tongue-busting outro without a problem.) The best thing I can say about his performance here is that while it doesn’t add much to the song, it does just enough to keep from detracting from it.

Lyrically, this song has the narrator trying to convince a woman to break up with their boyfriend, and as Jake Owen or Jordan Davis can attest, this approach usually earns a song a hazardous waste sticker and a one-way ticket to Kyle’s Hall of Infamy. Where Owen, Davis, and Old Dominion failed, however, Watson (and any co-writers he might have, although I can’t find any mentioned on the Internet) succeeds using one simple trick: The narrator never tries to pick up the woman, or even imply that they should be together. Instead, the narrator comes across as a genuinely-concerned observer, and seems to actually have the woman’s best interests at heart. It doesn’t matter who the woman finds as their new love interest, so long as the jerk she’s with now gets the boot. It’s amazing how a single change can elevate what probably would have been a garbage track without it.

That said, I’ve got some other issues with the writing, starting with the awkward use of the hook. The narrator spends most of the song addressing the woman directly, but then suddenly refers to her in the third person when he declared “that boy can kiss that girl goodbye.” It’s a startling change of perspective, and it seems like the only reason it’s there is so the hook could be shoehorned into the song. I’d also like a little more information about the trangressions of the soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend; aside from the “players love playing games” line, we never actually hear what they did to make the woman sad. If we’re going to talk about leaving someone, I’d like a hear a little more evidence from the plaintiff before I make a final judgment. It’s still a decent song, but it’s far from a classic.

Despite these misgivings, however,”Kiss That Girl Goodbye” hits more than it misses, and winds up being a solid, memorable earworm that’ll get your toes tapping. The production is fantastic, the writing gets away with way more than a song like this should, and Aaron Watson…well, at least he’s not Jake Owen. It’s not “Run Wild Horses,” but that’s honestly kind of an unfair standard; it stacks up favorably against much of its competition, and it’s got me intrigued as to what else Red Bandana might have to offer.

Rating: 7/10. It’s only mid-January, and I’ve already given out an 8 and two 7s. 2019 is off to a surprisingly strong start!

Is It Finally Time To Mothball The Nintendo 3DS?

There’s nothing new about this console anymore.

While it may not have the gaudy lifetime sales numbers of the Wii or DS, the Nintendo 3DS has carved out a nice little niche for itself in the annals of video game lore. Spanning the Wii, Wii U, and Switch eras, the plucky handheld overcame a rough debut to achieve the sort of longevity that most hardware only dreams of, amassing library of top-notch titles from Super Mario 3D Land to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, with many more greats in between.

All good things come to an end, however, and the recent software sales numbers coming out of Japan indicate that the end is nigh. Neither the recent Luigi’s Mansion remake nor the port of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story made much of a splash, leading the editors at Nintendo Life to declare that the time has come for Nintendo to set its aging handheld aside and go all-in on the Nintendo Switch. While I seem to be one of the few boosters of the 3DS left on the Internet, even I’m starting to wonder if the console’s clock has finally run out.

And yet…I’m not ready to go there yet.

When I discussed the 3DS’s future back in 2017, the main point I made was that the 3DS served as the perfect “gateway drug” into the Nintendo universe. The New Nintendo 2DS XL was half the price of the Switch, the hardware was hardened against the uncareful hands of small children, and the game library featured both quantity and quality, complete with solid entries from Nintendo’s biggest franchises from Mario and Zelda to Metroid and Pokémon. While the Switch was marketed as a ‘mature’ console for millenials that had grown up with Nintendo, the 3DS catered more to the company’s younger demographic, ensuring that Gen Z would have the same warm fuzzy feeling about Nintendo that their parents did.

Fast forward to 2019, and I still feel like these arguments hold a lot of water. While the economy itself seems to have improved, a general sense of economic anxiety still hovers over America like smog (especially now that some recession warning lights are starting to blink), making the price point argument from before feel even more poignant. (The resilience issue is no small matter either; who wants to shell out cash for a console that their kid will just break in two weeks?) Likewise, increased competition from smartphone games means that kids these days have lots of options, and if Nintendo doesn’t give them a cheap, easy way to experience their IPs, the company risks falling into the same trap as baseball and NASCAR, clinging to a shrinking, aging demographic while the next generation moves on to newer and more-exciting pursuits. The 3DS remains a great way to get Nintendo in front of peoples’ eyes in the wake of shrinking budgets and proliferating entertainment choices, and even if the sales numbers aren’t stellar, I would argue that the Switch’s success gives Nintendo enough leeway to keep lifeline to their future consumers open.

