The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: February 10, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
2. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
3. Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” +1 (6/10)
4. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
5. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
6. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
7. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
8. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
9. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
10. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
11. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
12. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
13. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
14. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
15. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
16. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
17. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
18. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
19. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
20. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
21. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
22. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
23. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
24. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
25. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
26. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
27. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
28. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
29. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
30. Maren Morris, “GIRL” +1 (6/10)
31. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
32. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
33. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
34. Chris Young, “Raised On Country” +0 (5/10)
35. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
36. Eric Church, “Some Of It” +2 (7/10)
37. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
38. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
39. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
40. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
41. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
42. Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” +3 (8/10)
43. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
44. Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” 0 (5/10)
45. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
46. Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” -2 (3/10)
47. Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” -1 (4/10)
48. Dylan Schneider, “How Does It Sound” 0 (5/10)
49. Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” -1 (4/10)
50. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +10
Future Pulse (#26—#50) 0
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week -4 😦

Best Song: “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (14 songs)

Gone:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” (down from #1 to #7)

Aging Songs:

  • Midland, “Burn Out” (#7 after 42 weeks)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” (#6 after 41 weeks)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (#22 after 40 weeks and about to be steamrolled by Brown)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (#26 after 40 weeks, got passed by three songs, and seems to be fading)
  • Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” (#5 after 37 weeks, questionable if it’s got enough left to make #1)

In Real Trouble:

  • Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” (down from #18 to #19, gained only twenty-six spins and fifty-five points, and was passed by Rice and Johnson)
  • Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” (holds at #31, but gained only two spins and thirty-nine points and was run over by Morris)
  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (down from #37 to #38, gained only twenty-eight spins and fifteen points, and passed by Church and Chris Young)
  • Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” (holds at #42, but lost its bullet)
  • Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” (holds at #49, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” (holds at #32, but gained only sixty-one spins and 131 points)
  • Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” (down from #39 to #40, gained only fifty-two spins and 93 spins)
  • Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” (holds at #44, but gained only five spins and eight points this week)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (holds at #45, but gained only thirty-four spins and lost points for the second consecutive week)
  • Everybody from #46 to #50 had a fairly rough week.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Chris Young, “Raised On Country” (up from #41 to #34)
  • Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You” (up from #51 to #46)
  • Brett Young, “Here Tonight” (up from #16 to #12)
  • Kane Brown, “Good As You” (up from #27 to #23)
  • Maren Morris, “GIRL” (up from #34 to #30)

Is Luke Combs:

  • Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” (up from #6 to #3)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Okay, I’ve got no idea where the charts are going anymore.

The top of the charts is fairly easy to predict: Scotty McCreery posted a “#1 and still going strong!” ad in Country Aircheck, and given his point margin right now, he’s a safe bet to score a second week at number one. Beyond that, the chart is probably Luks Combs’s for as long as he wants it: At only eleven weeks on the chart and no credible challengers behind it (Davis, Stapleton, and Midland are aging, and Luke Bryan is officially the other Luke in the genre now), “Beautiful Crazy” has the potential to be an old-school long-timer at #1.

Lower down, however, the crystal ball gets a bit murky, as Radio PDs seemed to be fishing for better content:

  • Gains lower on the chart are smaller and more spread out.
  • DOA songs like “The Difference” and “Caught Up In The Country” are starting to get second looks.
  • Trend-hopping songs from established artists that check all of the usual boxes (looking at you, Chris Young) are getting eaten up by stations.

This leads me to believe that just about anything could emerge out of the pack right now, and while the songs getting first dibs seem to be the worst of the bunch (why does Chris Lane have to emerge now?), there are also some glimmers of hope as well (Ashley McBryde is thisclose to the Top 50, and who would have predicted Runaway June would get a chance to crack the Top 30?). With the positivity of the chart hanging in the balance, we can only hope for the best.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Song Review: HARDY, “REDNECKER”

Is this what country music has become? Has the genre really devolved into a buck-measuring contest?

