Remember when Thomas Rhett floated the idea of his dad Rhett making a comeback on Life Changes? Suddenly, that idea doesn’t seem so farfetched.
The latest trend in country music appears to be the comeback, as a whole bunch of older, mostly-forgotten artists have suddenly reappeared to try to reestablish their relevance and popularity, with varying degrees of success. In the last year or so, we’ve seen Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, David Lee Murphy, Sugarland, and even Taylor Swift come out of mothballs to release new singles and remind folks that they still exist. While this behavior is not new or necessarily bad (Jackson and Nelson, for example, released some of the best singles I’ve heard this year), these songs tend to fall flat when an artist tries to update their classic style to make them sound trendy and hip (see: Twain and Murphy). The latest offender is Rodney Atkins, an artist who had a brief run of success in the late 2000s, but who hadn’t really been heard from in the last six or seven years. He resurfaced recently to team up with the historic Fisk Jubilee Singers to release “Caught Up In The Country,” and ugh, this might be the worst of the bunch. It’s a poorly-written, poorly-executed, awkward-sounding mess that is neither interesting nor meaningful.
Things go off the rails from the word go, as the song opens with a boring synthetic beat and a melody-carrying guitar that sounds more like a MIDI instrument than a real one. Some piano and steel guitar stabs are tossed randomly into the background (eventually a token banjo shows up too), and the choruses add more drums and volume so suddenly (a brief beat drop followed by a wall of noise) that the track starts to sound like a Chainsmokers album cut reject. I can’t stress enough just how synthetic this song sounds (nothing irritates me more than a song that claims to celebrate “country” with a mix this urban and synthetic), the frequent minor chords nullify whatever positive vibes the song tries to generate, and it doesn’t even try to complement the writing. The atmosphere is best described as incoherent and inconsistent, as the song bounces from kinda-generic country song to rave-ready dance track to church choir clap-along for no real reason. It’s nothing more than empty sonic calories, and whoever produced this monstrosity should never be allowed to touch a mixing board ever again.
Atkins proved himself to be a capable, charismatic performer on songs like “Watching You” and “Cleaning This Gun,” and there are a few things to like about his delivery here. For example, his flow is decent (and a lot better than I would have predicted), and he does a tolerable job maintaining a consistent delivery across the inconsistent production. Three things, however, prove to be his undoing here:
- The key is way too low for his voice, making him sound raspy and toneless during parts of the verses.
- The second verse opens with talk-singing (because of course there’s freaking talk-singing here), which compounds the low-key issue and makes my ears hurt whenever I hear it.
- The slick, synthetic percussion make Atkins’s claims of being a tried-and-true country boy sound hollow and unconvincing. After all, nothing screams “caught up in the country” like an uptempo EDM beat, right?)
As much as Atkins wants to show you he’s a by-gosh country boy, the only thing he looks like here is a trend-hopping sell-out. (As for the Fisk Jubilee Singers, they sound indistinguishable from a generic studio choir and add nothing of interest to the track.)
And then we have the lyrics…good grief, where do I even begin with these? Let’s start with the opening lines, which you can also find in the dictionary under the term “laundry list”:
Square bales, flatbeds
Sky blue, barn redWind chimes, front porch
Good dogs, wood floors
Work boots, open doors
It doesn’t get any better from here, as the imagery is beyond generic (Creek bends! Fields of gold! John Deere green!) and the song never progresses beyond the narrator making vague “I love the country!” statements. (Did it really require three songwriters to write this drivel?) It’s not clever, it’s not interesting, and compared to other fluffy summer tracks like “Winnebago” and “Outta Style,” it’s not even fun. It’s just a lousy excuse for a country song.
How bad is “Caught Up In The Country”? It’s “worst song I’ve heard this year” bad. It’s “I’d rather listen to LoCash or Jake Owen” bad. It’s “most visceral reaction I’ve had to a song since Dustin Lynch’s last single” bad. With its awkward and aimless production, lazy songwriting, and Rodney Atkins’s subpar vocal performance, this song has earned its place alongside Owen, Lynch, and Jordan Davis in my Hall of Infamy.
Rating: 2/10. Yuck.