Song Review: Chris Young, “Raised On Country”

Twenty years from now, no one’s going to tell you they were “raised on Chris Young.”

Once upon a time, Young was one of country music’s golden voices and brightest stars, releasing deep, thoughtful songs like “Voices,” “Tomorrow,” and “The Man I Want To Be,” songs that stuck in listeners’ minds for days afterwards. Fast forward to 2019, however, and Young’s name has become synonymous with bland, generic, “fast food” songs that people hear once, say “Huh, that’s a thing,” and then immediately forget about. From “Lonely Eyes” to “Hangin’ On,” Young has spent the last few years chasing trends and releasing singles that feel as processed as American cheese, and he changes nothing on the leadoff single to his upcoming seventh studio album, “Raised On Country.” Taking his cue from Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, Young feels the need to loudly declare his “countryness” to the world, and the result is yet another forgettable waste of his talents.

I have to give the producer some credit for letting this song pass the “context test”: If you’re going to make a song that praises classic country, the song should at least kinda-sorta sound like a classic country sound. The biggest contributor to this is the 70s-sounding electric guitar that opens the song and has the most bite I’ve heard from an axe in a really long time. Behind it, the producer basically just tries not to screw things up: Lean on real percussion, add some background banjo and organ for flavor, and crank the volume up to 10 to add some energy to the choruses. Unfortunately, that energetic feel is fleeting and leaves the songs to plod along through the verses, and giving the solo to a different electric guitar (one with more bark, but no bite) doesn’t help matters. There’s some punch and attitude to this mix (especially in the dark tones of the biting guitar), but it feels overstated and unnecessary, especially since unlike Bryan and FGL, no one has been spending the last decade questioning Young’s credentials. (This attitude isn’t really reflected in the writing either, which leaves the audience wondering “y so serious?”.) In the end, it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from its peers on the radio, and winds up feeling like empty sonic calories with some reheated posturing poured on top.

Young’s “golden voice,” hasn’t gone anywhere (thank goodness), but it’s not used to great effect here. This is the sort of slow, narrow-range track that he could knock out in his sleep if he wanted, but to his credit Young declines to mail in his performance and at least tries to inject some life and passion into the narrator. However, although he adds some attitude to his delivery to match the production, his heart isn’t quite in it and he ends up lacking the edge that, say, Bryan had (again, this is with good reason: Young is basically arguing with himself, because no one is going around saying “Chris Young ain’t country!”). This isn’t really supposed to be an angry song, and thus the emphasis Young uses to drive his point home feels like overkill to me. It’s still a solid performance delivered by one of the better voices in the genre, but it’s a bit overdone for what the song is, and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the audience.

Lyrically, this is just another “I’m so country!” song that you’ve heard a million times before, once that just doesn’t make sense in the current context of Chris Young’s career. The references are the same old people everybody name-checks (Merle, Willie, Hank Jr., Alan, George…even the Joe Diffie reference was played out five years ago), the traits are the same old stereotypes everything professes (trucks, drawls, neon, whiskey, etc.), and there’s absolutely nothing here to support to pseudo-edgy attitude of Young and the production. This is supposed to be a happy song that celebrates past greats instead of addressing past slights, and no amount of darkness or anger is going to make this into anything more. The narrator was simply “raised on country,” and given Young’s current stature and position in the industry, the audience’s immediate reaction is “Tell me something I didn’t know.” A newer artist might be able to get away with singing a song like this, but a veteran singer who devotion to the genre is unquestioned? There’s no reason for him to be singing this song. As Keyshawn Johnson might say, “C’mon man!

“Raised On Country” is about as pointless a song as you’ll hear all year in country music. Everybody already knew that Chris Young was “raised on country,” so he’s left to pick a fight with himself using generic, decidedly-uncontroversial writing and an empty, run-of-the-mill sound. It’s no more memorable than the rest of Young’s recent discography, and if it this trend keeps up, Brett will wind up being the only Young in the genre before too long.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t waste your time.