Yes, they’re a straight up rip off of an existing group, but at least they maintain some minimal standards of quality.
I first ran across Colbie Caillat and Jason Reeves back in 2007, when the pair co-wrote “Bubbly” and Caillat rode it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. While I thought both had some potential in the music business, they quickly dropped off my radar and never really made the impact I expected (Caillat had a few other songs crack the top 25 on the Hot 100, but none since 2009). Somewhere between then and now, the pair decided to take Alan Jackson’s advice and have “Gone Country,” pairing up with their significant others (Caillat’s husband Justin Young and Reeves’s wife Nelly Joy, both who are acclaimed artists in their own right) and forming the group Gone West, with their debut single “What Could’ve Been” slated for release next week. While the group’s style and sound is a blatant copy of Lady Antebellum, the track is actually decent on its own merits, with solid efforts across the board from everyone involved.
The production here does a nice job creating a spacious, somber atmosphere to complement the tone of writing. The primary instruments here are a piano (serious alert!) and an acoustic guitar, which carry the melody while a generous application of steel guitar adds some richness and warmth to the arrangement. (The percussion is the usual mix of synthetic and real elements, including that blasted snap track, but it’s mostly restrained and unobtrusive. Some electric guitars are stuck deep in the background as well, but there’s just there to create that spacious feel.) I’m impressed with how well the arrangement sets the mood: It’s generally dark and regretful, but there are enough brighter elements (especially the steel guitar) to give the listener a sense of the good times that happened before the relationship went off the rails. There’s also some decent energy here despite the slower tempo, which keeps the song moving forward even as the narrators are looking back. It’s a nice piece of work, and when paired with Thomas Rhett’s recent “Remember You Young,” it’s a nice reminder that while country producers keep flailing and failing with sex jams, they’ve got the recipe for the reflective, nostalgic ballad down pat.
Caillat isn’t the same “Bubbly” singer that she was on her breakthrough single, but she nails her Hillary Scott impression here, right down to the strong vocal chemistry with the group’s Charles Kelley stand-in (I think that’s Young, given that Reeves’s voice is a bit weaker and more breathy by itself). The comparison isn’t perfect (Scott has more power and Kelley has more vocal texture), but it’s good enough to fool a casual listener into thinking this is a Lady A single, with Caillat and Young showing off solid range, smooth flow, and a ton of vocal charisma (The four-part harmonies on the chorus are also as good as advertised, although I can’t pick Reeves’s voice out of the quartet.) Overall, the vocalists do a nice job letting the audience share in their feelings and coming across as believable and at least a little sympathetic…
…even if the writing, in which the narrators look back on a failed relationship and pine over “what could’ve been,” gets a bit too whiny for my tastes. The track reminds me a lot of Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell’s “What Happens In A Small Town,” and annoys me for the same reason: Both narrators are all talk and no action. If you’re really this torn up about a breakup and there’s a sliver of a chance the other person feels the same way, do something about it! Go find them, confess your feelings, try to rekindle that old flame, drive around at night and make out in a pickup truck, or whatever you think might help your cause—I don’t care what you do as long as you’re being proactive! But no, we have to sit and listen to the speakers list all the things they could have done and throw out every metaphor they can think of to declare that there’s something left in the tank (“we left blood on the tracks, sweat on the saddle, fire in the hills, a bullet in the barrel, words never said…”). Nothing feels particular novel or clever here, and given what I’ve heard from Reeves and Caillat in the past, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
On the whole, though, “What Could’ve Been” is a decent opening effort from Gone West, even if the Lady A impression begs the question “why listen to these folks when Lady A is still out there?” (Then again, copying Rascal Flatts worked out pretty well for Dan + Shay, so what do I know?) Even when conceding the weakness of the writing, the vocals and production are good enough to warrant your attention, if only for a brief moment. Pop and folk may have exhausted their patience with some of the group’s members, but country music will let anyone through the door these days (Bebe Rexha, anyone?), and for once, that might not be a bad thing.
Rating: 6/10. Give this one a try and see what you think.