Song Review: Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

I was really hoping the future of country music would sound a lot better than this.

Radio has long been the dominant force in country music, but the balance of power has shifted over the last two decades with the rise of streaming services and social media platforms, allowing artists to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers, connect more directly with listeners, and find new paths to success within the genre. Some artists (most notably Kane Brown) have used this momentum to push radio to get on board their hype trains, and the latest artist to attempt the trick is Walker Hayes, a half-decent writer and terrible vocalist who used massive streaming numbers and a viral TikTok dance craze to crack the Top 50 on Mediabase with his latest single “Fancy Like” before the song was officially released to radio. (The song charted on the Hot 100 several weeks ago, making it the rare country song that Mark Grondin reviewed before I did.) Unfortunately, there’s no correlation between quality and popularity, and while this is slightly better than, say, “You Broke Up With Me,” the track is a weak, poorly-executed effort that doesn’t stand up against even mediocre competition.

The production is pretty much you’d expect from a Walker Hayes song, which means it’s a generic mix that doesn’t fit with its subject matter at all. At its core, this is nothing more than the same old guitar-and-drum arrangement that everyone in Nashville depends, and…yeah, that’s pretty much it. The instruments themselves have a different feel than Hayes’s prior work, but it’s not a change for the better: The electric guitar has a rougher feel the slick axes he usually leans on, but it winds up giving the song a raunchy, overly-sexual feel that doesn’t fit the song well at all, and the percussion (which doesn’t sound at blatantly synthetic as it usually does, although the low beats on the chorus feel out of place and Grady Smith’s favorite clap track makes an appearance) lacks any punch and only serves to fill space between the lyrics. For everything that’s here (there’s an acoustic guitar and a bunch of repetitive background shouts tossed in as well), the mix’s biggest failure is that it doesn’t establish much of a presence in the song as a whole—outside of the slimy electric guitar riffs, the instruments are barely noticeable and never register in the listener’s mind. This, in turn, puts all the focus on Hayes and the lyrics, which is probably the worst thing a producer could do when neither stand up against scrutiny (more on this later). If ever there was a time to overproduce a song, this was it, and standing by and letting Hayes go unchecked on this track was a serious dereliction of duty.

If I could give Hayes any advice, I would counsel him to take a vow of silence and focus on his songwriting, because the man is absolutely horrible behind the mic. Let’s set aside his technical issues for a moment (seriously, the man has zero tone or range with his voice) and focus on his biggest faux pas: The attitude with which he approaches this song. The lyrics try to sing the praises of a woman with simple tastes and pleasures, and any respectable artist would join the chorus by displaying their awe and admiration for this person. Hayes, unfortunately, comes across as both sleazy and self-satisfied in his delivery, shifting the focus to his own luck/happiness and reducing the woman to a sex object that “wanna dip me like them fries in her Frosty” (as the quote suggests, the lyrics deserve their shame of the blame too). I don’t know if this is the product of malice or incompetence, but the result is that Hayes sounds like an unlikable meatheaded Bro who isn’t remotely pleasant to listen to, and the audience tunes him out before he reaches the second chorus.

I’ve both praised and disparaged Hayes’s writing up to this point, so where does this song fall? Frankly, this is far from his best work, as his story about a partner who isn’t into the trappings of luxury lacks a point and a punch line. The hook is nothing more than a dad joke: The narrator claims that sometimes he’s “gotta spoil my baby with an upgrade” that’s “fancy like”…something that’s not actually any fancier than what he described (and in the case of Applebee’s over Wendy’s, is something I would personally consider a downgrade). The second verse tries to expand on the concept with some generic comparisons (houses, cars), but the repeat of the original chorus then feels awkward and out of place, and should have been modified to match the verse (maybe a Jeep ride to a log cabin?). Lines like “bougie like Natty in the styrofoam” sound like they’re trying a little too hard to be casual (“how do you do, fellow kids?”), and lines like the “dip me like them fries” don’t do anything by amp up the song’s sleaze factor. The whole thing feels like it could have used a few more drafts being heading to the studio, because it just sounds like a narrator gloating to the listener over their low-maintenance partner, and it winds up being more annoying than amusing.

“Fancy Like” is a failure at nearly every level, from its disappearing soundalike production to its rambling, pointless writing to Walker Hayes’s atrocious vocals. Its only redeeming trait is that it’s not quite as aggravating as some of Hayes’s previous releases or some of the worst tracks we’ve heard this year, and that doesn’t make it any less painful to sit through. I’m all for opening new channels for people to discover music and giving artists more and different paths to success, but a bad song is a bad song no matter how viral it is, and no amount of silly dancing on social media can change that. Hayes either needs to step up his game or step away from the game, because you can only torment your audience like this for so long before you get tossed out of the genre for good.

Rating: 3/10. Ignore this drivel and listen to Darius Rucker sing Hayes under the table instead:

Song Review: Eric Church, “Heart On Fire”

If you’re going to drag us down memory lane, you should at least make it an enjoyable trip.

Eric Church has earned his fair share of critical acclaim and built up a passionate fanbase over the years, but for some reason radio has never really accepted him, and his chart track record is inconsistent at best. (Then again, given that Church is one of the few people who has directly challenged the genre with songs like “Stick That In Your Country Song,” perhaps the reasons for him being kept at arm’s length by country music aren’t that much of a mystery.) He hasn’t had back-to-back #1 songs in nearly a decade, and despite winning Entertainer of the Year of the 2020 CMAs, he had two songs fail to reach the Top Ten (“Monsters” and “Stick That…”) before reaching the top with surprisingly-boring “Hell Of A View.” His latest attempt to break his lack-of-back-to-back is “Heart On Fire,” the third single from his Heart & Soul album triumvirate, and while it’s one of those nostalgic tracks that I’m not really a fan of, at this least this one does enough with its sound and vocals to make it semi-tolerable.

So why am I so high on the production here? In “Hell Of A View,” I declared that “They tried to generate a sonic throwback to artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty, but the mix lacks the punch that it needs to really emulate the style.” For this song, they took the exact same approach, but actually stuck the landing by using brighter instrument tones, kicking up tempo, and (most importantly) not blurring all the instruments together into a wall of noise. All the same pieces are here (for what it’s worth, the keyboard is a bit more prominent here than in the prior single), but they each sound a bit clearer and more distinct, allowing each one to help deliver a shot of momentum to the mix. The result is a retro sound that crackles with youthful energy, giving the listener a sense of how it felt to cruise down Roosevelt Road with the narrator, and in turn helping them understand why Church looks back on the time so fondly. Trying to mimic an older musical style is all well and good, but it’s the support it provides to the subject matter that really makes it work here, and I’d honestly call it the main reason for listening to the song.

