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

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

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

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

Gone:

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

Leaving:

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

In Real Trouble:

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

In Some Trouble:

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

In No Trouble At All:

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

Is Thanos:

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

Bubbling Under 50:

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

On The Way:

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

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

Song Review: Parker Denning, “To Be Loved By ABBY”

Okay, this is a trend we need to put an end to quickly before it spreads.

Country music has had a bit of an anger management problem over the last few years, and to be fair there is plenty of stuff to be angry about in the world: For example, Eric Church demanded that country music get back to telling the stories of the downtrodden, and Ashley McBryde wasn’t happy to find someone fooling around with her father. The problem, however, is there are a lot of things that are not worth getting angry about, such as when Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Robert Counts scream about not getting enough respect, or when Tucker Beathard whines about how his ex doesn’t miss him enough. It comes across as petty, immature, and just plain dumb, and that’s why when I first heard Travis Denning’s “ABBY” on satellite radio last year, my first thought was “Please tell me this piece of junk never never never gets pushed to conventional radio.” Unfortunately, the bad news dropped last month, and thus I’ve spent the last month putting off reviewing the track hoping that it failed to crack the Mediabase chart (so much so that I wrote a massive Tenta Brella how-to guide rather than acknowledge this drivel).

Unfortunately, it seems that Parker McCollum (who I’ve also spent the last three months avoiding) has now breached the Mediabase Top 50, which means I’m obligated to discuss and rate his latest single “To Be Loved By You” for my Pulse posts. After hearing the song, however, I realized that this and “ABBY” are pretty much the same track, as they both feature a guy throwing a tantrum over a woman who just won’t do what they want. While the two singers draw different conclusions (McCollum goes all in, Denning walks away), they both have the same insufferable attitude that repulses the listener and makes them actively root for the narrator to crash and burn. These songs, along with the entitled, thin-skinned frame of mind they showcase, need to be deposited in the nearest garbage can.

My contract states that I’m obligated to discuss the production on these tracks, so let’s get this out of the way quickly: Both tracks rely on the same tired guitar-and-drum formula that most of Nashville is using these days. Denning’s track opts for some slicker guitars and effected, synthetic-sounding percussion on the verses (the keyboard is also more organ-sounding, and is actually noticeable at times unlike on McCollum’s track), but the choruses sound like they were recorded in the exact same studio with the exact same band. The tempo and tone of both tracks are eerily similar, and both mixes are completely flavorless, devoid of punch, and completely dependent on volume for any energy they can muster. In other words, this sound is so stock that it should copyrighted by Getty Images—it’s an awkward-fitting default option that does little beyond fill the space between the vocals.

Vocally, Denning and McCollum are some of the latest creations to roll off of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line, and neither acquits themselves well here at all. Denning remains a derivative of the Tyler Hubbard coaching tree, and while he actually puts some feeling behind the song this time (as opposed to the lifeless “Where That Beer’s Been”), that feeling is primarily contempt, and he winds up sounding completely obnoxious and unsympathetic as he tries to justify his breakup and ultimately makes the failed relationship sound like his fault. (If this song were a game of Among Us, he would have been voted out immediately for sounding so sus.) McCollum, on the other hand, is a Beathard clone who comes across as completely clueless as he complains about the other person rejecting his advances and swears that he’s all in on a relationship that just keeps falling apart, leaving the audience begging for him to take a freaking hint and leave the other person alone. There are no technical issues with either performance, but both artists showcase exactly zero charm or charisma, leading the listener to root for both of them to receive karmic justice and wind up completely miserable. In other words, these aren’t the sort of tracks you want to drop if you’re trying to expand your fanbase, because you’ll wind up doing the opposite.

