Song Review: Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots”

When George Jones asked “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”, I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

Say what you want about Lane (and I’ve certainly said a lot about him), but you can’t call him unpredictable: Whenever he thinks he needs a hit, he goes to the same old “hit on a girl at the bar” well he’s been drawing from since “Fix” in 2015. (To his credit, he tries to rise above this material, but he struggles to sell it whenever he does: “For Her” only made it to #10 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Big, Big Plans” took nearly eighteen months to top the charts.) After no new releases in 2020, Lane was in need of a another hit, and the result is as predictable as it is sad: “Fill Them Boots,” the likely second single off of Lane’s next album, and yet another guy hitting on yet another girl in yet another bar. It’s not interesting, endearing, or even fun—it’s nothing but the latest exhibit in a mounting body of evidence suggesting that Lane should have his country music membership card revoked.

Lane has tried to move beyond the slick, synthetic sound of “Fix,” but unfortunately he’s only made it to the point of sounding exactly like everyone else on the radio. The mix kicks off with a single acoustic guitar and simple mostly-stick drum line, but the chorus brings in the usual electric guitars and a drum machine, and we’re left with the same arrangement everyone else is leaning on these days. However, that isn’t to say there aren’t some improvements here: The instrument tones are brighter and the electric guitars have a bit more texture to their sound, giving the song a more optimistic and hopeful vibe (which might work if someone else were singing the song, but we’ll talk about that later). Unfortunately, these improvements aren’t enough to make the mix stand out from its peers, and the overly-positive vibes feel a little awkward in context (“how great is it that you’re going through a painful breakup, eh?”). Overall, I think Lane’s sound is trending in the right direction, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be right now, and as a result, the listener doesn’t even realize it was playing until it’s over.

Somebody needs to sit Lane down and tell him that there are more ways to become a country superstar than being a creepy dudebro (although admittedly that’s been one of the more-effective tactics over the last decade). There aren’t any technical issues here (he handles some isolated rapid-fire syllable okay, although it’s weird to here someone who was jumping into their falsetto on “Fix” stay deep within their lower range here), but there’s a serious lack of empathy on display during this conversation. The other person is going through a painful breakup, but instead of showing any compassion or sympathy for them, Lane’s attitude is more “hey girl, I’m right here; let’s party and forget about him!” He doesn’t care about the other person’s well-being—he just smells a chance to score with a hot lady on the rebound. Through this lens, the implications that there don’t have to be any strings attached sound less like giving the other person control and more like he’s just in it for the good time and doesn’t really care if anytime comes of the moment or not. Overall, despite his occasional forays into more wholesome subjects, it’s the horny, disingenuous narrator from “Fix” and “I Don’t Know About You” that shines through on this track, and we’ve got enough losers like that in Nashville already.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A guy walks into a bar, sees someone else already drinking, and decides that they are “too fine not to try” approaching and picking up. Sure, the writers try to frame in a chivalrous manner by making the other person a victim of a breakup and having the narrator be up for anything, but that’s not a terribly original angle either, and they undermine the narrator with immature lines like “what you think about a late night turn-it-up,” and the cringiest of all, “hold you like a Dixie cup.” (That “scoot on over” line is a bit too pushy for my tastes as well.) Instead of acknowledging the pain and letting the other person tell their story, the narrator immediately jumps to all the things the pair could do together to put the memory aside, treating said person not like a wounded soul but as an easy mark for a pickup line. Even worse, the suggested activities are the same drink-and-party tactics that these meatheaded bros use even when there’s not a breakup—it’s the same old song with a slightly different context, a weak hook, and no story beyond the initial setup. In other words, there’s nothing to hear here, and the listener tunes out the whole mess before the second verse.

“Fill Them Boots” winds up being an empty song, with no emotion, no substance, and no reason to pay attention. The sound is cookie-cutter, the lyrics are half-baked, and Chris Lane is absolutely terrible in the role of a sympathetic narrator that totally has the other person’s best interests at heart. At this point, I’ve had my fill of Lane’s boots and I’m tired of putting up with his shenanigans—he’s flashed some talent in the past, but if he’s going to keep creeping on people in bars and dropping stinkbombs like this track on us, I don’t want him anywhere near my stereo. There are way better artists looking for a spot in Nashville right now, so Lane needs to take a hike and not let the door hit him on the way out (and take Dustin Lynch with him when he goes).

Rating: 4/10. Next!

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 10, 2021

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. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
2. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
3. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
4. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
5. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
6. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
7. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
8. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
9. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
10. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
11. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
12. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
13. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
14. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
15. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
16. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
17. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
18. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
19. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
20. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
21. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
22. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
23. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
24. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
25. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
26. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
27. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
28. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
29. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
30. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
31. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
32. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
33. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
34. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
35. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
36. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
37. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
38. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
39. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
40. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
41. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
42. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
43. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
44. Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” 0 (5/10)
45. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
46. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
47. Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” -1 (4/10)
48. Brett Young, “Not Yet” +1 (6/10)
49. Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” 0 (5/10)
50. Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” -1 (4/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +12
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -3
Overall Pulse +9
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” (recurrent)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (recurrent)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” (down from #14 to #21)
  • Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” (collapses from #2 to #23)

In Real Trouble:

  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #44 to #41, but gained only thirty-seven spins and 116 points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (holds at #42, but lost its bullet)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (holds at #43, but lost its bullet)
  • Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (up from #47 to #46, but gained only fifteen spins and ninety-six points)
  • Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (down from #49 to #50, gained only twelve spins and sixteen points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” (up from #9 to #8, but gained only thirty-four spins and forty-one points)
  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” (up from #18 to #15, but gained only forty-nine spins and ninety-four points)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (up from #31 to #30, but gained only forty spins and ninety-eight points)
  • Michael Ray, “Whiskey & Rain” (up from #40 to #38, but gained only seventeen spins and seventy-five points)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (up from #41 to #39, but gained only nineteen spins and ninety-four points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (up from #46 to #40)
  • Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” (up from #12 to #7)
  • Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” (up from #19 to #15)
  • Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (up from #22 to #17)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” (up from #24 to #19)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #7 to #5)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Kip Moore, “Good Life”
  • Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave”

Overall Thoughts: Folks, we are officially on the precipice of disaster: With Rascal Flatts and Arts on their way out and a ton of zeros on the board (nearly half the chart is at 5/10!), it looks like we’re in for an extremely boring summer in mainstream radio. The spring churn continues with a number of songs leaping four or more spots this week, but by and large the stuff that’s climbing and the stuff that’s rushing in to fill the void at the bottom is not that good. It’s got me thinking that country songs aren’t meant to be listened too anymore; it’s just meant to be background noise that can be easily ignored while you do other important (or not-so-important) things. (It would explain the rapid decline of story songs in the genre—who has the time or attention span to listen to one of those anymore?) It’s frustrating from a critical standpoint (listening and thinking deeply about songs is 80% of what I do around here), but there’s good money in mediocrity these days, which is why the Pulse is likely to dip below zero as the temperatures rise.

The good news is that coronavirus cases are also continuing to trend downwards, with new diagnoses down almost 30% over the last two weeks (sadly the decline in deaths is not as dramatic, bringing the overall toll to over 582,000 in the U.S.). Vaccination numbers continue to creep upwards (44.7% of the adult population in the U.S is now fully vaccinated), and with Pfizer’s vaccine now approved for children as young as 12, expect the country’s total numbers to climb even further. NPR reports that 46.1% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and guess who now counts among that 46.1%?