Similarly, Church has stepped up from his game from his mediocre performance on “Hell Of A View.” He handles the moderate range demands well (with a huge assist to his backup singer, who deserves a pay raise after their work on this track and “Stick That In Your Country Song”), and unlike his “surprisingly subdued” attitude from before, Church puts the necessary power behind his words this time. His delivery may not sound easy or effortless, but this works in his favor here because the audience can hear the strain when he tries to drive a point home and gets the sense that he’s 100% emotionally invested in what he’s saying. (His “outlaw-esque” image also gives him a boost, making him more believable as a narrator because of course he’s the guy who drove too fast and didn’t play by the rules in his wilder days.) Church allows his audience to share in the feeling of the track much like the producer does, and while I wouldn’t call the performance particularly memorable, he makes it an enjoyable listen.

The writing is where things start to fall a bit flat, starting with the fact that the song falls along the same nostalgic lines that “Hell Of A View” does (thankfully, this track is an improvement over that one). I’ve never been keen on tracks that lament the times gone by and pine for them to return, and that’s exactly what happens here as the narrator reminisces about the wild times they shared with a special someone (whose current whereabouts are unknown). The second verse is pretty explicit about the whole thing, with the narrator declaring that “I don’t have a single second thought that doesn’t have you in it,” and that “I ‘d go back in a New York minute,” sentiments that always make me roll my eyes and think “Let it go already.” What makes this song different, however, is that it’s framed less like a lament and more of a celebration of the good times, and it includes some interesting details and comparisons—for example, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone compare a truck to Elvis Presley, but it works so well you can practically feel the washboards in the road. (However, the “dancing on the bow of your daddy’s old boat” line comes across as an unintentional flexing of privilege—I don’t know too many people who own a boat at all, let along one big enough for someone to dance on without tipping it over.) In the end, the writing’s saving grace is that it’s malleable enough to be overridden by the sound and singer, letting them put their own spin on what would otherwise be an uninteresting song.

I get that reminiscent tracks are a big part of the genre landscape, but if we have to put up with them, “Heart On Fire” is an example is how to celebrate what used to be. Despite what the lyrics say, the past should be the past, and Eric Church and his production team do a solid job shaping the track in a way that minimizes its wistfulness and emphasizes its excitement, so much so that a less-attentive listener might miss the second verse entirely and never even notice the longing hidden behind the fun. I still wouldn’t call it a good song, but it’s a step up from “Hell Of A View,” and if it proves anything, it proves that Church was a worthy choice for Entertainer of the Year (you have to be good to make a curmudgeon like me enjoy a song like this). Still, we’ve seen what Church is capable of when he gets his hands on stronger material, and hopefully he finds some better cuts to release off of Heart & Soul to bring out next. Such material may not be radio-friendly, but hey, those are the kinds of tracks where Church is at his best.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see how it strikes you.

Song Review: Luke Combs, “Cold As You”

Is it time for Thanos to find another Infinity Gauntlet?

Regardless of what Marty Stuart may say about Leroy Troy, Luke Combs is the most popular man in country music, and his power over the genre only seems to be growing: After “Better Together” spent five weeks atop Billboard’ country airplay chart and reached #15 on the Hot 100, he managed to better both numbers with “Forever After All,” which spent six weeks atop the country charts and nearly did the impossible by debuting at #2 on the Hot 100! I’d like to be happier about this (and honestly, I’d choose Combs over a lot of artists in Nashville right now), but the man has also taken another less-prestigious title, stealing Blake Shelton’s crown as “the safest artist in country music” by leaning heavily on boring, uninspired ballads to the point where “Better Together” and “Forever After All” were pretty much the exact same song. It’s time for Thanos to pull a few more tricks from his sleeve, so naturally his latest offering “Cold As You”…is a carbon-copy of his 2019 song “Beer Never Broke My Heart” (wow, was that really six singles ago?) Much like with “Forever After All,” the copy is not as good as the original, as it’s missing even the minimal moments of levity that made the 2019 single kinda-sorta work.

“Cold As You” may have been added as a bonus track for the deluxe release of What You See Is/Ain’t Always What You Get, but you can’t tell me it wasn’t recorded at the same time as “Beer Never Broke My Heart.” The arrangements and approaches are exactly the same: The “hard-rock axes,” “prominent drum set, and slow-rolling, almost-token banjo” are all stuck in the same roles as before (while I didn’t mention it in the earlier review, there’s an organ-like keyboard providing background chords in both tracks as well), and it’s got the same “deliberate tempo” that harkens back to the Bro-Country party anthems of the 2010s. The one noticeable difference is that despite the lack of minor chords, the sound comes across as overly dark and attitude-laden, making the mix feel too serious for the subject matter (to the point where it feels like an overreaction—the response it provokes isn’t sympathy, but “okay, we get it, you’re sad”). The whole thing feels like an awkward fit for the song, and it fares poorly on the context test as well (it’s the sort of hard-edged track that you would never hear in the sort of beer joint that the track celebrates). Overall, this is a case of copy-paste production gone wrong, and I really wish the producer had gone in a different direction for this song.

Combs may be the heir apparent to Garth Brooks, but even he can overdo things sometimes, and that’s what happens on “Cold As You.” While there are no technical issues with his performance, he comes across a bit awkwardly trying to go up and down on the “guys like me lose girls like you” line, and he brings his forceful chorus approach from “Beer Never Broke My Heart” back here when it really doesn’t fit the song. (Does he really need to scream at us that the bar has a dance floor, a broken clock, and a jukebox with Willie Nelson? It makes me think of an enthusiastic realtor showing someone a house: We got granite countertops, new appliances, and marker-resistant paint on the walls!) There’s no hint of fun or self-awareness to be found—in fact, there’s no emotion in Combs’s delivery at all, making him sound extremely bitter but not actually sad about what happened, which in turn limits the amount of sympathy he garners from the audience. It’s like he’s trying to ride the trend of defiantly angry tracks like “Old School’s In” without fully embracing it, and as a result his performance feels over-the-top and unnecessary. It’s not a great look for Combs, and it lacks any of the charm and personality that at least made “Beer Never Broke My Heart” tolerable.

The lyrics, which paint of picture of a classic country bar where folks drink away their heartache, are a mixed bag at best. On one hand, they do a decent job providing details that allow us to visualize the place, and I even found the “beer almost as cold as you” hook to be kind of clever. On the other hand, describing the place is pretty much all the song does—in particular, there’s no talk about what actually happened to the narrator (all we know is that the walls aren’t “as dirty as you done me,” which isn’t enough to let us in on the story). The whole thing feels incredibly generic (you’ve got your beer, your trucks, and your neon) and comes dangerously close to laundry-list territory, and while it at least elaborates on the items it mentions, it doesn’t help bring the location to life (seriously, the phrase “cinder block walls” make the place sound more like a prison than a beer joint). Compared to a song like Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” or even Jon Pardi’s “Heartache Medication,” the writing here feels devoid of emotion (you could say it’s as cold as it’s title), and while part of this is Combs’s fault for his ill-fitting vocals, the lyrics don’t give him a whole lot to work with. Detail is all well and good, but it shouldn’t the the only thing you include, and I think Combs and his co-writers should have struck a better balance here.