I was already getting tired of hearing artists like Luke Bryan, Chris Young, and Easton Corbin prattle on about just how “country” they were. The last thing I wanted was for some offended good ol’ boy to step up to the mic and declare that they, in fact, were the redneckiest redneck that ever rednecked, and that you were a soft little city slicker in comparison. Unfortunately, that’s just what we got from HARDY, a Mississippi native and the genius behind Morgan Wallen’s all-time classic “Up Down,” who operates under the Big Loud record label. I don’t know what they were shooting for with “REDNECKER,” but it’s about the dumbest declaration of countriness I’ve ever heard, sung by the most insufferable narrator who completely fails at making the track sarcastic, fun, or worth listening to.

Let’s start with the lyrics today, because frankly I hate everything about them. It’s not enough that the narrator has to proclaim how country they are just like every other song on the radio; no, they are offended that you think that your own redneck credentials measure up to theirs, and must point out in painstaking detail why yours are inferior. It’s meant to be sort of a “proxy song” where the listener imagines themselves saying this to someone else, but in my experience, people don’t fight over this kind of thing, they bond over it, and picking a fight where it’s not warranted or prudent just seems stupid to me. You could also try to make the argument that the narrator is being sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, but there’s not enough hyperbole in the writing to stick the landing: Outside of the “my tick hound’s a little more blue” line, everything here sounds like it was ripped straight from HARDY’s competition: small towns, loud trucks, hay bales, sweaty brows, etc. (If they had gone really over the top with the lyrics—”I took a selfie with Hank Sr.! I gave Willie his first joint!”—then I might have bought this argument.) This narrator comes across as both dead serious and seriously annoyed that you would have the audacity to call yourself “redneck,” and while there’s no hard and fast definition of the term, I also take issue with claiming that having “got it on a tailgate” or being able to “piss where i want to” are valid criteria. To top it all off, the whole “rednecker” hook is the opposite of clever or witty, and stands as further proof that making up your own words/phrases for a hook (“singles you up”, “alcohol you later”) is not a viable strategy. This is the dumbest song I’ve heard in a looooong time, and this and “Up Down” form a strong case for never letting HARDY touch a pen, keyboard, or typewriter for the rest of his days.

Writing this awful would be near impossible to redeem for the best of singers, and HARDY is nowhere close to having that sort of stature. The song is neither a range-tester or a tongue-buster, but it requires a huge amount of charisma and skill to make the narrator seem endearing or sympathetic. Unfortunately, HARDY (who sounds like yet another off-brand Florida Georgia Line clone), has neither charisma nor skill, and delivers his lines with such an aggravated seriousness that he makes you think he’s actually annoyed that you think you’re more redneck than he is. Given the absurdity of the discussion and the fact that the narrator is addressing his grievances towards “you”(at least A Thousand Horses had to decency to include the audience on “Preachin’ To The Choir”), the performance causes the listener to recoil at the accusation and wonder what the dude’s problem is. (Much like Brantley Gilbert, HARDY “doth protest too much, methinks.”) There’s no twinkle in the eye, no tongue placed in cheek, no knowing smile…he just comes across as an angry individual who feels the need to put you in your place for no good reason. As bad as the lyrics are, HARDY’s delivery manages to drag them down even further.

At this point, there’s no hope for the production to save this sinking ship, so it just goes with the flow and doesn’t even bother to try. The mix opens with a swampy electric guitar and real drum set, and doesn’t really move much from that spot (it brings in an organ for the choruses). With it’s slower tempo and darker instrument tones, the producer seems to be shooting for the same “outlaw” vibe that Justin Moore captured in “Kinda Don’t Care,” but it only reflects the worst qualities of that spirit, channeling all of the status-quo irritation and I-do-what-I-want-no-matter-who-it-hurts nihilism without any of the endearing charm and underlying self-awareness. It certainly fits the serious vibe of the vocals and writing, but at some point blind adherence to the party line at the expense of listenability becomes more trouble than it’s worth. The song’s structure and riffs are also paint-by-numbers simple, suggesting that the producer is just here so they don’t get fined—if HARDY and company want to go down this rabbit hole of defiance and isolation, they can at least sound like a mediocre Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band as they go.

