Song Review: Luke Combs, “Fast Car”

Well, at least you can’t say that Luke Combs isn’t trying.

I may have revoked his “Thanos” title, but Combs is still one of the two most-powerful acts in Nashville these days (the other, unfortunately, is Morgan Wallen), and while his act has grown a bit stale and repetitive over the last few years (he’s either singing a love ballad like “Better Together,” “Forever After All,” and “Love You Anyway,” dropping a lost-love laments like “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “Cold As You,” or trying and sometimes succeeding to be sensual in “Lovin’ On You” and “The Kind Of Love We Make”), he’s still capable of surprising his audience now and again. Case in point: After “5 Leaf Clover” appeared to be his simultaneous single release alongside “Love You Anyway,” a different song emerged: “Fast Car,” the first cover song to make any sort of noise on the charts in a while (Tracy Chapman wrote the song and took it to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 as he debut single back in 1988), the longest song to reach the radio in quite some time (it clocks in at nearly four-and-a-half minutes), and an involved story song at a time when such tracks had long ago fallen out of favor. It’s enough of a curveball to catch the listener’s attention, but it really struggles to hold said attention over the course of the song, and winds up feeling pretty “meh” as a result.

There’s a little bit more to Combs’s mix, but for the most part the production here stays faithful to the original song. The song is primarily driven by an acoustic guitar playing the same riff over and over (to the point where you start wondering if it’s a Garageband loop) and a simple, light-touch drum set, but this time around we’ve got some synth tones and steel guitar notes help fill out the sound from the background (although they feel like they’re just here to conform to the modern meta, and don’t actually add anything to the song) and an electric guitar to add a bit more punch and optimism to the chorus. Otherwise, the tone of the arrangement is mostly neutral and even a little bleak, and while the song bounces quickly back and forth between optimism and pessimism, I’d argue that neither Chapman’s nor Combs’s versions keeps up with it, and both mixes can feel like nothing but a space-filler at times. The sparse, restrained arrangement keeps the focus on the lyrics (and rightly so), but at the end of the day this is a standard guitar-and-drum mix that doesn’t do much or stand out or keep up with the subject matter, and it’s only here because the song would sound awkward if it were done a capella.

The original song wasn’t written for a male performer, but aside from when Combs calls himself “a checkout girl,” I think the song actually fits him quite well. Most of this is due to Combs’s copious everyman charisma, letting him channel the narrator’s troubles and credibly make them his own. However, much like the production, I think his performance is a little too faithful to Chapman’s original, and both of them a bit too neutral and measured to get the listener to really feel anything. (Part of this is the writing’s fault, as occasionally Combs and Chapman have to fit too many syllables onto a line to infuse them with any emotion, but there are plenty of places where the narrator could voice some real frustration and neither artist takes the opportunity to do so.) It’s a very dispassionate telling of a less-than-happy tale, which keeps the audience from sharing Combs’s emotions or feeling invested in the story. As such, the listener loses interest as the story drags on, and no one really cares how it ends by the time the song gets there.

…Which is probably a good thing, because one of the biggest problems the song has is that it ends with a thud, with the narrator’s partner leaving in their “fast car.” It’s a letdown of a conclusion after we’ve rode with them through escaping a small-town purgatory, watched them chase big dreams, and ultimately wind up in the same position that the narrator was in at the start of the song. You get the sense that the song really wants to say something important (maybe something about the hopelessness of small-town life and the inability of its inhabitants to escape its vicious cycle), and while such statements might actually carry more weight now than they did in 1988, the song shoots itself in the foot with its incoherent approach, leaving the narrator’s backstory to the third verse and then leaving jarring gaps of time between the later verses without any sort of smooth transition, and finally just leaving us on the side of the road while the narrator’s partner drives away. (Seriously, how can a song be this long and still feel like it’s leaving out half the story?) We don’t know why the partner ends up being as useless as the narrator’s father, certain details that seems really important (living in a shelter? Having kids?) are consigned to a couple of words apiece, and watching the “fast car” leaving is about an unsatisfactory an ending as you could possibly have. (The only thing it succeeds in doing is making you feel bad for the narrator, who keeps getting stuck in bad spots despite their optimism and the fact that they always seem to be “doing the right thing”…but all caring stops the moment the song does.) It’s a song that’s overly reliant on the listener to fill in all the disappointing details, and honestly the fact that it resonates so much is an indictment of a society that leaves too many dreams to die like this.

I have to admit, I was really surprised at how unimpressed I was by “Fast Car,” regardless of who was signing and when they were singing it. The production felt weak and stoic, the writing was scattershot and unsatisfying, and Luke Combs delivered his lines without any true feeling from behind the mic. It seems like this song should have had a lot going for it (it wasn’t from the current Nashville songwriting machine, it’s a longer story song that keeps its distance from the current beer/truck meta, Combs remains one of the better vocalists in the genre, etc.), but I just didn’t find this track to be moving or compelling in any way. Combs’s releases (even when they’re this unremarkable) may still be far better than anything Wallen could ever hope to put together, but I’m not overly thrilled with either of the genre’s biggest stars right now, and we’re going to need a lot more from the man formerly known as “Thanos” to break country music out of its current malaise.

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

Retro Review: Billy Ray Cyrus, “Achy Breaky Heart”

Just because it’s history doesn’t mean it’s interesting.

It’s been over thirty year since Billy Ray Cyrus topped the charts with his debut single “Achy Breaky Heart,” but it’s hard to understate what a phenomenon this was back in the day. Spending five weeks at #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart was just the start: It reached #4 on the Hot 100 at a time when country songs rarely crossed over to the pop charts at all, became the first country song to go platinum in almost a decade, and kicked off a line dance craze that dominated the summer. When a song gets that big, there has to be something behind it…right?

Yeah, you already know the answer to that question.

“Good” and “popular” are very different things when its comes to music, and songs that only fit the latter definition tend not to have much staying power (witness how many “worst songs ever” lists that this track has ended up on over the years). I wasn’t the world’s biggest fan of this track back in the day (although I still maintain that Some Gave All was a pretty decent album on balance), but I’d never put it on a “worst song” list either (especially after listening to some of the junk that’s come across my desk since I started this blog). So what made this song the phenomenon that it was, and what about it drives its critics up a wall? Sounds like an over-analysis is in order.