“Cold As You” is not a bad song, but it’s not a good song either. It’s a halfhearted attempt to keep the Luke Combs gravy train rolling, featuring awkward and plagiarized production, vocals that try (and fail) to replace emotion with attitude, and lyrics that could have probably used a few more drafts. I understand why Combs and Columbia Nashville are releasing this track (this dude is one of the biggest names in all of music; why mess with a formula that’s working this well?), but I’m still disappointed with the decision. With his clout and popularity, Combs is the guy in Nashville who could shape the genre however he wanted (different sounds, different topics, etc.), and instead he seems to be settling for letting the genre shape him. His work feels incredibly stale right now, and after seven singles I think it’s time for Combs to get out of his comfort zone, close the book on What You See Is What You Get, and try something different.

Rating: 5/10. You might as well stick with “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”

Song Review: Larry Fleet, “Where I Find God”

Could country music finally be on the rebound?

Larry Fleet is a Tennessee native who, despite signing with Big Loud in 2019, dropping a debut album Workin’ Hard late that year, and then releasing this track late last year, is only now starting to find traction on mainstream radio. After a few listens, it’s not hard to see why: Fleet is a bit of a Chris Stapleton knock-off from the voice to the beard (and Stapleton’s chart history has been a bit spotty himself), and the song doesn’t strike me all that radio-friendly in an era of Cobronavirus retreads and love songs that double as Ambien substitutes. Still, it’s radio’s loss if they don’t see the value of a song like this, but it’s the sort of reflective, thought-provoking track that we could really use a few more of on the airwaves, one that’s easy to listen to but also inspires the listener to reflect and ruminate on the places where they find peace.

The production does a nice job supporting the track’s reflective nature simply by being the sort of relaxed track that actually invites reflection. Instead of the in-your-face electric guitars and drums that have dominated the genre lately, the primary instrument here is a restrained acoustic guitar, which is complemented by a bright mandolin, backed by some lo-fi dobro and electric guitars in the background, and perfectly blended together with an atmospheric organ (which is honestly the most important part of the arrangement—its subdued tones gives the mix not only its reflective quality, but it combines with a background choir to give the song its spiritual feel as well). The result is a sound that not only supports the lyrics without getting in the way of their message, but also helps invite the listener to ruminate on what’s being said (as opposed to many of its contemporaries, which try to get you to ignore the lyrics entirely). I often use “background noise” as a derogatory term when talking about songs, but here I think it’s a good thing because the mix sets a suitable mood and promotes a more thoughtful relationship with the subject matter. This song shows that you don’t have to get in peoples’ faces to make a point; instead, you can invite them to consider your points simply by setting the right tone.

Fleet doesn’t demonstrate anything close to Stapleton’s vocal power on this track, but he’s got the same warm, weathered tone to his voice, one that can effectively convey hard-earned wisdom or inexperience. The song is not a technical challenge by any measure (its slower tempo and limited range demands make it relatively easy to sing), but the key is to convince the audience that you take the time to stop and seek out/appreciate the quiet moments in life. Fleet aces this challenge with a heartfelt, emotional delivery that matches the understated approach of the production and lets him easily and effectively fill the narrator’s shoes. It’s a performance that feels intensely personal and mature, which helps Fleet draw listeners in and convince them to think about what’s being said. (He also benefits from having no chart history beyond this single to contradict his persona. If someone whose track record was a bit more complex or rough-edged tried to perform this song—think Dustin Lynch or Brantley Gilbert—this song wouldn’t sound nearly as believable.) While this isn’t officially Fleet’s “debut” single, it serves the same purpose as his first radio breakthrough, and it winds up being a much better introduction than many new artists manage to put together.

What impresses me the most about the lyrics is how is takes a bunch of standard country clichés (bars, churches, deer stands, and even religion itself) and spins them into an inclusive, meaningful story that invites people to experience the “country” lifestyle for themselves. While the writing leans a bit too much on laundry-list construction (especially on the chorus), it emphasizes the narrator’s connection to them and how they make him feel at peace with the world. (In truth, the song is less about organized religion and more about spirituality in general; call it gospel music for people who aren’t into Bible-thumping.) Where many country songs are reliant on action and filled with noise, this one emphasizes the quiet moments in nature through the fishing and the crickets and the “sound of her heart beatin’,” giving the narrator the time and space to think deep thoughts about the world around them. While the opening scene about getting sent home from a bar by an anonymous helper feels a little out of place, it still highlights the softer side of “country” by demonstrating values like kindness and altruism. It’s a side of the genre that’s often pushed aside in favor or beer, bonfires, and drawing lines in the sand, but it’s there, and by talking about the places that the narrator finds peace, it makes the listener wonder if they might find peace there too.

“Where I Find God” is a standout song in a year that’s felt fairly weak overall, featuring an inviting message backed with soothing production and a solid vocal performance from Larry Fleet. After the choatic year or so that we’ve all been through, the song is a call to find a place where you feel centered and tranquil, and an invitation to come and find that place within country music. As a genre, we need to shift from declaring what we are to declaring what we offer, and tracks like this are a good first step in that direction. The song may have taken a while to find its footing, but it’s a good introduction for Fleet at a time when so many artists are stumbling with their debuts, and when people check out country to find their happy place, perhaps they’ll be moved to check out more of Fleet’s work as well.

Rating: 7/10. This one is worth finding.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (2021 Mid-Year Edition)

With a Mario Golf review coming Friday and the blog’s usual mid-year song lists scheduled for next week, today is the last day for songs to receive their scores and become eligible for next week’s lists. There have been several tracks that have been lurking just outside the Mediabase Top 50 for a while now, and while the stench of some of them made me put off their reviews for as long as possible, we’re now officially out of time, so it’s time to rip off the bandage and face our fears head-on.

