The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: June 27, 2022

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the 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 numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
2. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
3. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
4. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
5. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
6. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
7. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
8. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
9. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
10. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
11. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
12. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
13. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
14. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
15. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
16. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
17. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
18. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
19. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
20. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
21. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
22. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
23. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” +1 (6/10)
24. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
26. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
27. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
28. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
29. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
30. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
31. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
32. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
33. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” -1 (4/10)
34. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
35. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
36. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
37. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge” -1 (4/10)
38. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me” 0 (5/10)
39. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
40. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
41. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” 0 (5/10)
42. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
43. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around” -1 (4/10)*
44. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
45. Cody Johnson, “Human” 0 (5/10)*
46. Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” 0 (5/10)
47. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
48. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
49. Randy Houser, “Note To Self” +2 (7/10)
50. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +4
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +6
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week
-2 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” (recurrent)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (recurrent)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” (down from #3 to #4)
  • Walker Hayes, “AA” (down from #5 to #15)
  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (down from #20 to #40)

Zombie Tracks:

  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (holds at #18, but loses its bullet again. Mitchell Tenpenny ran it over next week, and Old Dominion will run it over next week)

In Real Trouble:

  • Conner Smith, “Learn From It” (down from #38 to #39, gained only eleven spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #46 to #48, gained only one spin and lost points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (holds at #25, but gained only nineteen spins and five points)
  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #36 to #35, but gained only thirty-seven spins and lost points)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (down from #41 to #42, gained only thirty-six spins and sixty-six points)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (holds at #47, but lost spins and gained only forty-seven points)
  • Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” (re-enters at #50, but gained only twenty-five spins and seventy spins)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge” (debuts at #37)
  • Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” (up from #44 to #33)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (up from #28 to #23)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Lady A, “Summer State Of Mind”

Overall Thoughts: This was a transitional week for the charts, and while there was a fair bit of action, it added up to a whole lot of nothing in the end. Hunt’s high-thirties debut actually qualifies as a disappointment to me (it only goes to show how far his star has fallen), and the collapse of both Hayes and Lambert released more than enough spins to cover the difference and give everyone a fair shot at decent gains. I foresee more of the same next week, with Pearce and Janson pushing for the spots left behind by Hayes and Lambert, but don’t rule out another surprise single drop that turns the chart upside-down: Aldean’s already announced that “That’s What Tequila Does” is coming at some point, and both Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan should be making their next moves soon…

On the coronavirus front, new daily case and death averages seem to have plateaued, but those plateaus (about 100,000 new cases and 300 deaths a day), remain concerningly high, and there are signs that yet another wave of the coronavirus could be brewing. The BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants are creating a new surge of cases in Europe, and now New York City (which has been a canary in the coal mine throughout the pandemic, with several waves first appearing here) is seeing a BA.5-driven rise in COVID-19 cases once again. The drumbeat of omicron subvariants has pushed the FDA to recommend including “an Omicron-specific component for a Covid-19 booster vaccine,” but given how (un)successful our vaccination campaigns have been (1/3 of the country still hasn’t gotten their first two shots, and less than half of the people who are fully vaccinated haven’t gotten a booster), we need to come up with a better messaging system in tandem with the new booster.

While it may feel like the world doesn’t care about the pandemic anymore, it still poses a grave threat to the people we care about, so I’m still preaching the usual best practices:

Even in the current climate of disinterest and resignation, your decisions still matter, and you can still take steps to keep yourself safe even if you’re the only one doing it. Together, we can minimize the needless death and suffering caused by the coronavirus, and eventually bring this pandemic to an end.

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”

The Bro-Country era is over, Sam Hunt. Get over it.

Remember when “Body Like A Back Road” was everywhere and Hunt was Public Enemy No. 1 in country music? Fast forward 5-6 years, and we’ve watched him go into hiding, take three years to release an album, sample Webb Pierce and lament the tech-less 90s, and generally fall back to the pack and become just another artist in the genre. While his previous single “23” did eventually make it to #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart, its weaker showing elsewhere (#10 on Hot Country Songs and #50 on the Hot 100, way off his usual pace and becoming his worst showings since 2018) indicate that his influence in Nashville is waning, especially giving that this was supposed to be the leadoff single for his next album (which admittedly probably won’t arrive until 2024). He’s in desperate need of a home run right now, but instead he’s given us the swing-and-miss that is his latest single “Water Under The Bridge.” Seriously, it’s as if the song was tailor-made for made to despise it: It’s a shallow, lazy, and blindly-nostalgic piece of garbage that offers nothing of value or interest to the listener.

The producer may be looking for an A for effort here, but you’ve got to do more than just include instruments in your mix—you’ve got to actually use them in a meaningful way. Careful listeners will note the presence of a lot of different instruments here (a classic piano, a Hammond B3 organ, a banjo, a dobro), but outside of the last of these four, they’re barely noticeable beneath (wait for it) an series of acoustic and electric guitars and a mix of real and synthetic percussion, which all seem to bleed into each other as the song progresses and eventually turns it into a bland wall of noise. (There’s also a weird low tone, likely from an electric guitar, running underneath the mix that is a bit distracting and seems like a mistake that should have removed in post.) With its deliberate tempo and bombastic approach on the chorus, this is a transparent attempt to recapture the party vibes and free spirits of the Bro-Country anthems of the 2010, and the result is just empty sonic calories that overshadow the writing rather than support it. (Then again, the writing is a massive nothingburger and not worth supporting anyway, but we’ll get to that later.) Hunt made a name for himself by using his fusion sound to distinguish himself from his peers, but now he sounds like everyone else in the genre, which may be part of the reason his star has faded over time.

