When I listen to Lee Brice’s “Boy,” I can’t help but feel like something’s missing. The question is, which one of us is missing something, Brice or me?
I’ve had mixed feelings about Brice’s singles in the past: For every enjoyable track like “I Drive Your Truck” or “I Don’t Dance,” there’s a clunker like “Parking Lot Party” or “That Don’t Sound Like You.” “Boy” is Brice’s first new release in two years and serves as the leadoff single for his upcoming album, and it’s been getting some pretty decent critical buzz, even from the country traditionalist crowd. To my ears, however, the song is lacking that one critical piece that keeps it from resonating with me, and ends up sounding just okay as a result.
The production is incredibly sparse and restrained, with only an acoustic and electric guitar to carry the melody and a quiet (real) drum set keeping time. Despite the presence of a steel guitar that provides some background tones and a nice instrumental on the bridge, there’s a distinctly modern tone to the instruments here: The electric guitar is moody instead of meaty, and the snare drum sounds about as synthetic as a real drum can get. However, the mix succeeds in setting a calm, reflective tone that is easy on the ears while also matching the song’s subject matter very well. It’s easily the best part of the song.
I wouldn’t call Brice the strongest vocalist in the world, but he really seems to struggle on this song. He runs into trouble a few times on the verses when the song seems to drop below his range, but when he tries to infuse some power into his performance during the choruses and bridge, his delivery becomes labored and his voice sounds more hoarse and raspy than usual (thankfully, he doesn’t quite reach Kip Moore levels of raspiness). While Brice has delivered some charismatic, believable performances on his past material, he doesn’t quite reach the level of earnestness needed here to really sell the track, and he doesn’t compare favorably to his competition (Zac Brown sings circles around Brice on “My Old Man”). While Brice’s performance here is still passable, it detracts from the sort of impact the song is trying to make.
The lyrics of “Boy” depict a father telling his newborn son what to expect from his life in the future, and touching on the cycle from being a boy to being the father of one. While the writing features some confusing lines (if the kid is supposedly an infant, can you really tell him that “That fire in your eyes is twenty counties wide” and “you weren’t built for backing down?”), it’s a nice story overall and a huge step up from the lyrics of a lot of songs on the radio today. However, the song is obviously aiming for an emotional reaction (either via nostalgia or current experience), and while it might hit a parent right in the feels, it completely misses the mark for anyone else. This is where my initial “missing” question comes into play: As a childless adult, I’m know I supposed to feel all mushy and sentimental when I hear this song, but…well, I just don’t. Is this because Brice doesn’t do enough to covey the song’s emotion, or because I simply don’t have the life experience to properly relate to the song? In the end, unfortunately, it’s Brice who pays the price for not connecting with his audience, regardless of the reasons why.
Overall, “Boy” is a decent song, but your mileage may vary based on your own experience. If you’ve raised a son, or are currently raising a son, this song will probably move you. If you haven’t, well, it’s still above-average compared to the rest of the songs on the radio today, but it’s nothing special.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few listens to see how it impacts you.