I wouldn’t call this subtle, but I would call it solid.
Gabby Barrett is a Pennsylvania native and American Idol alum who parlayed her reality TV success into a independent single release of “I Hope,” which moved Warner Music enough to sign her to a deal this summer and re-release the song under their umbrella. With Nashville looking to rebuild their female talent pipeline after years of sending mostly men to the radio, signing Barrett seems like a smart play by taking advantage of existing development channels (although I’m not sure reality singing competitions really deserve that label) while they get their internal long-term processes in order, and while Barrett is pretty much a Carrie Underwood clone from her backstory to her sound, copying Underwood (a.k.a. one of the most/only successful women in country music over the last decade) is not a bad play, and “I Hope” is an attitude-laden, well-executed track that gives off some serious “Before He Cheats” vibes.
I’m not a huge fan of the way this song opens, with a pair of electric guitars crying for help as they’re drowning in a sea of audio effects, but the production quickly rights itself and turns into an angry, vengeful mix that is the best possible blend of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More” and Jason Aldean’s “Rearview Town.” While the song is instrumentally closer to Ballerini’s tune (the heavy snap track, the not-quite-as-heavy guitar work, the less-busy overall arrangement), the darker tones create a raw, bleaker feel more in line with Aldean’s tune. Unlike the vocals, there’s some surface-level placidity with the sound (this is especially true on the verses, but even the chorus doesn’t hit with you wall of noise that you anticipate) but you can tell there’s a lot burning just underneath it. It does a nice job supporting and enhancing the writing, and goes a long way towards sharpening the track’s impact on the listener.
Vocally, Barrett pretty much is Carrie Underwood, much like Shay Mooney is basically the next Gary LeVox. Barrett may have a slightly more-nasal tone on the verses, but when she lets loose on the choruses, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two American Idol alums. Where the production hits a bit softer, however, Barrett brings a real edge to the song, perfectly capturing the spirit of a narrator that is wounded and lashing out at her ex. While the delivery doesn’t quite mesh with the lyrics (the writing kinda-sorta tries to hide where it’s going à la something like Jaron And The Long Road To Love’s “Pray For You,” but you know exactly where this thing is going a few lines into Barrett’s performance), there’s so much passion and charisma behind the vocals that you can’t help but pull for them and start wishing ill will on the ex yourself. Country music has taken itself way too seriously over the last couple of years (note how not happy Aldean always sounds on his supposed party tracks), but well-placed, justifiable anger can be a powerful force in music, and Barrett absolutely owns that look here.
The writing itself is the story of someone who’s been unceremoniously dumped by their partner, and is desperately hoping for the new person the cheater’s life to return the favor. The song makes some effort to hide its true meaning under a bunch of courteous platitudes, but even if we throw out the fact that the tone set by everything else here gives the game away, the good tidings are laid on so heavily that you just know the deke is coming. These are the same lovey-dovey moments you hear from every love song ever (although admittedly that’s part of the point here), and the song’s true power lies in the fact that it leaves more than enough for the production and performer to dig in and turn the track into something memorable. It’s a song with a slow, fairly obvious windup, but it manages to work because everything around it comes together to save it from itself.
“I Hope” isn’t going to win any Pulitzer prizes with its obvious setup, but it’s a great example a how a song can be elevated by everything around it. The production does a good job establishing a bad mood, and Gabby Barrett’s visceral performance behind the mic really breathes life into the song and makes the anger of a jilted lover come alive. Barrett seems like the sort of singer that Nashville should have been developing over the last decade, but given where the path of Barrett’s spiritual successor has led Underwood, this works too.
Rating: 7/10. It’s worth checking out.