Song Review: Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”

Wait a minute…is the squeaky wheel finally getting some grease from Music City?

I’ve been doing a lot of complaining about the current state of mainstream country music (most recently in my state of the blog address), but things seem to have shifted in the last month: Since my lightning round post a month ago, I’ve only given out one score below a 6 in my reviews (way to wreck the trend, Parmalee), and that trend appears to be continuing with Scotty McCreery’s latest release “It Matters To Her.” Yes, we’re dealing with a small sample size here (thanks to Nintendo, I’ve only reviewed five songs in the last month), but there’s some common threads running between these songs that McCreery brings together in a solid, enjoyable effort.

…So after that last sentence about threads, let’s talk about the thing in which these songs have the least in common: the production. The sounds we’ve examined over the past month have been loud and soft, retro and modern, acoustic, electric, and even a little synthetic, and McCreery’s mix falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, this falls into the dreaded guitar-and-drum category, but the electric guitars (which are the primary drivers of the melody) have a decidedly 90s feel and tone (I think he stole them from Ty Herndon), and the simple drum line adds some punch to the mix while otherwise staying out of the way. (The steel guitar isn’t as front-and-center as it was on “Damn Strait,” but it’s the primary—okay, the only—instrument that adds any flavor or variety to the mix.) Combined with the slightly-slower tempo, this produces a relaxed, spacious atmosphere that invites the listener into the song without obscuring the message within the lyrics. (While I wouldn’t call the tone exceptionally bright, the vibe here is undeniably positive, which helps adds some weight to the words.) I’m a sucker for anything that sounds even remotely old-school (see: Midland), and this mix brings does a nice job capturing a retro sound while still providing ample support to the writing.

There’s a reason McCreery won American Idol all the way back in 2011 (good grief, has it been eleven years now?!): The man is one of the most talented vocalists in the genre, and the limited demands of the song lets him go on a maximum charm offensive as he tells the story. The narrator here needs to project an air of wisdom and experience, and while that might seem like an awkward fit for an artist that isn’t 30 yet, McCreery now has a decade-plus years of service in Nashville to go along with his precocious skills, so he’s been around the block enough times to speak credibly on a subject like this (his squeaky-clean image also helps in this department, “Southern Belle” notwithstanding). This isn’t really a love song (or even directed at anyone particular), but McCreery gives you the impression that he’s got someone in mind as he delivers his lines, and the audience gets a strong sense of the narrator’s emotion and devotion towards this unknown individual. It’s the sort of charismatic performance that typifies the tracks we’ve been reviewing lately, and it makes you wonder if this guy is ready to make the leap towards A-list status in country music. If so, it’s not a moment too soon.

In the Boyfriend country era, we’ve gotten buried in shallow, ephemeral love songs that don’t feel like they establish any connection between the participants beyond the moment. Lately, however, it’s the artists that have made that deeper, long-lasting connection (Eric Church, Kane Brown, and even Chris Stapleton) that have gotten my attention, and that’s the position of the writing here as well. In a way, this feels like an answer song to all the angry Ex-Boyfriend tracks clogging up the airwaves right now: The narrator provides a guiding principle and a detailed instruction booklet for people to make their partners feel needed, respected, and loved. I’m always criticizing songs for being too light on detail and too reliant on the listener to fill in the gaps with their own experience, but this track has a message and doesn’t mince words: If you make the extra effort and take care of the little things, “it matters to her” (a solid hook that doesn’t need to be witty and doesn’t try), and your relationship will remain rock-solid. It’s the kind of song that provokes thought and introspection, inviting everyone listening to question themselves: Am I doing the right things in my own relationship, and if not, how do I correct my course? It’s exactly the sort of song I want to hear on country radio (another phrase I repeat, albeit not as often as I’d like), and McCreery and his producer hit all the right notes to let the song hit home.

“It Matters To Her” is a solid song on all fronts, from its classic-yet-suitable sound to its thoughtful and thought-provoking writing to a charming performance from Scotty McCreery behind the mic. As critical as I’ve been of Nashville this year, we’ve seen a few bright spots emerge over the last month, and this is one of the brightest ones yet. (Don’t look now, but after the “Southern Belle” disaster, McCreery is riding a five-song #1 streak, and this song making it six wouldn’t surprise me at all.) For all the songs channeling the anger and frustrations of the moment, there aren’t many that are offering a way forward like this one is, and I hope other artists (*cough* Bailey Zimmerman *cough*) are taking notes. I’m looking forward to seeing how this track performs, and I’m hoping I have to do less complaining from here on out.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Midland ft. Jon Pardi, “Longneck Way To Go”

Midland hasn’t made a deal with the devil just yet, but they’re certainly deep in negotiations.

It’s been almost five years since my Texas tenure ended, and so little stands out about the experience that I sometimes question whether I was ever actually there. One thing I’ll always remember, however, is hearing Midland’s debut smash “Drinkin’ Problem” a week before its official add date and thinking “These guys are good; they could be going places.” At the time, it seemed like a safe bet: Music City seemed to be leaning in a more-traditional direction, and despite questions about their “authenticity,” the group has stuck to its guns and its sound through three albums now, and by daring to reach back beyond the usual neotraditional roots and striving for something older and more classic, they’ve kept their shtick fresh and fun for five years.

Nashville, however, pivoted to everything but classic country in the years following Midland’s debut, and staying this far outside the genre’s mainstream sound has caused them to struggle to find traction on mainstream radio. “Sunrise Tells The Story” failed to crack the top forty on Billboard’s airplay chart, and two months after its release date, the band’s latest single “Longneck Way To Go” has only made it to #60 (at least according to Wikipedia; the Pulse Music Boards say it debuted at #59). An examination of the song raises a lot of red flags: This is the closest Midland has ever gotten to conforming to mainstream trends (they even brought in Jon Pardi because everyone loves a good collaboration, right?), and if this can’t find an audience, the trio will be facing a tough choice: Make even more changes to their formula, or risk slipping into obscurity forever.