I was mildly annoyed at the state for making me wait as long for an appointment as I did, but I’ve got to give credit where credit is due: When the day came, I found the process easy, efficient, and 100% effective. Both the signup and the follow-up booking process were quick and painless, and the staff members I encountered were friendly, professional, and very good at what they did. (I really liked the informational papers they provided, which included answers to some common questions such as side effects, vaccine ingredients, and exactly what an “Emergency Use Authorization” was. It was the sort of thing I’d like to see distributed a bit more widely to folks who are on the fence about the shot.) I had a needle stuck in my arm within ten minutes of arriving, and outside of some injection-site soreness, I haven’t felt any side effects at all. My opinion on the whole process is best summed up by the hardest working man in show business:

I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet gotten a vaccine appointment to do so as their earliest convenience, and to continue following best practices (masks, social distancing, etc.) until we finally put this pandemic behind us. A return to something resembling normal is coming, and the sooner folks get vaccinated, the sooner we can all take the exit ramp off of this road of ruin.

They Had Their Moments: What Happened to Emerson Drive?

Image from YouTube

Bands are a common feature of most musical genres: A group of people get together, decide they sound passable, choose the weirdest possible name, and voila! A new act has arrived on the scene, even if that scene is just a garage or a local corner bar. Country music, however, is an exception: While groups have certainly left their mark on the genre (The Carter Family, The Statler Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, etc.), the landscape is by and large dominated by individuals, with standout singers backed by anonymous players. (Case in point: Only five out of the top fifty singles on the May 3rd Mediabase chart are led by duos or groups, with a sixth featuring a duo in…well, a featured role.) In recent years, groups tend to emerge via Nashville’s time-honored tradition of copying whatever is successful in the moment (witness all the bands that were signed after Alabama began dominating in the 1980s). Very few of them leave the legacy of an Alabama or Rascal Flatts, but they usually drop at least one track that resonates with listeners and stays with them long after the track has left the charts. One such band is the Canadian group Emerson Drive, whose brief rise and rapid fall left folks like Antoinette asking “What happened?”

The crazy thing about Emerson Drive is that if you’re north of the border, the group hasn’t really gone that far: The group has maintained a strong presence on the Canadian charts over the last decade, earning a Top Ten hit as recently as 2018. They’ve all but disappeared from American radio, however, which begs the question: The group had some big hits during the 2000s (most notably their 2007 #1 “Moments”) so why couldn’t they turn their momentum into something more sustainable? The truth is that we’ve identified a number of factors that are crucial to long-term success in country music, and none of them were working in Emerson Drive’s favor during their foray in the States.

Part I: The Origin Story

Emerson Drive was formed in the mid-90s under the name “12 Gauge,” and didn’t start making noise at a national level until 1997 with Until You Walk The Tracks, which spawned a pair of tracks that found their way into the lower regions of Billboard’s Canadian airplay chart (the best-performing of these songs only made it to #36). Despite their meager track record, the group decide to move to Nashville in 1999 looking for their big break. This choice seems like an odd one to me: If you were struggling to succeed in the Canadian market, why would you try your luck in a tougher and more-crowded market in the U.S.? (Then again, given how many American country singles cross over onto the Canadian charts, perhaps they were already competing with them anyway.)

As crazy as the move may have seemed, however, the band’s timing was perfect: Bands were seeing somewhat of a renaissance across the musical landscape, and while there were some country acts reaping the benefits (most notably Lonestar and The Chicks), the groups that Emerson Drive owes the biggest thanks too had nothing to do with country music:

Image From Vulture

Pop music around the turn of the millennium was dominated by the rise of boy bands, and the two biggest ones were NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys. The names may only pop up today as part of Justin Timberlake’s origin story (anyone heard from Nick Carter lately?), but they were all the rage when Emerson Drive reached Nashville: The Backstreet Boys would drop “I Want I That Way” in 1999, and NSYNC would respond with “Bye Bye Bye” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” a year later. Country music is forever trying to worm its way into the realm of pop, and when Lonestar’s “Amazed” exploded and showed what could be accomplished with a group that was nearly a decade old by that point, major labels began dreaming about what they could do with a boy band of their very own.

Another fortuituos development was the rise of several newer labels that were hungry to make their name in Guitar Town, and finding a countrified boy-band would be just the way to do it. Lyric Street Records (founded in 1997) took their shot in 1999 by Rascal Flatts (SHeDAISY also joined Lyric Street that year), and DreamWorks Nashville (also founded in 1997) decided to make their own bet on the idea, signing Emerson Drive in 2000 and framing them as a hip, youthful group, as seen in their promotional material and videos:

The experiment worked, at least for an album: The group’s first two singles, “I Should Be Sleeping” and “Fall Into Me,” both cracked the Top 5 on Billboard’s U.S. airplay chart and reached the fabled Top 40 on the Hot 100. The band was off and running, or so it seemed.

Part II: Everything’s Changed

Yes, I know the title is actually a Lonestar song, but consistency and support are the major factors that can play into a band’s long-term viability, and the short version of this post is that Emerson Drive had exactly zero of either when it mattered.

Let’s travel back in time to 2002 for a moment: At that point, both Rascal Flatts and Emerson Drive had roughly equal standing. RF had just released the leadoff single for their sophomore album (“These Days,” the group’s first Billboard airplay #1), but it was only their fifth single in total, and Emerson Drive was going toe-to-toe with them in the battle for genre supremacy. When we look at the fundamentals of each group, however, there were some very striking differences, and likely led to the divergence between the two groups in subsequent years:

  • Label Support: Lyric Street would eventually fold in 2010, but for the bulk of the prior decade the Disney-owned label was firmly in Rascal Flatts’s corner, and even came up with some cross-promotional gimmicks that led to one of the trio’s biggest hits (“Life Is A Highway”). DreamWorks, however, was a different story: As Toby Keith found out the hard way, the label suffered from financial struggles, and wound up dropping Emerson Drive in 2004 before closing for good a year later. The group quickly found a new home with Midas Records (founded in 2005), but the label wound up closing its country division in 2008, leaving the group in an awkward position where the rights to their 2008 album Believe were split between Midas (they owned it) and Valory Music Group (they were responsible for promoting it). By the time Rascal Flatts signed with Big Machine in 2010, Emerson Drive was already on its fourth label, signing with Open Road Recordings that same year. (Or maybe the count is five? The Boot reports that the group actually started their own label in 2010.) All these changes meant that Emerson Drive simply wasn’t able to establish a consistent presence in the U.S., despite its radio success.
  • Band Members: Rascal Flatts is Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus, and Joe Don Rooney; it always has been, and it likely always will be. Emerson Drive, on the other hand, has been in flux since the moment it was formed: Several members had already left before the group moved to Nashville, and two more members were added before they joined DreamWorks. Between 2002 and 2003, three more members had to be replaced, and tragedy struck in 2007 when bass player Patrick Bourque left the group and committed suicide soon afterwards. While the band has never had to replace their lead vocalist (Brad Mates has been there since the beginning), so much turnover is bound to have an impact on group chemistry and consistency, and with many of the changes happening in the years following hit songs, it’s fair to wonder if it was impacting the group’s performance.
  • Producer Support: There was also a bit more turnover in the booth with Emerson Drive as well, as the band had a different set of producers for each album from 2002 to 2012 (and occasionally changed the production team entirely). In contrast, Rascal Flatts made a single transition from Mark Bright and Marty Williams to Dan Huff, with the band itself serving as a co-producer for much of that time. Different producers mean different visions for the group’s sound, which further pushed the notion that you never really knew what you would get from an Emerson Drive album.