There aren’t many songs that I would choose a Mitchell Tenpenny single over, but “REDNECKER” is definitely one of them. The sound is generic and uninspired, HARDY is angry and unlikable, and the writing is so putrid that not even Greenpeace would dare clean it up. It’s a early front-runner for my worst song of 2019, and if anything good can come out of this, it’s that hopefully this song will make people realize that the”I’m so country!” trend has been played out to its logical conclusion, and the genre can finally get over itself and move on to something more substantive and interesting.

Rating: 2/10. Absolute garbage.

Song Review: Haley & Michaels, “Taking Off”

Honestly, “Taking Off” doesn’t seem to be Haley & Michaels’s strong suit.

California natives Shannon Haley and Ryan Michaels have been trying to make themselves a thing since 2014, but a #59 airplay debut peak and three more songs that didn’t even chart caused that mission to be scrapped. New singles in 2017 and 2018 didn’t fare any better, bringing us to their 2019 attempt at relevance, “Taking Off.” After a few listens, it seems that they’re making the same mistake a lot of singers in Nashville are making these days: Their sound and their vocals are awkward fits for their source material, and said material isn’t terribly interesting to begin with.

Let’s start with the production, which at least tries to check the ‘energy’ box by rolling out a banjo with the electric guitars to push the tempo right from the start. Beyond that, however, this is the same old super-serious guitar-and-drum arrangement everyone else is using nowadays. (Oh wait, there is one other thing: The second verse features the most annoyingly-obtrusive bass pulse since Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses.”) I’m baffled by all these producers that spread minor chords all over love songs thinking it conveys the depth of the artists’ feelings, when it reality it casts a pall over the entire track and makes it sound so not romantic and happy. I really don’t feel the love when I listen to this track, so despite the momentum of its quicker tempo, it winds up feeling like empty sonic calories that you’re better off saving for a sweeter treat.

No obvious comparisons come to mind when I listen to this pair (Michaels is just another generic-sounding male artist, and Haley comes across as an off-brand Jennifer Nettles without Nettles’s power and presence), but they deserve a little credit for actually splitting the lead duties and feeling like an actual duo when they sing (unlike Dan + Shay or Florida Georgia Line, the pair’s harmonies feel distinct and showcase their vocal chemistry), but they’re caught between a rock and a hard place on this song. A simple love song like this requires a lot of charisma and emotion to pull off credibly, but the darker production leads the pair astray by encouraging them to match its muted tone, and the faster tempo and rapid-fire choruses force the duo to just spit the words out as fast as they can, regardless of how it sounds. While both artists have the flow to get the words out cleanly, they aren’t able to put any feeling behind them, and as a result the narrators sound stoic and their words feel hollow and empty, just a small step above being mailed-in. (Range isn’t a factor here, as only Haley gets a few post-chorus moments to show off her prowess. On the flip side, amplifying Michaels’s low harmony on the bridge was a terrible idea.) There’s just nothing here to draw in the listener and make them think “Yeah, I’d like to hear them again.” Instead, they shrug off the song and forgot about it when the next track starts playing.

Lyrically, this is your run-of-the-mill, everybody’s-got-one love song wrapped up in the hook of “taking off” things (clothing, time, metaphorically into the sky, etc.). It’s not as clever as it think it is, and when paired with the paint-by-numbers scenes (front-porch kiss, early party departure) that don’t have a smidgen of detail between any of them, there just isn’t a lot here for prospective couples to latch on to and make it “their” song. I get that the narrators are all wrapped up in the energy and excitement of a new flame, but the only romance alluded to here is limited to the physical dimension, with lines about leaving a party “’cause you know I gotta get you alone” that feel straight-up borrowed from Bro-Country. The lack of “that lovin’ feeling” in what’s supposed to be a love song is just astounding, and when neither the production nor the vocals can fill that void, the audience is left without a reason to pay attention, and thus they don’t.