From the instrument list, you’d think the production here was just another Nashville guitar-and-drum mix, and given that these are the instruments that define the mix, you’d wouldn’t be wrong. So what sets this arrangement apart from, say, Parker McCollum’s “Handle On You”? Well, both have a steel guitar in their back pocket to fill some space, but this song also brings in a banjo in to deliver some energy and flavor (and not one of those slow-rolling token banjos from the Bro-Country era; this one blazes along the way Benjamin Franklin and Earl Scruggs intended). The biggest difference, however, is the polish (or lack thereof, in this case) that can be heard in the mix. McCollum’s mix has been buffed until you could see your reflection in it (which helps it capture that 90s neotraditional feel), but Midland’s mix is rawer and more spacious, making it feel a bit more lively and all-encompassing. Yes, this is one of those “happy sad” songs that I’ve been less than thrilled with lately (supposedly they’re drinking to forget, but it sounds like they’ve always forgotten), but at least this mix sounds fun and upbeat (as opposed to, say, Dustin Lynch’s lifeless “Party Mode”), so if they’re going to do the wrong job, at least they do it right. It’s a decent sound overall, but I wish it was in service of a better cause.

I’m already on record calling Pardi “one of the worst vocalists in country music,” but he’s the guy people call when they want to sing a good-time country song (Thomas Rhett shared the mic, Dillon Carmichael stuck him in the music video), but his voice actually blends pretty well with the Midland trio, which is a tribute to Jess Cameron and Cameron Duddy’s harmony work more than anything else. Mark Wystrach, in comparison, is one of my favorite vocalists in the genre, and if his previous stint as “Mr. Lonely” didn’t prove his chops as a party-hardy narrator, this one will: For as much as he claims to be drowning a heartache, that heartache sounds like it was drowned a looooong time ago. He has a knack for letting the listener in on his state of mind, and he makes this track a good time, even if it doesn’t seem like it should be. Wystrach and Pardi share and trade lead duties with nary a hitch (the way they weave in and out of the bridge is pretty impressive, and Duddy and Cameron keep everything tied together on the back end—in other words, it’s the same sort of charming, charismatic performance from the trio that we’ve come to expect (hey, if you make Pardi sound passable, you can do anything), and one that I wish would gather a lot more attention on the radio.

Of course, the weak point on this track is the lyrics: They don’t have much to say, and what they do have to say we’ve already heard a hundred million times. The narrator is trying to drink away the memory of a lost love, they’re struggling to do so…and that’s it. There are some interesting moments of repetition in the writing (“it’s closing in on closing time and I ain’t even close”), but the hook is nowhere near as clever as the writers think (in truth, it’s one of the weakest ones I’ve heard in this lane), and we get a solid nothing about the story: Nothing about the other person, nothing about the relationship, nothing about the bar or the good time they’re trying to have…it’s just a guy getting fed a bunch of beers that aren’t serving any purpose. (Side note: If the beer isn’t helping, why do you keep drinking it? At some point, don’t you reach some sort of critical mass where the alcohol is going to do what it’s going to do, and if it doesn’t do it you’re sunk?) The whole exercise feels pointless to me, and with so many people on the radio doing the same thing right now, you need to find a way to stand out, and the writing doesn’t cut the mustard here.

“Longneck Way To Go” is easily Midland’s weakest single release to date, but while I wouldn’t call it good, it’s not that far away from good either. The key pieces are still present here (a distinct, retro sound that dares to sound different, and a solid trio of vocalists who know how to deliver a line and can even cover for a guy like Jon Pardi), but they’re undercut by generic, uninteresting subject matter, even if it’s a clear attempt to find their long-lost traction on the radio. They’re playing the game by playing to the crowd, and while I can respect that, I really wish that they had been able to maintain their 2017 momentum and make music more on their own terms. (Worse still, the fact that this hasn’t popped up on the Pulse yet tells me that the gambit isn’t working…) The future looks rough for Midland right now, but if they proved anything with “Drinkin’ Problem” back in the day, it’s that success is only a song away.

Rating: 6/10. It’s good for what it is, but it leaves you longing for what it isn’t.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 26, 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!

SongScore
1. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
4. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
5. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
6. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
7. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
8. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
9. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
10. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
11. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
12. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
13. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
14. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
15. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
16. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
17. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
18. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
19. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
20. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
21. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
22. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
23. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
24. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
25. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
26. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
27. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
38. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
29. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
30. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
31. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
32. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
33. Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You”+1 (6/10)
34. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
35. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
36. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
37. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
38. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
49. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
40. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
41. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
42. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
43. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
44. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
45. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
46. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
47. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
48. Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”+1 (6/10)
49. Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”-1 (4/10)
50. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+5
Overall Pulse0
Change From Last Week-1 😦

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Wait In The Truck,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (down from #4 to #6)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #22 to #37)
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” (down from #27 to #44)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (holds at #16 with a “meh” week)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (up from #46 to #45, but gained only seventeen spins and sixty-five points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #48 to #50 with a nearly 350-point loss, so this one might finally be dead)

In Real Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #26 to #24, but gained only twenty-three spins and lost points)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (up from #33 to #30, but lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (up from #47 to #46, but gained only twelve spins and twenty-eight points. This one’s a candidate for the zombie list soon)

In Some Trouble:

  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (holds at #19, but gained only fifty-six spins and eighty points)
  • Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge” (up from #28 to #26, but gained only twenty-one spins and fifty-five points)
  • Dan + Shay, “You” (down from #39 to #40, barely keeps its bullet by losing spins and breaking even on points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You” (up from #45 to #33)
  • Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck” (up from #29 to #25)
  • Dierks Bentley, “Gold” (up from #32 to #28)
  • Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends” (up from #43 to #39)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (spends a second week at #1, but it denied a Billboard #1))

Bubbling Under 50:

  • Hailey Whitters, “Everything She Ain’t”
  • Ashley Cooke & Brett Young, “Never ‘Til Now”
  • Ryan Griffin, “Salt, Lime And Tequila” (5/10)
  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”
  • Miranda Lambert, “Strange”

On The Way:

  • Jake Owen, “Up There Down Here”
  • Maren Morris, “I Can’t Love You Anymore”

Overall Thoughts: Did I say spins would be a bit harder to find this week? They wound up being a lot harder to gather, thanks to a logjam at the top of the chart (Wallen made a big move, while Thanos and Swindell mostly held serve at #1 at #2) and a few 1000+ points gains below them (most notably Brown & Brown gaining over 1700 points despite being outside the Top 30). The traffic jam at the top limited escalator movement this week, but with several songs set to leave next week (Tenpenny, Ray, Old Dominion) and at last one of the folks at the top likely to begin their descent, I expect a bit more in the way of spin availability and position movement going forward.

This week was Country Aircheck‘s biannual analysis of the gold charts, and there were a couple of noteworthy trends:

  • This was a big report for debuts, with 14 tracks making their first appearance on the Gold charts. That would seem to indicate that there’s a fair bit of turnover in the Gold rotations right now…except that there were only three debuts in the last chart, and while we saw an even bigger debut surge a year ago (24 new entries, including 7 of the top 10), a fair few of these have either already been cycled off of the Gold 100 or are on the verge on being tossed out (granted, these are snapshots that are very spread out and the rankings can be surprisingly volatile, so reading into any trends shown here can be tricky). I’m very curious to see just how much staying power recent tracks here, because the drop in song quality I’ve seen over the last few years makes me wonder if anything from this era will reach legendary status.
  • Women (five artists and seven songs) and groups (five artists and ten songs) continue to have minimal presence on the charts, and I don’t see either of these improving in the near future, as the artists here are either past their prime (Underwood, Lambert, Lady A, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band), have lost all of their momentum recently (Morris, Barrett, Old Dominion), or never had any momentum to being with (Rexha, LoCash). There are some promising names that might be eligible in a year or two (Carly Pearce? Lainey Wilson?), as well as some not-so-promising ones (Parmalee will probably claim a spot with “Take My Name”), but I don’t think the current balance will change all that much.
  • The 90s are dead, long live the 90s. The final holdout from the era (Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That) finally fell out of the Top 100 this time around, which means we’re getting mixed signals about neotraditional nostalgia: There have been some recent singles that have found success with 90s callbacks (“Like I Love Country Music,” “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”), but there doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite for the OG tracks, and despite the success of these songs we don’t see a ton of people rushing to follow their lead. For better or worse, the genre continues to move in a slicker direction with less sound variety than the era they supposedly hold in high esteem.

On the coronavirus front, the pandemic has faded into the background so completely that not even NPR bothered to update their case/death count page this week (the New York Times site continues to show declining new case and death counts, but the daily death count seems to be leveling off around 400…). Much of the country seems to have moved on from the pandemic, but the raw numbers (about 50,000 new case a day on top on the 400 deaths) still seem far too high to warrant ignoring. I’d really like to see us come together and make a big drive to drive these numbers all the way down, and we know exactly how to do it:

There may be a level of acceptance of the current COVID caseload among Americans, but such acceptance feels unacceptable to me. If we made one more concerted effort to squash this virus, we could finally bring this pandemic (and all of its associated needless suffering) to an end.

Song Review: Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee is the poster child for why people stick it out in Nashville for so long. The group is no better than they’ve ever been, and their material has been nothing but mediocre for the last decade…but then in 2021, Nashville suddenly decided they were done with Dan + Shay and wanted someone else to fill the genre’s quota of lightweight, flavorless pop-country, and Parmalee got the call. Then again, for as big a hit as “Take My Name” would up being, it’s a sample size of one (two if you include their Blanco Brown collab “Just The Way”), and the group could very quickly find themselves on the business end of the business if they’re not careful. Now would be the time for Parmalee to make a strong move and solidify their place at the top of the Boyfriend country heap…but instead we’re getting “Girl In Mine,” a generic, uninspired love song that fails to distinguish itself from its recent Boyfriend brethren. There’s never been a reason to tune in to Parmalee’s tunes, and this track doesn’t change that.

The production here sounds exactly as you’d expect it to sound: The slick guitars playing basic riffs, Grady Smith’s favorite snap track, the deliberate beat, the neutral-to-dark tones that don’t feel all that happy or romantic…I know I just complained about whether all this soundalike nonsense was me or Nashville, but on a generic Boyfriend track like this, I refuse to take all the blame. The producer deserves a little credit for making a dobro the primary melody carrier (the dobro isn’t as ever-present as the steel guitar, but it seems like we’re hearing more and more of it these days), but when electrified and buried under extra effects, it loses most of its distinct sound, and doesn’t add a whole lot more to the song than the guitars do. Like most love songs these days, the mix doesn’t have the feel I’m looking for—it seems like it’s going for a sensual feel, but not only does it miss the mark by a mile, it’s not the feel the lyrics seem to be going for (the “in my t-shirt” line seems to be the only true sex implication here). A song like this should feel like love, and this sound doesn’t move the needle in that department.

With dealing with a group like Parmalee, the best that you can hope for it for them to show some growth over time, especially when they’re moving to a new album cycle. Unfortunately, we see exactly zero evidence of this here, and much of what I said about “Take My Name” still applies:

  • “Lead singer Matt Thomas avoids any technical issues on the track, but there’s nothing compelling about him as a vocalist (or distinct either; if you told me that, say, Matt Stell was singing this song, I would believe you).”
  • “I’m sure the narrator cares a whole bunch about their significant other, but Thomas fails to allow the audience to share in those feelings, and thus he can’t convince them to give two you-know-whats about their love story…”
  • “The rest of the band is as invisible and replaceable as ever: There’s nothing distinct about their sound or their harmonies, so why does Stoney Creek bother keeping them on the payroll?”