All the chaos surrounding the band (did we mention they also switched management groups in 2009?) makes their success with “Moments” look even more impressive. “Moments” is a classic second-chance hit, where an act that was thought to be washed up or past their prime explodes back onto the scene with a emotional story song that tugs at the heart strings (think David Ball’s “Riding With Private Malone” in 2001, or Randy Travis’s “Three Wooden Crosses” a year later). The song, which depicted a chance encounter in which a homeless man convinces the narrator not to take their own life, became one of the most-played songs of 2007 and made Emerson Drive the first Canadian group to top Billboard’s American country charts (and also earned the group a few nominations on the genre’s awards circuit).

Unfortunately, the story was the same as it was early in the decade: The group was simply unable to build on their success, and they quickly faded into American history. Canadian history, however, was a different story:

United StatesCanada
Top Ten Songs, 2005-20151 (“Moments”)17
Top 20 Songs, 2005-2015220

It turns out that going to the United States was just the thing the group needed to jump-start their career back home: Starting with the last few singles from their sophomore album What If?, Emerson Drive started reaching the upper echelons of the Canadian charts with regularity, even as the group floundered stateside. (It’s possible that content requirements for Canadian radio gave the group an advantage up north, but it doesn’t appear that all of Emerson Drive’s singles meet the guidelines for being “Canadian songs” – for example, “Moments” was written by American songwriters and was likely not recorded in Canada. Later discs, however, contained more self-written material, so those may have qualified.)

Part III: End Of “The Road”

By the 2010s, Emerson Drive’s career was essentially finished in America, but they had developed a nice niche north of the border that seemed pretty sustainable. While the group remains active today, one final factor contributed to a massive cutback in the group’s schedule: Life. Another band member left the group in 2013 to spend more time with their family, and Mates himself acknowledged that the band was home life was playing a bigger role in the band’s decisions these days:

“Well, we were lucky enough when we first started out of high school we were 17 -18 year olds. From that point up till our late 20’s nobody was married and nobody had any kids. That’s a pretty huge aspect to be able to travel that many days out of the year without feeling the family pull and finding the balance…Now for me personally I have a couple kids and I am married. We do about 30-35 shows a year so it’s a pretty big change. I am not going to lie to you, I love this time of my life where I am able to be home and spend time with my kids. Dad still has a cool job that he loves, and that he gets to go out and play for a few months a year.”

Mates, as told to Corey (no last name given) at SoundCheck, likely sometime in 2015

Heck, the band’s own official website acknowledges the band’s shift in priorities, with another quote from Mates saying “We are at a place where we know what we want and have a balance between our personal lives and our life on the road. We get the best of both worlds.”

Basically, Emerson Drive isn’t around here anymore because they don’t need to be around here anymore. At this point in their professional career, they have their dream job: They can tour for a few months closer to home, and they get to be around their family for the rest of the year. They’re still kinda-sorta active as a group (their last official single listed on Wikipedia is from 2019), and that’s good enough for them. (If only we could all find that sort of peace in our working lives…)

Conclusions

Emerson Drive was a band in the right place at the right time: They got to Nashville at a time when the industry was actively looking for folks like them, and they parlayed the chance into several successful singles. That break, however, was pretty much the only one they would get in America, as constant churn behind the scenes kept them from turning their good fortune into anything more long-lasting. It did, however, make enough noise back in Canada to allow them to put together a respectable chart history, and when they were eventually confronted with the choice of music vs. family, they discovered they could have both.

Could Emerson Drive have been bigger had they been a bit more consistent and had better label backing? Probably, but like the characters in their signature hit, they had their moments, and twenty years after “I Should Be Sleeping” hit the airwaves, it seems they had enough of them to reach a relatively comfortable spot in life today. It can be interesting to ponder what might have been, but if you’re content with what actually is, you can leave the looking back to folks like me, and focus on enjoying the here and now.

Song Review: Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You”

I was just thinking that Dustin Lynch hadn’t popped up to annoy me in a while…

I called Brett Young’s chart credentials into question recently, but Lynch’s bona fides are even more suspect: He’s got a few duds mixed in with his seven No. 1 songs (“I’d Be Jealous Too,” anyone?), and his latest single “Momma’s House” spent fourteen months on the airwaves and couldn’t even reach #1 on Mediabase (it stalled at #5 on Billboard’s airplay chart). I’d call Lynch a hat stand that’s just taking up space in Nashville, but even hat stands have more charisma than Lynch does, and perhaps sensing that he alone won’t be enough to get a song over the top (and perhaps to increase Lynch’s profile north of the border; “Momma’s House” only made it to #35 in Canada), Broken Bow has chosen “Thinking ‘Bout You,” a collaboration with Canadian country artist MacKenzie Porter (who last appeared on the blog in 2020 with “These Days,” a meh track that didn’t even break the top fifty in the States), as the fourth single off of Lynch’s Tullahoma album. Unfortunately, the song is yet another soundalike nostalgia track that is half-baked, uninspiring, and ultimately forgettable, which at this point is a fitting description of Lynch himself.

I’ve been begging Nashville for some arrangement diversity in their releases, but bringing different instruments into the studio is worthless if you don’t actually feature them in the final mix. Sure, there’s a steel guitar and what sounds like a dobro in the production here, but the former is buried in the background and the latter throws in a few notes but is ultimately overwhelmed by (you guessed it) a cacophony of overpolished acoustic and electric guitars and a punchless drum set. The instrument tones are surprisingly flavorless and neutral (whatever positivity and energy the mix generates comes only) from the vocals), and the vi-IV-I-V chord structure emphasizes the minor chord sections and makes the track sound far more serious than it should. The result is a mix that just kind of exists, and rather than supporting the subject matter, its sheer blandness encourages the listener to ignore it instead, and the listener is more than happy to oblige.

“Cowboys And Angels” came out all the way back in 2012, which begs the question: How have we let someone as charmless as Lynch hang around country music for this long? His performance here is passable from a technical level, but he’s terrible in the narrator’s role—there’s no excitement or emotion in his voice (especially on the verses), and his vocal tone makes him sound less like a guy happy to rekindle a relationship and more like a meatheaded dudebro hoping they can get some more sex out of an old hookup. It doesn’t help that Porter absolutely sings him under the table here (despite the fact that the key is a bit too low for her): She brings some unexpected power and feeling to her parts, and the producer has to keep her volume low so she doesn’t overwhelm Lynch’s part (it reminds me a lot of how Jordin Sparks had her volume turned way down to not drown out Thomas Rhett on “Playing With Fire”). I wouldn’t exactly her performance memorable, however, and it’s not nearly enough to elevate this song beyond mediocre, especially with a dead weight like Lynch along for the ride.

The writing puts our two narrators on either end of a random phone call some time after a relationship has cooled off and ended, and they spend the song rehashing the good times and promising to meet up again sometime in the future (a promise we’ve all made and later forgotten at some point). My main issue with the story is that there’s a giant hole in the middle of it—more specifically, if the pair had so many good times together (which are exactly what you would expect them to be: a night in the country, a weekend on the lake and “that one time in Baton Rouge when we made out in the rain”), why are they separated at the time of the call? The reason could be benign (someone left for “the big city” to chase a dream, for example) or not-so-benign (the guy was a sleazeball who didn’t treat their partner right, which tends to be the first thing you think when Lynch is involved), but you’ve got to give us more context before we can invest in the story—otherwise it’s just a phone call to reminisce about the past. The writers deserve some credit for trying to frame this song differently then, say, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” on “Everywhere But On” by trying to focus on the positive, but the truth is that this song is no different from the other generic lost-love snoozers we’ve heard over the last year, and you can’t just ignore the past without getting some questions from the audience. In other words, the story just isn’t worth paying attention too; not only is it incomplete, but it’s so boring that you won’t remember it after the song ends anyway.

