Wait a minute…is the squeaky wheel finally getting some grease from Music City?
I’ve been doing a lot of complaining about the current state of mainstream country music (most recently in my state of the blog address), but things seem to have shifted in the last month: Since my lightning round post a month ago, I’ve only given out one score below a 6 in my reviews (way to wreck the trend, Parmalee), and that trend appears to be continuing with Scotty McCreery’s latest release “It Matters To Her.” Yes, we’re dealing with a small sample size here (thanks to Nintendo, I’ve only reviewed five songs in the last month), but there’s some common threads running between these songs that McCreery brings together in a solid, enjoyable effort.
…So after that last sentence about threads, let’s talk about the thing in which these songs have the least in common: the production. The sounds we’ve examined over the past month have been loud and soft, retro and modern, acoustic, electric, and even a little synthetic, and McCreery’s mix falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, this falls into the dreaded guitar-and-drum category, but the electric guitars (which are the primary drivers of the melody) have a decidedly 90s feel and tone (I think he stole them from Ty Herndon), and the simple drum line adds some punch to the mix while otherwise staying out of the way. (The steel guitar isn’t as front-and-center as it was on “Damn Strait,” but it’s the primary—okay, the only—instrument that adds any flavor or variety to the mix.) Combined with the slightly-slower tempo, this produces a relaxed, spacious atmosphere that invites the listener into the song without obscuring the message within the lyrics. (While I wouldn’t call the tone exceptionally bright, the vibe here is undeniably positive, which helps adds some weight to the words.) I’m a sucker for anything that sounds even remotely old-school (see: Midland), and this mix brings does a nice job capturing a retro sound while still providing ample support to the writing.
There’s a reason McCreery won American Idol all the way back in 2011 (good grief, has it been eleven years now?!): The man is one of the most talented vocalists in the genre, and the limited demands of the song lets him go on a maximum charm offensive as he tells the story. The narrator here needs to project an air of wisdom and experience, and while that might seem like an awkward fit for an artist that isn’t 30 yet, McCreery now has a decade-plus years of service in Nashville to go along with his precocious skills, so he’s been around the block enough times to speak credibly on a subject like this (his squeaky-clean image also helps in this department, “Southern Belle” notwithstanding). This isn’t really a love song (or even directed at anyone particular), but McCreery gives you the impression that he’s got someone in mind as he delivers his lines, and the audience gets a strong sense of the narrator’s emotion and devotion towards this unknown individual. It’s the sort of charismatic performance that typifies the tracks we’ve been reviewing lately, and it makes you wonder if this guy is ready to make the leap towards A-list status in country music. If so, it’s not a moment too soon.
In the Boyfriend country era, we’ve gotten buried in shallow, ephemeral love songs that don’t feel like they establish any connection between the participants beyond the moment. Lately, however, it’s the artists that have made that deeper, long-lasting connection (Eric Church, Kane Brown, and even Chris Stapleton) that have gotten my attention, and that’s the position of the writing here as well. In a way, this feels like an answer song to all the angry Ex-Boyfriend tracks clogging up the airwaves right now: The narrator provides a guiding principle and a detailed instruction booklet for people to make their partners feel needed, respected, and loved. I’m always criticizing songs for being too light on detail and too reliant on the listener to fill in the gaps with their own experience, but this track has a message and doesn’t mince words: If you make the extra effort and take care of the little things, “it matters to her” (a solid hook that doesn’t need to be witty and doesn’t try), and your relationship will remain rock-solid. It’s the kind of song that provokes thought and introspection, inviting everyone listening to question themselves: Am I doing the right things in my own relationship, and if not, how do I correct my course? It’s exactly the sort of song I want to hear on country radio (another phrase I repeat, albeit not as often as I’d like), and McCreery and his producer hit all the right notes to let the song hit home.
“It Matters To Her” is a solid song on all fronts, from its classic-yet-suitable sound to its thoughtful and thought-provoking writing to a charming performance from Scotty McCreery behind the mic. As critical as I’ve been of Nashville this year, we’ve seen a few bright spots emerge over the last month, and this is one of the brightest ones yet. (Don’t look now, but after the “Southern Belle” disaster, McCreery is riding a five-song #1 streak, and this song making it six wouldn’t surprise me at all.) For all the songs channeling the anger and frustrations of the moment, there aren’t many that are offering a way forward like this one is, and I hope other artists (*cough* Bailey Zimmerman *cough*) are taking notes. I’m looking forward to seeing how this track performs, and I’m hoping I have to do less complaining from here on out.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.