All of is still true: Thomas is still as indistinguishable as ever, the narrator’s got something bubbling up inside him but can’t seem to get the audience to care, and with sounds and backing vocals this generic, I feel like Thomas needs to ditch the rest of these stiffs and strike out on his own, because the band contributes nothing of value to the song. I don’t like to repeat myself, but I also don’t like wasting my time on songs that aren’t worth the effort.

The lyrics here are yet another cookie-cutter-yet-incomplete effort, presented a half-painted effort in basic colors that the listener has to finish themselves. The narrator is infatuated with their partner, and they want them in everything they have (“in my t-shirt, in my ride, running circles in my mind,” and eventually in their world) so that they’re “the only girl in mine” (a weak hook if I’ve ever heard one). It’s just the same old stuff we get from every song in this lane (they get a few points for the screen lock reference, but it’s a throwaway line that barely registers), and we don’t get any sense of what makes this romance special or unique. It’s one of those tracks that tries to be intentionally vague (and you can’t get any vaguer than “In my Friday every weekend/All my days, my nights”) and relies on the listener to connect it back to their own romance for it to be even remotely effective. It’s one of those lazy soundalike songs that’s been done (and done better) a thousand times before, and there’s nothing in the lyrics that helps justify its existence.

“Girl In Mine” is a uninteresting song on a topic that’s been done to death over the last couple of years, and kind of feels like “Take My Name, Part 2” in Parmalee’s discography. I get that “Take My Name,” was big and you want to keep the hits coming, but you’ve got to give folks a reason to tune into the new track, and with uninteresting production, unimaginative writing, and an undistinguished performance from Parmalee, there’s no reason to pay any attention to this thing. It’s a great example of why I really want to get off of the mainstream grind, because there’s no payoff to doing so—you’re stuck with people copying other people (including themselves!) when the originals weren’t that good to begin with, and everyone’s sticking to a confining meta that demands surface-level listening only. It’s boring beyond belief, and everyone involved needs to do better.

Please tell me we don’t have to do this again next year…

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 19, 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!

SongScore
1. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
4. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
5. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
6. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
7. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
8. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”+1 (6/10)
9. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
10. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
11. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
12. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
13. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
14. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
15. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
16. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
17. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
18. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
19. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
20. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
21. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
22. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
23. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
24. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
25. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
26. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
27. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
28. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
29. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
30. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
31. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
32. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
33. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
34. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
35. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
36. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
38. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
39. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
40. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
41. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
42. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
43. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
44. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
45. Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank You”+1 (6/10)
46. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
47. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
48. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
49. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
50. Parmalee, “Girl In Mine”0 (5/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+6
Overall Pulse+1
Change From Last Week0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Wait In The Truck,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (recurrent)
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (down from #1 to #4)
  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (down from #5 to #8)
  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (down from #16 to #22. Is it finally dead?)
  • Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” (down from #12 to #27, appears to have been dropped in favor of the Chesney duet)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (up from #18 to #16 with a solid week of gains. Does it has enough to get to the Top 10?)
  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (up from #26 to #24 with an okay week, but I’m not ready to pull this off of the list yet)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #45 to #46, gained only four spins and forty-eight points. Riser needs to do everyone a favor and put this thing out of its misery)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (holds at #48 with a mediocre week, but it’s dead in the water)

In Real Trouble:

  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down from #46 to #47, gained only seventeen spins and ninety-one points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (up from #27 to #26, but gained only thirty-four spins and seventy-three points)
  • Matt Stell, “Man Made” (holds at #49, but gained only one spin and eighteen points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (up from #42 to #35)
  • Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around” (up from #23 to #18)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (up from #3 to #1, but it feels like Swindell let him have it rather than Combs taking it)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”
  • Jake Owen, “Up There Down Here”
  • Maren Morris, “I Can’t Love You Anymore”

Overall Thoughts: This week was a bit of a breather after the dry spell of the last few weeks. Thanos is king of the hill once again, but instead of being the arbiter of who gets to be #1, this time he’s the one being let onto the throne while someone else (Swindell) holds the actual seat of power. The title of “Thanos” may soon be in play (and it really annoys me that Wallen is the betting favorite to claim it). Despite a big push for #1, we didn’t have any major debuts (the Browns only made it to #45), and there were several premature (but not wholly unexpected) exits from Ray and Old Dominion that ensured that spins were available for anyone who needed them. Anyone who didn’t get them—I’m looking at you, Dillon Carmichael and Brett Eldredge—should probably be putting together an exit strategy, because if you can’t find success in a week like this, good luck when the competition tightens up in the weeks to come. I don’t see any huge debuts on the horizon yet, but Thanos tends to have a quick turnaround with new singles, so I think spins will be a bit harder to find next week.

On the coronavirus front, daily new case and death numbers continue to drop, and the pandemic has faded into the background so completely that President Biden felt comfortable declaring it “over” on 60 Minutes last weekend. While I understand that he was trying to say that the virus wasn’t the threat that it was at the start of the pandemic, I still disagree with him: This pandemic is still very much ongoing, and with 60,000+ new cases and 400+ new deaths a day on average, we really shouldn’t feel comfortable about our current position (especially since we’ve been stuck here for a while—things aren’t improving much, if at all). We still need to be proactive in our fight against COVID-19, and luckily we’ve got the tools to do so:

The pandemic isn’t “over,” but we’re in perhaps the most optimistic position that we’ve been in since the start of this whole mess. If we keep taking the proper steps to keep everyone safe, perhaps I’ll feel comfortable agreeing with the president’s assertion sooner rather than later.

Song Review: Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”

How do you out-Thomas Rhett Thomas Rhett? Instead of talking about your wife, let her do her own talking.