Okay Kyle, we get it: You’re a total 3DS homer. So what would it take for you to give up on the 3DS?

Well Mr. Anonymous Voice, apparently you weren’t listening! I just said that the “3DS served as the perfect ‘gateway drug’ into the Nintendo universe” and that it served as “a cheap, easy way to experience [Nintendo’s] IPs.” If the Big N found another way to do this, then I’d be perfectly okay with writing the 3DS’s eulogy. So how could Nintendo do it?

  • Release a 3DS-like version of the Switch. This quote from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter (as reported by Nintendo Life) says it all:

    Nintendo will launch a fully handheld version of the Switch at $199.“I expect the device to have the same screen, but with Joy Cons built into the body and no docking station. Since it can’t “switch” from handheld to console, it’s hard to guess what they will call it, but let’s assume Game Boy (kidding).”

    $199 still feels a bit high, but it’s not too far off of the $169 number Nintendo initially had to drop the 3DS too to boost early sales. In any case, it’s a sizable drop from the Switch’s current $300 price tag. If such a Switch is built sturdily enough, it could fill the 3DS’s current role as a cheaper, more resilient way to play.

  • Expand on the company’s current mobile offerings. Right now, Nintendo’s smartphone lineup consists of PokémonMarioFire EmblemAnimal Crossing, and a new RPG called Dragalia Lost. That’s not bad, but even if we include the announced mobile version of Mario Kart, there’s still a lot of room for expansion here (Zelda, KirbyMetroid, etc.). If Nintendo were to ramp up their game releases for iOS and Android and keep prices at a reasonable level, smartphones are ubiquitous enough that they could serve as a kinda-sorta stand-in for the 3DS.

As of right now, however, I still believe the 3DS has a place in Nintendo’s  business plan, as it provides a way for the youngest among us to be entranced by Nintendo’s magic. The Game Boy and DS hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts today, and until Nintendo can find something else to fill this role, they’re better off keeping the 3DS around to do the job.

Song Review: Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town”

“Nothing to Do Town”? More like “Nothing To Hear Song.”

So far, nobody seems terribly enthused to have Dylan Scott hanging around country music. His first two singles “My Girl” and “Hooked” eventually reached #1 and #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart respectively, but each one took over a year to do so, and sales dropped off considerably for “Hooked” once the new-artist shine had worn off. In response, Scott and his team had closed the book on his self-titled debut album and opted for a shot of leadoff-single buzz, releasing “Nothing To Do Town” as Scott’s next single. However, there’s nothing new about this song: It’s the same old small-town party song you’ve heard a million timed before, featuring the same old urbanized sound, the same old 90s-era name drops, and writing that stands out only in how annoyingly repetitive it is. It’s a forgettable combination that fails to justify either Scott’s or the song’s existence in the genre.

The mix is…well, it’s a standard Metro-Bro arrangement that’s been done to death in the genre lately: Slick, clean electric guitars (with some hard-rock chords for the chorus), some sharp acoustic strumming for the verses, a single steel guitar riff repeated a few times for street cred, and a synthetic hand-clap track that transitions to a skittery beat for the choruses even as real drums are introduced, all set to a “Cruise”-like cadence that marches along diligently from start from finish. The vibe, like all party songs, is lighthearted and celebratory, backing the narrator’s assertion that despite not having all the attractions of the big city, they still have their fair share of fun out in the sticks. However, there’s nothing in the mix that really distinguishes the song from its many peers, and thus it comes across as generic and unmemorable, and feel like little more than background noise on the radio.

Similar to Kane Brown, Scott’s calling card is his deeper voice, which he can use to give his performance a distinct flavor and stand out from the faceless mass of young male country singers. However (and also similar to Kane Brown), “Nothing To Do Town” traps Scott in his mid-to-upper range and makes him sound about as indistinct as possible, taking away the one thing that might make people say “Hey, that’s a Dylan Scott song.” Unlike Brown, Scott does not have the natural charisma to fill this gap, and while his flow is passable enough for the faster portions of this track, there’s a noticeable lack of excitement in his delivery that keeps his audience from sharing in his joy surrounding small-town party life. Give this song to one of Scott’s fellow country artists, and the darn thing would sound the exact same, and that’s a really bad sign form someone who’s still trying to lock down a place in country music.