Despite its name, “Taking Off” sounds like yet another failure to launch for Haley & Michaels, as it’s a love song that neither they nor the producer nor writers remembered to add any love to. It’s nothing more than radio filler, and while I’ll take it over anything Mitchell Tenpenny has ever released, it’s going to take more of a reaction than that for the duo to gain a foothold in Nashville. After five years of searching for a hit, these two are in real danger of being taken off the airwaves for good.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t know who Haley & Michaels are? It’s not worth your time to find out.

Song Review: Dan + Shay, “All To Myself”

I can’t believe it! Against all odds, Dan + Shay have managed to make themselves sound even more generic!

As much as I find Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney’s style to be unoriginal, unemotional, and incredibly boring, I seem to be in the minority: With mediocre songs like “Tequila” and “Speechless” cracking the Top 25 of the Hot 100 (to say nothing of the country charts), the duo has perhaps the most momentum of any act outside the Luke Combs/Kane Brown orbit. Following the old adage “Don’t kill the golden goose,” the pair returns to the radio with “All To Myself,” the third single from their current self-titled album, and not only does the feel like the same darn song they’re always singing, but it has a more-overt “Metro-Bro” feel to it, making it one of their worst and most uninspiring songs yet.

You know it’s one of those songs the moment it opens with a slick electric guitar riff and a snap-track percussion line (in fact, it’s almost the exact same setup Old Dominion uses on “Written On The Sand,” which seems weird considering that’s a melancholy song). Despite the inclusion of a Spanish acoustic guitar and eventually a real drum set, and an attempt to make the mix brighter on the chorus, it never manages to shake that sleazy feel, and doesn’t even come close to the sexy vibe it’s shooting for. It’s got a little energy on the chorus, and the bridge solo from the acoustic guitar is a nice touch, but overall it’s too dark, too sketchy, and too generic to really make its mark on the listener. Seriously, this thing sounds like every awful Metro-Bro retread from the last two years, which is fine if you’re trying to blend out, but not if you’re looking to stand out.

After doing something a little different on “Speechless,” Mooney reverts to his usual Gary LeVox impression on this track, but the result isn’t any more interesting than before. The song keeps Mooney is his lower range for most of the time, and not only does he get a little breathy on the lowest valleys, but until the track lets him put a little emotion and power behind his words of the chorus (and only then at short, specific moments), he comes across as detached and uninvested in the whole thing. Just like on “Speechless,” Mooney sounds like he’s totally in love as the narrator, but I don’t feel one iota of romance from his delivery. (Also, where the heck is Smyers during all this? Brian Kelley is more noticeable on an FGL track than Smyers is here.) Instead of coming across as slick and straightlaced as the production, I would have liked Mooney’s performance to feel a bit more raw and emotional, and seen him get more opportunities to dial up some volume and power on the vocals. As it is, however, it’s just another run-of-the-mill Dan + (mostly) Shay performance, and just like the rest of their discography, I’m just not feeling it.

It the lyrics that mark the biggest departure from the duo’s recent material, and not in a good way: Instead of the awestruck, thank-their-lucky-stars narrator from Dan + Shay’s wedding fare (“Speechless,” “From The Ground Up”), this dude here has got one thing on his mind, opening the track by ogling the other person’s lower half and declaring that he wants them “all to myself” for some good ol’ fashioned hay rolling. Never mind how the other person feels about the whole thing, this meathead’s so horny he wants to drag them into bed right this very moment. (When they say their feelings “might be selfish,” my reaction is “Gee, ya think?”) It’s supposed to sound all sexy and romantic, but it falls far short of that mark: It’s just a list of things the narrator’s “jealous” of (the moon for staring, the song for being on their lips), and a play-by-play description of exactly what they’ll do between the sheets. Whoever wrote this junk was apparently not familiar with the concept of foreplay, because instead of setting the mood like a good sex jam, it skips right to the end to the story (“and they banged happily ever after”) and leaves the audience wondering “Is that all you’ve got?”