Speaking of Hunt: What the heck happened to him on this recording? Did he have a cold or something? His voice sounds incredibly nasal and far less clear than on his previous tracks, and he seems to be singing in a higher key than normal as well. Whatever the difference, it’s a clear regression: He sounds more generic and replaceable on this track, but he still comes across as immature and not terribly likeable, and thus he can’t sell the narrator’s carefree recollections to the audience. It’s as if he’s singing inside a snow globe: He certainly seems psyched as he looks back on his youthful transgressions, but he struggles to share his fun with the listener. He’s just one more person reminiscing on how much fun life was way back when, and the listener duly notes their perspective and quickly moves on to something more pressing and/or interesting. These tracks were a dime a dozen not that long ago (and aren’t exactly rare nowadays either), so Hunt really needed to step up his game and be more than “just Sam Hunt” to make this one worth paying attention to, and he simply didn’t.

The writing is what really irritates me here, because it’s so basic and unimaginative that calling these lines “lyrics” feels like an overstatement. Remove the bridge from the equation, and you’ve got a cookie-cutter Bro-Country party track that checks all the usual boxes: The beer, the cigarettes, the gas, the trucks (I give the “Chevy jukebox” label a C+, and that’s as clever as the song ever gets), the girls, the speakers, the avoided authority figures…heck, even the muddy river is an overplayed trope. (Also, being the creep that “kissed a girl my buddy used to like” doesn’t help your favorability ratings.) Add the bridge back in…and we’re just partying on a bridge, with the classic “water under the bridge” phrase used as a hook in the most awkward and uninteresting way possible (water under the bridge is something that isn’t worth caring about, so why are you using the phrase to convince us to care about random parties of yesteryear?). There’s just nothing to this song, either literally (we only get half of a second verse, and ironically there’s no bridge at all) or figuratively (the imagery is stock, rudimentary, and not compelling at all), and with all the similar drivel that flooded the genre back in the 2010s, there’s just no reason to revisit this topic now.

“Water Under The Bridge” is a poorly-executed throwback that no one wanted in the first place. Between pointless production, lazy writing, and a poor effort from Sam Hunt, the song is badly outclassed by both its competition and its inspiration, and it completely fails to justify its existence. The truth is that Hunt, much like fellow 2010s compatriots Florida Georgia Line, is an afterthought in country music today, having neither earned the stature of their predecessors (Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean) nor maintained the buzz of their successors (Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen). He’s just kind of hanging around in Nashville nowadays, and if he keeps dumping junk like this onto the airwaves, he won’t be hanging around much longer.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Song Review: Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”

If country music can’t come up with any new ideas, could it at least not ruin its old ones?

“Heads Carolina, “Tails California” introduced the world to Jo Dee Messina back in 1996, and while it only reached #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart, the song left a deep impact on the genre, to the point where it’s become “one of the most performed karaoke songs from that era in [Sony’s] vast catalog.” With 90s country experiencing a mini renaissance at present (although honestly, it seems like the genre has mostly moved on to 2000s nostalgia) and Cole Swindell hoping to build on his recent Lainey Wilson collab “Never Say Never” and get his stuck-in-neutral career back into drive, Swindell decided to crib from Messina’s debut single for his latest single “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” the third from his Stereotype album. The song brings to mind what happens when you run a document repeatedly through a photocopier: The quality degrades, the purpose gets lost, and the end result only vaguely resembles the original product. This track feels like a cheap attempt to trade on the success of another artist, and comes across as an uninspired pick-up song with none of the substance of its predecessor.

You’d think the easiest way to copy a song would be through your production choices, but here I think the producer only gets halfway to its target. After a heavily-filtered and re-recorded version of Messina’s hook opens the track (they plucked a random artist named Madeline Merlo off of BBR’s roster for this; apparently they didn’t have the budget for Messina herself), the song trots out an electric guitar with the signature tone playing the signature intro, backs it with Nashville’s usual guitar-and-drum ensemble (acoustic guitar strumming, steel guitar gap-filling, drum set keeping time), and…that’s about it. The video lists a whole bunch of instruments in the mix (mandolin, dobro, keyboard, banjo), but you’ll barely notice any of them, making the mix feel a bit empty and less bright compared to Messina’s song (the mandolin and keyboards got far more screen time in 1996). In their place, the steel guitar is a lot more prominent in this mix, taking the lead on the bridge solo and generally being the go-to accent instrument whenever there’s a break in the action. It’s a decent effort that mostly captures the tone and energy of the original song, but I give the edge to Messina’s producer for better incorporating more pieces into the arrangement and giving the song a bit more lift and detail. It’s the closest that this song comes to emulating its predecessor, and unfortunately it’s all downhill from here.

Back when I reviewed “Flatliner,” I mentioned how Swindell’s origin story would lead him to occasionally foist Bro-Country drivel on us to appease that part of his fan base, but I didn’t foresee it hampering his non-Bro material (especially given how often I praised him for his versatility). While he doesn’t run into any technical issues on “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” his performance as the narrator winds up feeling surprisingly neutral. It’s the same issue he ran into on “Never Say Never”: He does his darnedest to bring an upbeat, energetic attitude to the song (it lacks the confidence of Messina’s original hit, but the reworked version doesn’t really need it), but he struggles to get the listener to go along with the story. His usual charm and charisma are here, but you also hear shades of the meatheaded bro from “Let Me See Ya Girl” looking for a quick score (the writing doesn’t help matters; more on that later), which keeps the audience from feeling too favorable about the narrator or sharing in their excitement. He seems to be going in the wrong direction as an artist right now, and anyone off of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line could fill in for him here with and get the same results.