These won’t be as in-depth as my regular reviews, but honestly, most of them don’t really merit a full review anyway. Without further ado, let’s dive into the queue and clear the waiting list…

Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS”

I just gave Elle King & Miranda Lambert a passable score for a party song, so why do I hate this track so much? The issue is that Moon is a victim of history:

  • The production is just a reheated Bro-Country mix, with nothing but the electric guitars and drum machine we all got tired of several years ago. The guitar gets some points for having some actual texture this time, but we’ve heard this drivel a million times before, and some extra tone on a single instrument isn’t enough to pull this arrangement out of the doldrums.
  • Moon shows exactly zero progress as an artist, and portrays the same careless Bro that he did a year ago, the same role that was played to death during the last decade. (Honestly, I think recording a sad song or two would do him good.)
  • Lyrically, the song is just “GOOD TIME, Part 2”: It’s yet another nihilistic Cobronavirus track that cuts down on the detail and the frequency of the stereotypical tropes in favor of name-dropping a bunch of random songs on the second verse. It’s not interesting, it’s not fun, and it doesn’t justify its existence in a world where we’ve already got “GOOD TIME” and a million other tracks like it.

Bro-Country didn’t deserve a second wind, “GOOD TIME” didn’t deserve a sequel, and if junk like this is all we’re going to get from Moon, he doesn’t deserve a spot on a major label.

Rating: 4/10. If Moon can go all-caps, so can I. NEXT!

Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In”

Apparently Sanders didn’t notice how badly Robert Counts got smacked down, because he’s bringing the same angry, closed-minded, exclusionary mindset to the table.

The pitfall of calling your song “old school” is that everyone has their own idea of what that actually means, and while this sound is supposed to be a callback to the sharp-edge Hank Jr. sound, but it’s still just a basic guitar-and-drum mix at its core, and for my money, if you say you’re old school and don’t bring a fiddle or steel guitar to the table, you’re a liar. Instead, “old school” refers to the stereotypical God, country, and Mama viewpoint of the narrator, with the message that the vague and scary “they” are trying to eradicate said lifestyle, but the narrator and other “real” country folks will never change their ways. Such insufferable nonsense conveniently leaves out the historical baggage that such an attitude encompasses, and instead tries to use Sanders’s overly (and unnecessarily) angry Chris Stapleton imitation to intimidate the listener into compliance. Contrary to what Sanders says, the world not “ever goin’ back to the way we know it” is not automatically a bad thing, and knee-jerk angry denouncements of such movements usually means someone’s got something to hide or an unfair privilege they want to keep.

Sanders is darn lucky that Brantley Gilbert and his crew rode up when they did, because that’s the only thing between him and the the title of “Worst Song Of The Year.”

Rating: 2/10. Yuck.

Toby Keith, “Old School”

Is Keith looking to capitalize on the attention garnered from “The Worst Country Song Of All Time”? If so, he should have picked a more interesting song than this to do it.

Unlike Sanders’s tire fire, “Old School” eschews the angry, confrontational approach in favor of simply extolling the virtues of traditional small-town life. The problem is that a) at its core, the song leans way too much on country and high school tropes and laundry-list verse construction, and and time Keith sounds worse here than on “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” (the weird verse cadence does not suit him at all, and makes him sound awkward and stilted). It may not push people away like “Old School’s In,” but it doesn’t do much to draw listeners in either—the slower tempo and nondescript production cause the song to quickly lose steam and plod along from start to finish, and the lack of detail in the writing makes its attempt at selling the rural lifestyle feel weak and unconvincing.

Making me sleepy is better than making me angry, but neither is a great outcome.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit”

As a general rule, you should steer clear of any song that refers to someone’s posterior as a “tail light.”

Nelly and FGL teamed up for a massive remix of “Cruise” back in 2013, but the genre landscape has changed a lot since then, and the trio can’t quite recapture their old magic this time around. For one thing, their production choices seem a bit off-base, with its choppy, sterile electronic guitar and run-of-the-mill drum machine failing to generate much energy (the banjo on the choruses helps, but not enough) and establishing a vibe that just isn’t much fun at all. The lyrics fail on two fronts by coming across as both pushy (“I know we just met, but, girl, let’s roll,” “Shawty, you gon’ love me and we gon’ have some fun,”) and objectifying (see the above “tail light” reference), making the narrator come across as “just a lil’ bit” creepy. (Also, that hook contradicts the song’s goal: Why should someone settle for “just a lil’ bit” of fun? Is having a lot of fun not an option?) The vocals are surprising lifeless, and while Nelly has the excuse of having to focus on getting through the rapid-fire sections of the track, Tyler Hubbard has no such excuse, putting no feeling or emotion behind his lines. (Brian Kelley pulls his usual disappearing act here, and nobody misses him.)

I expected this one to make a bigger impact on the charts when it dropped, but after listening to it a few times, I can see why it didn’t.

Rating: 3/10. Keep your distance from this one.

Gabby Barrett, “Footprints On The Moon”

Whose bright idea was it to make an empowerment song sound so…scary?

On the surface, this is a straightforward confidence-booster: People are going to find reasons to doubt you, but pursue your dreams anyway because “you can do anything” and “there’s footprints on the moon” (which is only referenced here and never expanded upon, making it feel more like a tacked-on line than a central hook). The issue is that this positive message clashes badly with production that suffers from a bad case of the Aldeans, which use darker instrument tones and regular minor chords to create a angsty, ominous atmosphere that amplifies the negative voices mentioned in the track instead of countering them. Barrett’s performance is much the same, following the production’s lead and sounding more like a warning than a reassurance.

I’m all for positive reinforcement tracks like this one, I just wish this one was better executed and actually sounded positive.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two, but ultimately there are better songs out there to give you a lift if you need one.

Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer”

So how do you show off your “country” street cred in a way that doesn’t push people away or make the veins in your neck bulge out? Well, this track is a good place to start.

The song starts by setting the proper context: The narrator has been done wrong by his significant other (they cheated, lied, “wrecked my Ford,” and burned all their bridges on their way out), and when they comes back to apologize and start over, Carmichael allows us all to bask in the schadenfreude by listing all the thing he’d rather do than take them back, especially “drink a hot beer.” All the usual generic tropes make an appearance here (beer, trucks, tractors, hunting, fishing, chewing tobacco, etc.), but instead of drawing lines in the sand, the song’s amusing script-flips (hot beer, unloaded guns, etc.) and clear villain invite the audience to join in on the fun, and Carmichael’s affable, charismatic delivery practically lets you see the smile on his face as he sings. (The production’s upbeat vibe, neotraditional flair, and prominent fiddle don’t hurt matters either.)

“I Do For You” didn’t go anywhere last year, but of all the songs trapped in Mediabase purgatory right now, this is the one I’d really like to see escape it.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Brantley Gilbert ft. Toby Keith & HARDY, “The Worst Country Song Of All Time”

Well, at least they’re being honest with us.

