Dear country music: Just stop it already.
Frank Ray is a Texas native who spent a decade in law enforcement before switching careers, spending some time on the Lone Star music circuit, and eventually signing with BBR Music Group back in May. On the surface, this signing is an intriguing one: On top of his unorthodox road to Nashville, he cites a wide range of genres as his influences, including Latin music (country music really hasn’t seen much influence from south of the border since the days of Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez, outside of maybe Rick Trevino) that could being a unique perspective to his music. Instead, Nashville stuck him on the same assembly line they use for all their new male artists, and the result is “Country’d Look Good On You,” a formulaic sex jam wannabe cribbed straight from the Metropolitan playbook that the listener forgets thirty seconds after it stops playing. It’s a terrible choice for a debut single, and it’s worth exploring just how Nashville keeps getting stuff like this so wrong.
Let’s start with the production, and you already know what’s coming: There are guitars (acoustic and electric), there’s percussion (real and synthetic), there’s a keyboard floating around in the background, and that’s pretty much it. (The video mentions a ‘slide guitar,’ but good luck finding it in this mix). The guitars are exactly the sort of slick-sounding axes that dominated the genre a few years ago, and the overall tone of the arrangement ranges from neutral to serious, a common tactic meant to convey the depth of the narrator’s feelings but usually winds up making them seem sleazy and creepy instead. Instead of feeling sensual or romantic, the song feels bland and cookie-cutter, mostly because you’ve heard the same darn tune a million times in the last few years, and it’s no more sexy now than it was then. The question I have when faced with a song like this is “Why?” Why, when faced with a sea of songs that all sound the same, does Nashville try to make artists blend in instead of stand out? Instead of bringing a fresh take to the radio to get people to stop and pay attention, it’s like they’re trying to slip the artists into the playlist and hope that no one notices. It just doesn’t seem like a winning strategy long-term (the artists never give people a reason to remember or care about them), and the result here, just like always, is a soundalike track that most people will never even realize they’re listening to.
The lyrics have the same problem: The narrator meets somebody at an upscale locale, proclaims that the “country” lifestyle would flatter them, and ultimately tries to get them out of their clothes and “in my shirt.” Once again, it’s the millionth time you’ve heard a song like this in the last half-decade, and because demonstrating your country street cred means using all the right buzzwords, we get the same old tired offer of nighttime drives down two-lane back roads, cowboy cosplay complete with faded jeans and boots, and truck-bed makeout sessions (which sounds super uncomfortable which you think about it; truck beds tend to have uneven textures and very little give). Toss in a little holier-than-thou hubris (why would hanging out by the county line automatically be better than a fancy establishment? I mean, at least there’s probably decent food in the fancy joint), follow the continuing trend towards no-strings-attached engagements (which always call the narrator’s motives into question), and voila, instant country single! I’ll give the writers credit for avoiding any mention of alcohol (that counts as progress these days), but otherwise it just feels like everybody in country music is assembling the same five-piece puzzle like a preschooler, erasing anything that might make the artist distinct or ear-catching. It makes the song far too easy to tune out and ignore, and it’s quickly forgotten when the next song starts playing.
So where does this leave Frank Ray as an artist? Honestly, he seems like a pretty talented guy: He shows off some serious range with his falsetto, he’s got enough flow to handle the rapid-fire sections of the lyrics with ease, and his maintains the tone and texture of his delivery throughout the entire song. It’s hard to gauge his vocal power from this track, but he seems to have the kind of voice that could really make listeners sit up and pay attention if he wanted to. Unfortunately, he’s trapped within the constraints of the song, and it fails him on two fronts:
- The song doesn’t push him at all, and he mostly stays within a narrow vocal range that makes him indistinguishable from most of the artists in the genre today.
- The song casts him as a sleazy, not-terribly likeable narrator, so he falls into the same trap that Jake Owen is forever falling into, where whatever charisma he demonstrates ends up working against him by making him more believable (and thus unlikeable) in the role.
Ray seems like the kind of artist who could lean on his vocal talent to strike out in a different direction (his “Streetlights” song was a half-step along this path), but the Nashville machine turns him into a mediocre finished product instead (put any number of current artists behind the mic, and the song sounds the exact same), and we’re left with a “meh” performance that’s better off forgotten.
“Country’d Look Good On You” is ultimately another bland product of a town that’s feeling very devoid of creative spark or variety right now, and I’m honestly having a hard time blaming Frank Ray for any of this. At the moment, this is the game an artist has to play to make a name for themselves, even as the song tries best to not make a name for itself through soundalike production and cookie-cutter writing. If Nashville’s going to fix what ails it, a good starting point would be this: Treat every artist as an individual, bring a bit more variety into the writing room and the producer’s booth, and ask a simple question: How do we make a song go from anyone’s song to a song that truly belongs to somebody? Until then, we’re stuck we’re a “same stuff, different day” scenario, and it’s not a fun place to be.
Rating: 5/10. Pass this one by, regardless of whether or not you’re passing through.