Despite all this, I think the writing is the main problem with this song. I can’t listen to it without thinking of the train wreck that was Jake Owen’s “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” because of how much it relies on someone else’s work to support the song. Not only do the lyrics heavily allude to the original song, but the verse and chorus structure is nearly identical as well. Even worse, while the original song served as a declaration of confidence and freedom as two people charted their own path, the story here is a generic Boyfriend country tale, with the narrator seeing someone perform Messina’s hit at karaoke night, immediately declaring their undying love for the singer, and shoehorning themselves into the singer’s night. Even worser, the song makes the critical mistake of putting the punch line last instead of first, springing the realization that the whole thing was a nostalgia one-night recollection on the listener as a last-second twist that only serves to suck all of the meaning out the track. In other words, we’re left with an unimaginative Boyfriend-Bro combo song that feels less like a tribute and more like plagiarism. Who the heck thought that this was a good idea?

“She Had Me At Heads Carolina” doesn’t quite infuriate me the way “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” does, but it’s a lazy and disappointing song that tries to trade on the nostalgia for (and success of) a better song. The sound and structure are lifted straight from its predecessor, the writing is lifted straight from the trends of the 2010s and is equal parts uninspired and unimaginative, and Cole Swindell is set up for failure here and ends up doing more harm to the song than good. I know sequels and crossovers and unified universes are all the rage nowadays, but you’ve got to put at least some effort and original thought behind your work, because otherwise you’re dishonoring the memory of the original more than honoring it. Messina deserves better, and Swindell and his team needs to be better.

Rating: 4/10. Kick this one to the curb and listen to the original instead.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: June 21, 2022

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the 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 numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
2. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
3. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
4. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
5. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
6. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
7. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
8. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
9. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
10. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
11. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
12. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
13. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
14. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
15. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
16. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
17. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
18. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
19. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
20. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
21. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
22. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
23. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
24. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
26. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
27. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
28. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” +1 (6/10)
29. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
30. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
31. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
32. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
33. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
34. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
35. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
36. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
37. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
38. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
39. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” 0 (5/10)
40. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me” 0 (5/10)
41. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
42. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
43. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around” -1 (4/10)*
44. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” 0 (5/10)*
45. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
46. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
47. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
48. Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” 0 (5/10)
49. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
50. Randy Houser, “Note To Self” +2 (7/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +9
Overall Pulse +12
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (recurrent)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (recurrent)
  • Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” (down to #52)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down to #53)

Leaving:

  • Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” (down from #1 to #3)
  • Walker Hayes, “AA” (holds at #5, but lost its bullet with an 1150+ point loss, is already down to #9 on the daily charts, and a new single-to-be-named-later has already been announced)
  • Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” (down from #7 to #14)
  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (down from #10 to #20)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (down from #41 to #42, lost its bullet with a 350+ point loss, and a new single “Summer State Of Mind” has already been announced. Apparently “be a hit” is what a song can’t do)

Zombie Tracks:

  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (up from #19 to #18, but gained only forty-five spins and 145 points. Carrie Underwood ran it over this week, but the real insult will be when Mediocre Mitch Tenpenny runs it over next week)

In Real Trouble:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (up from #24 to #23, but gained only seventy-one spins and ninety-nine points)
  • Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” (down from #28 to #29, gained only forty-six spins and sixty-five points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #44 to #46, gained only five spins and thirty-six points)
  • Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” (down from #45 to #48, lost its bullet)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (down from #46 to #49, bullet-less for a second consecutive week)

In Some Trouble:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (holds at #35, but gained only seven spins and sixty-five points)
  • Conner Smith, “Learn From It” (up from #39 to #38, but gained only one spin and lost points)
  • Randy Houser, “Note To Self” (down from #48 to #50, gained only twenty-four spins and eighty-one points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me” (up from #51 to #40)
  • Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” (up from #33 to #27)
  • Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music (up from #13 to #9)
  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (up from #17 to #13)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” (up from #20 to #16)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (debuts at #28, should dominate the globe by the 4th of July)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”

Overall Thoughts: This was the week that the bullies returned and kicked everyone out of the sandbox. With Thanos and Rhett leading the charge (although given the timing, Rhett never actually left) and Swindell and Davis drafting behind them, this ended up being a tight week for spins despite significant losses from Aldean and Urban and premature exists for Hayes and Lambert. Those last two expected departures, combined with Jones’s quick (and unsurprising) collapse and Lady A’s quick hook, seem to indicate that the window I mentioned a while back for new/lesser-known artists to offer something different from the usual radio drivel is closing (especially since there are still A-listers on the sideline: Johnson will be here next week, and Aldean and Luke Bryan should have new offerings out any minute now…). Radio seems to be coalescing around its hitmakers right now, and if you’re not one of them, you may want to abandon ship now (or wait until boarding one) and look for a better opportunity to make you next move. Look for more chaos next week as the current batch of leavers exit and more big names stage comebacks.

