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.

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.

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.

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.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (September 2022 Edition: Parker McCollum, Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, Corey Kent, Matt Stell, Ryan Griffin)

And here I thought Labor Day was supposed to celebrate work by not working…

I mentioned back in July that “everyone and their cousin’s ex’s pet is trying to peddle their wares to radio,” and two months later very little has changed, especially as radio ramps up for their summer-to-fall transition. With a bunch of A-listers making their second-half moves, it doesn’t feel like a great time to be pushing a new single with an artist with a low Q score, but Nashville keeps shoveling out soundalike songs just the same, and my review list keeps growing as a result. In order to keep up with the more important stuff, it’s time for another rapid-fire round of reviews for songs that just aren’t worth the usual deep dive. Without further ado, that’s more than enough waffling—let’s dive right into things.

Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”

As much as I don’t like Parker McCollum, I’ll give him and his team a little credit on this one: The production does a decent job capturing that retro 90s/2000s feel, and there are a couple decent lines included in the writing (“I tell myself that I should quit but I don’t listen to drunks” is the highlight). Still, at the end of the day this is just another cry-in-your-beer track in a genre’s that’s already oversaturated with them, and it just doesn’t go far enough to rise above its competition. The mix has a guitar-and-drum foundation and doesn’t go beyond the usual steel guitar riffs and brief keyboard appearances to make it stand out, and the instrument tones are a bit too bright and have a bit too much energy for the writing (the narrator’s supposed to be in pain, but it sure doesn’t sure like it). McCollum cleans up his act and doesn’t come across as poorly as he did on “To Be Loved By You,” but I still wouldn’t call him a charismatic artist and his performance doesn’t make the song any more compelling to listen to. The story barely qualifies as one, as the narrator is just trying to drink themselves into a stupor after a failed relationship, and both the hook and the Merle Haggard references feel more than a little forced (especially the hook; I see what they were trying to do, but using “handle” as a alcohol measurement seems too esoteric for most listeners to pick up on). It’s a “meh” song, but it’s one of the better “meh” songs, and after Michael Ray followed up a similar song “Whiskey And Rain” with “Holy Water,” I wouldn’t mind seeing McCollum follow a similar path.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.

Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”

Oh joy, another booze-soaked party song that sounds the exact same as the last hundred of these things we’ve heard. I am really tired of junk like this, so if you’re going to drop one on me, you’d better change up your formula to keep me interested. Unfortunately, they followed the usual recipe to a T here: A guitar-and drum mix headlined by some rough-edged electric axes driving the sound forward, the standard “work hard, drink hard” story that we’ve all heard a million times before, and a pair of acts (on a song that has no right being a duet) that not only show no sign of the stress and anxiety they claim they’re facing, but also seem to cancel each other out (when Old Dominion jumps in on the chorus, Chesney’s voice practically disappears). An angle like this on a song like this can work (think Justin Moore’s “Kinda Don’t Care”), but you’ve got to do something to catch the audience’s ear and make them connect with you song. Moore did it with a throwback sound and by injecting some actual world-weariness into his performance, but Chesney & company turn in a soundalike, cookie-cutter (and out-of-season) party anthem that doesn’t justify its existence next to the hundreds of such songs we’ve gotten lately. You’ve heard this before, and there’s no reason to hear it again.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t bother with this one.

Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”

Okay, now I think Nashville is just trolling me. After hearing two lost-love songs featuring no trace of heartbreak, we get to the debut single of Kent (an Oklahoma native and former Voice contestant)…and it’s a dark, foreboding track full of minor chords and brooding hard-rock guitars. It’s a mix that might finally suit a lost-love song (even if it’s a little over-the-top)…except that the song is supposed to be celebrating an informal partnership between the narrator and a woman who’s “looking for somebody as wild as her.” Huh? The ominous tone might make sense if there was some actual danger in the relationship, but the pair isn’t doing anything risky (they’re just cruising down the road together like every other couple in a country song), and the narrator projects so much confidence that the not-actually-a-relationship will last that you don’t get the sense it will fail. As for Kent, he’s an off-brand Morgan Wallen vocally, and he delivers this song with an Aldean-esque intensity that feels way overdone and sucks all of the drama out of the story. I think the story has some real potential (characters that can’t be tied down are nothing new, but coming to a arrangement that only kinda-sorta ties them down is different), but I kind of wish it had dived into the other person’s motivations: What is it about commitment that concerns them? Have they been in bad relationships in the past? Instead, the writing barely scratches the surface, focusing on the less-interesting present and finding ways to work in some meta buzzwords to satisfy someone’s streaming algorithm. It’s just not something I’m interested in revisiting, and can be chalked up as another failed attempt by Music City to break in a new artist.

