Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it always makes for an interesting country song.
Lauren Alaina burst onto the scene as an American Idol runner-up back in 2011, but her moment in the spotlight seemed to pass quickly, as her first five singles failed to crack the Top 25 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Luckily for Alaina, the sixth time turned out to be the charm, as her 2016 single “Road Less Traveled” got some traction on the radio and eventually became her first No. 1 song. Alaina is now looking to capitalize on her momentum with “Doin’ Fine,” the third single off of her Road Less Travelled album, and despite the crazy story contained within the song, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about her chances.
The production on “Doin’ Fine” feels very similar to “Road Less Traveled:” Both use a slow-rolling banjo and some restrained electric guitars to carry the melody (with some steel guitar in the background for flavor), and both follow a similar “sparse/restrained verses, loud/busy chorus” pattern. “Doin’ Fine” leans more on real drums than its predecessor (in fact, once you get past the opening you never notice the drum machine again), and while I think the change is a net positive, the drums are a bit too loud in the mix, and when the cymbals start crashing they drown out the rest of the instruments. Most importantly, however, “Doin’ Fine” cuts out many of the minor chords that “Road Less Traveled” relied on, establishing a more positive and uplifting tone than its predecessor (and that’s saying something, given that “Road Less Traveled” was a follow-your-dreams power anthem). The tone stands in contrast to the darker content of the writing (more on that later), giving the listener the sense that the clouds above the singer’s head are parting, and that despite what happened in the past, the future is looking bright. Setting a contrast like that can be risky, but this mix sticks the landing.
Alaina’s vocals are reminiscent of her fellow Idol alum Carrie Underwood, and while she can’t quite match the raw power of Underwood’s voice, she matches up well in nearly every other category. She demonstrates good range and a decent flow here, and despite some of the song’s crazier statements, Alaina is charismatic and believable enough to sell the song (of course, it helps that this song was co-written by Alaina and based on a true story). With country music facing its habitual dearth of female artists, Alaina’s is a voice that is both enjoyable and sorely needed.
Where the song stands out the most, is in the writing, as it gives us a glimpse into some of the craziness of Alaina’s upbringing. The opening line “Daddy got sober, Mama got his best friend” elicits the kind of “wait, what?” reaction that makes people pay attention, and while the imagery is a tad bit vague (and I wish Alaina had dived even deeper into her father’s demons and perhaps shed some light on where they originated from), the song still does a nice job of threading the needle between conveying the stark reality of Alaina’s world while also making clear that she’s dealing with it and is in a good place for the moment. It’s the sort of raw, honest take on the aftermath of a broken relationship that connects with listeners, especially when it’s paired with well-crafted production and a strong, earnest voice.
In short, “Doin’ Fine” is a great-sounding track that stands out from it peers and should make the most of the momentum Alaina earned from “Road Less Traveled.” If this track can replicate the success of its predecessor, Alaina may still have to deal with the legacy of her past, but her present and future will be looking mighty fine.
Rating: 7/10. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.