On the coronavirus front, there is some good news to report:

As heartening as this news is, we can’t afford to lower our guard: Vaccines for young children are only useful if parents can be convinced to give their children the shot, and we could be set up for a big problem later this year: The BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants are creating a new surge of cases in Europe (which generally means another rise in cases in the U.S. in a few weeks), and waning immunity from vaccinations and the subvariants’ improved ability to evade existing antibodies could lead to a rough fall. Basically, we can’t afford to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the pandemic like we’ve been trying to do for the last few months. There are still things we can (and should) do to protect ourselves:

Despite what many would like to believe, the pandemic isn’t over, and we must remain vigilant and do everything we can to protect ourselves and our communities. We can do this, but whether or not we actually will remains an open question.

Song Review: Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”

Okay Nashville, you’ve taken your best shot at a sex jam. Can you please stop foisting these things on us now?

I complain about a lot of things in country music these days, but one of my more-consistent gripes is that Music City is fixated on sex jams, surmising that some extra passion and lust will draw in a bigger audience and earn them more time on the radio. Whether or not they’re right is yet to be determined, because they’ve dumped a bunch of “sexy” tracks onto the radio over the last few years, and none of them have actually succeeded in sounding or feeling sexy. I’ve liked exactly one country music sex jam since I started my work here at the blog (but at least I really liked it), and given that Aaron Watson isn’t exactly a Nashville insider, I wouldn’t exactly give that town much credit for the track. When you’ve thrown your best minds and voices at a problem for this long and come up with zero solutions, it’s time to ask the tough questions: Can anyone truly make a sultry song in this genre?

Enter Luke Combs, i.e. Thanos, i.e. the reigning king of country music, i.e. the one guy with enough clout and leeway to take a swing at this challenge. In truth, however, the crown has seemed rather uneasy on Combs’s head lately, as his latest single “Doin’ This” felt like it lacked the power of his previous releases. Granted, it was still a #1 hit, and a six-month chart run is something that the majority of artists in the genre would give their eye teeth for, but when compared to the otherworldly performances of some of Combs’s past hits (racing up the charts, spending months at #1), you couldn’t help but feel like the trend line was pointing in the wrong direction. (Yes, “Doin’ This” spent two weeks at the summit, but even seemed forced, as if Thanos and Columbia were trying to make a statement in order to hide the song’s underlying weakness.) With the release of his third album Growin’ Up imminent, Combs found himself in the unfamiliar position of having to prove himself, and nothing says “Don’t step to me, my snapping fingers can still destroy the universe” like taking on Nashville’s sex jam problem and succeeding.

So, does “The Kind Of Love We Make” actually succeed? Well…er…maybe? The song is nowhere close to Watson’s 2018 masterpiece, but I’ll admit that you can hear shades of “Run Wild Horses” here, and while they’re not enough to make the declare the song good, they work well enough to let me label the song as okay, which is as close as Nashville has gotten to quality on these tracks in a while.

The key to getting me to pay attention to a song like this is to use minor chords and darker instrument tones to introduce a feeling of unstable, borderline-dangerous passion, and this song gets about halfway there, even if it doesn’t go all in on this raw feel like Watson did. It opens with a deep-voiced electric guitar and a background organ, quickly pivots to an acoustic axe and a more-conventional electric guitar for the verses (a steel guitar gets a few words in as required by law), and then brings everything together to amp up the volume and intensity on the choruses. The problem in the constant shifting between the minor and major chords: The minor chords are what give an edge to the sound, and going back and forth so often really breaks the song’s immersion and makes it feel a bit less raw and inflamed. Additionally, where Watson leaned on a lower-ranged guitar and a fiddle to make the sound feel more distinct, the run-of-the-mill guitars take precedence here and keep the sound from standing out and making the impact I was hoping for. The producers did some things right, but they only did them halfway, which ends up limiting the song’s power.

It’s a similar story with the vocals: You can feel the strain and emphasis in Combs’s delivery just as you could with Watson’s, but it just doesn’t hit the same way this time around. Part of this is because Combs has a raspier voice to being with, so the contrast between normal and intense Combs isn’t as noticeable (he kind of enters this mode on all of his songs tbh). Part of this is because Combs doesn’t seem to fill the narrator’s shoes quite as well: His everyman charisma doesn’t play as well in a song that demands a bit more suave from the speaker, and when he tells his story, it feels like someone else’s tale instead of him speaking from firsthand experience. This song is written pretty generically (more on that later), and for Combs to stick the landing on a track like this, I think it needs to be “a Luke Combs song”; that is, a song tuned to be more personal and specific, something that no one but Combs could possibly deliver. There’s definitely emotion here and you can just feel the wheels turning as Combs puts his heart into it, but the result is more of a glancing blow than a direct hit. Still, it’s better than the swing-and-misses you usually get from Music City on this subject.

In terms of the writing…look, I get that there are only so many ways to say you want to have sex with someone, but isn’t there something you can say to make the song feel less boilerplate? We’ve got the candles (and low lighting and general), we’ve got the records (no artist name-drops for a change though), we’ve got the ‘we’ve been working too hard lately’ setup, we’ve got the dress on the floor…all we’re missing is the wine and the 700-thread-count sheets. Actually, we’re missing the foreplay too: There’s no attempt to set the mood or create any atmosphere, it’s just “we’re here, let’s get busy!” (Heck, the narrator never really tells us what they love about their partner, outside of “the way your body’s movin.'” ) “Making the kind of love we make” is an aftermarket add-on of a hook, as it doesn’t connect very well with the rest of the song and is so weak that it causes the chorus to end with a resounding thud. I sort of want to blame this track on the current meta (dang it, I thought I was going to get through the whole review without saying that word): In a streaming environment, putting the punch line first is key to engaging your audience, and if your punch line is “hot steamy sex,” then you’re going to skip the pregame show, go light on the details, and go right to the action. (In comparison, Watson doesn’t even start singing until the thirty-second marker of “Run Wild Horses,” which would give any label’s streaming team instant indigestion.) In other words, saying the lyrics aren’t the strong suit of this track is an understatement, and they’re overly reliant on both the artist to bring the feeling and the listener to bring the details.