Rating: 5/10. Honestly, Tyler Joe Miller did it (slightly) better.

Matt Stell, “Man Made”

This song sits in the same awkward position as Cody Johnson’s “Human” for me: It seems like a song I should like, and yet I’m really not impressed by it. I think the issue starts with the writing: The narrator is trying to honor women by declaring that they are the real reason men ever accomplished anything (“If a man made anything, it’s ’cause a woman made that man”). It’s a topic that’s been done before, but the lyrics this time around don’t do a great job delivering the message: The opening verse is just a laundry list that got weaker every time I listened to it (many of these were invented at a time when anyone who wasn’t a white male never got a chance to make anything), and the line about man inventing the wheel to “drive a girl around and get stuck in some field” came across as both dumb and sleazy. The song just felt surprisingly reductionist to me, as if it were implying that women were only good for inspiration/moral support while pushing aside the real contributions they had made (for example, do we put “footprints on the moon” without the Black women who got John Glenn into orbit seven years earlier?) Stell remains a nondescript artist to me, and he didn’t have the charm or charisma to push me to focus on the positive side of his message. I’ll give the producer some credit for creating a lighter, reflective mix that invited listeners to ruminate on the writing (even if this is yet another guitar-and-drum mix whose only accenting instrument is the pedal steel). This one didn’t leave a huge impression on me in the end, and I doubt I’ll remember that it exists in another month or so.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Ryan Griffin, “Salt, Lime, & Tequila”

Another nihilistic drinking song? Gag me with a spoon. Griffin is a Florida native who’s already on his second record label and is currently working for Jay DeMarcus, and the closest comparison I can think of for his voice is Hunter Hayes, but this performance is utterly replacable (stick any other creation from Nashville’s young male assembly line behind the mic, and nothing changes). The producer deserves a little credit for giving the song a tropical vibe with the bright acoustic guitar, but the drum machine can feel a little awkward at times, and outside of a steel guitar floating around in the background, that’s basically all you get here. However, it’s the atrociously generic writing that really gets my goat: There is nothing to this song beyond “life sucks, so just drink yourself silly.” We’ve gotten this song a hundred thousand times over the last few years (sometimes multiple times from the same artist—I’m looking at you, Thomas Rhett), and there’s nothing even even remotely interesting or novel that would make you pick this song over any of its competitors, and the “grain of salt, lime, and tequila” hook is nowhere near as clever as the writers thought it was. I put this L more on Music City than Griffin: Could Nashville put the freaking bottle down for a moment and not use getting drunk as a solution to everything? Is the only way to get a new artist some airplay these days making them blend into the background? It seems counterproductive and silly to me, because making an artist’s first impression this unimpressionable only seems like a good way to not earn them a second chance.

Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.

Song Review: Dierks Bentley, “Gold”

Honestly, this is what I wanted Blake Shelton’s “No Body” to sound like.

Zack Kephart wrote a poignant article recently on the generational turnover within country music and how quickly artists can move from defining the genre to complete irrelevance, and it appears that Dierks Bentley is on the business end of this cycle right now. Yes, his chart performance is still strong (“Gone” made it to #2, “Beers On Me” to #1), but #1 songs aren’t the indicator of popularity that they once were, and other warning signs are started to flash: For example, the pace of his chart climbs has slowed to where he’s only dropped one single a year since 2019, and it’s been over four years since we’ve seen a new album (or even an EP) from him. You get the sense that after almost twenty years in the business, Bentley is slowly being shown the door, and nothing short of a monster hit will delay the inevitable.

So is “Gold” the monster hit Bentley needs to stay afloat? No, but it’s a step in the right direction, a rare note of optimism and a literal and figurative silver lining in the face our current beer/truck/Ex-Boyfriend era. Bentley might be on his way out, but I’d like to think that he’s at least leaving on his own terms.