“Thinking About You” is a story song minus the story, and an emotional love song minus any love or emotion. The production is ill-fitting and cookie-cutter, the writing is unengaging and unfinished, and Dustin Lynch is his usual unlikable self. As ambivalent as I was (and remain) about MacKenzie Porter, she qualifies as the high point of this song by virtue of being the only person in the room to bring some actual feeling and presence to the table. It seems that being forgettable and uninteresting is Lynch’s ceiling at this point, and at some point we can’t keep a hat stand around just because we have a place for it when we could make better use of the space it’s taking up. It’s time Nashville gave Lynch the Marie Kondo treatment, because he’s certainly not bringing anyone joy.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth thinking about.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: May 3, 2021

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. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
2. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
3. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
4. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
5. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
6. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
7. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
8. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
9. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
10. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
11. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
12. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
13. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
14. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
15. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
16. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
17. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
18. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
19. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
20. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
21. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
22. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
23. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
24. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
25. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
26. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
27. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
28. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
29. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
30. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
31. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
32. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
33. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
34. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
35. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
36. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
37. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
38. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
39. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
40. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
41. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
42. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
43. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
44. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
45. Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More” 0 (5/10)
46. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
47. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
48. Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown” +1 (6/10)
49. Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” -1 (4/10)
50. Clay Walker, “We All Need A Bar Sometimes” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +14
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -4
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week
0

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” (recurrent)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (recurrent)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (recurrent)
  • Brett Young, “Not Yet” (down to #53)

Leaving:

  • Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” (crashes hard from #1 to #14)
  • Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” (down from #2 to #3)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (holds at #8, but remains bullet-less and should go recurrent soon)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (up from #46 to #42, but gained only forty-eight spins and 186 points)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (up from #45 to #43, but gained only twenty-four spins and fifty-two points)
  • Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (up from #49 to #46, but gained only twenty-five spins and sixty-one points)
  • Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (up from #50 to #47, but gained only four spins and lost points)

In Some Trouble:

  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #47 to #44, but gained only nine spins and fifty-nine points)
  • Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks” (debuts at #49, but gained only twenty-three spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (re-enters at #50, but gained only twenty-five spins and eight points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (up from #34 to #30)
  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (up from #39 to #35)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time With You” (up from #43 to #39)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #9 to #7)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Dustin Lynch ft. Mackenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You”

Overall Thoughts: So the good news is that the ice jam continues to break up and that the chart’s spring rotation is in full swing. The bad news is that most of the junk bubbling up from the chart’s nether regions is no better than what it’s replacing, and with Arts and Rascal Flatts primed to head for the exists (taking +6 worth of Pulse with them), we’re about to find ourselves teetering on the verge of a negative score once again. There were more spins to go around this week with three tracks getting the boot and Brett Young regressing to the mean, but the bottom of the chart still wound up looking like a barren wasteland, with twelve zeros and just a single track (Andress) rated higher than a 6/10. I’m not seeing a ton of encouraging releases on the horizon either, so expect the Pulse to be in a precarious position for a while.

This week’s Country Aircheck featured a deep dive into the inner workings of WCTK, a radio station in Providence, Rhode Island, that has been putting up numbers that are apparently impressive (I’m not even going to pretend that I have any idea what market share numbers mean), and tried to discern their formula for success. The results seem to track with what we’ve been seeing here at the Pulse, and to be honest, I don’t find them terribly encouraging.

  • “We gravitate toward the up-tempo stuff…That’s been the secret sauce here…We relegate [a ballad] to nights if we have to play it.” WCTK PD Kevin Palana

I’ve got nothing against an fun, high-energy track, but I’ve also got a soft spot for the slower stuff, and I prefer more variety in my playlists. Having what sounds like a blanket ban on midday ballads doesn’t feel like a great choice to me, but I suppose I’m not dominating a Northeastern radio market either.

  • “WCTK also has one of the highest percentages of gold content on the panel, and the up-tempo policy applies there, as well. Palana notes his gold category is ‘99% up-tempo.’ With the challenges of the past year, Palana says, ‘It’s a nice distraction from people’s problems. We try to keep the station upbeat as much as possible. I think it helps.'”  Chris Huff, the article author

Ah, so that’s the guy I should blame for making us all suffer through the Cobronavirus movement. While I understand that people need a respite from the weight of the world, country music has been trying to make it a permanent vacation over the last year, and at some point we need to stop ignoring our problems and start addressing them.

The article also featured a chart that backed up the gold-content assertion: An analysis of a week’s worth of spins found that almost 50% of the songs played fell into the gold category, and with a little over 25% of the spins dedicated to currents, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for newer material. However, given the soundalike songs I’ve been reviewing lately, I can’t say that I blame them much.

  • “We play the superstars; that’s what our listeners expect to hear…Some of the newer artists we’ve never played. And we’re not playing a lot of stuff on the charts.” Palana

Yeah, we noticed: Playlists have been getting shorter across the board, and established are using an express lane to reach the top of the charts while newer and less-well-known artist are stuck clamoring for scraps at the bottom. There’s not a lot of room in the genre right now, and that extends to the “lean and mean” staff Palana credits (the whole station is pretty much run by 4 people, and Palana implied that the station goes without a DJ at times).

Overall, having fewer people playing fewer songs by fewer artists covering fewer topics doesn’t feel like a recipe for success to me, and while WCTKs numbers look good on the surface, the overall picture doesn’t strike me as very rosy.

By popular demand, we’re going to start looking at the vaccination numbers a bit more in addition to our usual coronavirus case tracking, and overall the numbers are good, but we’ve still got a ways to go:

  • New case numbers continue to decline, but its fairly slow descent and we’re still at a concerningly-high average somewhere in the neighborhood of about 40,000 diagnoses a day. The daily death, unfortunately, seems to have mostly leveled out, settling around 1,000 deaths a day (the total count sits at 578,500). Again, it’s a far cry from where we were, but it’s still a long way from where we need to be, so we need to keep doing the right things (washing our hands, wearing our masks, keeping our distance from others, and above all getting the vaccine as soon as possible) to try to push these numbers as low as we can.
  • So how is the vaccine rollout going? I’d call the answer “relatively well, but absolutely mediocre”: The United States currently has nearly 41% of its adult population fully vaccinated, which isn’t bad compared to the rest of the world (in terms of total population, we rank 10th), but it’s still well short of the magical moving target of “herd immunity,” which is now estimated at roughly 80% given the current transmissibility of the variants that dominate the country right now. As a result, the focus now is more on containment than anything else, and reaching a point where enough people are vaccinated such that any outbreaks that do occur are small and manageable, and any long-term effects or fatalities are minimized.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a major concern, with polling showing that “1 in 5 Americans remain unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine.” There’s a glimmer of hope there (so you’re saying 80% are willing to get it?), but given the children under 16 are not yet eligible for the vaccine (though that may change soon), it’s imperative that we get as many eligible folks vaccinated as possible, to protect those who aren’t yet able to get the shot. If you’re still on the fence about it, I implore you to talk to your local health care provider so that they understand your concerns and can give you the facts about it.