Kane Brown’s path through country music has been a fascinating one, from his Metro-Bro beginnings to his recent dalliances with more-traditional sounds. All of this appeared to culminate in his recent #1 “Like I Love Country Music,” a hat-tip to 90s country that defied the radio’s slow escalator by rocketing to the summit and spending a mere sixteen weeks on Billboard’s airplay chart. There’s almost no way to follow up a song like this, but the show must go on eventually, and Brown is now back with the third official single from Different Man, “Thank God.” While it’s got a slight odor of Boyfriend country, this track is a bit more along the lines of Chris Stapleton’s “Joy Of My Life” and Eric Church’s “Doing Life With Me,” a fact hammered home by having Brown’s wife Katelyn step in as his duet partner. I wouldn’t call it a great song, but it’s a solid effort that helps lift the genre rather than weigh it down.

Let’s start with the production, which somehow creates a soft and tender atmosphere for the song despite breaking some of the cardinal rules I’m always blathering about. Primary melody duties are passed between an acoustic and electric guitar (the former handles the verses, the latter takes the choruses), while percussion duties are covered mostly by a drum machine (it sounds like Grady Smith’s favorite snap track is back…). Outside of some synth notes and a steel guitar that’s marinated in audio effects, this is all you get, and when you factor in the lack of brightness in the instrument tones, this sounds more like a recipe for disaster than a love song. So how does the producer make it work? Part of it is that the overall volume level is relatively low, letting the song support the vocals without stepping on them. Part of it is the measured, relaxed tempo that make the song less passion-driven and ephemeral, and makes the characters feel more connected and invested in the relationship. Part of it is the overall softness of the instrument tones (especially the drum machine, which is washed-out enough to sand the edges off of what’s usually a cold, hard beat), which helps the song feel a bit warmer and more heartfelt. Whatever the reason, I have to give some reason to whoever was in the production booth: It’s not a standout sound that will stick in my brain long, but it’s a suitable sound that does its job and keeps the focus where it should be.

Honestly, my first question after hearing this was “Who the heck is Katelyn Brown, and why haven’t we heard from her before?” Apparently she’s a singer in her own right who’s been more focused on the business side of the industry lately, but she’s a credible presence and a decent vocalist behind the mic ( I hear bits and pieces of Gabby Barrett and Kelsea Ballerini in her voice), and she’s got quite of bit of vocal chemistry with her husband (which probably shouldn’t be a surprise). For his part, Brown has trended away from the deeper vocal range that got him noticed early on, but he’s still got good tone higher in his range, and his floe is as effortless as ever. He doesn’t stand out quite as much as he did initially, but he pulls off the Rhett-esque metamorphosis perfectly here, moving past his Metro-Bro roots and into the role of a dedicated partner by bringing some notable depth and charisma to the table (of course, having his wife on this track doesn’t hurt either). This is an artist that’s shown some serious growth and maturation over the years, and honestly both artists do a nice job here. So when are we getting that Katelyn Brown solo album?

The writing isn’t terrible here, but I’d still call it the weakest part of the song. This is a fairly standard song of devotion (there’s no interesting backstory as in “Doing Life With Me”), and while there are hints of a longstanding relationship here (particularly in the opening lines), I think it’s the Browns that give the song a feeling of commitment more than anything else. The reliance on spiritual language (angels, Bibles, forgiveness, and of course the “Thank God” hook, which isn’t really that strong) is also nothing new or attention-grabbing, but it does get some points for its unwavering consistency. The main selling point of the lyrics is that by leaning into the sentimentality and religiosity, it leaves a lot of hooks for a charismatic performer to elevate the song to make it feel more meaningful, which works when you’ve got a pair of capable performers behind the mic as we do here. (It also allows for the other person to deliver their own side of the story, even if it doesn’t seem like it intentionally written that way.) It’s a story that’s not terribly interesting by itself, but it allows the pieces around it to make it feel a bit more special.

“Thank God” is a decent song that’s part of a decent mini trend that offers hope that we can finally move past the Boyfriend country hookup era, and I’d call it another decent step along the career path of Kane Brown (and a huge step for Katelyn Brown—could this lead to a solo release?). There haven’t been a ton of bright spots in country music recently, but I think Brown has become one (especially when compared to other A and B-listers). He runs the risk of falling into the same trap that Rhett did by overdoing this sort of song (and admittedly this song falls far short of greatness), but I’ll take this track for now, and look forward to better things to come.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a listen to see how it strikes you.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 12, 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!

SongScore
1. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
4. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
5. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”+1 (6/10)
6. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
7. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
8. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
9. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely”0 (5/10)
10. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
11. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
12. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
13. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
14. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
15. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
16. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
17. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
18. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
19. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
20. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
21. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
22. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
23. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
24. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
25. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
26. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
27. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
28. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
29. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
30. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
31. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
32. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
33. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
34. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
35. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
36. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
37. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
38. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
39. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
40. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
41. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
42. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+3 (8/10)
43. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
44. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
45. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
46. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
47. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
48. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
49. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
50. Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”+1 (6/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+6
Overall Pulse+1
Change From Last Week0

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “Fall In Love,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” (down from #1 to #5)
  • Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (down from #5 to #9)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You (holds at #16, but gained only six spins and 129 points)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (down from #17 to #18, gained only forty-six spins and 120 points, and has stuck in neutral in the high teens for what seems like forever)
  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (up from #27 to #26 and had another decent week—could this one fight its way off the list?)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (down from #44 to #45, gained only two spins and fifty-four points, and just hasn’t found an audience. This one needs to be tossed overboard)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (down from #47 to #48 and lost its bullet again. This thing has been floating in the high forties for a while now, it should go overboard too)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (holds at #30, but lost its bullet)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (down from #45 to #46, gained only one spin and seventeen points. I’m thisclose to declaring it DOA and tossing it overboard too)

In Some Trouble:

  • Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” (down from #24 to #25, gained only twenty spins and sixty-three points. This one hasn’t looked particularly strong as of late…)
  • Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby” (up from #38 to #37, but gained only twenty-six spins and ninety-one points)
  • Dan + Shay, “You” (up from #40 to #39, but gained only twenty-nine spins and seventy-seven points)
  • Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me” (re-enters at #50, but gained only seven spins and twenty-two points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “wait in the truck” (up from #50 to #42)
  • Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love” (up from #18 to #14)
  • Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends” (up from #48 to #44)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (holds at #3 for a second week in a row, will likely wait its turn behind Swindell)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • Not listed in Country Aircheck this week.

