Song Review: Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter”

I’m confused: Is this song supposed to make me feel happy or sad?

Tenille Townes is an Alberta native who came to Nashville five years ago looking for success in the US market, but only recently joined a major label when she signed with Columbia Nashville last April. This signing led to the release of her latest EP Living Room Worktapes and eventually to the release of her debut single “Somebody’s Daughter.” While it attempts to raise some moderately-tough questions about society, it ends up being a confusing mess of a track whose upbeat production completely contradicts the writing, and it just doesn’t dig deep enough to make the listener care about the subject.

It’s a good thing Townes is dumping her EP producer for the veteran Jay Joyce on her eventual album, because whoever put this mix together either wasn’t actually listening to the lyrics or thought the “sad song sung happily” approach that Thomas Rhett used on “Crash And Burn” would be a good fit here. (It’s not.) The song opens with a bright, energetic acoustic guitar (and maybe a mandolin?) backed by a hard-driving percussion line with both real and synthetic elements, and outside of a background electric guitar that pops up on the choruses and bridge, that’s basically all you get. The mix has a hopeful, almost uplifting quality to it, which makes absolutely no sense for a song talking about someone caught in a hopeless situation. It’s like the mix is throwing a party when partying is the last thing you want to do, and it leaves the audience confused as to whether they should feel happy or sad when the song is over.

Vocally, Townes sounds a lot like Miranda Lambert, with a little bit of Maren Morris thrown in for good measure (although that might be due to the track’s echoey vocal effects that bring “My Church” to mind). The song doesn’t test her flow much, but she demonstrates decent range and the song’s occasional high notes without any trouble. The problem is that much like the production, Townes’s tone is too upbeat to convey any empathy towards the woman holding the cardboard sign, and the narrator doesn’t come across as terribly interested in the sign holder’s plight. Sure, there’s some token interest/awkwardness that’s piqued by the woman’s constant presence, but Townes’s delivery gives off the impression that the sign holder is forgotten five seconds after the light turns green. As a result, the listener isn’t inclined to care any more about the other person than the narrator does, and just moves on to the next song.

In truth, the writing is just as culpable as Townes (if not more so) in minimizing the audience’s interest in the other woman. The story itself tells the tale of the sign holder the narrator sees at the same traffic light every day, and who that person might have been to other people in the past (a best friend, a sister, and of course “somebody’s daughter”). The problem is that the items the narrator chooses to focus on are about the least compelling ones you could think one, as they waste a bunch of time wondering what her name might be and bringing up a bunch of bland, boilerplate imagery (lemonade stand, high school dances, etc.). If the writers really wanted to make a point about something here, they would have asked some tougher questions:

  • What circumstances drove the sign holder to the street corner? Were they laid off, evicted, or driven to bankruptcy?
  • Are they trapped in the throes of addiction?
  • Do they have a place to stay? Where is their next meal coming from?
  • Are they trying to support other people as well as themselves?

Inquiries like these could have shed some light on real societal problems and perhaps even moved the audience to some sort of remedial action. Instead, the song pulls its punches and focuses on things that feel trivial and superficial, showing just enough concern to ease the narrator’s conscience and keep them (and their listeners) from actually doing something substantial.

In the end, “Somebody’s Daughter” is a confusing cop out of a song, and doesn’t do enough to make whatever point it was aiming for. Both the production and writing are plagued by poor choices, and Tenille Townes herself doesn’t do enough to interest me in hearing more of her material. The song shares one unfortunate thing with the down-on-their-luck sign holder it describes, as both are ignored by the rest of the world as they drive on by.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

One thought on “Song Review: Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter”

  1. I really love this song. I love the fact that I actually understood what this song was about in the first listen. I love the hooks. To hell with technical critique, I loved this song first listen! ; very rare. I love the fact that I wasn’t sad or happy but emotional in the sense that it touched on something deep. I know the song was meant for us to be aware of who she was but Perhaps I celebrated that I’m doing my best as a father; and was made aware to always try my best? I felt a little angst towards those who do not try, as a father, best friend, mother, ect. For a new, young, upcoming Canadian artist this is absolutely fantastic! Its a great debut and I can’t wait to hear more!! 10/10
    (ps. Dirks Bentley says that it’s awesome too, keep pulling the heart strings kid!!).

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