Something that struck me when revisiting Some Gave All is just how much of an outlier it is for the era: 1992 sits smack dab in the heart of the neotraditional era, but there isn’t a fiddle or steel guitar on this entire album. Instead, this sits closer to the guitar-and-drum mixes of the present day, although the electric guitar has a bit more texture here than you usually find today. It doesn’t rock as hard as, say, Garth Brooks’s “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Goes Up),” but this is definitely more of a rock guitar, and it serves as the primary melody driver on this track. The drums are simple but methodical, keeping time while providing some needed punch to the mix. Honestly, nothing about this thing screams “dance track”: The tempo is slow and deliberate, the chord progression is beyond simple (forget three chords and the truth; there are only two chords present at all), and the repetitive riffs do nothing to help the song stand out (seriously, the solos are just mindlessly follow the chords with the same riff). Yet these same attributes might be just the thing to get a line dance going: The slow tempo helps the less-athletic among us keep up and join in the fun, and the simple instrumentation stays out of the way of the groove and helps people stick to the beat. Despite its apparent lack of energy, it’s a song that’s custom-built to move you physically rather than emotionally, and though a critic like me won’t find much to dig into here, it’s easy enough to follow along with the craze.

As far as Cyrus’s performance here, I wouldn’t call it anything to write home about, but he does what he needs to do to keep the song moving and the good vibes flowing. There are far better songs on Some Gave All that showcase his talents as a storyteller and vocalist (the title track in particular is really strong), but I think the common thread is an easy, earnest delivery, one that conveys both sadness and frustration as he lists off all the people who can know that this couple is splitting apart (and even some genuine concern for how his heart might take the truth). There isn’t any levity in his delivery, but he never feels overly serious either, which helps him avoid looking like Leslie Nielsen when he’s giving a dog permission to bite him. Mostly, Cyrus’s job is to keep the song moving and stay out of the way of the track’s danceable vibe, and that’s exactly what he does. Unlike the meatheaded bros that can’t seem to help making themselves look like fools on lost-love tracks today, Cyrus walks away from here with both his dignity and the audience’s approval, and on a song like this, that’s about all you can ask for.

The writing here is…well, it exists, I suppose. The “achy breaky” hook has taken a lot of heat over the years (the Oak Ridge Boys famously turned the song down because of it), but I don’t find it to be all that bad: It’s catchy and memorable, and when the writing is minimized as much as it is here, that’s really all you need it to be. Beyond that, we get a list of all the people the narrator’s ex can tell about the end of their relationship, and the one thing (said achy breaky heart) that they can’t. There’s nothing particularly clever or witty here (the closest the song comes are its verse closers, like telling “my eyes to watch out for my mind, it might be walking out on me today”), and there’s nothing beyond the breakup that even resembles a story, but on the flip side, that’s kind of the point: The song wants people out of their seats and moving to the music, and any sort of backstory about the relationship is just a distraction that could get in the way of the fun. Oftentimes the sound serves as the vehicle for the writing, but here it’s the other way around: The writing is just an excuse to let the sound deliver a good time, regardless of what it’s actually saying. (I usually get more annoyed at mismatches like this, but this one doesn’t bother me as much more-recent tracks, mostly because the lyrics seem fairly benign.) This song has nothing to say, and it feels like that was the writer’s intent all along.

“Achy Breaky Heart” may have set off a national dance movement back in the day, but thirty years later there’s little reason to revisit the song. The sound was catchy, Billy Ray Cyrus was an effective deliveryman, and the writing was…there, but there are no lasting lessons to be learned here, no deeper story or emotions that might make it an all-time classic. It was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t last long (and neither did Cyrus’s career, which was effectively over by 1995). Cyrus is known more now for his daughter Miley and his feature on Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” remix than anything on Some Gave All, but while I wouldn’t call “Achy Breaky Heart” a good song, I wouldn’t call it a bad one either, and there are still a few tracks (both on his debut album and later in his discography) that have better stood the test of time and are worth hearing (1998’s “Busy Man” is probably the best of the bunch). For what it’s worth, this song allowed Cyrus to build a legacy that people remember, and I suppose there are worse fates in life.

Rating: 5/10. It’s worth checking out once for historical purposes, but you’ll probably enjoy hearing some of his other works more than this one.

Song Review: Brothers Osborne, “Nobody’s Nobody”

Brothers Osborne may say that “Nobody’s Nobody,” but this genre is trying really hard to prove them wrong.

10 years after their first major-label single release, it’s become pretty clear that country radio wants nothing to do with this duo. After “Stay A Little Longer” may it to #2 back in 2015, T.J. and John Osborne have cracked the Top 20 exactly once in six attempts over eight years (two in eight if you count feature appearances thanks to Dierks Bentley’s collab “Burning Man,”) and after T.J. came out as gay in 2021, the genre demonstrated its “commitment to inclusion” by dropping “All Night” like a hot potato and leaving “I’m Not For Everyone” (which I still maintain is a really good song) to stumble to a #33 airplay peak. You could forgive the pair for wondering if they were still wanted in country music, and they ended up closing the book on their Skeletons album and sitting out all of 2022 before returning this year with “Nobody’s Nobody,” the presumed leadoff single for their fourth album.

So are the brothers primed for a comeback? Honestly, I doubt it: While better than the beer/truck drivel this genre has been dumping on us, this feels like a song that thinks it has something to say but really doesn’t, and it winds up feeling unremarkable and uninteresting thanks to poor execution on several fronts.

Not only is there not much to the production here, but the producer really doesn’t do a whole lot with the pieces they have. The primary melody carrier is a repetitive synthesizer, with a drum set provided a basic beat behind it and John Osborne’s signature electric guitar throwing some simple, overly-drawn-out riffs on top of the sound. Outside of some background singers on the chorus (which try to add a dramatic flair to the choruses, and only half-succeed in doing so while also being so loud that they drown out the vocals) and a few credited instruments that are generally inaudible in the mix, this is all you get, and even John’s electric guitar can’t keep the mix from feeling a bit samey and stale. The slower tempo keeps the song from building much momentum (and the frenetic opening of the song creates some false expectations that are never met), and while there’s a slight buildup of sound as the song goes along, the weaker lyrics make said buildup feel a bit over-the-top and unnecessary. Less can be more, but I think throwing in a few more instruments here to show off their individuality on this song would have both made the sound more distinct/interesting and helped pushed the message of the song (everyone’s a somebody in this arrangement!). As it is, this sound just doesn’t fit the song as well as it should, and the end product suffers as a result.

