Songs like this are why I love mute buttons.
Granger Smith had his fifteen minutes of fame with the generic drivel that was “Backroads Song” back in 2015, but he’s been losing his grip on the genre ever since: “If The Boot Fits” dropped to #6, “Happens Like That” only made it to #13, and his last single “You’re In It” stalled out at #36. He’s in desperation mode now, and if there’s one thing that desperate artists love to do, it’s going back to what worked before and trying to remind listeners why they enjoyed said artist in the first place. That appears to be Smith’s move here, as he’s prematurely closed the book on his When The Good Guys Win album and come out with a fresh new single “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads,” whose instrumentation and subject matter are unfortunately neither fresh nor new. This is pretty much “Backroad Song, Part 2,” and I’m no more interested in hearing another artist plow the same old ground than I was four years ago.
The production here makes some small concessions to the current genre climate (for example, the percussion eschews the drum machines in favor of a mix of hand- and stick-played drums), but this is pretty much the same guitar-and-drum mix you’ve heard a millions times before. There are some audio effects and spacious synths tossed in to give the mix an anthemic, arena-ready feel, and the drums do a decent job driving the song forward and giving it some punch, but there’s nothing unique or interesting here, and the only thing that sticks out here is just how bland and derivative the arrangement is. On top of that, the sound badly oversells the material here, as it tries to create a bright, inspirational vibe to turn a nondescript nighttime drive (not exactly the pinnacle of creativity) into a grand statement extolling the superiority of the backwoods lifestyle (sorry, still not convinced). The only reaction it gets, however, is a yawn from the listener as they fight to stay awake until the next song starts.
In my last review of Smith, I said that he “remains the same undistinguished, indistinguishable vocalist from songs past,” and to no one’s surprise, nothing’s changed this time around. In fact, it’s probably one of Smith’s weaker vocal performances because of the bad decisions made around him: The song forces him through some moderately-fast sections that extend beyond the range of his flow (he can barely get “love” out of his mouth on the hook before he’s delivering another line), and the producer pairs him with harmony vocals that clash badly with his delivery and make him sound almost robotic. The core issue, however, is still the same: He just doesn’t bring enough charisma or charm to the table to make the tale he’s telling even remotely interesting, and while the listener buys that the topic is important to Smith, they don’t see any reason to love dirt roads themselves. There are enough uninteresting male vocalists in the genre right now, and Smith doesn’t make a compelling case for keeping his roster spot.
The lyrics here are uninspired, to say the least. The narrator is in the middle of a nighttime drive (gosh, I’ve never heard that one before) reflecting on the role that dirt roads played in their life, and…that’s about it. They stretch the idea about as far as it can go via the obvious tropes (learning to drive, going on dates, and…um…just driving around a bunch), they don’t do a great job tying the roads back to the people that drive them (all we get are “rough around the edges, just like us” and “no matter their scars it doesn’t change what they are”), and they don’t provide enough detail to really let us visualize the scene (they rely on the listener to fill in the gaps for themselves). Most importantly, the writing does not make a good case for why dirt roads or the lifestyle they represent are worth celebrating: They briefly mention feeling free and slowing down life’s pace, but most of the argument is based around past activities instead of what these roads have to offer in the future. If I’m going to become a fan of muddy, washboardy right-of-ways, I’m going to need more convincing than this.
“That’s What I Love Dirt Roads” is a textbook example of radio filler, as it offers little in the way of substance or intrigue. The sound’s opening argument is overly-dramatic, the lyrics don’t hold up under cross-examination, and Granger Smith delivers a signature bland, milquetoast performance that leaves the jury unmoved. Time is arguably our most precious resource, and there’s no point in wasting it on traveling slow back roads, listening to this track, or giving Smith any more chances to resurrect his career.
Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here.