Note to A Thousand Horses: If you plan on proclaiming yourself the heir to Lynyrd Skynyrd, you need to release songs with some actual weight and meaning, not vacuous self-indulgent tracks like this.
ATH burst onto the country music scene back in 2015 with their debut single “Smoke,” which earned the highest-ever Mediabase chart debut for a new artist and eventually made it to No. 1. It’s been all downhill for the group since then, however, as their next two singles peaked at a mediocre #23 and an embarrassing #57, respectively. To recapture their former glory, the band has doubled down on their Southern Rock sound and release “Preachin’ To The Choir,” the debut single for their upcoming second album (and the most blatant attempt to assume Lynyrd Skynyrd’s mantle since Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”).
To the song’s credit, the production actually captures the hard-driving, guitar-and-drums spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s discography, a connection cemented by the backing vocals that jump in halfway through the song. (While the guitar tones remind me more of the later work of the duo Van Zant than anything else, this actually strengthens the LS connection even more, as Van Zant is actually made up of the brothers of late Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant.) This unabashed embrace of Southern Rock in a sea of Metropolitan and neotraditional songs immediately makes the song stand out from its competition, giving the track a sonic head start that its lyrics promptly squander.
Lead singer Michael Hobby has the kind of raspy, weathered voice that gives him instant credibility in the Southern Rock subgenre, and he uses it to full effect here by demonstrating impressive range and a decent flow. The problem, however, is that Hobby’s tone and delivery is almost too prototypical for Southern Rock, and there’s nothing distinctive about his vocals to make him stand out. If he were replaced by a generic Southern Rock cover band frontman, I doubt anyone would notice a difference. It’s not a huge problem if you’re just trying to be ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd Lite,’ but Hobby and the rest of the group will need to bring more to the table if they want to forge their own sonic identity.
My biggest issues with this song are with the lyrics and themes. The best Skynyrd songs had a thoughtful message behind them (“That Smell,” “Free Bird,” “Simple Man”), or at least told a good story (“Gimme Three Steps”). In contrast, “Preachin’ To The Choir” says…well, nothing. The narrator spends the entire track essentially declaring his hard-living country credentials, trying to convince the audience that he’s just like them and that he’s “preaching to the choir.” (This is generally why preaching to the choir is considered a bad thing, because you’re not providing any novel information to the listeners.) This song is nothing more than a Southern Rock version of the pandering “I’m so country” tracks that Bro-Country artists have been trying to sell us for the past five years or so, and it’s no more interesting than any of those were.
Overall, “Preachin’ To The Choir” is the sonic equivalent of a glazed donut: It might entice you to give it a spin, and may even be enjoyable in the moment, but in the end, it’s nothing more than empty calories. The song is nothing more than radio filler, and if A Thousand Horses is serious about claiming the title of “Southern Rock champion” for themselves, they’re going to need to release better songs than this.
Rating: 5/10. Unless you’re desperate for some Southern Rock in your life, you’re safe to let this one pass you by.