T.J. Osborne is generally a decent singer and he doesn’t turn in a bad performance here, but he doesn’t do enough to sell this story to the audience. There aren’t any technical issues in his delivery, but much like the production he takes a more-relaxed approach to the tale, with his voice providing some texture and clarity but not having a ton of feeling or power behind it. (Granted, the writing doesn’t give him a ton to work with, but the best singers are able to elevate mediocre material and T.J. doesn’t make it happen here.) I would have liked to hear him sink his teeth into this one a little more, to provide some of the energy that the production lacks and to grab the listener’s attention by signaling how much he cares about the story personally. (For his part, John’s contribution is primarily his guitar work, as whatever background vocals he provides are replaceable at best.) Again, T.J.’s work isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not enough get people interested in this song.

Despite its attempt to move past the ten words you have to say in a country song, the writing is actually the weakest part of this song. For one thing, it doesn’t feel like there’s one song’s worth of words her: Several lines (including some on the chorus) are stretched way beyond their breaking point to fill space, and the “no, no, nobody” lines get old really fast. For another thing, the song seems to be caught between being a love song or an inspirational song, and isn’t quite sure which of the two it really wants to be. If it’s the former, saying you’re “trying to leave my mark with a simple song and an old guitar” and highlighting people who are “keeping the Goodyears on the road” doesn’t make any sense, but if it’s the latter stuff like “forgettin’ someone they can’t let go” and “some lovers leave their mark with a pocket knife and an oak tree heart” are completely out of place. Either way, the hodgepodge of imagery we get is a bit too stock to be interesting, and it makes the “nobody’s nobody” hook (which wasn’t that good to begin with) feel even weaker than it is. The whole thing is at least a dozen drafts away from a finished product, and job #1 should have been to pick a lane for the song and stick with it, because in its current state this is a bland word salad that doesn’t have a whole lot to say.

“Nobody’s Nobody” is kind of a nobody of a song, with pieces that aren’t that strong individually and don’t fit together that well. With sparse, lifeless production to half-baked writing to a “meh” performance from T.J. Osborne, I don’t hold out much hope that this will be the track that ends Brothers Osborne’s losing streak on the radio. That said, I’d rather listen to a song that at least kinda-sorta tried to say something different and break out of the rut that country music is in, and I’m grateful that there’s only one alcohol reference and there’s not a truck or a nighttime dirt-road drive in sight. I wouldn’t say I’m a BO fan by any stretch, but I’m willing to let this placeholder of a song slide as long as they keep trying to shake up the genre and keep looking for better material to help make it happen.

Rating: 5/10. You’re not missing anything here.

Retro Review: Randy Travis, “Promises”

Brad Paisley once asked “Too country…what’s that?” This song might be the answer.

I’ve already written at length about Randy Travis’s career, but it’s worth reiterating just how massive a phenomenon this man was in the late 1980s. Darn near everything he touched during this period turned to gold (and platinum), he racked up shelves full of awards, and seemed to claim the #1 spot on the Billboard charts at will. From 1986 through 1989, only two singles did not reach the Billboard summit: “No Place Like Home” (which stopped at #2), and “Promises,” which sticks out like a sore thumb with a surprisingly-mediocre #17 peak. So what the heck happened here?

In some ways, this sort of performance is predictable: When you perform this well for this long, you gain the sort of clout and leeway to allow you to experiment and pursue passion projects, something that Travis would do a lot in the following years (see: his duet album Heroes and Friends, his Western album Wind In The Wire). “Promises” was the fourth single off of an album that had already been certified platinum and followed a string of seven consecutive #1 hits, so this was a classic “throw something at the wall and see if it sticks” moment, and in Travis’s case, that meant taking one of his own compositions, boiling it down to its very essence, sticking it on the airwaves and seeing what happened. The result was undeniably “country,” but it’s also undeniably slow and unexciting, and while I’ve grown to appreciate it over time, I’ll admit that I was pretty bored by it back in the day. It’s not a bad song (in fact, it’s easily one of the best Travis has ever written), but it didn’t catch the public’s attention the way his other work did, and it’s worth analyzing to see what happened and why it floundered the way that it did.

It’s hard to talk about to the production because…well, there’s barely any production to talk about! An acoustic guitar hits an open chords to start, and then…slowly walks up and down the chords for the rest of the track. In terms of instrument, that’s all you get for the rest of the song: No drums, no keyboards, no fiddle or steel…this is just a vocalist, a guitar, and some background “ooooooohs” on what passes for the chorus. Solo guitars or minimal instrumentation is often used to give a song an organic or back-porch feel, but there’s a level of polish here (note that the guitar is picked instead of strummed) that keeps the mix from achieving this vibe (and I don’t think Travis and producer Kyle Lehning were going for this vibe anyway). To its credit, the guitar strikes a suitably somber tone, and it’s darn near impossible for it to get in the way of the writing, but the slower tempo doesn’t allow it to generate enough energy to keep the song moving, and on its own it’s simply not enough to draw listeners in or keep them engaged in the story. (Even Lehning seemed to understand this on some level, as it’s the background vocals that actually add the necessary weight and impress the deeper meaning onto the audience during the choruses.) Basically, the primary instrument here is Travis himself, and the guitar is little more than a way to fill the space between lines.

Let’s talk about the writing next, which eschews the standard verse/chorus setup for more of a stream-of-consciousness storytelling model. There’s a chorus-like piece that’s anchored by the title (I kind of hesitate to call it a hook because it’s just one word and not part of a larger/consistent phrase), but mostly this is an unbroken cheating song featuring a hard-luck narrator (perhaps the same one as in “Reasons I Cheat,” although that was never a single) who turns to the comfort of others “when my troubles pull me down.” It doesn’t give you the feel of a classic cheating song thanks to the production, but the writing itself tells a pretty standard story, and although the opening lines are incredibly evocative (“Cheap perfume and painted faces, fallen angels fill the places…”), overall the song feels a little light on details when it could really use some to keep the audience tuned in. I’m also less then thrilled with the sense of resignation and hopelessness we get from the narrator, when it’s pretty clear that a) they are the problem, and b) it appears to be fully within their power to change their ways. Again, the writing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s fairly bland once you get past the opener, and needs more than a single guitar to elevate it.

