Song Review: Tenille Townes, “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)”

What’s the point of asking a question if you don’t care what the answer is?

I wasn’t a fan of Tenille Townes’s U.S. debut single “Somebody’s Daughter” because it didn’t know what kind of song it wanted to be: Was it the driving, energetic beat that the sound suggested, or was it the reflective commentary the lyrics seem to have in mind? I couldn’t figure it out, and apparently neither could country radio, as the song wound up with a paltry #29 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart (although it did reach #1 in Townes’s native Canada, for what it’s worth). A follow-up single “White Horse” didn’t generate enough buzz to chart at all, putting Townes in a metaphorical 0-2 hole while staring down the country music equivalent of Randy Johnson. Townes’s latest single “Jersey On The Wall” (I’m Just Asking),” however, has the opposite problem: While “Somebody’s Daughter” couldn’t decide which of many things it wanted to be, this song decided to be nothing at all. It’s a lifeless bore of a song that seems uninterested in its own story, and doesn’t convince the listener to bother paying attention.

The production is a mixed bag here, and features some of the same problems as “Somebody’s Daughter.” On the plus side, the simple, acoustic-guitar-driven arrangement keeps the song moving while staying out of the way of the writing. The tempo feels a bit too brisk for the subject matter, however, and the percussion (particularly the bass drum) is way to peppy given the circumstances, and gives the song an urgency that is totally unnecessary (it’s as if the drummer wanted to get this song over as badly as the listener does). Throw in the spacious electric guitars and strings in the background that seem too bright for the song (there’s also the piano that’s required by Nashville labor laws covering serious songs, but it’s barely noticeable), and the vibe has the same odd mix of positivity and melancholy that “Somebody’s Daughter” had, leaving the audience as confused as it was before. Townes needs to find herself a better producer fast, because whoever is behind the mixing board right now seems wholly incapable of setting a mood.

Then again, Townes has a lot trouble displaying any mood at all, giving us a performance that is sterile, stoic, and mostly devoid of any feeling. Her range is only kinda-sorta tested and her flow isn’t pushed at all, but even though this song doesn’t make a ton of demands of Townes’s charisma, she still botches the performance by delivering her lines with the detached, superficial concern of someone watching a sad TV news story about some faraway place. Seriously, if a random tragedy affects you enough driven to question God himself, put some freaking fire behind your delivery! Don’t tell us that this bothers you, show us! If you’re sad or frustrated or angry, put it out there and make us all feel that way too! Instead, we get this flat, defeated delivery that at best projects a “que sera, sera” attitude, and at worst convinces the audience that Townes doesn’t really care about this tale at all, and if she doesn’t care, why should we? (Her limp finish on the “stop that car from crashing” line, as if she loses her nerve at the last moment and is afraid to ask the question, is simply aggravating.) As much as I didn’t like her upbeat tone from “Somebody’s Daughter,” as least that song made me feel something. All I feel about this song is annoyed that it exists.

The lyrics here adopt a similar format to Clay Walker’s “A Few Questions,” although instead of asking about a wide variety of topics, the narrator asks their divine benefactor for comment mostly on a specific event involving a deadly car crash that killed a high-school star back in the day. (She also a bunch of random question about weather and planet rotation on the chorus, but they’re just throwaway softballs that obscure the main line of questioning.) There’s nothing terribly unexpected here (you’ve got the jersey, the yearbook, the mother who faith may have lapsed, etc.), but there’s at least a little bite to the lyrics: The narrator mentions how “your plan quit makin’ sense down here on Earth,” and declares that they will get an answer about this “some day” (sadly, it’s not enough to break through Townes’s cold delivery). I’m not a fan of the how the song frames the narrator as a casual bystander to this scene: If they really want to move the audience, the writers needed to make this a bit more personal, and put us in the shoes of someone who heard the deceased laugh and cry and share their deepest secrets. I think this setup could have worked with the right support, but such support is nonexistent from the sound and singer here.

“Jersey On The Wall” resembles the Jacoby Ellsbury jersey my brother hung on his wall years ago, mostly because not even he cares it’s there anymore. Whatever tearjerking potential resides in the lyrics is buried under odd production choices and a disappointing, unfeeling performance from Tenille Townes herself, and the result is a song that no one will care about in the moment or remember in the future. If Townes is serious about staking a claim in the American market, she’s going to need a lot better material than this.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.