Yesterday, Justin Moore’s “Kinda Don’t Care” was the best song I’d heard in two months. Now, it might not even be the best song I’ve heard this week!
Danielle Bradbery exploded onto the national scene by winning season four of The Voice in 2013…and promptly disappeared back into oblivion, as radio gave her debut single a lukewarm reception and flat-out rejected everything else. Just like Scotty McCreery, however, there’s a reason Bradbery rolled over her Voice competition, and it’s a golden voice that is completely unrestrained by genre. On “Sway,” the lead single for her upcoming album, Bradbery ditches her past country trappings in favor of a soulful R&B groove, and the result easily dethrones Lauren Alaina’s “Doin’ Fine” as the best female performance I’ve heard all year.
The production, as stated earlier, is a stark departure from the mixes on Bradbery’s debut album. Gone are the banjos, fiddles, and even the acoustic guitars, with only a slick electric guitar and a retro-sounding organ brought in to replace them. The real drums are still there, but only just barely: They are minimized in favor of a drum machine, and don’t jump in until the end of the first chorus. Normally a sonic shift like this would disappoint me, but the resulting mix is actually pretty restrained, and the groove it establishes is perhaps the best I’ve heard in country music all year. Even labeling this as Metropolitan doesn’t feel quite right—this is an old-school R&B jam, and the atmosphere it establishes is fun, dance-inducing, and even kind of sexy. Despite their years of practice, guys like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett can only dream of a mix that works this well and sounds this good.
Bradbery herself may have come off as a Martina McBride clone on her past work, but she demonstrates her versatility by channeling her inner Meghan Trainor/Corinne Bailey Rae on this track. (The Bailey Rae influence is particularly strong here, given her similar the song’s subject matter is to “Put Your Records On.”) The transition sounds effortless and suffers no drop in quality whatsoever, a testament to the power of Bradbery’s vocals. Her voice maintains its tone through her entire range (there’s a touch of raspy breathiness at the lower end, but it only adds a dash of extra sultriness), and her flow is as smooth as molasses. Basically, this paragraph is just a verbose way of saying that Bradbery sounds fantastic on this track, suggesting that there may be a place for her in the R&B and adult contemporary genres if country radio continues to ignore her.
The lyrics…well the story here is basically “Don’t worry, be happy, just dance.” They’re not novel (see: “Put Your Records On”), not clever, and honestly not that interesting. The truth, however, is that this doesn’t matter: This song is more about the feel of the music than anything else, and if the writing can convey some sort of vaguely positive message in the meantime, it’s an added bonus. While an argument could be made that the song encourages shallow escapism along the lines of Chris Janson’s “Fix A Drink,” “Sway” is more palatable because its message is more “keep your chin up” than “drink your problems away.” In the end, the lyrics stay out of the way of Bradbery and the production and don’t disrupt the song’s momentum.
Overall, “Sway” is a great song by a great singer who deserves way more praise and attention than she’s getting. Country radio has historically been fairly hostile to female singers, so perhaps “Sway” is Danielle Bradbery’s declaration that she doesn’t need it to succeed. This song has “crossover/Top 40 potential” written all over it, and the genre may well live to regret giving her the cold shoulder.
Rating: 8/10. An absolute must-hear track.