With little sound support and lyrics that are only decent, Travis himself is basically left on an island for the entirety of this song, forced to rely on his voice and presence to convince the listener to stick around. Luckily, this is Randy freaking Travis we’re talking about, one of the ultimate “stand there and sing” performers in country music history, and he delivers a near-hypnotic performance here that keeps the audience from turning away even if they wanted to. If you’ve read anything I’ve written about Travis over the years, you know what’s coming next: Plaudits for his smooth delivery, his understated-yet-emotional style, his infinite supply of charm and charisma, and so on. I talk about the “degree of difficulty” presented by songs a fair amount, but this might be the most-difficult of all because with next to no support from any other piece of the song, the ultimate success or failure of the song rides on the singer’s vocal execution, and if you make any mistakes, you’ve got zero cover for them. The flip side, however, is if you really nail the performance as Travis does here, you’ll have the crowd in the palm of your hand, hanging on every word no matter how bland it is. You won’t find much energy or excitement here, but you will find a ton of heartfelt emotion, and sometimes that can make all the difference.

I won’t deny that “Promises” is an acquired taste: With its slothful pace and run-of-the-mill story, it’s not hard to see why it didn’t excite listeners the way earlier Randy Travis singles did. However, this is a still a Randy Travis single, and a pretty decent one at that, mostly due to Travis’s immense talent and charisma and the fact that nothing here dares to get in his way. It may be an overlooked track from an artist who doesn’t seem to have the name recognition that his place in country music history would warrant, but honestly I’d call this experiment a success, regardless of where the Billboard numbers wound up. If for some strange reason you still haven’t familiarized yourself with Travis’s work, what the heck are you waiting for?

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Conner Smith, “Creek Will Rise”

That creek must have risen a lot to fit that shark county music keeps jumping.

I’ve been complaining for a while now about how most mainstream country adheres to a strict meta that only allows about three instruments to be used and five stories to be told, causing all the songs and artists to run together into an indistinguishable stream of background noise. It’s made the genre very hard to listen to over the past few years, and for some bizarre reason the trend seems to be getting worse: It feels like nearly every modern track I review now sounds the same, tells the same story, and even the artists are getting harder to distinguish. The latest incarnation of this trend is Conner Smith, a product of Nashville’s faceless young male assembly line who hasn’t cracked the Top 35 in two prior attempts (“Learn From It,” “Take It Slow”), who’s now hoping that the third time is the charm with “Creek Will Rise”…except that it’s another song about a horny guy with a girl in a truck on a nighttime dirt road drive, featuring skinny dipping, name-dropping, and steamy intercourse. Haven’t we heard enough of this drivel already?

Let’s try and start with the good news first: The production at least tries to make the song interesting by tweaking the standard guitar-and-drum formula. There are two main differences here:

  • The tempo is cranked way beyond fast, injecting a ton of energy into the mix from the word go.
  • A dobro is added to the later choruses and ends up anchoring the bridge solo, which combines with the frequent minor chords (and “frequent” is an understatement; it’s hard to find a major chord at all in this thing) to give the song an ominous, almost dangerous feel. (There’s a mandolin here somewhere according to the video credits, but it’s buried too deep in the mix to be noticeable.)

With the leeway the acoustic guitar and dobro get to define the mix, it feels like the producer was trying to recapture the magic of Dierks Bentley’s debut “What Was I Thinkin’.” It’s not a bad goal to shoot for, but the foreboding tone of the arrangement just doesn’t fit this track at all. While Bentley had some actual danger to contend with (running from the cops, escaping from a bar fight, and of course the father with a shotgun), the only dangers here are getting stuck with a dead car battery or catching hypothermia. The lyrics just don’t feel like they warrant such a fast-paced, in-your-face mix, and as a result it makes the story seem overhyped and the sound feel like nothing but empty sonic calories. It’s not a terrible mix and there’s a time and place for it, but this song is not it.

I really wish someone would get Smith a speech therapist for his birthday, because it took three full playthroughs to figure out what the heck he was saying on this song (spoiler alert: it wasn’t worth finding out). He struggles to put any real emotion behind the song (especially the faster portions, where he’s too busy getting the lyrics out to do anything else), and he comes across as this smug dudebro who’s only concern is getting laid (instead of being sympathetic or likeable, by the end you’re just hoping the creek washes him away when it rises)…and that’s before he starts talk-singing and loses whatever goodwill he had garnered. Worse still, the menacing feel of the production gives Smith’s vocals and intent a concerningly-dark vibe, and you start to wonder if you should be calling the authorities before he reaches the point the radio won’t let him talk about. In the end, this narrator is creepy AF, and instead of pulling the song out of the gutter, Smith just drives it deeper into the ditch. Given that his previous two songs didn’t leave much of an impression, this really isn’t the vibe you want to be giving off the first time people hear you.

And then we get to the lyrics, which are so cookie-cutter that I half expected to see ChatGPT as a co-writer. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The narrator and their partner are out on a nighttime excursion in a truck, going from lying in the truck bed to skinny-dipping in a creek and eventually to what Bill Engvall would call some “hot pig sex.” We’ve also got the dirt road, the sundress, the name-drops (not only is there a “Fishin’ In The Dark” reference, but NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon are randomly tossed into the song as well)…the only real twists to the tale are a) the massive rainstorm that sweeps through during the night (hence the “if the good Lord’s willing, that creek will rise” hook that’s not nearly as clever as the writers think) and b) the surprisingly-graphical imagery that we get as the song goes along. (There’s no beer here, but as I mentioned when I talked about George Birge’s “Mind On You,” even that is considered meta these days.) Even if “the radio won’t even let me tell you the rest,” he comes a lot closer to telling us that most songs do: I can’t even use euphemisms like “making out” herethese people are naked, sopping wet, and holding on to one another on a sundress “blanket.” They aren’t here to conserve body heat; they’re about to throw down like it’s a wrestling match. Aside from making fourteen-year-old boys snicker, what exactly is this song supposed to accomplish? It’s not interesting, it’s not thought-provoking, and it’s certainly not sensual. It’s a meathead bragging about how he got busy with someone, and given how many times we’ve heard some variation of this story over the last decade, this moron can go crow somewhere else.

