Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (December 2021 Edition, Side A)

With time winding down and work ramping up, we here at the Korner are in a mad scramble to cover all the major (and a few not-so-major) releases in time for them to be eligible for the year-end lists. It seems like there’s been a lot more late-year activity in 2021 than in years past, so I want to make sure everything gets a fair shake before the big lists and awards drop next week.

Will these be good? Will they be bad? There’s only one way to find out, so without further ado, let’s get started!

Morgan Evans, “Love Is Real”

Love may be real, but I wish it wasn’t so generic. On one hand, there’s a lot to like about this song: The faster tempo, lively acoustic guitar, and generally upbeat vibe makes this the rare modern love song that actually sounds like a love song, and Evans uses an off-brand Keith Urban impression to deliver a performance that’s equal parts fun and charming. That said, the writing leaves a lot to be desired: The Mad Libs laundry-list approach is the dominant force here (the first verse, with its bench seats and blue jeans, is especially hard to stomach), aimless lovestruck driving has been done to death as a story concept, and there’s a noticeable focus on the other person’s physical appearance (something that country music had been trying to avoid in the wake of the sleazy Metro-Bro era) that makes the song feel a bit shallower than it should. (Also, the phrase “the rust runs out these wheels” feels too clever by half and should have been left out.) That said, it’s not a bad song as far as these tracks go, and Evans and the producer do their part to make this an enjoyable (if not all that satisfying) listen.

Rating: 6/10. If you absolutely have to listen to a cookie-cutter love song, this isn’t a terrible choice.

Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”

So we get yet another run-of-the-mill love song…and I don’t really mind this one either? The production gives its guitars and drums more a purpose by going for more of a classic-rock feel, and the textured, hard-hitting sound provides plenty of energy to help the drive the song forward. Moore is a decent fit for the “reformed bro” persona of the narrator, and the longer-term focus of the track makes it feel much less ephemeral than Evans’s track. Once again, I’m still not a huge fan of the writing here—it feels a bit too stock to warrant the energy the production throws behind it, and lines like “with a woman you love, you’ll get home at a decent hour” come across as weak and uncompelling (they don’t do a great job selling the “find someone you really love!” message). While I’d put this on the same level as Evans’s song, both tracks feel like they’re being carried by their sound and whatever charisma the artist can muster. I’ll take it, but I’d like to see a bit more effort on the songwriting front to make things more interesting.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see what you think.

Lee Brice, “Soul”

Okay, I think I’ve had my fill of these things now. Brice gives us yet another song singing the praises on their partner, but this is the worst of the bunch so far. With a base line stolen from The Police and Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, the song feels a bit too slick and cold to generate the romantic warmth of either Evans’s or Moore’s song (and the regular minor chords don’t help matters any). The writing feels more than a bit disingenuous here: You can’t call someone “Mozart in the sheets” and say that “your body makes me weak,” and then try to claim that it’s their soul that you find attractive. (Additionally, the song feels short and half-written, and gets really repetitive at the end.) Brice tries to bring some soul to his performance, but it’s an inconsistent performance at best that winds up feeling more creepy than romantic (seriously, the way he says “kiss you from your head to your toeses,” which is a dumb line to begin with, just makes my skin crawl). In the end, this is another failed sex-jam attempt from a genre that should really know better by now, and it’s outclassed by even the far-from-perfect tracks we’ve already discussed.

Rating: 5/10. Feel free to skip this one.

Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”

Wade is a Virginia native who released her major-label debut album Reckless earlier this year, and my initial impression from the sound and vocal stylings of her debut single reminds me a lot of Miranda Lambert, but I don’t think Wade quite measures up to her predecessor on this track. For one thing, her voice sounds very muddled and she struggles to enunciate with her delivery, making it really hard to tell what she’s saying at times (especially compared to Lambert’s sharper vocal tone). Both artists lean on attitude and a wild streak in their songs, but I don’t like the way the narrator applies said wildness here, as she spends the entire song trying to goad the other person into being someone that they’re obviously trying to distance themselves from now (and based on the little glimpses we get, leaving it in the past is probably for the best). Additionally, beyond some drinking and smoking we don’t get any glimpse at what anyone’s “wilder days” look like—the onus is on the listener to fill in the gaps, and if you can’t do it, the song just falls flat. The darker guitar tones and deliberate tempo and straight from the Lambert playbook, and they do the best job among all the pieces in imitating her style, but otherwise this is a bland story that just doesn’t hold the listener’s attention. It comes across as a bootleg version of an artist who doesn’t really need to be replaced yet (although I would have said otherwise a few years ago), and why settle for an imitation when you can hear the real thing?

Rating: 5/10. Go check out Lambert’s “wilder days” instead.