Song Review: Riley Green, “There Was This Girl”

Dear Carlton Anderson: This is the sort of song I wanted from you.

Riley Green is an Alabama native who inked a deal with the Big Machine label group earlier this year, and he finally made the leap from social media curiosity to radio airplay contender by releasing “There Was This Girl” on…wait, this thing isn’t officially out for another week? It’s the first untested artist I’ve seen get noticeable airplay since Midland, and after a few listens, I think I see what people are excited about. Despite the fact that nothing’s particularly new here (it’s essentially a more traditional, less wild-and-crazy version of Chris Cagle’s “Chicks Dig It”), the pieces fit together so well that they become more than the sum of their parts, and Green demonstrates just enough talent to interest me in hearing more.

The production caught me a bit off guard, as it gives off a rollicking neotraditional vibe (similar to Luke Combs’s “When It Rains It Pours”) despite completely eschewing the two instruments—i.e, the fiddle and steel guitar—that are most associated with that sound. (There’s a mandolin floating around in the mix, but they don’t really do a whole lot with it.) Most of the credit for this feat goes to the electric guitar driving the melody, which uses its bright tones and lively feel to create a lot of energy and really push the song forward. The drums have some kick and the acoustic guitar helps fill in some gaps on the verses, but mostly it’s the electric axe that sets a positive tone and gives the song a toe-tapping groove. Whoever put this thing together deserves a lot of credit for taking what could have been just another guitar-and-drum mix and really making it stand out and shine.

To be honest, Green sounds pretty nondescript vocally—I’d compare his voice to Morgan Wallen (who’s already a Tyler Hubbard clone), and neither his range or flow are shown off much here. However, his saving grace here (and it may stem from sounding similar to devil-may-care party types like Wallen and Hubbard) is his earnestness: His plays the part of the narrator perfectly, injecting just the right amount of wonder/disbelief when speaking for others and taking a simple “you know how it is” approach when questioned.  Unlike his soundalikes, though, Green doesn’t go full-on Bro here, and keeps things classy instead of sleazy (and most importantly, selling that stance to the listener). If only Wallen and Hubbard could transmit so much emotional depth in their own songs…

The lyrics essentially mash several songs together into one piece: It starts with the time-honored trope of “guys will do anything for a woman,” but instead of taking the idea to the extreme as Cagle did in “Chicks Dig It,” the song pivots to address the narrator’s musical beginnings similar to Luke Combs’s “She Got The Best Of Me,” and then takes a more-traditional turn towards the time-honored trope of marrying the woman at the end of the song. Given the Bro-Country influence that doesn’t seem to be fading very fast, it was actually kind of nice to see the song give us a head fake with its “girl in a truck” setup and then pivot all the way to buying an engagement ring. Even though nothing here was really novel and the imagery felt so boilerplate, I liked how the song kept defying the listener’s expectations and gave us something that actually resembled story progression (the narrator goes from generic Bro to devoted fiancé). It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s a positive tale with a positive sound and a passable singer, and right now, I’ll take it.

I’d stop short of calling “There Was This Girl” a great song and Riley Green a great singer, but it’s a decent combination of artist and material that I wouldn’t mind hearing more on the radio. It’s a testament to how quality material can help or hinder an artist: Although Carlton Anderson comes across as a much better vocalist, I’d listen to Green’s debut tune ten times before I’d put up with “Drop Everything.” I’m a little unsure about whether or not Green has a future in the genre, but at least he’s being put in the best possible position to succeed.

Rating: 6/10. Give this a try and see how it suits your ears.