2020 turned out to be a rough year for Brantley Gilbert: After his #1 collaboration with Lindsay Ell “What Happens In A Small Town” generated some badly-needed momentum for his career (it was his first #1 since 2015), he proceeded to squander every last bit of it, with “Fire’t Up” stalling outside the Top 40 and “Hard Days” barely cracking the Top 30 on Billboard’s airplay chart. Apparently Gilbert decided he needed to take a big swing to get back into the country music conversation, because he and Valory closed the book on the Fire & Brimstone era, brought in HARDY (Mr. “REDNECKER”) and Toby Keith (Mr. Irrelevant), and dropped “The Worst Country Song Of All Time” on us, a backwards attempt at an “I’m so country!” song by trying to tell us what isn’t country. The irony is that though the title is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, the song is exactly as bad as advertised: It’s a lazy, ignorant, exclusionary track with a reheated Bro-Country sound and some truly terrible vocal performances from all three singers involved. It’s not the worst country song of all time, but there’s a pretty good chance it winds up as the worst country song of 2021.

For a song that’s trying so hard to differentiate itself from its peers, its production is disappointingly cookie-cutter. From its hard-rock electric guitars, deliberate tempo, and in-your face percussion (which is mostly real rather than synthetic this time), this unimaginative drivel sounds like a rejected mix from the Bro-Country era. (The dobro fills the role of the token banjo, and is buried so deep in the background that it’s hardly noticeable.) The one deviation from the script is handing the bridge solo over to a saxophone (which one performer labels a “tube whistle” for no reason), and based on Keith’s lines I think it’s supposed to be another signal of how “not country” the song is…except that some of country’s biggest stars, including Keith himself (and I’d include Garth Brooks’s “One Night A Day” here too if the man wasn’t allergic to YouTube), have included the instrument in their songs. I’d argue that the saxophone is the only redeeming feature of this mix, as the song’s vibe is stuck in an awkward spot that’s not bright enough to be fun yet not dark enough to be angry, leaving it without much of a tone at all and preventing the listener from feeling like they’re in on the supposed joke (we’ll talk about that later). Overall, this mix is generally stale and uninteresting, and doesn’t provide any meaningful support for the subject matter.

None of the three vocalists here acquit themselves terribly well, and their deliveries are loaded with malicious intent rather than good-natured fun. Keith is the easiest target of the three, because he sounds awful: With his tired, disinterested tone, his performance is so mailed-in he should reimburse the label for postage, and it should have never been included on the track in the first place. Gilbert and HARDY at least seem interested in singing the song, but while Gilbert stumbles a bit on the first verse (he struggles to fit in all the songs he wants to name-drop), the biggest problem with both men is the irritating attitude that permeates their performance. A song like this would be hard to redeem under any circumstances, but with a little charm and a lighter touch, you could maybe have some good-natured fun with the concept of what is and isn’t thought of as stereotypically “country.” Instead, Gilbert and HARDY adapt a caustic, mocking tone and come across like generic Bro-Country meatheads, and their underlying message comes through loud and clear: If any of our descriptions match you, you’re not “country,” and you’re not one of us. It’s only a few steps from this track to Robert Count’s tire fire “What Do I Know,” and the bitter flavor and exclusionary mindset of these performances wind up pushing the audience away rather than drawing them in. In the end, all three artists combine to make a bad song even worse, and frankly, they should all be ashamed of themselves for doing it.

Speaking of an exclusionary mindset: A lot of songs have tried to define “country” by what it is, but this track flips the script by trying to create “the worst country song of all time” by listing all the things that they believe country isn’t. (You can tell that HARDY had a hand in writing this junk, because it features the same awful, misguided sense of humor that plagued “REDNECKER.”) At its core, the song is nothing more than an inverted laundry list of tired, overused country tropes: It takes things like beer, trucks, and dirt roads, and declares them to be bad things in its quest for awfulness. Not only is the approach incredibly lazy, but by framing these attitudes as “un-country,” it draws a hard line between “real” country fans and the rest of the world, and goes even further by insinuating that those outside the country bubble are only worthy of hatred and scorn. I tend to be a big-tent kind of person when it comes to musical genres, and nothing drives me up a wall more than taking an “us vs. them” approach and projecting supposed moral superiority over those on the other side of the fence. (The fact that it tries to hide its malice behind the paper-thin “It’s just a joke, bro!” defense doesn’t help matters—in fact, it makes them look worse.)

The main question I have with defining “country” in such a sense is “Why?” Why can’t people who “hate beer,” “think trucks are a waste of gas,” and don’t happen to “know the words to ‘Family Tradition,’ ‘Folsom Prison,’ or ‘Walk The Line'” be country fans? (Spoiler alert: The first two statements apply to yours truly, and I only know the words to one of the songs in the third.) Macy Gray recently proposed changes to the American flag; would Gilbert, HARDY, and Keith permanently bar her from the country music community? Even statements that you might think would be unassailable fall apart upon closer scrutiny: There are definitely people in Russia and North Korea who “support Kim Jong-Un and Putin”—why should that disqualify them from being fans of country music? (The song also gets explicitly political with references to cancel culture and hating the Constitution, which bothers me because demonizing people they disagree with in this manner is also the modus operandi of the modern Republican Party, which is working really hard to subvert our entire form of government right now…) The only requirement for being part of country music is liking country music, and people are allowed to do so no matter who they are (for example, while I think throwing Morgan Wallen off the radio was the right call and I would keep him off the radio until he demonstrates a change in attitude and behavior, I wouldn’t take away his stereo or make him throw away his Hank Williams Jr. CDs). Country music should be a place for anyone who’s experienced the highs and lows of life (the joys of a romance, the pain of a loss, the stories of people and their times, etc.), and the last time I checked, no one died and made these three losers the gatekeepers of the genre.

Simply put, I hate everything about “The Worst Country Song Of All Time.” I don’t like the generic sound, I don’t like the pretentious, closed-minded writing, and I don’t like the condescending, exclusionary attitudes of Brantley Gilbert, HARDY, or Toby Keith. In fact, the only good thing I can’t say about this track is that it didn’t quite provoke the angry, visceral reaction that Michael Ray’s “One That Got Away” did (it was darned close though). What aggravates me even more is that this review is exactly what the singers and label are looking for: This song is for the subset of country fans who subscribe to this backwards line of thinking and want to build a metaphorical wall between themselves and everyone else, and baiting uppity critics like me to rip the song to pieces will serve as confirmation that “those people” don’t understand “country” folks and want to destroy everything they treasure. The truth is that there are far more things to treasure besides beer, trucks, and “Mama’s homemade fried chicken,” and we should be able to celebrate all of them regardless of who we are or what instruments we prefer to hear. If Gilbert and his collaborators don’t understand that, they’re still free to enjoy country music, but I’m not sure I want them making it themselves.

Rating: 2/10. Complete rubbish.

Song Review: Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat”

We may all be in the “Same Boat,” but that doesn’t mean much when our fellow passengers are doing all they can to sink it.