On The Way:

  • Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”
  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”

Overall Thoughts: This smells like one of those underhanded weeks giving us yet another manufactured #1 hit, but the stench isn’t quite as strong this time around. More spins and points seemed to be available thank to significant losses from Moore and Pardi, and more song appeared to take advantage of them. Still, this #1 still feels a little slimy (especially with a split chart this week; Swindell grabbed #1 on Billboard so Tenpenny’s team was left to out-spin them on Mediabase), and there’s still a noticeable difference between the songs doing okay and the songs who are really profiting right now (aside from Tenpenny, ten other tracks were able to gain 1000+ points, and another song (at #44!) racked up over 800. It feels like an amalgamation over nearly every trend we’ve covered on the Pulse: Playlist shortening, spin inequality, the “express lane” that A-list artists take advantage of, etc. The Pulse is slightly better this week with the trade of Young/Tenpenny for Church, but I really don’t see an ton of optimism on the horizon, which means that if things are going to improve, it’s going to come from a place we didn’t expect, which has kinda been 2022’s calling card thus far.

On the coronavirus front, daily new case numbers continue to drop (although the death numbers appear to have stagnated), and the outlook worldwide has improved to the point that the WHO has gone on record saying that “the end [of the pandemic] is in sight.” While I wouldn’t go that far yet (I don’t think we’ll see the full effects of the back-to-school season for another week or so, and the number of notices I’m getting about active cases in our community has been growing rapidly over the last week…), there are definitely some reasons for optimism right now. However, we shouldn’t take this as a cue to relax just yet—as WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus put it, this is a marathon we’re running, and “Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.” That means that we should stick to our best practices for now to make sure we finish this race:

As tired as all of you may be, I’m asking you to stick with us a little bit longer for the sake of the world. We might finally have a chance to bring this pandemic to an end, and we don’t want to miss it.

Song Review: Eric Church, “Doing Life With Me”

So how do you do a Boyfriend country song right? Well, moving past the boyfriend stage is a good place to start.

Eric Church has never been a hugely successful artist by traditional measures (in an era where mediocre singles regularly ride the escalator to #1, Church only seems to reach the chart summit every couple of years), but he’s built himself a successful brand and a devoted following over the course…wow, has it been over fifteen years already? His decision to carve out his own path has given him a fair amount of freedom when it comes to single releases, allowing him to look past ephemeral trends and make music with some actual meaning behind it. Of course, he also stands out through better execution as well, which brigs us to his current single “Doing Life With Me,” for fourth song from his Heart & Soul triple album. It’s a standard love song (i.e. not usually a song that registers with me at all), but it’s got some added texture that elevate it above beyond the usual wafer-thin Boyfriend fare and its contemporary “Joy Of My Life” from Chris Stapleton despite plowing essentially the same ground.

Let’s start with the production, which is eerily similar to Stapleton’s song when you listen to the pair back-to-back, featuring the same “prominent acoustic guitar” and same “light-touch snare percussion.” The electric guitar is here, but not nearly as prominent (Stapleton gave it the bridge solo; this one is limited to background work on the final chorus), and producer Jay Joyce adds a bit of extra brightness to the mix courtesy of Charlie Worsham‘s mandolin (side note: this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Worsham in the “liner notes” of a Topic video; is he following Ilya Toshinsky’s lead and turning into a session player?). Worhsma’s work and the faster tempo helps to put a spring in the step of this song, and honestly makes it feel more happy and joyful than Stapleton’s track, despite Stapleton putting “Joy” in the title! The mix gets a little heavier when the piano jumps in near the end, but it never gets in the way of the writing, and the warm, positive atmosphere it creates reflects and amplifies the narrator’s good vibes and helps the audience share in his mood. It’s a rare love song that I actually kinda-sorta enjoy listening to, and it’s why I wish more people move beyond the generic guitar-and-drum formula to find ways to make their mixes both stand out and support their messages.

As far as Church goes…let’s be honest, outside of Dierks Bentley he’s probably the only artist who could deliver a song like this with any credibility. His outsider persona and position as an heir to the outlaw movement makes him exactly the kind of person you might expect to live hard and stare down a judge’s gavel a time or two. The song really doesn’t test him on a technical level (although he jumps up into his falsetto a time or two without breaking a sweat), but it’s all about selling the audience on the story and letting them share in the narrator’s feelings, and Church’s warm, weathered delivery and abundant charisma are more than up to the task. There’s a profound sense of gratitude that radiates through this performance, and when he says he’s moved beyond personal wants and learned to appreciate the important things in life, you nod along without question.) In contrast with the many interchangeable turns behind the mic we’ve gotten this year, this is a song that would suffer considerably with nearly anyone else on the vocals, and Church doesn’t miss his pitch here.

At its core, this is a simple love song for the narrator’s partner, and while we’ve certainly gotten more than our share of these over the last few years, there are a few things I like about this one over the field:

  • For one thing, this isn’t your typical love story: The narrator has been around the block a few times, living as a traveling musician (or “a road dog,” as they put it) and going through some serious rough patches (“The fists and the fights and the scars of the battle, the ups and the downs of the judge’s gavel”). Although it’s heavy on metaphors and light on details, its a seriously compelling story to hear, and it makes the devotion of the speaker’s partner sound that much more impressive.
  • An outgrowth of this long story is the implication of a longstanding relationship behind it. This is not a fly-by-night Boyfriend artist declaring someone their forever love on first sight; this is a time-tested partnership featuring love with a capital L, the kind of special bond that’s worth devoting a song too.
  • Honestly, I like the plainspoken-yet-witty feel of the lyrics, with the narrator able to express their affection (and work in some nice turns of phrase) without getting too flowery in their prose. The writing for “Joy Of My Life” always felt a little too gooey and saccharine to me, which may have contributed to its heavier feel overall. (Stapleton’s tune is also very reliant on generic, predictable imagery; even lines like “spend my living giving thanks for the ships I never sank” feel fresh by comparison.)