So where does all this leave “The Kind Of Love We Make”? Relatively speaking, even given the drivel that passes for the writing, I think it qualifies as a success by Nashville sex jam standards. The sound is catchy and delivers its share of edgy passion, and Luke Combs does his darnedest to make you feel the song as much as he does. Overall, however, I think this falls into the “your mileage may vary” category: It’s remains a long way from being a quality song, and if Combs or the production doesn’t resonate with you, it’s no more interesting or compelling than any other song along these lines. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, but this feels like an unnecessary risk from an artist whose hold on the ‘Thanos’ title seems to be slipping, and if the audience doesn’t feel the love, Combs may end up abdicating the country music throne to his competition. If “you come at the king, you best not miss”…but the king can’t afford to miss too often either.

Oh, and Nashville? This was your best chance at actually pulling off a sex jam, and it only kinda-sorta worked. For our all sakes, just give it up already.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a spin or two and see what you think.

Song Review: Restless Road, “Growing Old With You”

I don’t know if Kane Brown or Dan + Shay is to blame for this, but someone needs to be held responsible.

The seeds of Restless Road were planted, as they are for more artists than you might think, in the soil of reality TV, as the three original members were eliminated from The X Factor in 2013, but were then brought back as a group and ended up finishing fourth together. There’s been a fair bit of turnover in the group since then (members left, members returned, etc.), but the group finally “broke through” by signing with the label of country artist and fellow X Factor auditioner Brown in 2020. It took them another two years before an official radio single “Growing Old With You” reached the airwaves, and it shows: It’s a cheesy wedding song inspired by Parmalee’s “Take My Name” and Dan + Shay’s entire discography, and it feels both dated and derivative, giving you no good reason to choose it over the dozens of similar existing tracks for whatever big moment you’re planning.

I feel like this review is a massive waste of time, because you can probably predict each and every piece of the song just from the previous paragraph. For example, take the production: If you were putting together a country song for wedding season, what instruments would you use? You’d likely use a somber, moody piano to carry the melody, you’d keep time with an unobtrusive percussion line with both real and synthetic elements, you’d keep a string section in the background to provide some formal elegance, you’d throw in the minimum required steel guitar rides required by Music City law, and finally you might add an electric guitar for the bridge solo…in other words, you’d do exactly what they did here. The resulting sound is soft and serious, but I wouldn’t say it reaches the “romantic” threshold, and above all it sounds cookie-cutter and indistinguishable from any other song in this lane. (Seriously, I listened to this back-to-back with “Take My Name,” and the only real difference between the mixes is that at least Restless Road’s producer eschewed the snap track.) It’s a product following a playbook, and ultimately feels unimaginative and disposable compared to its peers.

Lead singing duties are split between Garrett Nichols and Colton Pack for this track (Zach Beeken is relegated to Brian Kelly “potted plant in the background” duty), but I’m really not sure why: The two lead artists sound virtually indistinguishable, and if you didn’t know this was a group you’d assume that there was only one person with a microphone. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of here (and Nichols shows off some decent range by going low on the bridge), but the vocals feel stock and cookie-cutter (put anyone else behind the mic, and the song would sound the exact same), and thus I don’t find the track any more compelling or believable than any other Boyfriend track I’ve heard in the last few years. The harmony work suffers from the same problem: It’s okay overall, but it’s nothing you couldn’t recreate with a few session backup singers. The biggest issue is that the band fails the band test: None of the three artists bring anything to the table to give the band its own identity (Pack plays the piano in the music video, but there’s nothing terribly unique about his performance), so what’s the point of the band in the first place? In sum, the trio’s attempt at feeling earnest and romantic falls flat, and only serves to raise questions about why the band exists at all.

Let’s go back to our original exercise: If we moved from the producer’s chair to the writing room, what would you put in a song like this? You’d have the narrator talk about how the other person changed their life’s trajectory, and then list off all the things they’d like to do together: Buy a house, raise some kids, sit out on the front porch, and above all, grow old together, which is exactly what we get from the lyrics here. You can tell this was a calculated effort on the part of the writers (I can’t believe it took three people to generate this drivel), because they stuck to vague language and generic milestones in order to maximize its appeal, refusing to give the song any personality and forcing the user to fill in the blanks. The result is an empty shell of a track that can’t stand on its own if the listener can’t fill in all the holes, and in truth it doesn’t feel like much of a love song at all, as it focuses almost explicitly on future events and barely touches on the protagonist’s feelings at all. It’s too bland and algorithmic to forge any real connection or draw any sort of feelings from its audience, and it’s nothing more than a mindless add to a wedding reception playlist for the DJs of the world.

“Growing Old With You” is a empty template of a wedding song that ironically doesn’t seem like it would age well itself. Everything about it feels rote and manufactured, from its lightweight sound to its paint-by-numbers writing to a trio of artists that don’t have a shred of personality between them. Not only should this song not exist, but I’m not even convinced that Restless Road should exist, as they come across as a copy of a copy and lack any defining features as a group (honestly, I’m surprised these guys aren’t getting the blowback that King Calaway got when they tried to break into the scene). There are already way better songs out there to use to celebrate a marriage, and there’s no reason to include this one on either your wedding or your radio playlist. Restless Road better find some better material fast, because they’re staring down a long road to nowhere with this track.