This isn’t the tribute to 90s country that “No Body” is (and it isn’t meant to be), but there’s a throwback feel to the production nonetheless, capturing that 2000s-era spirit that Chris Owen preaches about and that Bentley broke in with long ago. It’s a by-the-book guitar-and-drum mix at its core, but there’s a fair bit of variety within each category: The acoustic guitar sets the tone in the opener and joins with an electric axe to form the foundation of the chorus, while a squealing electric guitar provides accents over the top and handles lead duties on the bridge solo (even if the solo isn’t terribly intricate). The drums are mostly real (Grady Smith’s favorite clap track is here too), but the sounds are rich and diverse enough that even when the percussion is left alone for most of the verses, it manages to hold your attention and help drive the song forward. The instrument synergy here is surprisingly good: The pieces’ bright tones blend together beautifully while still maintaining the identity of each individual player (no indistinguishable wall of noise here), and the result is a warm, full-feeling sound that conveys a sense of unbridled happiness and contentment that complements the writing perfectly. (The faster tempo here compared to “No Body” can’t be overstated here either: It helps keep the energy level up and lets the song steadily build momentum over time.) Unlike Shelton’s track, this is fun to listen to, and it’s been a while since I’ve said this about a radio single.

Vocally, this song is a really good fit for Bentley for three reasons:

  • As one of the senior members of the genre, he’s can speak to his audience from a place of experience and authority in a way that newer artists can’t (honestly, I think even Thanos would struggle to sell this song, to say nothing of stiffs like Dustin Lynch).
  • I’ve always considered Bentley and Eric Church to be the true heirs of the outlaw movement in country music, and Bentley’s leaning in to that drifting, carefree persona over the years (“Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do,” “Free And Easy Down The Road I Go,” etc.) lets him come across as the guy who’s really put these miles on his shoes, so when he says it’s about the journey and not the destination, you believe him.
  • Bentley’s sung his share of sad songs over the years, but he’s also pretty good when talking about the sunny side of life (compare this to the dark turn Shelton’s taken over the last few years). Bentley’s proven on tracks like “Living” that he can play the optimist card when he needs to.

So yes, I’d say this song is squarely in Bentley’s wheelhouse. That’s not to say, however, that this is a case of “right place, right time,” as he’s able to match the warmth and energy of the sound while also bringing some confident determination to the table to show that he practices what he preaches. It’s the sort of charismatic performance that gets people to buy what he’s selling, and serves as a reminder of why Bentley has lasted this long in the genre.

So what is Bentley selling? Basically, this is a “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” tale, with the narrator counseling his listeners not to develop tunnel vision on their end goal and appreciate the things around them along the way. It’s not much, but it’s something, and it feels like a natural progression from the awakening experienced in “Living.” The hook isn’t terribly good (“feels like gold” is a really awkward phrase), and of course the writers find a way to sneak in some buzzwords (enjoy the ride…at night! In a rusty Chevrolet!), but they managed to sneak in a decent line or two as well (“You finally find that greener grass but you’re still in the weeds” is my favorite). In a world that seems to be spinning at an increasingly-fast rate, a song like this resonates because sometimes we need a reminder to stay in the moment and appreciate the things around us, and while we’ve got plenty of party songs that preach staying in the (inebriated) moment, this song doesn’t have the odor of complacency and willful ignorance that said party songs give off. We’re still working towards something here, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of our happiness and well-being, and this track asks its audience to take stock of their situation to make sure they’re enjoying the ride. It’s the sort of takeaway that I wish more songs would offer, and while it may not be groundbreaking, it’s still important.

“Gold” is a straightforward song that features perfect execution from everyone involved. The writing is solid and thought-provoking, the production is upbeat and features great synergy, and Dierks Bentley states his case with a level of skill and charm that shows why he’s lasted this long in the music business. He may be playing the last few holes of his mainstream career, but he’s still got something to say and he’s still got a knack for saying it, and it’ll be really hard to see him go with so little indication that anyone will be able to fill his shoes properly. My hope is that he’ll at least be able to finagle another album out of his current deal, but even if it doesn’t happen, I hope he reaches the end of his own musical journey knowing that he found something to smile about every step of the way.

Rating: 6/10. This one’s worth a few spins on the turntable to see how it strikes you.

Song Review: Blake Shelton, “No Body”

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

Is Blake Shelton in trouble? The man who posted seventeen Billboard #1 songs in a row and was sharing the summit with Gwen Stefani just two years ago has now scored disappointing peaks with back-to-back singles, barely reaching the Top 10 with “Minimum Wage” and then missing it entirely with the atrocious “Come Back As A Country Song.” (I expect to stand alone when I call one of Shelton’s songs junk, so suddenly having the rest of the world agree with me was a little weird…) After being a no-doubt A-lister for so long, it’s starting to look like Shelton is being cycled off the radio in favor of newer, more-interesting artists, making his single choices more critical than ever as we move on from the Body Language era.