2021 has thus far been defined by the mother of all contradictions: We all claim to want unity and to work together as a nation/planet to face the challenges of the future, but in reality we’ve lost so much trust in other people that we really don’t want to work with them any more, or even inhabit the same spaces as them. For country music, a genre that lives these days to paper over/ignore conflict, this presents a problem, as there’s just no market for sappy Kumbaya-esque tracks that ask us all to come together. Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard found this out the hard way with “Undivided,” a track that few have had good things to say about and has been stalled in the mid-to-high teens for a while, and the Zac Brown Band is about to learn the same lesson with “Same Boat,” whose working title was probably “Undivided but with a Boat Metaphor,” because that’s all it is. For a band that hasn’t seen the Top Twenty since 2017 and is clinging to any shred of relevancy it can find, this isn’t going to advance the band or its message of unity.

The production here is a return to the band’s classic style, and while it’s a nice change of pace from other current tracks, it doesn’t do much of a job pushing its message. The song is mostly driven by a bright, peppy acoustic guitar and backed by a mix of real percussion (both hand- and stick-played, and even the hand claps on the bridge seem organic), with an electric guitar and Jimmy De Martini’s recognizable fiddle mostly working in the background until they split the bridge solo and get some time in the spotlight. The major chords and bright tones that dominate the mix give the song an optimistic feel, projecting confidence (however unfounded) that we can put aside our differences and get along, but the overall vibe here is chill and relaxed and there’s a general lack of urgency, suggesting that unity is something we’ll get around to eventually and we’ll totally be fine until then, which sort of undermines the whole point of the song. It puts the song in the awkward position of both caring and not caring about the state of the world, and the mixed signals only serve to confuse the listener and muddle the message. It just feels like the producer hit Ctrl-C on “Chicken Fried” or “Toes” and pasted the same sound here, even though the it’s not quite the mix the song needed.

Zac Brown and the rest of the band run into the same problem: They’re concerned enough about the state of the world to say something about it, but there’s no real energy or emotion behind the words, making it feel like a halfhearted inspirational speech. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of and Brown himself still has a charm-filled persona to lean on, but said charm seems to be misguided here: His words say “we have a problem,” but his unhurried delivery and demeanor say “It’s all going to be fine,” which make the narrator’s statements feel empty and leads the audience to question just how seriously to take him. The narrator also quickly glosses over and minimizes the outrage and pain that people feel, making him seem more than a little out of touch as they try to lecture the listener about unity. (For all their instrumental work, the band’s harmony work is pretty forgettable, and they don’t do much to cover for the narrator’s deficiencies.) Again, this performance feels like an attempt to recapture the magic of ZBB’s early tracks while delivering a weightier message, but this weight is just as dependent on the artist’s approach as it is on the writing, and copy-pasting narrators between different tracks just doesn’t work when the tracks are this different.

Just as we saw with “Undivided,” the lyrics lament the toxic, polarized attitude that dominates our current discourse, and they plead for people to love and understand one another, saying that “we’re all in the same boat.” I actually think the boat metaphor works pretty well to describe our shared destiny, and the “If the ship keeps rocking we’ll all go overboard” line would have landed had Brown not slowed it down and instead put some feeling behind it. That said, this song suffers from many of the same problems as “Undivided”: It doesn’t go into any detail on the problems we face or the solutions to fix that (we just get the usual platitudes about loving and helping everyone), it doesn’t help us understand the different perspectives of individuals (it tells us “you can’t judge a man until you walk a country mile in his shoes,” but doesn’t provide any guidance to help us do the walking) and it assumes that we all want the same thing and have the same basic vision for the country and world (definitely not true on a macro level, and given how large the income inequality gap is, it’s not always true at the micro level either). There are plenty of awkward moments in the writing as well: The persistence of the Big Lie shows that you can “hide from your truth,” and saying “Take those shots and keep reloading” seems pretty tone-deaf given the nation’s current surge in mass shootings. Ultimately, no one is in the mood to come together right now, and this track fails to change anyone’s mind.

“Same Boat” is not an inherently bad song, but it really misread the moment, and really doesn’t do much to push its message of unity and togetherness. Neither the production nor the Zac Brown Band itself really takes the message seriously, and while the writing tries its best to salvage the song, it simply doesn’t convince anyone to pay attention, especially in our current divided society. This will restore neither our national sense of community nor ZBB’s previous prominent position in the genre, and while it’s far from the worst thing on the airwaves right now, if we really want to make a difference and bring people together, we’ve got to move beyond the platitudes and doing something to make peoples’ lives better.

Rating: 6/10. Listen to this once or twice, and then set it aside, stop talking about bringing people together, and find ways to actually do it instead.

Song Review: Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone”

Brothers Osborne has officially pushed their chips to the center of the table. Your move, country music.

While the duo has been a part of the genre for nearly a decade now, TJ and John Osborne have been critical darlings more than commercial powerhouses (they’ve won nine ACM/CMA awards, but their 2015 single “Stay A Little Longer” is their only Top Ten track to date, leading a certain critic to call them out as a “one-hit wonder” in 2018). However, the duo unexpectedly became a test of country music’s supposed inclusivity when TJ Osborne came out as gay back in February, becoming “the only openly gay artist signed to a major country label.” Once again, the genre failed the test spectacularly, as “All Night” fell off the charts just two months later with only a #25 peak to show for it. While you could make the case that the song wasn’t good to begin with and that it had already stalled out by the time the announcement was made, with the sort of historical baggage that country music carries around, you can’t discount prejudice and discrimination as factors in the song’s demise either.

In response, the duo has decided to force the issue by releasing “I’m Not For Everyone” as the second single from their Skeletons album. It’s a simple declaration that being different is okay, and much like Chapel Hart’s “I Will Follow,” it’s also “a gentle “f**k you” to anyone who thinks this group shouldn’t be part of country music.” It’s a noticeable step up from the group’s previous work, and it forces the genre to face their reputation and finally take a stand.

The core of the song’s production remains the guitar-and-drum setup that dominates the genre, but it brings in enough different elements and sets a strong-enough tone to catch the listener’s ear and draw them into the song. John Osborne’s electric guitar opens the track and calls back to the rollicking axes of the 90s (even if calling the riffs here ‘rollicking’ is a stretch), and the drum set has a rougher feel to its sound than many of its radio contemporaries. While there’s a lot more pieces to this arrangement, I would say the biggest disappointment of the sound is that the producer doesn’t do a whole lot with them: Only the accordion gets enough prominent screen time to make its mark on the mix, adding a bit of flavor to the sound and giving it the song a bit more presence. The keyboard and organ stay in the background and are mostly used to support the guitar riffs, and the fiddle gets lost in the accordion’s shadow and is barely noticeable as a result. The good news is that the instrument tones are relentlessly bright and optimistic, giving the song a relaxed and positive feel, and both the tempo and guitar work provide the energy necessary to keep pushing the song forward. It gives you the sense that despite the narrator’s claim that they aren’t for everyone, they would be for you, an important victory given the song’s context. While I wish the production had done more, it does enough to support the subject matter, taking the edge off of the song’s meta commentary and helping to make the track something everyone can relate to and enjoy.

