Song Review: Drew Baldridge, “Middle Of Nowhere Kids”

To quote Drew Baldridge, “there’s gotta be more than this.”

Someone needs to sit down and have a long talk with Baldridge about his future, because country radio has made it very clear that it’s just not into him. Of the seven prior single releases Wikipedia credits Baldridge with since 2013, only three have even made the Billboard airplay chart, with his highest peak being a laughable #48. He’s tried riding trend that’s come around, from “Dance With Ya” during the Metropolitan era to “Senior Year” during this current wave of nostalgia, and he’s even hit on a few good songs in the process (“Rebound” with Emily Weisband is my personal favorite), but after six years of trying, nothing he’s thrown at the wall has managed to stick. Despite this track record, Baldridge appears determined to keep trying as long as the world will let him, which brings us to his latest single “Middle Of Nowhere Kids.” It’s basically an “I’m so country!” declaration disguised as a nostalgia trip, which means you’ve heard everything here a hundred times before, and Baldridge provides absolutely no reason for us to listen or care this time around.

The production here is distinguishable only by how indistinguishable it is from everything else on the radio. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An acoustic guitar and simple beat for the verses and bridge, some in-your-face electric guitars and a real drum set to pump up the noise everywhere else, and…yeah, that’s pretty much it. The mix itself is caught in a tricky balancing act: The volume is cranked up to inject some energy into the song and try to give it a celebratory feel, but it’s overwhelmed by the darker instrument tones and frequent minor chords that emphasize the loss felt in the aftermath of leaving one’s hometown. It’s trying to be cheerful and regretful all at the same time, and in this case the dark overwhelms the light and leaves the listener with the impression that the “rearview town” the narrator left isn’t worth reminiscing about at all. It’s a mess of contradictions that plays it too safe to be memorable and isn’t able to capture the true tension of the writing.

Six years into his mainstream career, Baldridge remains nothing more than just another faceless young male singer off of Nashville’s assembly line. His technical abilities are good but not great (and the song really doesn’t test them anyway), and his vocal tone remains decidedly nondescript (stick anyone else behind the mic, and this song would sound the exact same). He’s got enough charisma to feel believable as a “middle-of-nowhere kid” himself, but he doesn’t do a good job selling the story and doesn’t convince the audience that this mystical isolated hometown is actually worth missing (part of this is the writing’s fault, which we’ll get to later). His generally-downcast tone stays in lockstep with the production, and he comes across as a guy who’s grasping at straws and trying to project his country cred in an effort to connect with his audience. As a card-carrying member of the middle-of-nowhere kid club who harbors little goodwill towards my hometown, I wouldn’t call Baldridge authentic; I’d call him a liar.

The writing tries to drum up nostalgia within its audience by contrasting the images of a young person eager to leave their hometown behind with a slightly-older version of that person looking back fondly on their experience there. The first problem is that the imagery is exactly as stock as you’d expect it to be: Chevrolets, beer, first kisses, home teams, hay bales, and so on. The second is that the town in question is never fleshed out enough to make it worth missing: Instead of all of the interesting quirks that give the place character, all we here about are “the dust and the wind and the red on your skin and that one stop light” (and referring to it as a “first kiss town” doesn’t mean a whole lot). I know the track is intended to be vague to connect with as wide an audience as possible, but the reason people call a town a “map dot” is because there’s no good reason to care that it exists, and painting a picture with such a broad brush doesn’t make the audience anymore interested in seeing it. It’s too reliant on the listener to fill in the details and make the song meaningful, and if you don’t have those details handy, the song is as generic and bland as its middle-of-nowhere subject material.

“Middle Of Nowhere Kids” is nothing more than a lazy attempt to use nostalgia and rural pride to draw attention to Drew Baldridge, and with so many of these songs clogging up the airwaves, it simply doesn’t do enough to justify its existence. The boring production, cookie-cutter lyrics, and Baldridge’s utterly replaceable performance give the listener no reason to pay attention, and if this is the best song Baldridge and Cold River can come up with after all this time, it’s time to give his spot in the genre to somebody else.

Rating: 4/10. No thank you.