So what do we get from Shelton’s latest single “No Body”? Unfortunately, we get a song that reeks of indecisiveness, one that feels caught between competing ideas on every level and unsure of what exactly it’s supposed to be. It’s a song that tries to be everything and winds up being nothing, and it fails to justify its existence as a result.

Let’s start with the production, which struggles to add a 90s flair to its sound due to its basic, boring arrangement. I probably overuse the phrase “guitar-and-drum mix” in my review, but that’s literally all you get here: A simple drum line with minimal punch, a couple of electric guitars, and that’s it. (The video credits a Wurlitzer, but if it’s there, you can’t hear it.) The guitar tones seem to capture that neotraditional sound, but without the other pieces that made that era stand out (fiddle, steel guitar, piano, mandolin, etc.), this sound is far more modern than retro. Worse still, the slower tempo (it feels like “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” played at half speed) and unrelenting, unchanging volume level (usually there’s some musical flourish on the chorus, or at least it’s a little louder) cause the song to feel surprisingly monotone and keep it from building any momentum or energy as it progresses. Throw in a groove that’s only kinda-sorta catchy, and you’re left with a bland, lifeless mix that just plods along from start to finish. It’s just not that fun to listen to, and that’s a big problem when an artist is facing a relevancy crisis.

Shelton seems to be caught between two approaches as well, and he ends up trying to split the difference with a performance so devoid of emotion that you want to check him for a pulse. With a song like this, there are two potential directions that you can take it: You can keep it light and make it fun/playful, or you can turn on the charm and make it sexy. Shelton, however, opts for a questionable third approach: His delivery throughout the song feels heavy and unemotional, giving us the impression that he’s really not that excited about spending time with the other person. (He also sounds more than a little off at the start of the song, like he can’t decide whether he should sing or talk-sing the lines, and his tone falters as a result.) You get the sense that Shelton’s trying to convey the depth of his feelings, but it doesn’t come through his performance, and the listener doesn’t feel much of anything as a result. He just doesn’t convince the audience to stay engaged with the track, and they’re checking their watches waiting for the song to end before it’s halfway through. Not a great outcome when your popularity is waning…

The lyrics here are stuck somewhere between Boyfriend country and the genre’s continual attempts at sex jams, as the narrator tells their partner that they wouldn’t want to do anything with “no body but yours.” I get that the writers were trying to play off of the expected “nobody but you” phrase (heck, Shelton & Stefani released a song with that exact title in 2020), but I really don’t like how it plays out—it focuses the song on the physical connection instead of the emotional one, and makes the song feel sleazier as a result. The imagery is surprisingly sparse and unsurprisingly boilerplate: Drinking, dancing, references to better songs/artists…heck, even taking off the other person’s dress feels played out these days. It’s just an incredibly weak song, one that’s overreliant on the listener to fill in its many gaps with their own experiences and overreliant on Shelton and the producer to make it feel meaningful or heartfelt. Unfortunately, both the singer and the sound fail miserably in their duties, and we’re left to clean up the mess.

The sad truth is that “No Body” is no good, and is not a great choice to break Blake Shelton’s current losing streak. The production is monotonous and bland, the writing is uninspired and unmoving, and Shelton really doesn’t sound like his heart is in the music. I get the distinct feeling that Shelton and his team are at a crossroads, staring down the potential death of his mainstream career but unsure of what move to make to try to stave it off a while longer. Personally, I’d put Shelton on the growing list of artists that need to take a step back from the Nashville grind and figure out what they really want to do, whether it be continuing to chase trends and relevance or use the creative freedom they’ve earned to say “Damn the torpedoes!” and blaze their own trail. Whatever he chooses to do, Shelton needs to do something, because simply dumping lifeless tracks like this one on the public will end well for nobody.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Song Review: Walker Hayes, “Y’all Life”

Okay, I’ve officially had it with this meme lord wannabe.

On some level, I should feel sorry for Walker Hayes in the same way I feel sorry for Chris Janson: The man has shown some flashes of talent as a writer, and has even dared to release some half-decent material (“Craig,” “Don’t Let Her”) to country radio. The public, however, ignored him until he discovered TikTok and starting releasing dumb songs like “Fancy Like” and “AA,” riding his virality to country stardom despite his limited ability as an artist. He may be a complete joke in country music, but he’s also making bank off of his silly dance moves and terrible beats, which means *sigh* that even with the door closing on the Country Stuff The Album era, Hayes will continue dumping this sort of garbage on us for the foreseeable future.