Lead singer TJ Osborne sounds a little different this time around, for a couple of reasons:

  • Generally, TJ tends to dive into the low end of his vocal range to make his sound a bit more distinct and edgy, but this time he stays exclusively in his higher range, matching the brighter feel of the production. Truthfully (and a bit surprisingly), TJ sounds completely comfortable at this range, losing none of his typical tone or power while reflecting the sunnier feel of the song.
  • For the first time that I can remember, TJ isn’t the exclusive lead singer for a BO single, as John Osborne takes the reins for the entire second verse. As you might imagine, the brothers sound fairly similar, but John’s voice isn’t quite as rough and he can’t quite match TJ’s vocal presence or charisma. Still, he acquits himself capably here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more from him on future releases (I can’t speak to album cuts; he may already sing on a few).

The overall vibe of the vocals here is comfortable: Both singers come across as relaxed and even cheerful, and they have no problem convincing the audience that their narrator is totally okay with being different, even if others don’t feel the same way. There’s no malice or anger present in their deliveries, and the harmony work is solid (if also a bit unremarkable). Given the context, selling this song and making it believable is the biggest key to it finding success, and both Osbornes have no issue in this regard here.

So let’s talk about this context, shall we? By themselves, the lyrics don’t really say a whole lot here: The narrator acknowledges that people are different, declares that they themselves are an acquired taste, and notes that “I’m good for some, but I’m not for everyone.” The “differences” are left vague enough for the song to apply to anyone who feels a bit out of step with the mainstream, and while the verses feel more than a little disconnected (they go from discussing peoples’ clapping and drinking habits to…taking about what kind of tea or bar the narrator would be?), they further the point that the speaker doesn’t subscribe to orthodox thinking (they’re tea that isn’t sweet, a church that celebrates the sinner, etc.). It’s a bit generic on the surface, but its heart is in the right place, as it tries to maximize its target audience and tell them that being different is okay.

Put this song alongside TJ Osborne coming out of the closet, however, and it takes on a whole new meaning, becoming a call for understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. When the narrator says “Some people are just like me, I hope y’all forgive ’em,” they’re asking the genre and its audience (which are not typically known for their inclusivity) for tolerance of Osborne and others like him. “I’m a bad joke at the wrong time” suddenly flips from a reference to the narrator’s poor sense of humor to a calling out of the slurs and derogatory terms (which are often couched in terms of bad-faith humor) that members of this community have had to endure. The description of a bar that’s always open and welcoming becomes a vision of the world the narrator wishes to see, where people can gather without pretense or prejudice and revel in their common humanity. While the message isn’t as forceful as “I Will Follow,” there’s an implicit declaration in saying “I’m not for everyone” that the Osbornes aren’t going to change who they are and what they do, even though they realize that they won’t please everyone. There’s an understated power to this song when considered within a broader context, and it projects both a determination to be true to oneself and a message that it’s okay for you to be who you are.

While I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of Brothers Osborne and their music, I’m intrigued (and even a little excited) to see how far they can go with “I’m Not For Everyone.” Unlike Mickey Guyton or Chapel Hart, TJ and John Osborne have an established presence on the airwaves (even if their track record is a little weak), and with a strong song like this one, they’re forcing country music to make a choice: Is the genre just paying lip service to being inclusive and welcoming (a perception reinforced by the fact that Morgan Wallen is already starting to regain airplay traction), or is it going to take a stand and put their money (and their spins) where their mouth is? Time will tell, but either way, with the song’s expressive production, the calm vocal presence of both TJ and John, and a message of acceptance and understanding, this is a track that deserves to be heard.

Rating: 8/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece”

There’s a reason Darius Rucker has lasted this long in the music industry, and it’s his ability to make lemonade out of generic lemons like this one.

It’s been 27 years since Cracked Rear View hit store shelves, but Rucker remains a staple of the music industry and of country music in particular, even if he’s become more of a trend-hopper over the last few years. Material selection has been my main gripe with Rucker ever since I started this blog: While both “For The First Time” and “Beers And Sunshine” reached #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart, the former had a slight Bro-Country odor and the latter was a late, blatant attempt to ride the Cobronavirus trend. The difference, however, is that unlike most of his contemporaries, Rucker has the talent and charm to elevate less-than-stellar material into something that catches the listener’s ear and invites you to listen in. That’s the case with Rucker’s latest single “My Masterpiece”: It’s a cheesy love song that sits on the very edge of Boyfriend country, but Rucker brings enough emotion and charm to the table to make it feel deeper and more genuine, giving the song a noticeable edge over its competition.

Rucker isn’t the only standout on this track: I’ve called out a lot of producers for relying on the same tired guitar-and-drum arrangement, but I have to give props to the producer here for bringing in more and different pieces to add some flavor to the mix. The track opens with a piano (serious song alert!) and a drum machine at its core, but we get some steel guitar riffs and some bouzouki (!) chords right off the bat, and as the song progresses it continues to add instruments like a dobro and Hammond organ along with the acoustic/electric guitars and real drums you expect. Despite the piano and the periodic minor chords, the overall vibe of the mix is happy and optimistic thanks to the bright instrument tones that dominate the sound, and the producer wisely avoids the trap of trying to turn a song into a sex jam by keeping the feel lighter and generally romantic (actually, I’d argue that that avoiding the slick, sleazy of most country sex jams actually makes increases the sensuality of this mix). It’s a solid all-around effort that provides adequate support for the subject matter, and takes some needed steps to help it stand out among its peers.

The writing itself is probably the weakest part of the entire track, as the love story is a paint-by-numbers affair: Our narrator is a simple, unremarkable individual who will never produce works of art like Michelangelo or Ray Charles, so they aim for their greatest creation to be the their love for their partner (“I hope they say my masterpiece is lovin’ you”). It’s a fairly common and nondescript sentiment in the genre, and while the references aren’t usually this explicit (Charles and the Sistene Chapel are name-dropped here, which is at least a step up from the usual Strait/Jackson callouts), they don’t really make the song any more interesting by themselves. Some of the wordplay here feels a bit forced as well: The “Georgia On My Mind” reference comes across as clunky and awkward, and the “Picasso never had that color in his wheel” tries to cram one too many syllables onto a line. (I’m also not a fan of the bridge, which is the one place the song gets a little too close to sleazy sex-jam territory for my tastes.) As a love song, it’s just not all that compelling by itself, with its main redeeming feature being it leaves plenty of room for the performer to infuse the writing with the emotion necessary to allow them to forge a connection with the audience.