I’ve had a couple people tell me they’re in the “not yet” camp because they’re worried that the vaccine hasn’t been tested enough to know its true effects, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people participated in clinical trials and now millions of folks have received does. I tell them that for what it’s worth, if they need one more datapoint, I’ll give it to them: By this time next week yours truly will finally have received their first shot (appointments remain surprisingly hard to find around here), so I’ll let them (and you) know how it goes. I’m more than happy to do my part to combat this virus, protect the people I care about, and bring this pandemic to an end, and I hope that all of you are excited to do the same.

Song Review: Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am”

There’s projecting confidence, and then there’s unnecessarily punching down. This song feels more like the latter.

Callista Clark is a Georgia native and musical prodigy who signed a record deal with Big Machine when she was fifteen, and is finally beginning to make a push to radio with her debut EP Real To Me and her single “It’s ‘Cause I Am.” I’m usually a sucker for a confident, empowering single like this one claims to be, but after listening to it I really don’t see what all the hype is about: This track is middle-of-the-road at best and surprisingly irritating at worst, featuring an uninteresting sound and a performance dripping with smug condescension that doesn’t feel justified and frames Clark in the worst possible light.

There are many things that annoy me about Nashville, but one of them is how they saddle every new act (honestly, it’s getting to be just every act in general) with the same soundalike arrangement that blends into the background and fails to catch the listener’s ear and make the artist stand out from the crowd. The production here falls into the same trap: We open with a drum set and a slick, deep-voiced electric guitar, we get some more-generic electric axes are tossed in for the chorus, a keyboard is buried so deep in the background that it’s barely noticeable, and that’s it. This is the same darn mix we’ve been fed over and over again, and while there’s the slightest hint of an edge here (mostly from the percussion), the arrangement has nowhere near the punch it needs to properly support the writing. (Also, despite the fact that Clark “can play a total of eight different instruments,” she’s only credited as a vocalist on the track—why the heck didn’t they let her play on her own single?) It yet another blown opportunity to let an emerging artist find their own style, and Nashville really needs to rethink their formula and make it less…well, formulaic, at least in the sound.

I’d like to jump to the writing here, because it honestly reminds of Travis Denning’s “ABBY” for all the wrong reasons. It tries to portray the narrator as a strong, confident individual breaking out of a dysfunctional relationship, but it falls on both ends: Lines like “I’m an MVP, you’re little league…and I’m gonna get bored” overshoot the mark and sound arrogant and immature, and when they say “Might be born in the same year, but boy we ain’t the same age” and “If I’m a little too salty, it’s ’cause you’re too sweet,” the image that comes to mind is less a meatheaded Bro only motivated by sex and more an awkward teenager whose biggest fault is being generally clueless. (All of the accusations feel too indirect as well: Instead of saying “you wish I was simple,” provide direct evidence and actually put those words in the other person’s mouth.) It makes the narrator look like the aggressor, bullying their target without providing a strong-enough rationale for doing so, and they lose the audience’s sympathy as a result. People are free to enter and exit relationships however they see fit, but the post-breakup antagonism we get here just feels mean and unwarranted, and it repels the listener more than it drawn them in.

Salvaging this junk would be a difficult task for any artist, and for Clark, whose voice falls somewhere between Maren Morris and Miranda Lambert, it’s simply too big a challenge to overcome. There aren’t any technical issues here (the track really doesn’t test her range, flow, or power), but she replaces Denning’s anger with a too-cool-for-school, holier-than-thou smugness that doesn’t make things sound any better. She seems to be aiming for a level of poise and experience that she just can’t reach yet, and the amount of snarkiness in her delivery undercuts her attempt to sound mature and above the fray. Instead, it reinforces the idea that she’s actually the villain in this story, breaking up on a whim because the other person is simply beneath her. It’s simply not a good look for a debut artist, and makes me completely uninterested in hearing more from her in the future.

“It’s ‘Cause I Am” is the same sort of debut single catastrophe that Lainey Wilson dumped on us back in 2019 with “Dirty Looks”: A new artist brings a soundalike sound and an abrasive attitude to the table, and all the audience can do is hold their nose and say “Really?” Instead of empowering the singer, it demeans them by making them sound childish and petty, and for someone like Calissta Clark (who I’m betting Big Machine is looking to push as the next Taylor Swift), it sets them back rather than setting them up for success. Nashville has a real problem with pushing newer artists these days (although part of this is because the older established players keep purloining the preferred playlist positions), and if they want to help these artists break through, they need to stop forcing them into the same two or three worn-out templates, and do more to showcase their individuality and talent. Otherwise, why move on from old artists when the new ones sound the same?

Rating: 4/10. Pass.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 26, 2021

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. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
2. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
3. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
4. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
5. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
6. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
7. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
8. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
9. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
10. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
11. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
12. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
13. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
14. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
15. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
16. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
17. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
18. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
19. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
20. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
21. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
22. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
23. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
24. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
25. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
26. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
27. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
28. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
29. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
30. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
31. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
32. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
33. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
34. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
35. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
36. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
37. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
38. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
39. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
40. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
41. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
42. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
43. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
44. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
45. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
46. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
47. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
48. Brett Young, “Not Yet” +1 (6/10)
49. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
50. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +9
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +1
Overall Pulse +10
Change From Last Week
+4 😎

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (recurrent)
  • Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #4 to #8)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” (down from #9 to #19)
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (down from #16 to #24)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (down from #27 to #31)

In Real Trouble:

  • Tim McGraw & Tyle Hubbard, “Undivided” (up from #21 to #18, but lost its bullet)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (up from #30 to #29, but gained only fifty-three spins and 160 points, and got run over by Rhett and Bryan)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (down from #31 to #33, lost its bullet with a 250+ point loss)
  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (holds at #34, but gained only six spins and one point)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (up from #43 to #41, but gained only thirty-eight spins and 106 points)
  • Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (holds at #42, but lost its bullet)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (up from #44 to #43, but gained only thirty-four spins and 142 points)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (up from #46 to #45, but lost spins and gained only seven points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (up from #47 to #46, but gained only one spin and lost points)
  • Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (up from #50 to #49, but lost its bullet)
  • Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (down from #49 to #50, gained only thirty-five spins and 100 points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Keith Urban & Pink, “One Too Many” (up from #20 to #16, but gained only twenty-eight spins and 116 points, and has looked relatively weak compared to its peers)
  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (holds at #37, but gained only twnety-nine spins and 103 spins)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Bryan, “Waves” (up from #41 to #28)
  • Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” (up from #35 to #27)
  • Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” (up from #18 to #13)
  • Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” (up from #22 to #17)
  • Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” (up from #45 to #40)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #13 to #9)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • None listed by Country Aircheck for a third straight week? Has the feature been discontinued?

On The Way:

  • Chris Lane, “Fill Them Boots”

Overall Thoughts: The dam finally burst this week. Five songs are definitely on their way out (and “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” may be following them out the door as well), and a big push from Arts and a big rebound for Bryan meant spins were hard to find at the bottom of the chart, putting much of the flotsam there (especially Janson and LoCash) at risk of going under. The loss of Florida Georgia Line and the rise of semi-decent songs from HARDY and Brett Young bumped the Pulse back into double-digits for the first time in a while, but I’ll wait to see how it handles the upcoming loss of Arts before I declare that we’ve broken out of our early-year slump (again, dumping that LBT track would go a long way towards that goal…)

On the pandemic front, the numbers we’ve been tracking are trending in the right direction, with the daily case and death averages continuing to decline (the total death count now stands at over 572,000). The country is now awash in vaccines, and focus has shifted to two major issues:

  • There are still a lot of people who aren’t ready to get the vaccine, and the number “isn’t shrinking at the rate we might have hoped.” We’re still a long way off from herd immunity, and if people put off or refuse these shots at this rate, we’re going to slow down this timetable and prolong this pandemic unnecessarily. (The whole “skipping the second shot” phenomenon also confuses me: You convinced yourself to get the shot once, but not to finish the job and do it twice?) The vaccines and safe and effective, and getting one will help protect you, your family, and your community, so I implore you to get the vaccine at the earliest opportunity.
  • The vaccine rollout has been succesful in America so far, but it’s barely started in other parts of the world, and countries such as Brazil and India have been completely overwhelmed by COVID-19. With an apparent vaccine surplus here in the U.S. (including a ton of AstraZeneca doses that haven’t even been approved for use here), I encourage the Biden administration to continuing sharing their stockpile as they’ve done with Canada, Mexico, and now India, since a) an unchecked virus anywhere is a potential threat to people everywhere, and b) “vaccine diplomacy” would go a long way towards restoring global trust and confidence in the United States.