Country artists have a terrible track record when it comes to these sorts of sultry numbers, and “All To Myself” is yet another failure to add to the list. The production is generic and unimaginative, the lyrics are ham-handed and boorish, and Dan + Shay couldn’t have mailed in a performance better if they worked for UPS. Sadly, there’s a lot of money in mediocrity these days, and as long as the pair can keep cashing checks with lots of zeros, we’re going to keep hearing stuff like this on the airwaves. When a quality song like Kacey Musgraves’s “Rainbow” gets passed over for yet another sexless sex jam, it makes you wonder why you’re listening to the radio at all.

Rating: 4/10. They should’ve kept this song all to themselves.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: February 3, 2019

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the now-defunct Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s official numbers are from Mediabase’s weekly chart publication. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Jason Aldean, “Girl Like You” (5/10)
2. Scotty McCreery, “This Is It” +1 (6/10)
3. Thomas Rhett, “Sixteen” +2 (7/10)
4. Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country” (5/10)
5. Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me” -2 (3/10)
6. Luke Combs, “Beautiful Crazy” +1 (6/10)
7. Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” +3 (8/10)
8. Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” 0 (5/10)
9. Midland, “Burn Out” +5 (10/10)
10. Riley Green, “There Was This Girl” +1 (6/10)
11. Michael Ray, “One That Got Away” -4 (1/10)
12. Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk” -1 (4/10)
13. Old Dominion, “Make It Sweet” (5/10)
14. Carrie Underwood, “Love Wins” +3 (8/10)
15. Jon Pardi, “Night Shift” 0 (5/10)
16. Brett Young, “Here Tonight” +1 (6/10)
17. Kelsea Ballerini, “Miss Me More” +4 (9/10)
18. Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down” -2 (3/10)
19. Chase Rice, “Eyes On You” 0 (5/10)
20. Cody Johnson, “On My Way To You” +1 (6/10)
21. Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t” -1 (4/10)
22. Tyler Rich, “The Difference” 0 (5/10)
23. Brett Eldredge, “Love Someone” 0 (5/10)
24. Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” -3 (2/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Rumor” (5/10)
26. Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses” -1 (4/10)
27. Kane Brown, “Good As You” +1 (6/10)
28. Florida Georgia Line, “Talk You Out Of It” -1 (4/10)
29. LoCash, “Feels Like A Party” -2 (3/10)
30. Runaway June, “Buy My Own Drinks” +2 (7/10)
31. Rascal Flatts, “Back To Life” +1 (6/10)
32. Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” -1 (4/10)
33. Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t” -1 (4/10)
34. Maren Morris, “GIRL” +1 (6/10)
35. Carly Pearce, “Closer To You” 0 (5/10)
36. Brantley Gilbert & Lindsay Ell, “What Happens In A Small Town” +1 (6/10)
37. Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” -1 (4/10)
38. Eric Church, “Some Of It” +2 (7/10)
39. Cole Swindell, “Love You Too Late” +2 (7/10)
40. Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk” -1 (4/10)
41. Chris Young, “Raised On Country” +0 (5/10)
42. Brad Paisley, “Bucked Off” +3 (8/10)
43. Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” +2 (7/10)
44. Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” 0 (5/10)
45. Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” -1 (4/10)
46. Justin Moore, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home” +1 (6/10)
47. Dylan Schneider, “How Does It Sound” 0 (5/10)
48. Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town -1 (4/10)
49. Billy Currington, “Bring It On Over” -1 (4/10)
50. Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +9
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +5
Overall Pulse +14
Change From Last Week -1 😦

Best Song: “Burn Out,” 10/10
Worst Song: “One That Got Away,” 1/10
Mode Score: 0 (14 songs)