All in all, there’s absolutely nothing to like about “Creek Will Rise.” With production that doesn’t fit the mood and can’t hold the listener’s attention, writing whose only innovation was taking mid-2010s Bro-Country and making it more cringe, and Conner Smith doing his creepiest dudebro impression while sounding like a off-brand Morgan Wallen, this song is easily one of the worst I’ve heard all year. Unfortunately, this is also apparently what Music City wants country music to sound like nowadays, so we’re likely doomed to deal with Smith and more of his ilk singing more of the same for the foreseeable future. I’ve been saying for years that the genre is ripe for a “Randy Travis moment” when someone will “take the industry by storm, reinvigorate the sound, and take the music in a new and unexpected direction,” but if they’re coming, they had better get here quick, or else there won’t be much of a genre left when they arrive.

Rating: 3/10. Yuck.

Retro Review: Diamond Rio, “It’s All In Your Head”

There’s a song about everything if you look hard enough.

Conspiracy theories have always been a thing in this world, but the combination of misinformation and platforms that can rapidly spread it has made these theories a major problem in society today, leading people to commit acts of violence (think the QAnon-fueled storming of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, or the false claims of election fraud that led up to the Jan. 6th insurrection). The truth no longer appears to be engaging or profitable enough for the powers that be, and thus we seem to be stuck in a quagmire of mistruths and “alternative facts” meant to obfuscate actual facts and make it really hard to determine what’s true and what isn’t.

Conspiracy theories have certainly inspired some songs over the years, but you rarely see them in country music (angry reactionary tracks like Aaron Lewis’s “Am I The Only One” are far more common, but they don’t usually veer in conspiratorial territory). However, there was a song that kinda-sorta dove into this realm back in the mid-1990s: Diamond Rio’s “It’s All In Your Head,” telling the story of a religious zealot who trusted no one and trafficked in some of the more-famous theories of the era, such as JFK’s death. Despite the band’s popularity, country radio didn’t really get on board with this one (it only made it to #15 on Billboard’s airplay chart, which was admittedly better than “Bubba Hyde,” but still far below the band’s other hits of the era), and I can see why: This is a genuinely weird tale that lacks both a purpose and a punch line, and when it’s over it leaves the listener wondering what the point of the song was in the first place.

The production is probably the best part of the song, and it’s pretty much what you would expect from a Diamond Rio track. It starts by leaning on an acoustic guitar and Gene Johnson’s mandolin, but over time Jimmy Olander’s “Taxicaster” and Dan Truman’s keyboards take control of the mix, making the song instantly recognizably as a Diamond Rio song. Despite Johnson and Olander being the most-recognizable pieces of the band (Olander gets the nod for the bridge solo), I’d argue that Truman is the most importantly player here: The Taxicaster and the mandolin are generally brightly-toned and remain so on this track, but it’s the keyboards (especially the one that sounds like a classic church organ) that pair with the unorthodox chord structure (there really aren’t any minor chords here, but there doesn’t seem to be too many full major ones either) to give the song an unsettling feel befitting the paranoid, fire-and-brimstone outlook of the main character. It’s the sort of risks that raises questions in the listener’s mind and invites them to hear the answers, and while said answers from the song are either unsatisfactory or nonexistent (more of that later), at least the audience was moved to look for them. I wouldn’t call this a great mix, but at least it appears to be an effective one.

Marty Roe is great vocalist, but I think he takes a really poor approach on this track. In theory, his narrator is supposed to be the child of the two zealots/conspiracy theorists, and thus you would expect him to show some conflicted emotion telling the story of their deeply-flawed parents (it could be affection or resentment depending on your reading of the tale, but he has to feel something). Instead, Roe seem to take the position of a neutral third-party speaker, and gives off no emotion at all as he walks us through the story (no love, no hate…in truth, he makes no judgement at all). I’m not sure what his thought process was here, but it makes him seem less believable as a narrator and his character seem less worthy of sympathy (it sounds like he had a fairly normal childhood despite the story making this seem impossible). The group’s harmony work is stellar as usual, but its impact feels minimal, possibly because Roe has to carry a fair bit of the song solo, or because the harmony feel like they’re broken up and limited to short bursts during the song. All in all, it’s a fairly “meh” performance to me, one that doesn’t really resonate with its audience.

I think the lyrics are the biggest problem here, mostly because of their abrupt and incomplete end. The song starts by introducing us to the narrator’s father, an old-school preacher with a strong distrust of authority and a zeal to open the world’s eyes to “the truth.” I wouldn’t call him a likeable individual, but as you hear about picking fights in pool halls and delivering sermons in parking lots, you have to admit that he’s a fascinating character, one that you might want to hear more from to determine how he turned into the zealot that he is…except that he dies to a snakebite on the abbreviated third verse, and the story basically ends right there. There’s no closing statement from the speaker about the legacy of their father and where they went from there, no grand proclamation providing insight about impact of unfounded conspiracy theories, and despite having the entire second verse dedicated to her, we learn next to nothing about the stepmother in the relationship or about her own role in the whole thing. The only “moral” I can possibly think of is that by depicting the mother and father as completely out of their minds, it makes them look supremely foolish, and in turn makes believing in such conspiracy nonsense seem foolish as well…but that’s a really generous interpretation of a song that most people aren’t going to read that deeply into. As it is, this reads like a book that’s had the last few chapters ripped out, and it leaves the listener deeply confused as to why anyone would bother singing about all this.

Despite its subject matter, “It’s All In You Head” is a song that ultimately doesn’t have anything to say, and fails to justify its existence as a result. The production is decent, but it’s weighed down by questionable vocal choices and writing that only seems to tell half the story. It’s hard to imagine what moved Diamond Rio and their label to release this as a single (there are probably some conspiracy theories about this somewhere…), but it’s easy to tell why it’s been mostly forgotten within their discography. Story songs can be great, but you’ve got to have a payoff at the end, something that rewards listeners for sticking with you until the final note. Without it, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

Rating: 5/10. You’re not missing anything here.

Song Review: Ashley McBryde, “Light On In The Kitchen”

Could we please get this woman some more time on the airwaves?

Ashley McBryde has created some of the best country music of the last half-decade, and she’s got the metaphorical Korner hardware to prove it (#7 best song in 2021, #3 in 2020, and both #1 and #8 in 2019, a year in ), but it feels like country radio has never really gotten on board with her, and she’s yet to have a solo hit even make the Top Ten on Billboard’s airplay chart (“One Night Standards” only made it to #11, and “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” did finally hit #1 but was a collaboration with Carly Pearce). 2022 saw the release of her critically-acclaimed concept album Lindeville, but no official singles were released to radio from the project—instead, McBryde brought out “Light On In The Kitchen,” the presumed leadoff single from her fourth album, earlier this year. You can tell that McBryde is an Eric Church disciple, because this song is eerily reminiscent of Church’s “Some Of It” (#6 on my 2019 list, by the way), going through the various life lessons that a mother might impart to their child. However, it’s hard to knock a song for being unoriginal when basically no one else is dropping tracks like this today (and at least they’re copying a good song) , and the superb execution present here makes this a must-hear in today’s radio environment.

