Don’t look now, but that object getting bigger in your mirror is Scotty McCreery’s career.
McCreery has become the Joey Logano of country music: Burst onto the scene with a lot of hype, failed to live up to his potential, got booted to the curb, and defied the odds to find life in his second act as a performer. Since making the gutsy call to release “Five More Minutes” to radio without label support, McCreery has topped the charts with back-to-back singles (“Five More Minutes” and “This Is It”), earned himself another record deal, and now site squarely in the middle of the intersection of commercial viability and critical palatability. I’ve been mostly okay with the output of the “new” McCreery, and that includes his latest single “In Between,” the third from his breakthrough Seasons Change album. It’s a bright, positive track that deviates just enough from the “I’m so country!” script to be more interesting and enjoyable than its competition, while still setting him up for continued radio success.
“In Between” is actually an apt description of the production here: The intro features both a steel guitar and clap track (but not much of either one), but quickly pivots to the classic guitar-and-drum mix that everyone else relies on. Despite the standard instrumentation, however, something feels different about this mix: The tones here are relentlessly bright and optimistic, and the whole thing is anchored by a warm acoustic guitar (with a few banjo notes tossed in for flavor). Even with its moderate tempo and measured volume, there’s a fair amount of energy here, and it combines with the positive vibes to push the track forward and entice the listener to stop and listen. While I hesitate to call this mix memorable, I would definitely call it pleasant and enjoyable to hear, and in the end, that’s all that really matters.
McCreery deserves some serious props for pulling an Easton Corbin and sanding the edges off of what is primarily an attitude-laden trope. Most country singers deliver a personality-defining song like this with a puffed-out chest and an angry scowl on their face, reveling in their uncompromising lifestyle and daring the rest of the world to speak ill of it. (HARDY is the poster child for angry defiance right now, but to some extent Luke Bryan, Kip Moore, and even Chris Young fit this category right now. LANco is going down this road as well, but that’s a review for another day.) McCreery, in contrast, takes a much more inclusive approach: He doesn’t draw a line in the sand between himself and the audience, but instead extends a hand and invites them to see things from his perspective, explaining himself with such positivity than you can practically feel him smiling behind the mic. McCreery’s technical prowess may be unquestioned at this point (easy range, smooth flow), but it’s his earnest, charismatic delivery that really impresses me on this track. I’d rather pour hot wax in my ears than listen to a singer tell me how “authentic” and “country” they are, but I’ll make an exception for this track.
Of course, the song is called “In Between” for a reason, and the lyrics deserve some credit for elevating this beyond just another “I’m so country!” song. Sure, some of the usual (Bro) “country” images are present here (ball caps, small towns, steel-toed boots, muddy jeans, and of course Jim Beam), but there are also a lot of them that aren’t: Trucks, tobacco, bonfires, objectifying descriptions of women…oh, and the narrator isn’t gloating about peeing anywhere with impunity. In fact, this is the first song I’ve heard in a loooong time that makes allowances for having some decidedly-non-country elements, such as (gasp!) being a “little bit of big city concrete”! While the narrator is not really as middle-of-the-road as the “in between” hook would have you believe, they at least concede that there’s more to them than dirt roads and alcohol (which is more than anyone else in the genre is willing to admit right now), and McCreery’s strong performance does a great job selling the story to the audience.
“In Between” is a fitting title for this song, because that’s where I’d put it among Scotty McCreery’s resurgent discography: It’s a step up from “This Is It,” but a shade below “Five More Minutes.” As a declaration of countriness that’s actually pleasant to listen to, however, it certainly stands head and shoulders above most of its peers, thanks to positive production, softer writing, and an excellent vocal effort from McCreery himself. The NASCAR comparison may not fit quite right now that Logano has won a championship (McCreery isn’t dethroning Luke Combs anytime soon), but if McCreery keeps this up, his future could be quite bright indeed.
Rating: 6/10. Try this one on for size.