In the meantime, we need to keep following best practices to keep everyone safe: Keep your mask on, keep your distance from others, and keep your sleeves rolled up in anticipation of your vaccine shot. We’ve still got a few miles left in this marathon, and we’re only going to make it to the finish line if we all (metaphorcally) stick together.

Song Review: Brett Young, “Not Yet”

Do we have any idea what Brett Young’s standing in country music is? “Not Yet.”

By the numbers, Young’s career is off to an incredible start, with all seven of his single releases reaching #1 (although “Sleep Without You” was a Mediabase-only chart-topper). What that actually means, however, is a different story: #1 songs are not that hard to come by (especially for products off of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line), and Young’s tracks haven’t exactly steamrolled their competition (“Catch” took about 10 months to top Billboard’s airplay chart, “Lady” took nearly a year, and Young has never topped the Hot Country Singles chart, as “In Case You Didn’t Know” was eclipsed by the Summer of Sam Hunt). I’ve generally liked Young’s work, but I wouldn’t call him one of the genre’s leading stars, and my concern has grown as his style has drifted away from its “Cali-ville” roots towards the more-generic Boyfriend movement over time. “Not Yet,” however, is a slight step back from the edge (at least in its presentation), and while the writing is nothing to write home about, the song feels like an ever-so-slight attempt to reposition Young in the current landscape, trying to find a niche in the middle in a sea of mediocrity.

The production here feels more reminiscent of Brett Young than Ticket To L.A. or “Lady,” for two reasons:

  • The basic elements of the arrangement are nothing special (it’s the same guitar-drum-keyboard setup everyone else is using), but the focus seems to be more on the acoustic elements The acoustic guitar is much more prominent on the verses, and Young’s usual drum machine is completely replaced by a real drum set (which goes sticks-only for the first verse!). Yes, the mix returns to more-conventional territory on the choruses, but even then…
  • Rather the the hyper-polished feel of “Lady,” this mix has a rougher feel: The audio effects are removed, the electric guitars has some actual texture, and the both the guitars and drums seem a bit louder and more in-your-face than usual. The overall feel is one of raw, unrestrained exuberance, as if the producer decided to take a step back and let the session players turn it loose.

The result is a song that really captures the enjoyment and anticipation of being together with someone you love: The moment may pass, but it hasn’t passed yet, and the mix gives you the sense that the narrator and their partner are going to enjoy this time to the fullest while they have it. There’s an energetic vibe here that calls back to “Sleep Without You,” and overall it does a great job supporting the subject matter and driving home Young’s message.

Young is a charismatic presence who’s at his best singing happy love songs like this one, and he delivers a predictably solid performance here. The song presents few technical challenges, but it demands that the artist be up on the mic at times, delivering the necessary enthusiasm and optimism to sell the story to the audience. These demands, however, pose no issue for Young: He is a ball of excitement here, barely dwelling on the negatives and delivering the choruses with gusto. (There’s a bit of effective strain in the vocals to indicate the effort Young’s putting in, which enhances rather than detracts from the message.) He is all in on the narrator’s role, and he brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the part that the listener can’t help but believe him. What really sets Young apart from his competition is his easy (perhaps even excessive) charm: Where lesser artists would have dropped the ball and come across as a shallow meathead looking for a cheap thrill, there’s something about Young’s delivery that convinces you he’s in this for the long haul, and truly committed to the person he’s with. There’s a reason Young is 7-for-7 on #1 singles, and the way he delivers the goods here means there’s a good chance he goes 8for-8.

If there’s anything that’s holding Young back, it’s the mediocre-to-awful writing he keeps getting stuck with, and while he’s gotten pretty good at elevating such songs (there is no reason for “Catch” to work as well as it did), it a sign that he might want to stop relying on his co-writers and find more outside material for his albums going forward. The premise here is that the narrator and their partner are spending a romantic evening together, and while the narrator knows that it won’t last forever, they’re determined to make the most of the time they had (it’ll end eventually, “but not yet, no, not yet”). It’s a fairly weak hook, and we spend most of the song going over all of the ways the eventual end will be marked (the moon will set, the alcohol will run out, they’re “gonna run out of excuses to not go to sleep”) and the many run-of-the-mill things the pair still has plenty of (kisses, times taking away the narrator’s breath or driving them wild, etc.). Instead of describing the scene and getting the audience wrapped up in the moment, we get an uninteresting list that’s just kind of there, making the song overly reliant on Young and the producer’s efforts to add the necessary feeling and energy. Young isn’t an A-lister yet, but spending some V-bucks to upgrade his material would go a long way towards getting him there.

“Not Yet” is a forgettable song that is elevated to the realm of “okay” through its execution—specifically, through a strong, emotive performance from Brett Young and an effervescent sound to back him. While the track will be a welcome upgrade to the airwaves, it also makes me frustrated with the way Nashville does business: Instead of, you know, investing in ways to help their artists improve and make them better, they invest in things that will inflate coveted-but-artificial metrics of success such as their chart-topping single count. Young is a talented artist that has the ability to break into the Bryan/Aldean/Rhett orbit of stardom (maybe not the Thanos orbit though; that dude remains on another level right now), but his team is not taking the right steps to get him there, and that’s a shame. Hopefully this changes, or someday Young and his audience may be left wondering what might have been.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins on the Victrola to see what you think.

Lost In The Shuffle, Vol. 9: Moving Forward By Looking Back

If you think you’ve been waiting a long time for another deep dive post, imagine this: The last volume of LITS was posted over a year ago now. Of course, this is understandable: The series was essentially a set of filler posts, and the switch to my current three-posts-per-week schedule late last June eliminated the need for frivolous content (in fact, it eventually forced me to condense some of the legit content into larger posts). However, after a long year of isolation and a few months of mostly bland offerings from mainstream country music, I decided it was time to dust off the series and see whether a dive into the archives might unearth some more interesting material.

The concept of LITS is simple: Hit the shuffle button on my old iPad, listen to ten songs chosen by whatever random number generator Apple uses (which could end up being anything from sizzling singles to deep album cuts to songs not even remotely related to country music), make a snap judgement on how good or bad the songs are, and produce a highly-subjective ranking of the impromptu playlist.

Is this silly and without purpose? Absolutely, but it’s also a chance to potentially introduce folks to some different songs/artists, and potentially introduce people to some great material that they had forgotten or missed. Without further ado, let’s hit the play button and see just how wacky my musical library really is.

