Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (December 2022, Side B: Morgan Evans, Easton Corbin, Russell Dickerson, Kylie Morgan, Kelsea Ballerini)

This is it folks: The last train to Paradise Valley! With a ‘Top Games of 2022’ post likely coming Friday, it’s the last* chance for songs to make their case for next week’s 2022 single rankings (*sadly there’s always one or two late arrivals that mess up my schedule, but hopefully we’re done for the year).

Morgan Evans, “Over For You”

In theory, I should feel as bad for Evans as I did for Justin Moore, as both artists had their last singles relegated to the same year-end lightning round post. Instead, I pretty much forgot this dude existed, and since he hasn’t cracked the Top 40 since “Day Drunk” crashed and burned at #21 in 2019, can you blame me? It’s been a rocky road for Evans since them both musically and professionally, and his latest single “Over For You” seems to be a response to his recent divorce from Kelsea Ballerini. For its part, the production here is suitably sad, dominated by (you guessed it) a piano and supported by some background gutars, light-touch percussion, and repetitive background vocals. My main gripe, however, is the narrator’s attitude in the lyrics: They put the blame squarely on the other person, insinuating that it was their feelings that changed and that they’ve been going through the motions for quite some time (and eventually building to the “How long has it been over for you?” question on the hook). However, they completely ignore their own potential culpability in the matter: They claim that they still care and would have done anything foe their ex-partner (even “let go if you wanted me to”), but if this issue was a long time coming, why didn’t the narrator notice when things started going off the rails? How might their own actions led to their partner’s decision? Instead, it’s framed as a “you problem,” and Evans’s performance (which is dripping with both ignorance and indignance) doesn’t win him much sympathy here. In the end, he can’t make me feel that all that bad or him or interest me in listening to his tale of woe, especially in a genre that’s drowning in these ‘woe is me’ songs.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.

Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Decide”

Of course, Evans’s musical journey has been a smooth ride compared to Corbin’s: He was unceremoniously dropped from Mercury Records in 2018 after “A Girl Like You” took over a year just to get to #6, and he’s never really recovered from that (despite putting out some decent singles in the meantime). The ordeal has forced Corbin to conform to the Nashville meta just to get a second look, and thus we get derivative drivel like “I Can’t Decide.” This song isn’t just a laundry list, it’s a laundry list that’s so chock full of overused buzzwords that I’m surprised it wasn’t written by ChatGPT. The level of detail is decent, but the contrasts aren’t always sharp and it’s the same sort of unimaginative “country” schlock that we get from every other song in the genre: The drinking, the driving, the girl, the night, the jeans, etc. This issue extends to the production as well: The sound is defined by guitars, drums, and unnecessary minor chords that detract from the positive atmosphere the song wants to set. It goes even farther: The token banjo is ripped straight from the Bro-Country playbook, and the steel guitar is pushed to the background and given just enough airtime to justify the song’s Spotify tags. Corbin is the only reason to tune in here: He’s still got his trademark earnest charisma that really sells his affection for the other person, and I still contend that he’s a better vocalist that 90% of the artists in the meta today (admittedly the guitar tones have a hint of his signature sound to them as well). You should absolutely check out Corbin’s discography…but you’re free to ignore this one.

Rating: 5/10. No thanks.

Russell Dickerson, “God Gave Me A Girl”

Boyfriend country has given way to Ex-Boyfriend country in the last year or so, and acts that had built their brand on that saccharine sound such as Dickerson, Brett Young, and even Dan + Shay have been severely punished for it. (Parmalee is a kinda-sorta exception, but even their hits take a million freaking years to climb the charts.) Neither of Dickerson’s last two releases (“Home Sweet” and “She Likes It”) managed to crack the Top 10, and honestly I don’t hold out much hope for this song either. For one thing, the producer made some awful decisions here, burying the guitars and beat in washed-out audio effects and turning the mix into an amorphous wall of noise (the acoustic guitar and real drums are less encumbered and sound a bit more distinct, but they overwhelmed by the rest of this mess). The story is a bit of a tired trope as well (formerly-wild guy finds love and has their whole life changed), and as a Boyfriend veteran, Dickerson doesn’t wear the narrator’s mantle terribly well (this guy’s given us nothing but love songs since 2017; trying to say he was “all about that single life” feels more than a little disingenuous). To his credit, Dickerson knows how to sell a love song and is much more believable when he says he’s going to give this person “my last name” and “forever,” but there’s nothing here that distinguishes it from its Boyfriend brethren—there’s nothing personal here to give this song some real meaning. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not one I want to revisit once this review’s over either.

Rating: 5/10. Meh.

Kylie Morgan, “If He Wanted To He Would”

Morgan is an Oklahoma native who signed with UMG Nashville three years ago but is only now releasing a single to radio. She’s a bit of a Miranda Lambert clone vocally, and given the abysmal track record Nashville has had with debut singles lately, I think this song actually qualifies as a success. I like the how the song opens with a social-media reference (it’s something that rarely gets a mention on the radio, which instantly catches the listener’s ear), I like the writing’s straightforward delivery of the message (there’s a difference between casual feeling and a deep relationship, and the narrator’s friend is dealing with the former), and I like how Morgan delivers the song with enough authority and confidence to make her case with the audience. However, I’m not a huge fan of the production: The drums are way too loud in the mix, and the electric and steel guitars feel like background set pieces instead of truly anchoring the melody. I think Morgan could do a bit more with her performance as well: It lacks Lambert’s trademark attitude and sass, and it feels like you could really go big, show off some personality, and have some fun with a song like this. I’d stop short of calling this a good song, but it’s definitely an intriguing tune that shows off Morgan’s potential and makes me wonder what we might see from her in the future.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a listen or three to see what you think.

Kelsea Ballerini, “IF YOU GO DOWN (I’M GOIN DOWN TOO)”

*sigh* Again with the all-caps titles? Still, this track is a clear upgrade from Ballerini’s previous (and unremarkable) single “HEARTFIRST,” showcasing solid performances from everyone involved. Don’t sleep on the heavy lifting the production does on this track. Sure, it’s got the rich, vibrant sound of a Chicks single and has a lot of musical diversity, featuring classic instruments (dobro, fiddle, mandolin, etc.) trading the lead role with expert precision, but the resulting light, breezy, and eternally-positive vibe does a lot to take the edge off of the writing, which features some…questionable behavior—robbing banks, killing husbands, lying under oath—and has to make sure the audience knows the narrator’s tongue is firmly place in their cheek. (Hey, if this sound can make murder palatable on “Goodbye Earl,” it can make this work too.) For Ballerini’s part, she captures the ride-or-die vibe of a devoted friend perfectly, and shows off the playful side to her personality that made “Hole In The Bottle” such a fun ride. Despite the writing’s penchant for crimes, we have to give it credit for keeping the ‘bad behavior’ thread going throughout the entire song without it ever feeling forced or cheesy, and it’s worth noting that in a sea of love songs, friendship songs tend to be few and far between, allowing the song to stand out in yet another dimension. This is a track that really deserved its own separate review (which I was planning to do until I realized how little time I had left), and it’s not only the class of the field here, it’s one of the better songs I’ve heard all year.

Rating: 7/10. Hurry up and check this one out while they’re still appealing the convictions.

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