“This sound is a lot more familiar to Church fans, with an acoustic guitar carrying the melody and a drum set providing a simple, straightforward beat for the foundation.” I opened my “Some Of It” production review with this line, and honestly it’s a pretty good overview of McBryde’s sound here, at least to start. However, the producer definitely does some tinkering around the edges: The drums are much softer and sandier here, the keyboards that rise up from the background are a bit more prominent, and most notably there’s a mandolin here that trades lead riffs with the electric guitar (it even get half the bridge solo!). In the end, I’d say the vibe of these two tracks is about the same: Reflective, positive, and generally pretty balanced (it pushes the song forward without injecting too much energy, and makes itself heard without getting in the way of the lyrics). It’s an pleasant, inviting mix that does a good job drawing listeners into the song, and sometimes that’s really all you can ask for.

Much like Church, McBryde has this aura of hard-won experience about her, making her a natural fit for a song like this one. She’s always had everywoman charisma to burn, and she applies it well here by tapping into the shared experience of the song (most everyone has had that maternal figure in their ear, telling them what to do and how things will be). While she’s usually known for the edge and attitude she brings to the table, she wisely sets these aside here because there’s no need for it (nothing said here is all that controversial or aggressive). Instead, she sticks with a straightforward delivery that keeps the writing front and center, and avoids going over the top with emotion (and thus keeps the song from feeling cheesy), and there’s a distinct sense of both gratefulness and reverence in her performance, making her believable to the point that I initially thought this was a specific tribute to her own mother (it’s not; it was written with two co-writers and is more of a general tribute to the strong women in their lives). McBryde has already demonstrated that she’s one of the most capable vocalists in Music City, and there’s nothing here to change that assessment in any way.

The biggest compliment I can give the writing is that this is exactly the sort of thing I want to hear from a country song. I’ve done so much complaining over the last year or so about how little maturity is found is modern country music, but this song has it in spades, both in the maternal figure dispensing life lessons and in the narrator who’s relaying the tale and realizing its full value. Not only do these nuggets feel like advice that you can use (okay, maybe not ‘a dose of local honey will keep your nose from running’), but they feel especially timely for youth in the present day, given the current mental health crisis and the social-media-exacerbated body image issues that affect many young women. There are one-liners about weight (“when you feel fat, it’s mostly in your mind”), complexion (“your freckles make you pretty”), and romance (“honey, boys are dumb”…and yeah, at that age they really can be), as well as mentions of larger issues like race (“when you make friends, always be color blind”) and inequality (“pray for those that don’t have a prayer”). The lighter moments (“pancakes just taste better after midnight”) may not be as useful, but they serve to humanize the speakers and make them more relatable because everybody’s got a weird rule or two that they live by (mine is “don’t cheap out on dental floss”). There’s a lot of good stuff packed into this song (and not a beer or truck to be found, I might add), and with everything else here ceding the spotlight to the lyrics, it’s great to find that the song has something worth hearing.

“Light On In The Kitchen” is…honestly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Ashley McBryde by now. With its solid production, useful writing, and a great performance behind the mic, this song is quality all the way around, the kind of song I really wish we heard more of on mainstream radio. Sadly, mainstream radio doesn’t seem to want much to do with McBryde’s work (although this song has made some decent headway so far, so maybe this will change?), so I’m still a bit pessimistic about its chances for success. Still, it’s radio’s loss if it doesn’t want a seat on this hype train, because McBryde has proven to be one of the best artists in the game today, and this track is already in line to grab some more non-existent hardware from this blog in 2023.

Rating: 8/10. You don’t want to miss this one.

Retro Review: Suzy Bogguss, “Hey Cinderella”

Country music lives for the party, but doesn’t talk much about what happens when it ends.

Patty Loveless just entered the Hall of Fame and we’ve already talked about the greatness of Kathy Mattea, but if you asked me who my favorite female artist of the era was, you might be surprised at my answer: Suzy Bogguss, a vocalist who mainstream career was nowhere near as long or successful as many of her contemporaries. Her time in the spotlight lasted about two years (1991 through 1993), and though “Drive South” made it all the way to #2, she never reached the top of the Billboard country charts. Despite this brevity, Bogguss remains one of my favorite artists of the era, and my favorite song of hers might also be a surprise: “Hey Cinderella,” the second single from her 1993 album Something Up My Sleeve and a #5 hit that would wind up being the last time she would even reach the top thirty. I’m not sure I could explain why i was drawn to the song back in the day, but I can certainly tell you why it stands the test of time: It dares to look beyond the moment and the traditional expectations and narratives we were fed back in the day, and examine how reality extends beyond a convenient story.

In terms of the production, between this song and Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses,” I’m honestly impressed by how much some of these producers are able to do with so few pieces. At its core, this is as guitar-and-drum-dominated as anything you’ve heard on the radio in the last half-decade (heck, it doesn’t even have a token banjo or steel guitar), instead relying on a trio of guitars (one acoustic, two electric) to carry the melody with a piano providing support and a run-of-the-mill drum set keeping time. How in the world does this thing manage to succeed? Well, for one thing each instrument maintains its own identity instead of blending into the dreaded wall of noise—even when they come together, you can always pick out the individual pieces of the mix as they play. For another thing, the arrangement takes great pains to stay out of the way of the vocals—Bogguss’s voice is the most-prominent, and the rest of the band is just here to help get the message across. Finally, there’s an energy to the sound that drives the song forward, and the overall is mostly neutral, allowing it to quickly adjust when the celebrations are covered, or when the minor chords appear and the curtains are pulled back from the fantasy. It’s a simple mix that doesn’t showcase much wizardry from the players, but it doesn’t have to—it’s a supporting player in this tale, and it fills this role quite capably, setting a calm-but-serious mood that invites the listener to think deeply about what’s being said. If only all guitar-and-drum mixes performed so well…