And then we get to the writing, which is about lazy and generic as a song like this can get. The narrator proclaims that despite not having the clubs and bars of a larger city, he and his fellow small-town folk can still get together and drink, blast the radio, and run all night just like the city folk. I’d like to say that this is just another rural party song that says absolutely nothing clever or original (and it is), but it’s so much worse than that:

  • The writing is incredibly repetitive, especially on the chorus:

    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    In this nothing to do town

    Good grief, and I thought “Closer To You” was monotonous…also, if I may channel my inner Chandler Bing: Could the hook be any weaker?

    There’s also a line claiming that “We ain’t got a lot, but we sure do a lot with the little bit that we got,” which sounds like a lame attempt at Clint Black-like wordplay minus Black’s wit and cleverness.

  • Despite their attempt at salesmanship, the narrator comes across like they have a massive inferiority complex to those gall darn city slickers. Noting the lack of rooftop bars in town in one thing, but to only be able to claim that “yeah, you might not hate” partying in the backcountry? Seriously, you can’t even say that people might like it with a straight face? (Then again, if you’re just sitting around a fire drinking and blasting Tim McGraw, perhaps you’re better off not overselling the experience.
  • Speaking of McGraw, you can probably guess the 90s-era stars the narrator name-drops while talking up their small-town throwdown (McGraw, George Strait, and Brooks & Dunn), which is both predictable and a little depressing. Do people not realize that Strait’s music is just not made for blasting? (Because nothing gets your blood pumping like “Today My World Slipped Away” at full volume.)

Add it all up, and there’s absolutely no reason to listen to “Nothing To Do Town.” It’s a bland, milquetoast ode to backwoods parties with unremarkable production, unimpressive vocals, and ear-grating lyrics. This sort of song has been done before (a lot) in country music, and it’s usually done a lot better than this. A few more releases like this, and Dylan Scott may discover that he has nothing to do in Nashville either.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Song Review: Eric Church, “Some Of It”

I don’t like everything Eric Church does, but at least I can appreciate “Some Of It.”

Church is stuck in a bizarre spot in the genre right now: He’s earned just enough fame to play by his own rules and thumb his nose at the kingmakers of radio, but he’s also still got enough mainstream cachet to put up some decent airplay numbers. Case in point: “Desperate Man,” which still managed to peak at #13 on Billboard’s airplay chart despite being a crazy fusion of funk, soul, and country that took the sound and spirit of the Metro-Bro era and pushed them to their logical conclusion. It worked because Church has a knack for when to push boundaries and when to retreat to familiar territory, which is where his latest single “Some Of It” springs from. It’s a relaxed, reflective review at the knowledge he’s gained over the years, and as scattershot as his message is here, at least it’s one that’s worth hearing.

Unlike the “psychedelic disco-tinged mix” from “Desperate Man,” this sound is a lot more familiar to Church fans, with an acoustic guitar carrying the melody and a drum set providing a simple, straightforward beat for the foundation (and even pushes the song forward during several drop-everything-but-the-beat sections). An organ eventually crops up in the background, and the producer shoehorns in a fuzzy, unimpressive electric guitar as well (that opening riff sets an awkward tone for the song, and the solo is unimaginative and sounds terrible), but thankfully it doesn’t detract from the mix’s overall vibe. The key here seems to be tasteful simplicity: The chord structure is basic but doesn’t feel repetitive, the minor chords are periodic but not overdone, the noise level is low but not inaudible, and the energy level is measured but not plodding. It’s an arrangement that does just enough to give the song a reflective feel that reeks of hard-won experience, but then quickly backs off the accelerator to make sure the writing is the listener’s primary focus. While I could have lived without the annoying electric guitar, overall I’m pretty impressed with how the mix enhances the song’s message.

The “outlaw” label might be a loaded one in country music, but the secret ingredient to taking such a mantle is experience: Live hard, make mistakes, and manage to survive long enough to talk about it. With his bucking of Music Row and occasionally unorthodox and experimental methods, Church is perhaps the outlaw in music today, which makes him the perfect candidate to dole out words of wisdom on life, love, and everything in between. He may not be the most powerful or emotive artist in the genre, but there’s a lot of wear and wisdom that comes through in his delivery, and the song keeps its range and flow demands minimal to ensure Church sounds comfortable and earnest as he doles out his knowledge. He not only comes across as believable in the narrator’s role, but really gets the audience to buy into what he says, and never feels preachy or judgmental when he speaks. It’s the vocal equivalent of a doctor administering a shot without the patient ever feeling it, and it may even possess some of the same healing properties.