Gone:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl” (recurrent)
  • Tim McGraw, “Neon Church” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Dierks Bentley ft. Brothers Osborne, “Burning Man” (down from #1 to #7)

Aging Songs:

  • Midland, “Burn Out” (#9 after 41 weeks)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire” (#8 after 40 weeks)
  • Tyler Rich, “The Difference” (#23 after 39 weeks and finally seems to be moving again, but it’s too little too late)
  • Rodney Atkins ft. The Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught Up In The Country” (#24 after 39 weeks, with future prospects no brighter than Rich’s)

Aging Artists:

  • Jake Owen (’06 debut), “Down To The Honkytonk” (holds at #12, but gained only forty-eight spins and got run over by Ray)
  • Carrie Underwood (’04 debut), “Love Wins” (holds at #14, but gained less than 100 spins and less than 200 points. Given the genre’s allergy to female artists, this is concerning)
  • Keith Urban (’99 debut), “Never Comin’ Down” (holds at #18, but gained only fifty-seven spins this week and was passed by Ballerini)
  • Rascal Flatts (’00 debut), “Back To Life” (up from #33 to #31, but gained only twenty-two spins and 129 points)
  • Brad Paisley (’99 debut), “Bucked Off” (up from #43 to 42, but gained only forty-five spins and 117 points, and is outside the Top 40 after eleven weeks)
  • Garth Brooks, “Stronger Than Me” (up from #46 to #44 and had a good-but-not-great week…but the rules never applied to Garth anyway)
  • Billy Currington (’03 debut), “Bring It On Over” (down from #48 to #49, and its +21 spin/+82 point gain count as its best week in a month)

In Real Trouble:

  • Brandon Lay, “Yada Yada Yada” (up from #38 to #37, but its gains weren’t great and it’s really starting to age)

In Some Trouble:

  • Randy Houser ft. Hillary Lindsey, “What Whiskey Does” (up from #34 to #32, but gained only thirty-three spins and 126 points, and sits outside the Top 30 after twenty weeks)
  • Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t”(up from #35 to #33, but gained only seven spins and fifty-five points)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing” (down from #42 to #43, gained only nineteen spins and lost points)
  • Lauren Alaina, “Ladies In The 90s” (down from #44 to #45, gained only twenty-three spins and lost points)
  • Brothers Osborne, “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” (down from #47 to #50, gained only eleven spins and lost points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Chris Young, “Raised On Country” (up from #55 to #41)
  • Maren Morris, “GIRL” (up from #45 to #34)
  • Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town” (up from #53 to #48)
  • Luke Combs (…do I even need a reason at this point?)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, that means no “six more weeks of Rodney Atkins,” right?

“Same stuff, different week” seems to be the order of the day right now. Outside of Morris’s rebound with “GIRL,” Rhett’s temporary defying of gravity with “Sixteen,” and Luke Combs’s continued consolidation of power (I’m starting to think he should be the one giving the State of the Union address), this turned out to be just another week on the escalator. Old songs disappeared, new songs appeared, and songs generally just motored orderly up the charts. While I can sense some change on the horizon as both songs and artists age (honestly, 2019 looks like a distinct “changing of the guard” year to me), for now the waters are calm as we sail into February.

So what do you think? Are the numbers better or worse than you expected? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Song Review: Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”

It’s time to make amends for 2018 and finally see what everybody’s been talking about.

The relationship between Kacey Musgraves and mainstream country radio has always been chilly, and thus despite releasing four singles last year, none of them found enough traction on the charts to pop up on my radar screen. Given the buzz surrounding Musgraves, I resolved to do a better job looking out for her releases this year, and when “Rainbow,” the closing track from her acclaimed album Golden Hour, started showing up randomly on station add lists (perhaps in anticipation of the Grammy awards?), I took the opportunity to see just how Musgraves stacked up against some of the mainstream mediocrity I’ve been wrestling with lately. (Sure, it might not be an official single yet…or ever…but that didn’t stop me from declaring Glen Campbell’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” one my favorite songs of 2017, did it?) So I dug up the audio, hit ‘Play,’ and…

…okay, I think I get it now.