The Contenders

Song #1: Kathy Mattea, “Come From The Heart”

Honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off a list like this than with this #1 from 1989. The light and airy acoustic guitar, the spry mandolin, the bright piano, and the background choir give the song an uplifting, almost spiritual vibe, and Mattea (whose memory has been mostly overshadowed by artists like Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless) delivers a warm, comforting message to follow your heart, don’t overthink things, and forget about what anyone else might say about it. There will always be doubters and obstacles along the way, and “it’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work” because it’s the only reason you’ll stick with something when times get tough. At a time when it feels like things are done or positions are taken just to see how it plays on TV, the idea of doing something because we think it’s the right thing to do is something we could all stand to remember.

Song #2: Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me”

Oh wow, and I thought Mattea was forgotten. I know Murray mostly for “Could I Have This Dance” and didn’t even realize I even had this #1 from 1979 on my iPad, but here we are. The piano, string section, and clean drum set reflect the pop-tinged production that made Murray a crossover success back in the day, but that arrangement is sparse enough that it doesn’t feel overproduced (at least until the choir jumps in and the instruments swell up on the chorus). I like it, but if I’m honest, the sound seems a bit too optimistic for a narrator who’s claiming that they’ll never get over a breakup (the piano-driven verses seem suitably moody, but the chorus buildup gives it too much of a silver lining). Similarly, Murray sounds fantastic here, but there’s too much polish and composure in her performance to sell such a sad tale (she may not be convinced she’ll make it through, but the audience certainly thinks so). Still, its appearance here was a pleasant surprise, and serves as a reminder that pop-country isn’t automatically bad.

Song #3: Joe Nichols, “No Time To Cry”

Dang, this tune (originally an album cut from 2004’s Revelation and a cover of an Iris DeMent song from 1993) hits very differently in 2021. The last year, in a word, has been overwhelming: Political turmoil, economic turmoil, climate change, racial injustice…and oh yeah, the small matter of a pandemic that’s killed over 570,000 Americans. We’ve grown numb to the pain and suffering because we don’t have a choice; we simply couldn’t function otherwise, and just like Nichols’s narrator, there’s so much that we have to do that we can’t afford to spare a moment to reflect or grieve. The sparse arrangement (acoustic guitar, drums, retro keyboard) keeps the focus squarely on the writing, detailing the narrator’s transition from an empathetic individual to someone who’s gotten too good as suppressing feelings and can barely spare the time to bid a final farewell to their father (an act that many have been denied in the last year thanks to the virus). Where seventeen years ago we felt for the narrator thanks to Nichols’s understated-yet-powerful performance, we now feel for the whole world, and a track like this really drives home the power of music when delivered like this.

So much for all that optimism Mattea gave us…

Song #4: Rodney Atkins, “Watching You”

Well, that’s one way to change the mood…

Rodney Atkins had a brief moment in the spotlight with his 2006 album If You’re Going Through Hell, and “Watching You” was the second of four #1 hits from the disc. While its attempt at foreshadowing is way too clunky and obvious, I really like the way the song uses humor to draw the listeners before the sticky-sweet closer delivers a gut punch straight to the feels. There’s also an important message hidden beneath the comedy and cheese: Whether or not Charles Barkley believes it, you’re a role model, and people are always watching what you do and taking cues about how they can or should behave. The bright, bouncy sound has a neotraditional flair and helps the whole thing go down easy, and Rodney Atkins displayed an everyman charisma that made him the perfect pitchman for the song. It’s a song that is somehow both fun and mature, a combination that I wish was emulated more often in modern tracks.

Song #5: Tracy Byrd, “The First Step”

This track, a #5 hit from 1995, is the sort of song you might find listed next to “neotraditional country” is the dictionary: The rollicking guitar, the prominent fiddle and steel guitar, the uptempo line-dance vibe, and real percussion (yes, there are hand claps here, but at least they sound real rather than synthetic) all are staples of this sound. It’s also the sort of fun party track that I wish Bro-Country had used as a template: The narrator comes across as chill instead of pushy (a perception aided greatly by Byrd’s charm), the other person sets the parameters and expectations (the main goal of the night is enjoyment, not love), and in the end a good time is had by all. The objectification is minimal, the farthest the guy goes is to suggest dinner, and the party atmosphere is three times stronger than anything Florida Georgia Line ever created. Byrd and many of his contemporaries proved that these sorts of songs could be done well, and it adds a bit of bounce to what’s been a heavier playlist thus far.

Song #6: Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayers”

When people think of Garth Brooks, they tend to think of his his harder-rocking hits like “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Til The Sun Comes Up” or drink-along classics like “Friends In Low Places.” Brooks, however, was a flexible artist who could deliver a overproduced ballad like nobody’s business too, and he proved it on this #1 from 1991. The production here is mostly acoustic and uses a guitar, piano, and string section to create a thoughtful, reflective atmosphere for the narrator as he ponders what might have been. Where so many artists these days opine about “the one that got away,” here a chance encounter causes Brooks’s narrator to recall how badly he’d wanted something in his life, and how not getting it allowed them to discover something better. Brooks, of course, could sell a refrigerator in Siberia, and he delivers his lines with a combination of newfound wisdom and humility, in awe of how misguided his younger self wound up being. This is why I tell many of today’s artists to stop moping about when might have been: What might be may turn out to be so much better.

Song #7: Randy Travis, “Too Gone Too Long”

As someone who owns darn near every Randy Travis song in existence, it’s not surprising that one of his tracks would appear on our list. What is interesting, however, is that this track (a 1988 #1 from his sophomore album Always & Forever album) appeared, featuring a man directing his ire at a woman just a few days after I ripped Parker McCollum and Travis Denning to shreds for much the same attitude. So why does this song succeed when those two failed that hard? Part of it is Travis himself, whose easy charm and smooth delivery allow him to, in the words of Winston Churchill, “tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip,” delivering the message matter-of-factly with barely a hint of malice. The writing also does a much better job framing the case against the accused: They wanted to play the field and weren’t ready to commit to a serious relationship, so the narrator simply got tired and found someone that was (the other person was “too gone for too long”). The production is a classic play from a fellow Kyle (Lehning), keeping things sparse and simple with an acoustic guitar, fiddle, dobro, and restrained drum set (with some choir vocals added for emphasis). When you’re Randy freaking Travis, you don’t have to be too heavy-handed to make your point, and the result is a snappy tune that brings attitude without making you hate the narrator. I hope McCollum and Denning are taking notes…

Song #8: Sammy Kershaw, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”

Usually the draw of LITS is the potential for sheer random chaos, but tonight’s tracks have been surprisingly consistent. This track is Kershaw’s lone career #1 from 1993, and while it’s okay, against its competition tonight I feel like it comes up a little short. The production is a fairly standard neotraditional mix with slick guitars, fiddles, and drums, but it can feel a bit boring at times, and the writing feels a bit repetitive and doesn’t come across as complementary as the writers hoped (it portrays the other person as somewhere between insecure and clueless). Kershaw sounds fine, but the narrator’s fixation of physical beauty is the sort of attitude that I’ve yelled at a bunch of Metro-Bro artists for over the last couple of years. There’s more to this person than their beauty, and unfortunately the song never really gets past that. Again, it’s miles ahead of what I’ve heard on the radio lately, but in this crowd, it’s a bit lackluster.

Song #9: Dolly Parton, “When Life Is Good Again”

There isn’t a lot I can say about this song that I haven’t already said, but while the optimism that surrounded this track back when it was released last year has long since dissipated (and what we’re feeling right now is much more measured), it is worth noting that when Parton declared her dedication to making a better world in the future, she meant it. I’m still amazed at how powerful a vocalist Parton remains in her mid-seventies, and the producer made the right choices by framing the song in a similar manner to “Come From The Heart,” right down to the bright mandolin and backup choir. As naive as the song sounds now (at the time, 570,000 deaths would have seemed an impossible number), the truth is that things will get better eventually, and while it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to make that happen, Parton’s ready to do her part.