An love song this vague is the kind of track that an artist like Dustin Lynch would drive right into the ground with their nonexistent charm and insufferable attitude, and for the majority of the faceless young white male artists off the Nashville assembly line, pulling this off would be a coin flip at best. Thankfully, Rucker is a longtime veteran with charm and charisma to burn, and he knows exactly how to pull off a song like this. His performance here is equal parts relaxed and heartfelt, and while he falls a bit behind the beat with his cadence, he delivers his lines with such warmth and gratefulness that you can practically hear the smile on his face as he sings. There’s an honesty in Rucker’s voice that convinces that audience that the narrator is deeply and truly committed to what they’re saying, filling the void left by the writing’s lack of detail and causing the potential implications of the bridge to barely register in their mind. It’s a great performance that elevates the track and make it worth hearing, and with all respect to the production, Rucker is the main reason for checking out this track.

“My Masterpiece” isn’t a masterpiece itself, but it’s a solid offering that demonstrates why Darius Rucker is still a part of the mainstream country conversation. The writing may be a bit “meh” by itself, by Rucker and the producer combine to create a positive, believable song that convinces the audience that the love on display here is deep and long-lasting. While it makes you wonder how good Rucker would sound if he had some better writing behind him, given the doldrums the radio are in right now, I will absolutely take this song, and while Rucker was part of the problem in 2020 with “Beers And Sunshine,” I’m hopeful that he can part of the solution in 2021.

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

Song Review: Old Dominion, “I Was On A Boat That Day”

The pandemic is winding down in America, so why is Old Dominion trying to bring the Cobronavirus trend back?

On some level, it’s hard to blame the band for dropping this turd of a single on us. 2020 was a rough year for Matthew Ramsey and the crew, with “Some People Do” (a thoughtful, heartfelt proclamation to be a better person) only reaching #28 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and “Never Be Sorry” (a lightweight, forgettable call to take a chance on love regardless of the eventual result) crashing and burning at #38. In response, the group closed the book on the Old Dominion album and tried to jump on the Cobronavirus trend a year too late by trotting out “I Was On A Boat” as the lead single for their upcoming fourth album. Let’s be frank: This track is a Seinfeldian nightmare, a party song so nihilistic that the narrator doesn’t even bother to party, let along tell us the story behind the whole mess. It highlights one of the major things I hate about contemporary country music: Acts may be capable of quality output, but if all you reward is pointless, derivative drinking songs, that’s what you’re going to get.

The apathy here starts with the production, which is so basic and boring that the entire mix sounds like it was made entirely out of GarageBand loops. 90% of the song is the same old acoustic guitar and drum set repeating the same old riff over the same old I-ii chord setup (except on the chorus, when the guitar gets lazy and just plays the chords instead). The only other instrument of note here is an accordion, but while it’s a constant presence that helps give the track a relaxed atmosphere, it only accentuates the uncaring nature of the track, and it’s relegated to background chord duty (if you’re looking for a Cajun flair to the sound, you won’t find it here). The constant major/minor chord flip-flopping puts the mix in an awkward spot where it’s neither fun nor serious, adding to the listener’s confusion over how exactly to feel about the song, and the deliberate tempo ends up limiting the amount of energy that the song can create. Overall, this is a bland sound that is so phoned in that Travis Tritt should ask for his quarter back, and I’m convinced that I could make a better, more-appropriate mix on my decade-old MacBook.

Speaking of phoned-in: This is easily lead singer Matthew Ramsey’s worst performance since “Break Up With Him.” While the lyrics admittedly don’t give him a lot to work with, Ramsey ends up pulling a Jake Owen and dives so deep into an unlikable character that he actually sounds drunk at points (that half-coherent “one, two, three” opening was an ominous sign). There’s no hint of joy or sorrow in Ramsey’s performance—instead, it’s permeated by a laissez-faire, devil-may-care attitude so strong that even Luke Bryan would say “Dude, there’s more to life than this.” The narrator simply does not care about the story they’re telling, and this approach effectively renders the rest of the song meaningless: For example, the questions that lead off the chorus sound disingenuous, and are asked in such bad faith that the narrator might as well be Tucker Carlson. (For their part, the band is pretty much invisible here: If the production sounds like it came from a laptop and only Ramsey and Brad Tursi are credited as background vocalists, what’s the point of keeping all these people on the payroll?) The result is that the listener tunes the song out before it reaches the second chorus (if the storyteller can’t be bothered to care about the story, why should the audience care?), and it’s flushed from their memory the moment the next song starts playing.

Based on the lyrics, this is a Cobronavirus song so perfect that it could have been written by Steve Goodman, and that’s not a good thing. Even the most nihilistic of party songs from last year at least cared about having a good time, but the narrator here cares about nothing but maintaining his blood alcohol levels, watching as their partner leaves them without so much as a shrug about it. The nautical setting suggests the narrator is going for a party atmosphere, but if so, they have a strange definition of fun: We find them alone just “letting the sun and the rum just do what it does,” and the boat really isn’t much of a factor into the story at all (put the narrator in a lawn chair in Decatur, and the song barely changes). There are no crazy antics, no kiss-off proclamations, and no chill vibes; the goal is simply to be “drunk as a skunk eating lunch with a cross-eyed bear.” A narrator this blasé just begs to be put into context, but nothing of the sort is provided: We have no idea why the woman left (besides, you know, the narrator being an uncaring drunk), and the narrator expresses no emotions (happy, sad, or otherwise) over the apparent breakup. (They didn’t even care enough to note whether their now-ex was laughing or crying when they left, which is an awfully hard thing to miss if you even kinda-sorta pay attention.) The whole thing frames the narrator as an unsympathetic jerk who doesn’t deserve your pity, and the listener can’t be bothered to care any more about the tale than the narrator does. Did it really take seven people to write this drivel?

The only thing that makes sense about “I Was On A Boat That Day” is how utterly lifeless it is, given that the song is a Cobronavirus zombie brought back from the dead. With lazy production, careless writing, and a performance from Old Dominion that’s completely devoid of emotion, this is the exact opposite of what I want out of a song: I want music to move me, not tracks that can barely move themselves. Unfortunately, deep sentiment doesn’t sell these days, and after back-to-back bombs, Old Dominion is in full ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ mode, hoping to get their career back on track by giving Nashville the lightweight, booze-soaked rubbish the genre so desperately wants. The ploy may well work, but if so, the band will find themselves asking:

Image from Know Your Meme

Rating: 3/10. No.