Rating: 5/10. You’re free to let this one pass.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: June 13, 2022

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the 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 numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
2. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
4. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
5. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
6. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
7. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
8. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
9. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
10. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
11. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
12. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
13. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
14. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
15. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
16. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
17. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
18. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
19. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
20. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
21. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
22. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
23. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
24. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
25. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
26. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
27. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
28. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
29. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
30. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
31. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
32. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
33. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
34. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
35. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
36. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
37. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
38. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
39. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
40. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
41. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
42. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” 0 (5/10)
43. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
44. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
45. Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” 0 (5/10)*
46. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
47. Randy Houser, “Note To Self” +2 (7/10)
48. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
49. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” 0 (5/10)
50. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +10
Overall Pulse +13
Change From Last Week
0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • No recurrents this week!

Leaving:

  • Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” (down from #2 to #7)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (down from #6 to #14)

Zombie Tracks:

  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (holds at #19, gained only seventy-nine spins and 297 points. It’s a good week for this song, but it’s still weaker than most of its competition)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (up from #37 to #30 with an absolutey massive week. Where did this come from?)

In Real Trouble:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #21 to #24, lost its bullet)
  • Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” (down from #40 to #41, lost its bullet)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (up from #45 to #44, but gained only six spins and fifty-four points)
  • Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” (down from #44 to #45, gained only ten spins and ten points)
  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (down from #43 to #46, lost its bullet)
  • Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” (down from #47 to #49, lost its bullet)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #48 to #50, lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Walker Hayes, “AA” (holds at #5, but gained only three spins and fifty-eight points)
  • Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” (holds at #28, but gained only one spins and seventy-six points)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (holds at #38, but barely keeps its bullet by breaking even on spins and losing points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Dylan Scott, “New Truck” (up from #12 to 8)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”

Overall Thoughts: Aldean’s extended stay at #1 brought about a rare week of no turnover, but this is likely the calm before the storm: Rhett and potentially Urban will be leaving next week, and despite the two songs releasing a lot of spins back into the wild, songs at the bottom of the chart still struggled to find any airwave traction. With some bigger-named artists preparing to re-enter the fray (Rhett’s already back at #51), I think we’ll see some serious turnover over the next month.

There wasn’t a ton of movement overall, but I nearly did a spit-take when I saw Jones had jumped seven spots after “Come In” had been dead in the water for so long. The scuttlebutt on the Pulse Music Boards indicate that this is a final push for the song, which just seems weird to me: Why spend the resources for a massive push just to get a song into the top thirty? It didn’t resonate with the public and likely won’t inspire anyone new to tune in to her next single, so it feels like a wasted and misguided effort. Then again, this still constitutes the biggest radio hit of Jones’s career, so perhaps this is still a success for her and her team.

On the coronavirus front, the news is mostly about what isn’t happening more than what is. New daily case and death averages are mostly flat (although both are up slightly) but concerns remain about the cases we’re missing, and restrictions continue to be lifted despite the still-sizable surge (the testing requirement for incoming international travelers is the latest one to be removed). Thankfully, there’s some encouraging news on the vaccine front, with the FDA approving the Moderna vaccine for children ages 6 to 17 and both Pfizer and Moderna expected to soon get vaccine approval for children as young as six months old. It’s a huge development, but one whose impact will depend on how many children get it, so if the FDA and CDC approve it, I encourage parents of young children to have them get the shot, for both their own protection and for the protection of those around them. For everyone else, I continue to preach the usual best practices:

We’ve got a fair amount of effective tools against the coronavirus, and hopefully the vaccines will be available to the youngest among us soon. Even if we’re not required to take these precautions, I implore folks to take them anyway to keep our kids, our elders, and everyone in between safe.

Song Review: Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”

“Half Of Me” would like to like this song. The other half would really like to stop talking about the country music meta.

With songs like “Die A Happy Man” and “Marry Me,” Thomas Rhett was one the artists defining the genre’s sound in the mid/late 2010s (his frequent odes to his wife were a precursor to the Boyfriend country trend). More recently, however, his star seemed to have faded somewhat: He’s still releasing chart-topping singles (although his latest release “Slow Down Summer” only made it to #2 on Billboard, snapping his #1 streak at twelve), but in the popular consciousness he’s fallen behind artists like Thanos and (sigh) Morgan Wallen, and has gone from a leader to a follower in Nashville (so much so that he pivoted to new material in the middle of a double-album release). Nowhere is this more evident than in his new single “Half Of Me,” the second single from his sixth album Where We Started. The single is undeniably catchy and even gets a few things right, but at its core it’s a mindless, pointless sequel to “Beer Can’t Fix” that goes to great pains to check every box in the current meta, from the vaguely-retro sound to the cliché tropes to the unnecessary feature artist (this time it’s Riley Green, who’s been missing—but not missed—since “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” crashed and burned in 2020). It’s a song whose sole purpose is to have you turn your brain off for three minutes, and it simply doesn’t justify its existence.