This seems to me like a solid, thought-provoking song (and a lot better than some of the copycat ramblings I’ve heard recently), and makes my next question “So why isn’t Musgraves on the radio again?”

The production here reaches for the same serious piano that everyone else does, but instead of gradually adding more instruments and building to an anthemic swell for the climax, it steps back and lets the piano carry the melody by itself—no guitars, no drums, and no frills. With such a methodical, repetitive riff and a simple chord structure, you wouldn’t think this would generate much atmosphere for the song, but you’d be wrong: The sound is a lot more full and spacious than, say, Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” (he has to rely more on the steel guitar), and the song feels warmer and more comforting as a result. The mixture strikes a nice balance between the brighter choruses and darker verses, acknowledging the proverbial storms that drove people indoors while declaring that the weather has finally improved. It’s a superb fit for the writing, which encourages people to come out of their shells to see the beauty of the world around them, since it accentuates the idea that they’re in a safe space and can let down their defenses. If you’re looking for an example of less being more, this mix might be the definitive one.

Vocally, I hear a lot of Lee Ann Womack in Musgraves’s delivery, both in her tone and in the sympathy she can project with her charisma. This song doesn’t tests Musgraves’s range or flow at all, but it puts a lot of pressure on her to come across as earnest and genuine (especially since that piano is the only backup she’s got). There aren’t a lot of artists in the genre that could pull this off, but Musgraves conquers the challenge without breaking a sweat: She delivers the punch lines with ease, prods her subject to come out into the sun with a gentle touch, and really gives the listener the feeling that she cares about them (or whoever she’s singing about). It’s a pretty impressive feat, and one that makes one wonder why mainstream radio is basically ignoring such a talented performer.

The lyrics are probably the weakest part of the song overall, as the “bad times can’t las forever; come out and see the good in the world” topic has seen its share of attention lately. (Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood touch on the idea in “GIRL” and “Love Wins” respectively, and Gary Allan even used the same rainy-day metaphor in “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain).”) That’s not to say, however, that the writing is bad: I really like the level of detail the narrator provides when talking about the storm, the feeling of being under siege by sadness and depression has near-universal applicability (Tim McGraw, take note: This is how being “effectively vague” works), and instead of focusing on whether or not the narrator is sympathetic, the song flips the dynamic and tells the listener that they are the ones who are deserving of happiness and light. (And hey, it’s not like we need fewer songs with this kind of positivity in country music.) Much like we saw with Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey,” being unoriginal doesn’t mean being bad as long as the execution is there, and with Musgraves and her piano around to elevate the track, the lyrics are solid enough to go along for the ride.

I get that Kacey Musgraves and her team aren’t pushing her singles to radio like other artists and labels, but the fact is that country radio is doing itself a disservice by not giving her songs proper airtime. Being only vaguely aware of Musgraves’s work in the past made me wonder if she really belonged in the same breath as the other stars of country’s past and present, but after a few playthroughs of “Rainbow,” I’m a believer. The production and vocals are top-notch, and the writing brings a message of hope and optimism that we can all get behind. Don’t wait as long as I did to find out who Kacey Musgraves is—do yourself a favor and find out today.

Rating: 8/10. It’s definitely worth your time.

Song Review: Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later”

Dear Mitchell Tenpenny: Don’t call me, alcohol you.

The bar for a young male singer fresh off of Nashville’s assembly line to score a “debut” #1 is absurdly low, so the fact that Tenpenny’s mediocre debut “Drunk Me” spent nearly nine months on the radio just to settle for a Mediabase-only #1  (Jimmie Allen swatted him away from Billboard’s top spot with an Embiid-quality block) should have set off some warning lights over at Columbia Records. Still, challenging “Best Shot” and anything Luke Combs releases is a tall order for any act, so the label decided to give Tenpenny a second chance with a second-chance single: “Alcohol You Later,” a song that was supposed to be Tenpenny’s “debut” single back in 2017 (in fact, it was his second attempt at such a breakthrough, the first coming in 2015), but it never charted and was completely forgotten in the wake of “Drunk Me.” I’ve had feelings of déjà vu before, but never quite this strong: This song is an exact copy of a track I reviewed a mere four days ago (Travis Denning’s “After A Few”), except that it’s appreciably worse in every category, from the singer to the sound to perhaps the most godawful hook you’ll hear all year.