Bogguss was in her late thirties at the time this song was released, and she fills the role of an experienced narrator looking back at the promise of their life and all the unexpected challenges that kept them from fulfilling it. It’s a trickier role than you might expect because it’s one that is usually filled with a lot of anger: The speaker was promised “happily ever after,” and people tend to get bitter and resentful when they don’t get it. Bogguss, on the other hand, stays calm and measured here (even when she’s ‘yelling’ at Cinderella), which I think is a better reflection of reality: The things that transpire aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re definitely different, and it’s certainly nothing that was mentioned when we were young and dreaming of a bright future. (I also think removing bitterness and frustration from the equation makes both the song and the vocal performance more palatable to the audience, so I hope Bailey Zimmerman and his ilk are taking notes.) There’s an honesty and a candor to her delivery here, convincing the listener that she’s truly walked a mile in the narrator’s shoes, with just a hint of weariness sprinkled in to reflect just how exhausting all that walking can be. It’s a solid performance on balance, the kind that makes you wonder why she fell off the radar so quickly after it faded. (Hmm…perhaps a deep dive on this subject might be in order one of these days…)

The writing here tells the tale of a narrator who grew up believing in fairy tales and thinking that their life would follow a similar path, only to discover the hard way that the story extends for another chapter or ten. The wedding story is sufficiently vivid to set up the fall leading into the first chorus, and said chorus brings up a point that’s gotten even more salient in the new millennium: We’re often told stories in our youth of what our lives should be like and the steps we must take to get there, and more and more these fantasies are turning out to be exactly that. Cinderella told young women everywhere that if they could just charm a prince, they could live happily ever after (glossing over the challenges associated with building a career, raising a family, or just getting old in general), and while today we might laugh at how antiquated and restrictive these fairy tales were, this sort of story was the orthodoxy for countless centuries. Generations of women discovered the true ending of the story the hard way, and asked the same questions of the protagonist that the narrator does, wondering why the tale ended up being so darn incomplete. Lately it’s been the story of “the American dream” that’s become a pipe dream: I mean, how many people were told some variation of “go to college, buy a home, and you’ll have made it,” and discovered that crippling debt and a shrinking housing supply have turned that into a fairy tale as well? The truth lies in the second verse: We grow old, we deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life, and we wonder what happened to the bright-eyed, big-dreaming kid we used to be, the one who thought they had it all figured out. (The line about “our dolls gather dust in the corner of the attic, and bicycles rust in the rain” has always been particularly evocative to me, especially now as I look at the dusty amiibos sitting in front of my TV and think about the rusted six-speed bike still sitting in my parents’ garage.) It’s a song that captures the transition from youth to middle age so well that it can be a little disconcerting, and is full of the hard-earned maturity and experience that much of modern country music lacks.

To me, “Hey Cinderella” is a great example of what a country song should be: A song that tells a story, invites you to ruminate on it, and leaves you with some nuggets of insight when it’s over. The production is simple but effective (it’s not “three chords and the truth,” but that’s only because it’s got seven chords), the writing is thoughtful and pulls no punches, and Suzy Bogguss brings the whole thing to life with her performance. It’s a shame that this was effectively the last we heard of Bogguss on the radio, because I think she deserves more recognition as one of the best artists of the early 1990s. Her time on the airwaves may have been brief, but it produced some real gems like this track, and if this is the first time you’ve heard this name, I encourage you to go dig into her discography, because you’re missing out.

Rating: 10/10. A stellar song all the way around.

Song Review: Luke Combs, “Love You Anyway”

How does a song that does so much right wind up just…okay?

I may have officially rescinded Luke Combs’s “Thanos” title, but Combs remains a potent force in country music: After “The Kind Of Love We Make” snapped his Billboard airplay #1 streak, “Going, Going, Gone” spent a pair of weeks atop the chart, which would be an impressive feat for anyone except Combs (a man with a 7-week #1, a 6-week #1, and a pair of 5-week #1s to his name). He’s apparently got a pair of singles pushing for airplay right now, but “Love You Anyway” appears to be the primary focus of Combs’s team (“5 Leaf Clover” already appears to be losing steam), so that’s the song I’ll talk about first. If I’m honest, the song confuses the heck out of me: The individual pieces seem to be relatively strong, but in the end it’s a love song that’s far less than the sum of its parts, and I can’t get halfway through the song without falling asleep. So what’s going on here?

Let’s start with the production, and right from the start this mix makes a statement that it isn’t going to adhere to the typical formula. The fiddle in front and center on the opener, and it’s the primary instrument every time the sound swells up (on/after the choruses, during the bridge solo, etc.). An acoustic guitar serves as the primary melody-carrier on the first verse, but it’s surprisingly low in the mix and really struggles to be heard, and it’s basically replaced by keyboards for verse #2. (Honestly, the mix darn near disappears on the verses, with only the drums even making an effort to be heard, and even then the difference between the louder vocals and the softer production is so stark that it makes you question the overall volume balance.) The result is a warm, rich sound that helps support the narrator’s claims without getting in their way…but it’s also a mix that’s lacking in energy and fails to build momentum as it goes along, causing it to bog down under its own weight and keeping it from generating any more than what I’d call a slight vibe of affection. It’s okay I suppose, but it doesn’t feel like it resonates very well with the listener, and given the pieces involved it seems like it should be a lot better than it actually is.

As for Combs, he’s still got charm and charisma to burn, but I wish he’d brought it to bear a bit more on this track. There’s a real earnestness behind his performance, and you can certainly sense the strength of his feelings for the other person, but there isn’t a ton of overt passion or emotion here. Instead, Combs feels overly measured and controlled in his delivery, making him seem a bit too chill about the whole thing to get the audience to really share in his feelings. I don’t question his sincerity the way I might question, say, Dustin Lynch if he were making the same statement, but this even-keel approach just doesn’t engage the listener at all. The song doesn’t put him in an ideal position either, as it pushes his voice lower on the verses where he can’t generate as much power when he sings (I think kicking it up a key or two to allow him to climb the ladder and lean into the vocals a bit more would have done a world of good). It’s a decent performance, but it wasn’t quite what the song needed to catch our ears.