Even by Hayes’s low standards, however, his latest single “Y’all Life” might be his worst creation yet. He basically took Blake Shelton’s “I Lived It,” dumped a bag of overused meta clichés, and turned it into a bad trap song with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. It’s a colossal failure at every level, and the best thing I can say about it is that it doesn’t annoy me quite as much as Bailey Zimmerman’s “Fall In Love” does.

The production here barely qualifies as such: This track is pretty much all percussion, with a solitary electric guitar tossed in to carry the melody and try to tie everything together (and the guitar’s fuzzy audio effects pair awkwardly with the crisper drums). This is a cold, hard beat that features 808s, marching band drums, and Grady Smith’s favorite clap track, and they clash badly with the rural glorification theme of the writing. Generally, you’re looking for a warmer, more-natural feel from the sound to emphasize the country’s slower pace and more-personal touch, but when you pair this mix with generic “country” themes and imagery (we’ll talk about that more later), it comes across as a cheap, hollow attempt to sound hip or “gangster,” to the point where the song seems a bit self-aware and is just leaning into the absurdity anyway for the lulz. It makes listening to the song feel like a pointless exercise, and it does nothing to endear the narrator to the audience or make their tale more engaging. This mix is nothing but a series of bad decisions, and I’d rather rub sandpaper on my ears than listen to it.

There isn’t much I can say about Hayes that I haven’t said before, and unfortunately most of it still applies. “Flat, monotone, and completely lifeless”? “Sleazy and self-satisfied”? “His charisma is essentially nonexistent”? “Absolutely horrible behind the mic”? It’s all still true, and if there’s one thing this song proves, it’s that he’s not getting any better. While Hayes has a knack for coming across as a carefree meatheaded dudebro, this time around he feels like, well, himself: A clueless, out-of-touch dad trying to act cool and failing hard in the attempt. When he throws out the hook or tries to use words like “shawty,” he sounds like a total poser who wouldn’t know cool if it slapped him in the face, and going over-the-top to show us that you’re in on the joke doesn’t work when it’s not funny to begin with. He’s debasing himself in a bald-faced attempt to curry favor from the Internet, and it’s equal parts sad and pathetic, even if it’s not all his fault. We desperately need a meta shift in this genre to clear these kinds of songs from our playlists.

The lyrics here…well, let’s go back to my opening description. First, while beer and trucks are noticeably absent here (gotta make sure we’re PG for the kids on TikTok, although the Bronco name-drop covers the motor vehicle requirement), the other usual tropes are here: “football and Jesus” (these two are doubled-down on hard, with several similar lines sprinkled through the song), “mama’s sweet tea,” cruising “down, down…yo’ street,” and so on. While there are a few decent lines here (the Grinch line, the “Wiffle ball bat flip”), there are also some mind-numbingly awful ones (“ain’t no thing but a chicken wing”? “where they grammar got some country in it”? Is this a country song, or a Google Translate failure?), and the “y’all life” hook feels completely meaningless (it’s an empty phrase that sounds like something a poser would say). We’ve also got some disturbing lines celebrating backwards ideas like men repressing their pain (“Y’all all them dads tell them boys, ‘Son, walk it off'”) and men taking advantage of women who even remotely expressed their sexuality (“Y’all all them mamas tell them girls, ‘Better keep your legs crossed'”), bringing to mind Shelton’s dystopian wish to turn back the clock from several years ago. The whole thing feels like an ode to a generic (and bad) stereotype, and I find very little here to be worth celebrating.

“Y’all Life” is the dumbest song I’ve heard in a not-so-long time, and a song I never want to hear ever again. Walker Hayes is a poor excuse for an artist, the production is a poor imitation of a trap beat, and the lyrics are a poor imitation of the English language. It’s another sign that mainstream country has taken a sharp turn for the worse in Q3 of 2022, and the worst part about it is that based on the available chart data, this seems to be what the people want. I know I’ve questioned whether there’s a place for me in country music anymore, but given the massive number of lackluster scores I’ve given out over the last two years, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve finally reached ‘irredeemable curmudgeon’ status. Still, I don’t think I’d like this drivel in any era, and it’s going down as one of the lowlights of 2022.

Rating: 2/10. Nope.