Is there still space on the Riley Green bandwagon? Because I’d like to reserve a seat.
Green turned out to be more one of 2018’s more-pleasant surprises, with “There Was This Girl” bursting out of the starting gate and earning both a spot inside the top-20 of my year-end song rankings and a place atop the Mediabase chart last Sunday. Since the man has been all over my blog this week (I referenced Green and BMLG’s perplexing decision not to release an album in my discussion over when to buy a song), it only seems fitting that we close with an inspection of his follow-up single “In Love By Now.” While “There Was This Girl” offered a tantalizing glimpse of Green’s potential, this song puts his talents on full display, as he spins a sad, overdone story into a fun, enjoyable listen with his sunny outlook and strong personality.
The production here is mostly the same nondescript arrangement showcased on “There Was This Girl,” but there’s a little something extra thrown in for fans of neotraditional country music. Where Green’s debut mix had both obvious holes that extra instruments could fill and a distinct lack of traditional instrumentation, this time around the producer killed two birds with one stone by bringing in a steel guitar and giving in plenty of room to show off beside the guitars. (If you listen really hard, there’s also a banjo buried deep in the mix on the choruses and bridge.) The standout guitar work I highlighted on Green’s debut is still here as well, and just like before, its “bright tones and lively feel…create a lot of energy and really push the song forward.” (The drums lack a bit of the punch they had on “There Was This Girl,” but there’s so much else going on here that you barely notice the difference.) The decision to go with such a relentlessly bright and happy sound might be a bit perplexing given the subject matter, but the narrator and producer team up to put a positive spin on some less-than-ideal circumstances, hitting the listener with such force that they can’t help but nod along. It’s a great mix that gives Green a solid foundation to build off of.
I’ve knocked a lot of singers lately for not selling their material as well as they should, but Green has no such problems here. While both his range and flow are decent-to-solid here, it’s his earnest charisma that really steals the show here. Consider the following: This song has basically the same narrator in the same situation as Morgan Wallen’s annoying “Whiskey Glasses,” but while Wallen whines his way through that track and comes off like an unsympathetic moron, Green flips the script and celebrates the progress the other person has made after their breakup, and while his true melancholy bleeds through on a few lines scattered throughout the song, he keeps his chin up and sounds so upbeat and positive that the audience genuinely believes that he is happy for his former partner. His excellent delivery complements the production perfectly, and he demonstrates that unlike some of the more-limited hacks in the genre right now (I’m looking at you, Adam Craig), Green’s got the chops and the earnestness to stick around for a while.
Of course, Green gets a lot of help taking the high road from the lyrics, which mostly ignore the dark cloud of the narrator’s breakup and focus on the silver lining instead. Rather than wallow in self-pity and cry “why me?” like Wallen does, this narrator makes several important decisions:
- They shift the focus to the other person and speculate about all the fun things they’re doing right now, making her the hero of the story instead of portray them as the villain like most “they left me” songs.
- They admit (at least implicitly) that the breakup was their own darn fault (“I bet she’s already found somebody else and he ain’t doin’ her wrong”), and own their faults instead of trying to paper them over.
- They let just enough cracks show through their facade (for example, “I bet her heart ain’t hurting like mine”) to let the listener know that yes, they’re hurting over this breakup, but they feel strongly enough about the other person that they’re okay with the prospect of them moving on and finding true love and happiness. (It’s a much more mature take on romance than you’ll usually hear on the radio.)
While the imagery here isn’t terribly novel (window-down driving, cover bands, Ray-Bans, shotgun seats, etc.), it leaves enough hooks for the singer to take hold of the song and elevate it, and Green grabs on and performs a metaphorical clean and jerk to take the song to new heights.
“In Love By Now” didn’t really grab me the first time I heard it, but the more I listened the more impressed I became, as every facet of the track is perfectly executed to make the song much more than the sum of its parts. The lyrics were thoughtful and honest, the production stayed on the sunny side of the mountain, and Riley Green’s earnest, likable performance gave off a lot of Luke Combs-esque vibes. Based on what I’ve heard so far, Green’s got some big things ahead of him in the next few years, and I’m buying stock in him now before he really takes off.
Rating: 7/10. This one deserves a spot on your playlist.