I get that “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country,” but would it kill somebody to be original once in a while?
I was one of about five people in the world that liked Easton Corbin’s last single “A Girl Like You,” and after a laborious, year-and-change climb up the country airplay charts, Mercury Records was so done with Corbin that they dropped him from their roster while the song was still in the Top Ten! After falling off the radar for nearly a year, Corbin has reemerged with a new record label (Tape Room Records, founded by notorious Nashville songwriter Ashley Gorley) and a new single “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country.” Unfortunately, Corbin remains in the same trend-chasing survival mode that he’s been in since 2014, as this song is just the latest in the slew of “I’m so country!” tracks we’ve been getting lately, plowing the same old generic ground that he and many others have been doing for years.
For a song that name-drops Alan Jackson and says to “keep it retro on the jukebox,” this song sounds a whole lot like everyone else’s guitar-and-drum-driven mixes. Sure, it’s got the rollicking electric guitar and neotraditional feel that Luke Combs and Riley Green have ridden to success recently, but it’s also pulls out a drum machine on the first verse (real drums eventually replace it, but it reappears on the final chorus) and features none of the classical country instruments you might expect (no fiddle, no steel guitar…heck, there’s not even a token banjo here). I feel like I should appreciate the arrangement (solid groove, great energy, a bright and positive vibe that projects confidence without feeling angry or defiant), but there’s a paint-by-numbers feel to this mix that I can’t shake: I’ve heard this sort of song before, so why should I listen to this particular one? The producer, sadly, doesn’t have a good answer, leaving the listener feeling a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing.
Thankfully, I’ve found that Corbin can do ‘generic’ better than most anyone else in the genre: His last album About To Get Real was a great example of Bro-Country done right, and he managed to tie together the pedal steel and prominent drum machine on “A Girl Like You” and make the whole thing feel coherent. He’s not quite as successful at making this song interesting, but he still does a few good things here, such as softening the rougher edges of the lyrics to make them more tolerable: Even when he’s asking “where did all the good ol’ boys go” and declaring that “somebody’s gotta be country,” instead of coming across less like an angry, backwards-looking rube ranting about the erosion of his culture, Corbin sounds like an earnest, easygoing guy who genuinely enjoys his rural lifestyle. That said, however, he isn’t able to do much to make the song any more interesting to listen to, and while he’s a believable narrator, he’s not convincing anyone to trade their Prius for an F-150 and drive to the nearest river to go fly fishing. While he might elevate his material to a tolerable level, that’s about as far as it goes.
Then again, maybe Corbin deserves more credit for keeping this track out of the gutter, because the more I listen to the lyrics, the more I think this could have gone wrong in all sorts of ways. The writing can be thought of as a cross between Garth Brooks’s “All Night Long” and Jason Aldean’s “They Don’t Know,” with the narrator observing the declining number of “country” folks around him and declaring that someone has keep the old ways alive (and it might as well be the narrator, because they enjoy it). Throw in some minor chords and an angrier artist, and this song could have easily been an Aldean-esque mess of bravado and belligerence with no redeeming qualities at all. As it is, however, it’s an uneventful run through the usual country checklist (trucks, tractors, parties, alcohol, map dots, fishing reels, and on and on…but at least they name-check Jackson instead of George Strait for a change), with the only really objectionable line referencing a “center-console ice-cold beer” (Note to Gorley, Dallas Davidson, and Rhett Akins: Drinking and driving is not okay). While I appreciate the fact that the narrator doesn’t feel the need to aggressively shove their country bonafides in the listener’s face, outside of taking up two parking spots with their truck (novel, but not exactly endearing), there’s nothing here you haven’t heard a million times before, and while it could have easily been a disaster, being “not bad” isn’t exactly high praise.
There’s a little to like about “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country,” but not a lot. Easton Corbin is his usual likable self and the production keeps things light and cheery, but in the end it’s like sprinkling sugar over day-old bread: It might be slightly tastier, but it’s no less stale. While I’m hoping Corbin continues exploring this avenue (albeit with some stronger material), I don’t see this track being the defibrillator that restarts the heart of his mainstream career.
Rating: 6/10. I guess it’s okay, but I was hoping for something a lot better.