The production here opens innocently enough, with some sparse acoustic guitar, some background organ swells for atmosphere, and a percussion line I can only describe as a tambourine and a typewriter. Once the first chorus hits, however, the slick electric guitars and drum machine jump in (heck, even the bass sounds like it was borrowed from 80s pop), and the whole thing turns into the same generic Metropolitan mess we’ve been putting up with for several years. The mix has an unexpectedly bright and energetic feel to it (especially on the choruses, which have a real “Keith Urban long song” vibe to them), which clashes with the supposedly-sad tone of the writing—the narrator and their ex can’t seem to end their relationship, but a dance beat and upbeat guitar solo don’t exactly scream “I’m not okay with all this.” This in-your-face, get-up-and-move arrangement takes the focus away from the lyrics and feels like empty sonic calories, as if the producer just wanted an excuse to make people get up and shake a leg. It’s a poor fit for the song, and leaves the listener unsure about just how to feel about the whole thing.

Frankly, I’m just not impressed with Tenpenny as a vocalist. His voice lacks any real tone (especially in his lower range, which is where the verses here trap him), and he’s only a step or two above Kip Moore levels of raspiness. (I’m not terribly impressed with his upper range either: He’s more comfortable on the choruses than the verses, but his falsetto portions sound a bit weak to me.) More importantly, he just doesn’t have the charisma to feel sympathetic or even believable on this track (heck, he was more convincing on “Drunk Me” than this thing). He delivers the lyrics no differently than he would a love song, and gives no hint of regret or remorse that he keeps ending up in bed with his ex. The audience is left thinking “Gee, this guy doesn’t seem too bothered about this on-again, off-again arrangement, so why should we care?” It’s the $64,000 question (or perhaps the ten-cent question in this case), and the song doesn’t have a good answer.

And then we get to lyrics, and good grief can we talk about this garbage hook? Sure, “alcohol” sounds slightly, vaguely, kinda-sorta like “I’ll call” if you squint at it and don’t think too hard, but there’s nothing clever or witty about it, and the listener’s reaction is just a raised eyebrow and a “Really?” Beyond that, the track is a carbon-copy of Denning’s “After A Few”: Narrator gets drunk, narrator meets up with his ex, narrator falls into bed with said ex even though, you know, they’re supposed to be an ex. Oh, and guess who’s the instigator again? Here’s a hint: It’s the person saying stuff like this:

I know I shouldn’t do it
Oh, but these shots I’m shooting
Make me not give a damn

So you’re combining the should-know-better nihilism of “After A Few” with the devil-may-care recklessness of Randy Houser’s “What Whiskey Does”? Yeah, that sounds like a winning combination.

Beyond this, the lyrics are the same old story told in the same old locations with the same lack of interesting details (I liked the “changing names on my speed dial” line, and that’s it). As unimpressed as I was with “After A Few,” I’d listen to it a hundred times before I’d give this drivel the time of day.

Put it all together, and “Alcohol You Later” is a pretty poor excuse for a song on all levels. The paint-by-numbers production doesn’t fit the song’s message, the writing’s one distinct feature is its lazy excuse for a hook, and Mitchell Tenpenny brings absolutely no charm or charisma to the table to tell his tale. There are much better ways out there to hear the same darn story, and I don’t see this song making much more of an impact the second time around than it did the first. Tenpenny better hope for better luck in the future, because with junk like this, he won’t get another second chance.

Rating: 3/10. When this song calls, don’t bother answering.