Song #10: Del Shannon, “Runaway”

I was hoping for a curveball to close out this set, and I got it in the form of Shannon’s #1 smash from 1961. The drums and piano do a nice job driving the song forward and giving it some frenetic energy, the minor chords, horn section, and whatever the heck a clavioline is give the song an ominous feel that helps enhance the narrator’s panicked sorrow, and the “wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder” part might be the best singalong moment of any song that’s ever been sung. Shannon uses his charisma to add a desperate edge to his vocals, and while it suffers from the same problem as “Broken Hearted Me” (it comes across as a bit too upbeat to be a sad song), the whole thing is executed so well that the listener doesn’t care all that much. After such a heavy dose of 80s/90s country music, this was a nice change of pace to end on.

The Results

PositionSong
1.“No Time To Cry”
2.“Come From The Heart”
3.“The First Step”
4.“Too Gone Too Long”
5.“When Life Is Good Again”
6.“Runaway”
7.“Unanswered Prayers”
8.“Broken Hearted Me”
9.“Watching You”
10.“She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful”

Honestly, this might be the strongest list of random songs we’ve had for an episode, but I’m going to give the win to Nichols for capturing the moment we’re living in so well (even if he did it seventeen years early). In all honesty though, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of these tracks, and it begs the question: What do many of these have that much of today’s releases do not? I think it boils down to perspective and maturity: There a sense of life being lived in many of these songs, the ability to look beyond a beer-soaked Friday night and extract wisdom from what they see. I feel like these songs are more polished compared to what we get from the genre today, with softer edges and fewer in-your-face beats and volume.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this exercise, and perhaps someone might eventually even learn them. For now, however, I’m going to try to defy Nichols’s words and spare a moment to remember all that we’ve lost in the past year, and hold on to that feeling as a reminder to do everything I can so that we never travel this wretched road again.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 19, 2021

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. Gabby Barrett, “The Good Ones” 0 (5/10)
2. Jake Owen, “Made For You” 0 (5/10)
3. Tenille Arts, “Somebody Like That” +2 (7/10)
4. Brett Young, “Lady” +1 (6/10)
5. Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up With Easy In The 90s” 0 (5/10)
6. Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” 0 (5/10)
7. Eric Church, “Hell Of A View” 0 (5/10)
8. Rascal Flatts, “How They Remember You” +4 (9/10)
9. Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” -1 (4/10)
10. Dylan Scott, “Nobody” 0 (5/10)
11. Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” -2 (3/10)
12. Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes” +1 (6/10)
13. Luke Combs, “Forever After All” 0 (5/10)
14. Dierks Bentley, “Gone” 0 (5/10)
15. Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down” +1 (6/10)
16. Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” 0 (5/10)
17. Jason Aldean, “Blame It On You” +1 (6/10)
18. Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends” -2 (3/10)
19. Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” 0 (5/10)
20. Keith Urban and Pink, “One Too Many” 0 (5/10)
21. Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” +1 (6/10)
22. Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night” 0 (5/10)
23. Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” -1 (4/10)
24. Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” 0 (5/10)
25. Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” +2 (7/10)
26. Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” +2 (7/10)
27. Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” 0 (5/10)
28. Elvie Shane, “My Boy” +2 (7/10)
29. Chase Rice ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” -1 (4/10)
30. Scotty McCreery, “You Time” 0 (5/10)
31. Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” -3 (2/10)
32. Kane Brown, “Worship You” -1 (4/10)
33. Lee Brice, “Memory I Don’t Mess With” -1 (4/10)
34. Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” +1 (6/10)
35. Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” +2 (7/10)
36. Lady A, “Like A Lady” 0 (5/10)
37. Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” 0 (5/10)
38. Jameson Rodgers ft. Luke Combs, “Cold Beer Calling My Name” 0 (5/10)
39. Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” 0 (5/10)
40. Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” 0 (5/10)
41. Luke Bryan, “Waves” -1 (4/10)
42. Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” 0 (5/10)
43. Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” +1 (6/10)
44. Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” -1 (4/10)
45. Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” 0 (5/10)
46. LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” -1 (4/10)
47. Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” 0 (5/10)
48. Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” +2 (7/10)
49. Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” 0 (5/10)
50. Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” -2 (3/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +7
Future Pulse (#26—#50) -1
Overall Pulse +6
Change From Last Week
-1 😦

Best Song: “How They Remember You,” 9/10
Worst Song: “Wine, Beer, Whiskey,” 2/10

Gone:

  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (dropped below #50)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (dropped below #50)

Leaving:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (collapsed hard from #1 to #16)
  • Dustin Lynch, “Momma’s House” (down from #3 to #9)
  • Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” (down from #6 to #11)
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (up from #8 to #6, but bullet-less and fading)

In Real Trouble:

  • Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” (holds at #24, but gained only forty-one spins and 109 points)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (down from #26 to #27, bullet-less with a 500-plus point loss)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (holds at #30, but gained only twenty-one spins and sixty-nine points)
  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (holds at #31, but gained only sixty-four spins and sixty-one points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (down from #39 to #40, gained only twenty-seven spins and lost points)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (down from #45 to #46, gained only thirty-three spins and 104 points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (down from #44 to #47, gained only seven spins and lost points)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (down from #46 to #48, lost its bullet)
  • Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (down from #48 to #49, gained only seven spins and loses points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” (holds at #23, but gained only twenty-five spins and lost points)
  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (holds at #34, but gained only twenty-nine spins and one point)
  • Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (down from #41 to #42, gained only sixteen spins and eleven points)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (down from #42 to #43, gained only tewnty-three spins and thirty-four points)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (down from #43 to #44, gained only eighteen spins and sixty-nine points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Thomas Rhett, “Country Again” (debuts at #35)
  • Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” (up from #10 to #5)
  • Eric Church, “Hell Of A Ride” (up from #12 to #7)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #14 to #13)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • None listed by Country Aircheck for a second straight week.

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: The cracks in the Mediabase ice are getting bigger by the day: We’ve got four songs falling out of the top twenty (and a fifth that should be), and a bunch of songs in the lower half of the charts (and even some in the middle) that are barely hanging on. The problem, of course, is that I’m not 100% sold on the songs booking stays for the summer: Sure, Rhett’s entry was fine, but McColloum’s was not, and Robb and HARDY’s mediocre mush is likely still lurking right outside the door. (Maddie & Tae and Carmichael inspire a little confidence, but not Niko Moon…). Still, with the slump the chart has been in this year, there isn’t a whole lot of room for regression, so let’s hope the upcoming summer sounds are better than those of the spring.

Similarly, the pandemic is another situation that a) is in desperate need of a breakthrough, and b) may finally be on the verge of one. New cases remain essentially flat and there are still some troublesome hot spots on the map right now, but deaths still seem to be inching downwards as the ranks of the vaccinated swell (over 50% of adults in the country have now had at one least one vaccine dose). The focus is now starting to shift to those who remain unprotected: The anti-vaxxers and vaccine-hesitant, those too young to qualify for the vaccine, and those in other areas of the world whose rollouts have been relatively slow. There are going to be a lot of people who will be waiting a while longer for their shots, so I encourage everyone to continue the usual best practices to protect vulnerable individuals: Wear masks, wash your hands, and limit your gathering sizes and frequency. Better times are on the horizon, and we all need to continue doing our part to ensure we all get there safely.