I’m hesitant to call what we’re hearing on the radio right now a traditionalist revival (ask Midland or William Michael Morgan how well the last one went), but the genre seems to be leaning slightly in that direction right now, and Rhett has jumped on board with both feet. There isn’t a whole lot to this mix and what’s here is exactly what you expect, but at least the pieces are used effectively. The retro electric guitar from “Country Again” is back to open the track and provide it with a foundation, the combination of an acoustic guitar and mandolin provide a bright and relaxed feel to the sound, a steel guitar fills in nearly every gap between the words (although a more-modern electric axe handles the bridge solo), and the mix of real and synthetic percussion (yep, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track is here) is unobtrusive and stays out of the way of the writing. The result is a sound with a chill, optimistic vibe with a decent groove, exactly the sort of thing you’d be listening to while sipping on something alcoholic. In other words, the production isn’t the problem here, and it proves that the labels “meta” and “quality” need not be mutually exclusive.

Vocally, there isn’t a lot to say about Rhett’s performance: The song doesn’t make any major technical demands of him, and he breezes through it without breaking a sweat. Still, a relaxed performance is exactly what the song needs to feel believable, and Rhett’s provides enough charm and charisma to allow the listener to sense his peaceful easy feeling. Unfortunately, it might be a bit too chill for its own good: Instead of giving the user a sense of relaxation, it give them the sense the narrator is irresponsible and doesn’t actually care if things gets done or not. In contrast, the second performance here raises one big question: What the heck is Riley Green doing here? He plays the same role as Rhett and he doesn’t do anything to set himself apart in any way, so why on earth would you put together two artists that overlap this badly? (Given that Green is four years removed from his last Top 10, it’s certainly not for star power.) You get the feeling that he’s only here because the powers that be think you have to have a second artist on your track to get on the radio, or because Big Machine wants to use Rhett to salvage their investment in Green’s career. The redundancy is unnecessary and is more of a distraction than anything else, and Green should have been given his own song to sing.

As for the writing…frankly, it’s a leftover track from the Cobronavirus era that’s so formulaic that it feels like it was written by an algorithm. While the chores facing the narrator are more immediate and smaller in scale than the ‘ignore everything!’ mantras in 2020, the crux of the argument is the same: Abdicate your responsibilities and drink a beer instead. (Honestly, the procrastination is a bit more inexcusable here because the tasks are the direct responsibility of the narrator. No one else is walking through that door to mow the lawn or fix the fence.) The “both halves want a beer” hook is laughably weak, the imagery is boilerplate and overused (of course the mountains are blue and the truck needs washing), and the Alan Jackson name-drop is beyond forced in the second verse (and given that the song is mostly chorus, it only feels like half a song). We’ve heard this tale a hundred thousand times before (including from Rhett just two years ago), and it’s honestly hard to find a lot to say about a song that says so little.

“Half Of Me” isn’t the worst booze-soaked nihilistic song in the world; in fact, with its atmospheric production, it might be one of the better examples of the group. However, it feels like it’s trying too hard to cram itself into the current mold, with writing that is unimaginative and repetitive and vocal performances that are laissez-faire at best and extraneous at worst. Both Thomas Rhett and Riley Green are capable of much more than following the crowd and pitching shallow escapism, but the genre demands that its artists follow the script or hit the road, and even someone with Rhett’s track record is not immune from the pressure. There’s absolutely no reason to tune in here, and while half of me wants to see the good and the potential in this song, the other half has already forgotten it exists.

Rating: 5/10. You’ve wasted enough time on songs like this; there’s no need to throw good time after bad.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: June 6, 2022

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the 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 numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
2. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
3. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
4. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
5. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
6. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
7. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
8. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
9. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
10. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
11. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
12. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
13. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
14. Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” +2 (7/10)
15. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
16. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
17. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
18. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
19. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
20. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
21. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
22. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
23. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
24. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
25. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
26. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
27. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner” +2 (7/10)
28. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
29. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
30. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
31. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
32. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
33. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
34. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” -1 (4/10)
35. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
36. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It” -1 (4/10)
37. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
38. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” +1 (6/10)
39. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
40. Lady A, “What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
41. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
42. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” 0 (5/10)
43. Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” 0 (5/10)
44. Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” 0 (5/10)*
45. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” 0 (5/10)
46. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” 0 (5/10)
47. Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” 0 (5/10)
48. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” 0 (5/10)
49. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” 0 (5/10)
50. Randy Houser, “Note To Self” +2 (7/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +3
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +10
Overall Pulse +13
Change From Last Week
0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “AA,” 4/10

Gone:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” (down from #1 to #6)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” (holds at #11 with another decent week, and is threatening to escape this list without going recurrent)
  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (down from #18 to #19, gained only ten spins and lost points)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (down from #35 to #37, lost its bullet again)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chayce Beckham & Lindsay Ell, “Can’t Do Without Me” (holds at #43, but gained only fifteen spins and seven points)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (holds at #48, but gained only one spin and lost points)
  • Clay Walker, “Catching Up With An Ol’ Memory” (holds at #47, but gained only thirteen spins and seventeen points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” ((holds at #33, but gained only eighteen spins and twenty-two points)
  • Honestly, no one below #44 had a good week.

In No Trouble At All:

  • Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9” (up from #42 to #34)
  • Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” (up from #49 to #44)
  • Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” (up from #6 to #2, but that’s as far as it’s going to go given that Aldean has a “keep spinning!” ad in CA this week)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Cody Johnson, “Human”
  • Elle King ft. Dierks Bentley, “Worth A Shot”
  • Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”
  • Thomas Rhett fr. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”

Overall Thoughts: Aldean may have had his #1 stolen last week, but he wasn’t going to put up it with this week, withstanding a massive push from Urban to take the top spot while also declaring his intention to stay there for an extra week. With no major debuts to speak of (neither Johnson nor Rhett/Riley cracked the Top 50, which was a bit of surprise), spins were much more plentiful this week, although most tracks stayed on the escalator and didn’t make huge jumps up the board. I expect more of the same next week: Urban will fall back to earth, Parmalee and Wallen will be content to wait their turns, and the rest of the chart will hope that the airwave strength of the top five doesn’t turn June into an extended drought. Given that there are some heavy hitters that are on the sidelines right now (when was the last time we had a Thanos-less chart?), I expect some big announcements soon.