Speaking of the song, the thing that strikes me the most about the writing here is how darn poetic it is:

If your kiss turned me to stone
I’d be a statue standing tall in ancient Rome
And if your touch shattered me like glass
I’d be in pieces trying to make the breaking last

The song is a standard love ballad at its core, so the writers deserve some props for attempting to use some flowery prose to distinguish this track from its competition, and how the details give you something you can really visualize, and even how they seize the moment to give the speaker some vulnerability/insecurity…so why am I constantly pausing this track to listen to something else? It’s macro issue rather than a micro one: At the end of the day, regardless of the prose or the details, this is a love song in a genre that’s been drowning in them for decades, and even flowery prose is well-plowed ground (although I haven’t heard much from this genre that I would call ‘poetic’ lately…). The sentiment feels predictable and a little cheesy, and it’s not really enough to draw the listener in and make them pay attention. It’s a song that needed more help from the singer and sound than it ended up getting, and just kind of exists as a result.

“Love You Anyway” is a real head-scratcher of a song, because on some level it feels like everything is done pretty well. The production is both warm and distinct, Luke Combs is believable as the narrator, the writing tries to be fancy…and yet it just doesn’t close the deal for me, and winds up feeling fairly unremarkable. Everything seems to be most of the way there, but not all of the way, and the pieces just don’t have the synergy to elevate this track beyond mere respectability. That said, I’d still take this thing over 75% of what’s on the radio right now (which says more about the genre than about Combs), and if country music has to be dominated by someone, you could do a lot worse than the former Thanos. (A lot lot worse.)

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a few spins and see if you get any more out of it than I did.

Retro Review: Cleve Francis, “You Do My Heart Good”

If you’re looking for an artist who really knows their away around the heart, I might have a recommendation for you.

Mainstream country music is a lot of things, but “diverse” isn’t one of them. I’ve been harping about country radio seemingly being “allergic” to female artists for some time now, and artists of color have been ignored and marginalized for so long that Kane Brown, despite has relatively short tenure in Nashville, might already be the third-most-successful Black country artist in history behind Charley Pride and Darius Rucker (and Jimmie Allen might already be fourth!). As much as I’d like to say things have improved at least a teeny-tiny bit recent years, it’s hard to make that case when artists like Mickey Guyton or Chapel Hart still can’t find any traction on the airwaves while faceless amateurs like Conner Smith are already on their third single release. The genre has never consistently given non-white artists a fair shot at stardom, and it’s all the poorer for it.

One such artist who could never get a fair shake was Cleve Francis, a musician and cardiologist whose self-funded album and music video in 1990 caught the attention of a record producer and led to a short stint on Liberty Records, which produced three albums but no radio singles of any note (I was a pretty heavy radio consumer back in the day, and I’d never heard of Francis until I found him on YouTube a year or two ago). His best showing on Billboard’s country chart was #47, courtesy of the second single from his major-label debut album Tourist In Paradise, “You Do My Heart Good.” The song itself is a fairly run-of-the-mill love song for the era, but there are enough flashes of potential here to make you think he could have been really done something big with stronger material, and it’s a crying shame that he never got that chance.

The production here may feel like a an awkward fit at first listen, but I think I actually like the balanced approach that was taken here. I’ve never been a huge fan of love songs that feel, shall we say, less than romantic thanks to frequent minor chords and overly-dark instrument tones, and when this one opened with an ominous intro punctuated by piano strikes and rolled into a minor chord on the first verse, I was more than a little skeptical. However, the instruments are far brighter and bouncier than the mood suggests, and the mix not only pivots quickly back to major chords, and the energy generated the acoustic guitar and swell of sound behind it (created mostly by the bass and piano) give the song a spacious feel that makes it feel both positive and surprisingly hopeful, a feeling that expands on the choruses as an electric guitar and string section jump in. (The drums are a bit late to jump in, and honestly they don’t do much beyond keep time behind everything else.) The mix bounces back and forth between the dark side and bright side, but it actually fits the duality of the writing pretty well: The narrator has suffered through some rough stretches on their quest to find love, but they’ve definitely found it now, and it feels fantastic. The guitars pair with the quicker tempo to drive the song forward and give it some serious momentum as it rolls along, and you just can’t help but tap your feet along to the tale. Moody sounds may not be a logical fit for a love song, but they can work fine if the track actually supports them, and in this case I think they strengthen the song and amplify its impact.

In terms of Francis’s voice: He may lose a little bit of tone when he gets pushed into his lower register, but otherwise this dude does the best darn Keith Whitley impression I’ve probably ever heard. He can put some real heartbreak behind his delivery to make you sympathize with them, but there’s also a softness and wholesomeness to his approach that bolsters his credibility on a love song like this one, and when he declares that love has completely transformed him, you take him at his word. Even when stretched a bit beyond his vocal range, Francis does a nice job threading this needle between the pain and the joy inherent in the song, and he shows off a great deal of charm and charisma by taking what is honestly and unremarkable song and elevating it to make it both memorable and enjoyable. It’s the kind of performance that makes you want to hear more of the person behind the mic, and it’s a travesty that Francis didn’t get a bigger audience at the time to showcase his talent.

Despite its balancing act between the highs and lows of romance, the writing really doesn’t have a lot to say here: The narrator was on a painful losing streak in love, but now that they’ve met their current partner the world is nothing but sunshine and rainbows, and the other person’s feelings have had a healing effect on the speaker (hence the bland “you do my heart good” hook). It’s heavy on paint-by-numbers platitudes and light on details, and nearly every line in the chorus feels stretched out to cover the available space. The best thing I can say about it is that is has plenty of handholds for the other parts of the song to grab on to and lift the track to new heights, so in that respect, I guess it’s…okay? Still, I wish there was a bit more story behind the whole thing: Tell us more about the broken hearts, and tell us more about why the other person makes your day besides being “as constant as the stars that shine” (which feels pretty weak as far as praise goes). This is a song that goes straight for the feels, but it’s a bit too fluffy and vacuous for my tastes, and it’s way too reliant on Francis and the production to bail it out.

“You Do My Heart Good” is a meh song that is executed to near perfection, with its empty lyrics filled with energy and emotion by driving, balanced production and a strong performance from Clive Francis, M.D.. The way the sound and singer pull this thing together makes me think Francis could have had a solid career in Nashville if he’d been able to find better material, but the Catch-22 he ran into with songs (“He was told he didn’t have the ‘right’ material for a breakout hit, yet he could only record what was given to him, written by outside songwriters”) seems to indicate that the deck was stacked against him. The man deserved better, and while he didn’t get the chance to truly shine, he made the best of what he was given.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a few spins to see what we all missed.