Is it just me, or is this song a metaphor for Old Dominion’s entire career arc?
Once upon a time, Old Dominion stood for everything that was wrong in country music: Meatheaded misogyny, lazy songwriting, unlikable narrators and vocalists, a milquetoast Metropolitan sound, etc. Ever since the group turned the page on Meat & Candy, however, the group has demonstrated noticeable growth is nearly every phase of the game, first by taking a page from Thomas Rhett’s playbook and veering into lightweight romantic material, and then adding a bit more emotional heft to their songs on their latest self-titled album. The shift has paid some serious dividends: “One Man Band,” the group previous single, not only became the group’s sixth consecutive #1 single, but even reached the illustrious heights of the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100. They’ve flipped back to the sad side of country music with their third release from Old Dominion, “Some People Do,” and it might be their best work to date, featuring a deft mix of emotions from across the spectrum, wrapping it in a suitable sonic package, and using heartfelt charisma and flawless execution to make the audience believe every word they say.
Spoiler alert: This is a serious song, so naturally the production is sparse and piano-driven, but even among its peers like Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl,” this arrangement this mix stands out for its restraint. A washed-out, atmospheric piano carries the mail from start to finish here, with only a few short, brighter keyboard riffs and a foundational cello for backup. Guitars? Percussion? They’re nowhere to be found (which begs the question: What does the rest of the band do when this song plays?), leaving us with a slow, methodical sound that projects a tragic-feeling seriousness around the track without feeling unsettled or ominous, while still somehow giving us a silver lining to grasp on to. It’s the sort of balancing act that almost never works, and yet the instrument tones resonate with the audience on an unexpectedly-deep level, drawing them into the mood while never getting in the way of the song’s message. It’s a masterfully-constructed mix that enhances the narrator’s likeability and believeability, and I give mad props to a) whoever mixed this thing, and b) whoever had the guts to drop this as a single.
Lead singer Matthew Ramsey struggles a little bit with his flow and timing here, but he more he makes up for it with the incredible charisma he demonstrates here. The range he shows here is solid enough, but what I appreciate here is how he uses his range to affect the emotional feel of his delivery: His solemn, matter-of-fact tone on the verses projects an air of self-awareness as it tips its hat to the seriousness of the narrator’s transgressions, but his move into his higher range (and even a decent falsetto!) during the chorus, along with an accompanying volume boost, accentuates the writing’s underlying hope and optimism, giving the listener the sense that the narrator and their partner still have a chance to turn things around and live happily ever after. The repentant, clear-eyed narrator here is light years away from the selfish dudebro of “Break Up With Him,” and Ramsey’s earnestness really gives you the sense that he’s learned his lesson and wants to be a better person going forward, even if the relationship is broken beyond repair. (The sentiment here reminds me a lot of Collin Raye’s “Little Rock,” which is not an easy standard to meet.) The band tries to make up for being sidelined in the production by providing some decent-if-indistinguishable harmonies for the chorus, and the end result is a vocal performance that was a lot more moving than I expected.
On some level, the writing here is your standard “Please take me back!” song, featuring a chastened, wizened narrator who takes full responsibility for ruining the relationship and begs for one more chance to make things right because “some people do [change for the better].” What elevates this track to a higher plane are two key components:
- The narrator projects optimism, but they also know that talk is cheap and that some actions can never be taken back or apologized away. They are fully aware that their actions were reprehensible, that very few people who give them another chance in the wake of said actions, and that they’ve accepted that it may be too late to make amends. Even so, they’re here anyway but fixing the past means that much to them, and even if it’s too late for the relationship, they’re going to keep walking down this new path they’ve found and keep trying to improve as a person. Where some songs in this vein feel hollow and insincere, something about the narrator’s mindset here makes their words feel heartfelt and genuine, and you can’t help but root for them.
- Speaking of the narrator’s actions…what were they? They never actually come out and say, but they hint very heavily and what happened based on what “some people” do in the chorus:
Some people quit drinking too much
And some people quit lying
Some people decide to grow up
But it’s never good timing
Through a little bit of “show, don’t tell” magic, the lyrics indicate that this was a classic case of the narrator not knowing what they had: They were caught in the throes of the ephemeral party lifestyle, and have now realized they lost a chance at life-long happiness along the way. Couple this with how well the hook is incorporated into the writing, and you’ve got a thoughtful, tightly-constructed piece that runs circles around some of the lazy songwriting (the same sort that Old Dominion was guilty back in the day) that I’ve heard lately.
“Some People Do” isn’t just a continuation of Old Dominion’s impressive turnaround, but it’s a sign that 2020 might be a strong year for songs by country music groups (see: Little Big Town’s “Over Drinking,” Runaway June’s “Head Over Heels,” Midland’s “Cheatin’ Songs,” and Lady Antebellum’s “What I’m Leaving For”). Solid writing, great production, and a better vocal performance than Matthew Ramsey has any right to give make this a moving, impactful song that stands above anything else the group has released up to this point. Much like the narrator’s plight, some people may never forgive the transgressions of the Meat & Candy era, but if they keep this streak up, some people just might.
Rating: 8/10. If you’ve been boycotting Old Dominion, now’s the time to jump back on the bandwagon.