On the coronavirus front, things are as precarious as ever. New daily case and death averages seem to have leveled off (case averages are slightly down, deaths are slightly up), but we’re still seeing over 100,000 new cases every day, and yet another set of omicron subvariants is starting to emerge (now it’s BA.4 and BA.5, and while earlier variants first exploded in the Northeast, these are spreading mostly in the southern U.S. right now). The good news is that an omicron-targeting booster is on the way and showing great promise…but the bad news is that we can barely get people to take the first vaccine and booster, so the effectiveness of this new shot will depend on how many people we can convince to get it. If the FDA and CDC find Moderna’s data compelling and authorize the new vaccine, I’d encourage people to get it, and in the meantime we should all keep doing what works:

We may not be forced to take precautions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take them anyway, and everything we do can help keep ourselves and others from needlessly suffering at the hands of COVID-19. It’s becoming clear that the coronavirus (and thus the pandemic) is going to be hanging around in some shape or form for a long time, so we must keep doing the right things to protect our communities from the virus’s wrath.

Song Review: Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”

Gee, I can’t wait for the sequel “Love Like A Whiskey Bottle.”

Lainey Wilson is on a bit of a hot streak recently, with 2020’s “Things A Man Oughta Know” reaching both #1 and my year-end best-song list, and 2021’s Cole Swindell collab “Never Say Never” reaching #1 earlier this year. The time was ripe for a new album and some leadoff single buzz, and Wilson’s team responded with “Heart Like A Truck,” a confessional to a prospective partner about the state of the speaker’s heart. I had optimistic expectations for this single, but it ends up being equal parts cliché and uninteresting, and its ill-fitting automotive comparison does little to help the song stand out or interest the listener.

The production has a fairly placid vibe to it, but there’s a deceptive amount of activity going on here: The song starts with an acoustic guitar and a keyboard, slowly works in a drum set and an organ, turns the bridge solo over to an electric guitar (it clashes a bit with the rest of the mix, but only slightly), and even breaks out a string section for the bridge proper. The resulting sound is intended to be calm and atmospheric, staying out of the writing’s way as much as possible, and while it succeeds in this regard, it’s also incredibly bland and lethargic, encouraging the listener to tune out rather than stay engaged with the track. (Most of the song’s energy is delivered by Wilson rather than the mix.) Randy Houser’s “Note To Self” tries to do something similar, but the instrument tones on “Heart Like A Truck” aren’t as bright, the pace is a bit slower, and the writing isn’t as strong (more on that later), which means the sounds needed a bit more seasoning here to keep the listener interested. As it is, the pieces don’t quite fit together well enough to pull the song together, and as a result it isn’t as effective in delivering its message.

Between this track and “Things A Man Oughta Know,” Wilson seems to have found a comfort zone in delivering serious, mature-sounding love songs, and while the approach doesn’t seem as effective this time around, I really don’t think it’s her fault. From a technical perspective, not only are there no issues with his performance, but her closing “hearrrrt” was easily the most-impressive note I’ve heard in a song all year (she hits a power note at the upper end of her range and holds it for a good seven seconds without faltering or losing her vocal tone). She does a good job modulating her tone to match the mood, taking a somber, you’d-better-listen approach on the verses and then quickly ramping up the power on the back half of the choruses to help drive home her point. There are equal parts caution and opportunity in her delivery, and those are the primary things that come through to the listener. It’s the sort of performance that should elicit a response from the audience, and yet in the end they just…don’t. This feels like the same thing we got for “Things A Man Ought Know,” but it only lands a glancing blow this time, which I mostly attribute to other problems with the song.

Problem #1 in my book is the writing, which somehow manages to be both predictable and confounding at the same time. The narrator here is restless and commitment-averse, and tries to convey this by comparing their heart to…a pickup truck. Alcohol may be the #1 cliché in country music, but pickups are a close second, and it’s the sort of thing that makes you roll your eyes and think “Of course they used a truck.” Beyond that, however, I don’t find the comparison to be a good fit. Trucks are generally a symbol of strength and reliability, something you can depend on during tough times. Here, however, we get one line saying “it’s good as it is tough,” and most of the focus is on how the truck is an escape hatch, a way for a fickle heart to get away when the “siren song” of the highway. (On the flip side, we also don’t get any sense of how the narrator feels about the other person—they’re so focused on warning the other person that they never reveal any romantic thoughts they might have.) These aren’t game-breaking issues, connection, but they’re enough to break the listener out of the immersion and distract them from the song’s message, which keeps the song from having the intended impact.

“Heart Like A Truck” isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t a good one either, thanks to bland writing that can’t support the writing and writing that’s too unwieldy to support itself. Lainey Wilson is the only reason you might tune in to this track, and her performance isn’t enough to make the song interesting or memorable. I’ve heard enough from Wilson to conclude that she’s got a potential future in this business, but she needs to find stronger, more-cohesive material that maintains the serious posture that she’s had success with. This track, in contrast, is like a car stuck beside you at a stoplight: You’ll barely notice it when it’s there, and you’ll immediately forget about it once it’s gone.

Rating: 5/10. There are better ways to spend your time.