Is it possible to be both satisfied and disappointed with a song? Because that’s where I’m at with this one.
Much like Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson spent years toiling on the Texas country scene before earning national attention with his 2016 album Gotta Be Me. While he hasn’t reached the same heights as Watson yet (“With You I Am” just barely made the Top 40, while “Wild As You” peaked at #53), he set the stage for a bigger push into the mainstream, and is now making his move with “On My Way To You,” the leadoff single for his upcoming seventh album. It’a perfectly suitable love song and it’s better than many of the songs I’ve reviewed lately, but I’m left wanting more at the end, as the song seems to set us up for a payoff that never comes.
The production begins exactly how’d you expect a Texas country love song to, starting with a restrained acoustic guitar and drum set and slowly sprinkling in some fiddle and steel guitar for flavor. (An understated electric guitar also jumps in starting on the second verse.) The result is a relaxed, lightly-romantic atmosphere, with just enough energy and emotion to keep things moving along. Halfway through, however, a loud, spacious electric guitar jumps in for a loud, in-your-face solo that messes up the track’s volume balance and completely ruins the vibe the song had established up to that point. This infusion of energy and sound is (I think) supposed to reflect the depth of the narrator’s feelings and fit naturally into the song’s momentum buildup, but the transition is so jarring that you start to wonder if you’re listening to a different song. The song proceeds to oscillate between these two moods for the remainder of the track, giving the listener a bit of sonic whiplash and leaving them wondering exactly what the song is trying to accomplish. I think taking the song in either direction would have been fine had there been some consistency, but the mix tries to do two different things and winds up doing neither.
For those unfamiliar with Johnson’s work, I would describe his voice as falling somewhere between Tim McGraw and Rodney Atkins, and he delivers a solid performance on “On My Way To You.” His flow feels a bit off at points (mostly when he tries to cram too many syllables into a line), but his delivery is mostly smooth and easy, with enough range to do what the song asks him to. Most importantly, the charisma he demonstrated on “With You I Am” is on full display here as well, and he maintains his earnestness and charm across the unnecessary production variance without breaking too much of a sweat (he sounds a bit stretched on the closing “on my way to youuuuu” lines, but he still maintains his tone well). It’s an understated performance that gets lost a bit in the inconsistent execution of the sound and writing.
Speaking of writing, the narrator’s goal here is to explain how all the trials and tribulations he went through were worth it in the end because they led up to his meeting the object of his affection. The lyrics accomplish this goal, but they do so in the most generic, laundry-list way possible. Consider the song’s opening verse:
All the boats I’ve missed
All the hell I’ve caused
All the lips I’ve kissed
All the love I’ve lost
I got kicked around
I’ve been black and blue
On my way to you
Instead of providing more details in order to make the song feel more personal (for example, in Blaine Larsen’s “Teaching Me How To Love You”), the song’s descriptions are so vague and high-level that they don’t give the listener a sense of the peaks and valleys the narrator has lived through. While Johnson has enough charisma to forge a connection between the song and its audience, by themselves the lyrics are the sort of ill-defined platitudes you’ve heard a million times before, and certainly nothing to write home about.
All in all, the strength of “On My Way To You” is based solely on Cody Johnson’s strength as a vocalist, and while the production and writing don’t provide a ton of help, they’re passable enough to make the song listenable and even revisitable. It’s a step backwards from “With You I Am,” but it’s a step up from some of the other junk I’ve heard lately (“Yada Yada Yada,” anyone?), and so while I’m left wanting more from this song, I’ll take what we get.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth hearing a few times.