Upon first listen, I wasn’t really impressed with the song’s writing because I felt like it wasn’t really saying anything new: The narrator’s is trying to spread the knowledge he has accumulated over time, but the life lessons include such groundbreaking topics as money not equalling wealth, sadness being fleeting, and so on. However, I also found myself nodding along and saying “yep” and “uh huh” a lot, and realized the universality of the narrator’s life lessons: Everyone’s run across a few of these same truths during their life, and the “effectively vague” lyrics thus help the song forge a stronger connection with its audience. I also like how the song handles the progression of time, as it goes from addressing “kid stuff” like beer and trucks to broaching more-mature topics like love and devotion. (As an aside, however, if Church thinks “love’s not cheap,” he should try feeding a video game console addiction. How much has this dang Switch and its fragile controllers cost me in the last two years?) It may not be the most novel of topics, but there’s a distinct lack of wisdom and reflection on the country charts right now, and Church’s sermon feels both effective and timely.

“Some Of It” isn’t really trying to make a statement about anything, but there’s something to be said for stopping and taking stock of the things you learned the hard way and how they made you the person you are now. I wish the message was a bit more coherent, but I’ll take what we get, which is a reflective, thoughtful track strengthened by Eric Church’s delivery and complementary production. Church may have earned the freedom to go crazy on tracks like “Desperate Man,” but when he cuts off all the frills and lets his work speak for itself, there aren’t many better in the business.

Rating: 7/10. I’d put this one a hair behind his protégé’s latest single, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: January 6, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct 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 official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Dan + Shay, “Speechless” 0 (5/10)
2. Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” 0 (5/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” +2 (7/10)
4. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
5. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
6. Kip Moore, “Last Shot” -2 (3/10)
7. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
8. Kane Brown, “Lose It” +1 (6/10)
9. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
10. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
11. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
12. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
13. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
14. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
15. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
16. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
17. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
18. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
19. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” 0 (5/10)
20. Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” 0 (5/10)
21. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
22. Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” +1 (6/10)
23. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
24. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
25. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
26. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
27. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
28. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
29. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
30. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
31. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
32. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
33. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
34. Granger Smith, “You’re In It” 0 (5/10)
35. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
36. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
37. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
38. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
39. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
40. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
41. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
42. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
43. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
44. Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” +3 (8/10)
45. Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” -1 (4/10)
46. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
47. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
48. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
49. David Lee Murphy, “I Won’t Be Sorry” +1 (6/10)
49. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +9
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +2
Overall Pulse +11
Change From Last Week +2 🙂

Best Song: “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (15 songs)

Gone:

  • Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On” (recurrent)
  • Eric Church, “Desperate Man” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Dan + Shay, “Speechless” (holds at #1, but Lynch has been advertising max-spins for this week)
  • Kane Brown, “Lose It” (down from #7 to #8)
  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Drunk Me” (down from #15 to #19)
  • Eric Church, “Desperate Man” (down from #41 to #50)

Death Watch:

  • Kip Moore, “Last Shot” (down from #5 to #6 after 49 weeks)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” (at #11 after 36 weeks, it’s time to start getting nervous)
  • Midland, “Burn Out” (at #12 after 37 weeks, it was time to start getting nervous a while ago)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (holds at #25, but after 35 weeks it’s time for a full-blown panic)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (holds at #30 and doesn’t project to go much higher)
  • Granger Smith, “You’re In It” (up from #35 to #34, and honestly, I have no idea what to make of this thing anymore)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: It’s the first week of 2019, and just like the beginning of a professional sport season, everyone feels like they can be a success today!

Everybody’s got a bullet and triple-digit point gains to show off this week (even the songs that are going backwards), which means that are charts are temporarily in stasis while the have and have-nots sort themselves out (Paisley’s four-spot jump to #44 is the biggest move of the week). The logjam at the top of the pile should break loose soon, as Lynch looks to formally challenge for Dan + Shay’s #1 slot this week and get the escalator moving again.

I’m a little torn on the quality of music I’m seeing right now: The more-recent new arrivals/reentries (Dickerson, Gilbert & Ell, Murphy) are decent, but a fair bit of the flotsam I’ve been complaining about for months now (Atkins,  LoCash, Wallen, Smith, Houser, Maddie & Tae, Lay) is starting to find some traction simply because stations are flailing around looking for playlist filler. Hopefully some stronger January releases (and there seem to be a few of them) correct this issue when they assume their rightful positions on the chart.

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