Where Stapleton is reliant on the listener to contribute their own experiences to the song, Church has a story of his own to tell, and it’s one that I appreciated hearing.

“Doing Life With Me” may not be groundbreaking or edgy, but it’s a classic tale that’s set up and executed to perfection, and is the rare love song that actually adds something to the airwaves. The production is breezy and tasteful, the writing has something meaningful to share, and Eric Church sells the story wonderfully with his background and his roguish charm. It’s a solid recipe for a solid song, and I wish some other members of the genre would start taking notes: Tell your own story, use the sound to support it, and just try to be honest and forthcoming in the vocal booth. I’ve called out a few Nashville denizens who really need to take a break, but Church sounds like he’s in top form and could keep going for a while, and I’m totally okay with that.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen or two to see what you think.

Song Review: HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”

If you’re going to pull me away from Splatoon 3 on its launch day, you’d better have a good reason…but for once in his life, HARDY might have one.

Up to this point, HARDY has been a plague on the house of country music, responsible for some of the hottest garbage we’ve seen over the last few years as both a performer (“REDNECKER,” “The Worst Country Song Of All Time,”) and as a writer (“Up Down,” “Hell Right,” “Come Back As A Country Boy”). As bad as he’s been, however, some semblance of redemption is never more than a song away, as a great tune can stand on its own merits regardless of who happens to be behind the mic. Michael Ray (the man behind junk such as “Think A Little Less” and “One That Got Away”) proved this earlier in the year with “Holy Water,” and now HARDY might have his own diamond in the rough, teaming up with Lainey Wilson for the presumed leadoff single for his next project, “wait in the truck.” The song is a dark tale of violence and retribution, the sort of tale that’s tailor made for a country song, and all of the pieces come together to create something that’s simultaneously unsettling and satisfying.

First, let’s talk about the production, which does a nice job creating such a potent atmosphere with such a sparse arrangement. The primary melody driver here is an acoustic guitar with a darker, no-nonsense tone, and aside from an unobtrusive drum set and a few carefully-placed synth tones, that’s pretty much all you get. Less can be more, however, and I’m impressed at how potent an atmosphere this mix creates, calling back to the guitar solos of old Western movies to create an image of the solitary white-hatted vigilante enforcing their own code of justice. (Eventually a backup choir is called in to give the song some volume and power—not to mention a spiritual feel—but by then the story is mostly told, and the morally-ambivalent ending and request for forgiveness makes this feel like a fitting closer.) By creating such a strong atmosphere with such a small arrangement, it allows the sound to stay out of the way of the writing and keep the focus on the story. Honestly, I think it’s the chord structure that impresses me the most: How the heck did the producer create something this foreboding without using any minor chords? (The answer is apparently special tuning, slash chords, and added tone chords, but that’s a bit above my pay grade.) It’s an impressively-constructed mix that does exactly what it’s supposed to and nothing it shouldn’t, and one can only hope that HARDY’s team takes note of this style in leans into this direction more in the future.

Speaking of HARDY, can the guy behind “REDNECKER” really sound credible on a serious song with blood on the floor? Actually, yes: He’s positioned himself as a bro’s bro up to this point, and killing an abusive partner sight unseen is exactly the kind of straightforward, eye-for-an-eye response that the bro code demands when a wrong has been committed. All you really have to believe is that the narrator has enough of a sense of honor to go through with it, and HARDY’s emotionless demeanor helps seal the deal: They neither excited or repulsed by what they’re doing—it’s just what they feel they have to do. I’m torn on Wilson’s presence on the track: It allows us to get the perspective of both the victim and the vigilante, but I don’t feel like the perspective actually adds anything to the story here. This is partially the writing’s fault for not taking the opportunity to provide any backstory or other details, but Wilson’s delivery also feels a little too even-keel from someone who just went through a traumatic experience. Still, just making her a non-silent protagonist helps add a bit more punch to the story, so I suppose it was a chance worth taking. Overall, this was a solid effort from both artists, and they do a nice job selling the story to the audience.

Okay, let’s talk about this story! Much like Taylor Swift’s “no body, no crime,” the narrator here finds themselves privy to an unsavory situation (in this case, domestic abuse), and takes it upon themselves to remedy it by killing the perpetrator. Unlike Swift’s song, however, there’s no deception at play: The narrator asks few questions, does the deed, accepts the consequences, and finds a life sentence a small price to pay for getting someone out of a bad situation. Despite the murder ballad’s reputation as a country staple, you don’t hear too many of them on the radio today, and I really like how this song sets up the story: We get exactly the level of detail we need to visualize the scenes, and the narrator’s insight into their thought process helps make them an understandable and even sympathetic character. (They never explicitly tell you they’re doing it because it has to be done, but the way they leap into action and then just wait for the other shoe to drop tells the audience everything they need to know.) I don’t condone violence in a situation like this, and the narrator’s decision feels a bit rash the more you think about it (maybe they should have gotten the victim some medical attention?), but at least we understand why certain decisions were made and why things turned out the way they did. It’s a gripping tale that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish, and I wish more story songs like this one (…okay, maybe with a little less violence) would find their way to mainstream radio.

I didn’t think HARDY had a song like “wait in the truck” in him, but in a year of unexpected surprises this might be the biggest one of all. The producer sets the mood, the writing keeps us on the edge of our seats, and HARDY and Lainey Wilson tell a credible tale of how everything went down. It’s hands-down the best song I’ve heard in 2022, and while it may not be enough to save what’s been a tire fire of a year on mainstream radio, I hope it’s something that both HARDY and Wilson can build on, and if it does well (unlike Swift’s single), maybe Nashville will start thinking about adding a bit more grit and substance to their offerings.

…Yeah, I don’t think it will happen either, but a person can dream, can’t they?

Rating: 8/10. Believe it or not, you don’t want to miss this one.

The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: September 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!

SongScore
1. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”+1 (6/10)
2. Cole Swindell, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina”-1 (4/10)
3. Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make”+1 (6/10)
4. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You”0 (5/10)
5. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely”0 (5/10)
6. Morgan Wallen, “You Proof”-1 (4/10)
7. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”0 (5/10)
8. Tyler Hubbard, “5 Foot 9”-1 (4/10)
9. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story”0 (5/10)
10. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'”+1 (6/10)
11. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar”0 (5/10)
12. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”+1 (6/10)
13. Thomas Rhett ft. Riley Green, “Half Of Me”0 (5/10)
14. Luke Bryan, “Country On”-2 (3/10)
15. Jelly Roll, “Son Of A Sinner”+2 (7/10)
16. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”0 (5/10)
17. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode”-1 (4/10)
18. Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall In Love”-3 (2/10)
19. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”0 (5/10)
20. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle”0 (5/10)
21. Lee Brice, “Soul”0 (5/10)
22. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home”0 (5/10)
23. Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”-1 (4/10)
24. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST”0 (5/10)
25. Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does”0 (5/10)
26. Jordan Davis, “What My World Spins Around”-1 (4/10)
27. Brett Young, “You Didn’t”+1 (6/10)
28. Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You”0 (5/10)
29. Priscilla Block, “My Bar”0 (5/10)
30. Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”+1 (6/10)
31. Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”-1 (4/10)
32. Lainey Wilson, “Heart Like A Truck”0 (5/10)
33. Blake Shelton, “No Body”-1 (4/10)
34. Michael Ray, “Holy Water”+2 (7/10)
35. Dierks Bentley, “Gold”+1 (6/10)
36. Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”0 (5/10)
37. Carly Pearce, “What He Didn’t Do”+1 (6/10)
38. Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby”-1 (4/10)
39. Cody Johnson, “Human”0 (5/10)
40. Dan + Shay, “You”0 (5/10)
41. Randy Houser, “Note To Self”+2 (7/10)
42. Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”0 (5/10)
43. Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”-3 (2/10)
44. Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”0 (5/10)
45. Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You”0 (5/10)
46. Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”0 (5/10)
47. Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”0 (5/10)
48. Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”0 (5/10)
49. Matt Stell, “Man Made”0 (5/10)
50. HARDY ft. Lainey Wilson, “Wait In The Truck”+4 (9/10)*
Present Pulse (#1—#25)-5
Future Pulse (#26—#50)+6
Overall Pulse+1
Change From Last Week+2 🙂

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Son Of A Sinner,” 7/10
Worst Song: “Wait In The Truck,” 9/10

Gone:

  • Kane Brown, “Like I Love Country Music” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (down from #1 to #5)
  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (down from #7 to #11)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You (holds at #16, but lost its bullet)
  • Brett Young, “You Didn’t” (up from #28 to #27 and had a decent week, but it’s struggled way too much to get off this list so easily)

In Real Trouble:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” (holds at #17, but lost its bullet)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (up from #36 to #34, but gained only twenty-two spins and ninety-one points)
  • Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A” (up from #46 to #44, but gained only twenty-eight spins and ninety-five points)
  • Brett Eldredge, “Songs About You” (up from #47 to #45, but gained only six spins and eighty-two points)
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (up from #48 to #47, but gained only three spins and lost points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (holds at #29, but gained only thirty-five spins and lost points)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life” (up from #31 to #30, but gained only twenty-four spins and eighty-eight points)
  • Cody Johnson, “Human” (up from #40 to #39, but gained only nine spins and twenty points)
  • Randy Houser, “Note To Self” (up from #42 to #41, but gained only twenty-eight spins and forty-three points)
  • Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life” (holds at #43, but gained only thirty-five spins and sixty-nine points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Blake Shelton, “No Body” (up from #38 to #33)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “The Kind Of Love We Make” (holds at #3)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Scotty McCreery, “It Matters To Her”

Overall Thoughts: This smells like one of those underhanded weeks giving us yet another manufactured #1 hit. Consider the following:

  • Spins appear to be have been pretty tight despite no major debuts and a regression to the mean from Chesney/Old Dominion, and the major reason for this was an 1100+ spin gain for Moore to reach #1.
  • Big pushes to #1 are nothing new and aren’t particularly nefarious, but the fact that most songs were able to post decent spin gains tells me that high-quality spins were available, suggesting that Moore was drawing heavily from overnight rotations for their gains.

I’m not calling leaning on the 2 AM playlists that no one listens to for their #1 push is suspicious…but let’s just say that if country music were a game of Among Us, Moore would be getting unanimously voted out this round.

There’s more I could say about this week, but I think I’ll save most of it for my eventual review of “Wait In The Truck.” I’ll say this: Between this song and “Holy Water,” country music is getting quality from the most unexpected places this year.

On the coronavirus front, things remain relatively calm: Daily new case and death numbers continue to drop, and much of the focus right now is on the recently-approved omicron-specific booster shots (generally the answer to “when should you get one?” is “yesterday”). Things do appear to be trending in the right direction, but it’s still worth noting that the raw numbers are still way too high to take lightly, and it’s still too early to see how the start of the school year will impact these trends. Thankfully, we still have the tools we need to maximize our chances of keeping the virus at bay:

Things may appear to be at a lull right now, but that’s only because we’ve been in a really bad spot for the last two-plus years, and the potential for things to get worse once again is still there. We still need to remain vigilant, and to continue to do the right things to keep ourselves and our fellow citizens safe.