But Kyle, I hear you say, you can’t claim these tracks are the same when the writing is so different! It’s true that the narrator in are very different positions: Denning is giving up on a relationship, while McCollum is trying to start one and keep it afloat. The problem is that both stories are underpinned by the same selfish, entitled way of thinking:

  • In the case of “To Be Loved By You,” the narrator has unilaterally decided that the relationship will work, and can’t seem to figure out why the other person reacts so poorly to his advances. Bruh, have you ever considered the fact that she’s just not that into you? If you’re wondering “Why do you sleep alone when I know you don’t like it?”, it’s probably because they think that sleeping with you would be worse! When you ask “Will it kill you to tell me the truth?”, my response is “Are you blind?” If they’re “always angry,” “always quiet,” and are “pissed off, hanging up the telephone,” that’s your answer right there: They’d like you to go away, and the sooner the better. It takes two to make a relationship work, and if one person isn’t interested, it doesn’t matter what you think. You need to stop acting like a creep and move on.
  • In the case of “ABBY,” my biggest issue is that Denning’s narrator never actually makes the case for his departure, and instead tried to pin all the blame on his ex. He’s as free to walk away as the woman in McCollum’s track is, but doing so by telling his ex they they suck and he’s going to find someone way better is incredibly off-putting and childish. The whole song just reeks of immaturity: The primary issue seems to be that the other person isn’t a fan of Denning’s Bro-Country-esque beer/truck/party lifestyle, and the narrator spends much of the song fantasizing about a imaginary waifu “Abby” (“anybody but you,” an acronym that isn’t nearly as clever as the writers think) who will love everything about him and never ever ask him to change or grow up. The narrator tries to turn the blame back onto the ex, but the charges simply don’t stick: The few mentions of “drama” are never elaborated on, and since when is driving a Honda grounds for a breakup? This guy needs to stop acting like a baby and just slink back into the shadows quietly.

“To Be Loved By You” and “ABBY” are just plain bad, and if I had to choose to hear one over the other, I’d pick Door #3 and just stick a power drill in my ear. Both tracks feature the same bland, unengaging sound, the same annoying vocal performance, and above all the same ignorant belief that the world revolves around them and that everyone else should just bend to their will and be happy about it. The world doesn’t work that way, however, and if Parker McCollum and Travis Denning want to be more than ankle-biters in a Nashville pond that’s already overflowing with artists like them, they need to take a hard look in the mirror, resolve to better themselves, and then strive to do so at every opportunity. If they instead choose to keep shoveling out junk like these tracks…well, I’d rather listen to the freaking Chug Jug song.

Rating: 3/10 for both of them. Get that garbage outta here!

Song Review: Thomas Rhett, “Country Again”

It’s not “Southern Comfort Zone,” but it’s a step in the right direction.

I’ve been a Thomas Rhett booster for a while, but I’ve been growing increasingly less impressed with his output, from his “meh” Cobronavirus take “Beer Can’t Fix” to his bland, vague feel-good attempt “Be A Light” to the painfully-generic “What’s Your Country Song.” The man just seemed to be stuck in a rut, running out of ways to recycle his material (how many love songs can one person write to his wife?) and unsure of what direction to go next. (It’s a problem Cole Swindell as his label have been wrestling with for a while as well.) However, “Country Again,” the second single off of Rhett’s recently-announced double-album project, may finally offer some clues to Rhett’s next move, and they’re surprisingly encouraging: Both the sound and the sentiment here are a welcome respite from the uncompromising sameness of the airwaves, and while it’s not in the same ballpark as Paisley’s 2012 offering (it actually reminds me of how Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You” tried to rebuke certain tropes while simultaneously benefiting from their use), it’s still a fair bit ahead of most anything on the radio right now.

The biggest surprise here has to be the production, which mixes in a lot more throwback elements than you might expected. Sure, the fiddle and steel guitar are here, and the former actually sees significant time in the spotlight (they even gave it a solo after the second verse), but those are the easy neotraditional callbacks—what really caught me off guard was the retro electric guitar that opened the track and serves as the primary melody-carrier, with its 70s-era sound that calls to mind the best of Waylon Jennings’s discography (the bass guitar gives off the same vibe as well). This mix may not be all sunshine and roses (the first percussion line feels a bit too clean for the mix, and the token banjo feels leftover from the Bro-Country era), but this arrangement finally brings back the sort of instrument diversity I’ve been hoping to see for a while now, while also offering a bit of meta-commentary in support of the subject matter (after all, if a song is going to claim to be country “again,” shouldn’t the sound walk the walk by calling back to a classic sound?). It’s a nice change of pace that suits Rhett well, and is bound to draw some double-takes from its listeners and compel them to take a closer listen.

While I think Rhett is a better artist than people give him credit for, he’s felt a bit out of his element on his last few singles—he just doesn’t have the track record or gravitas to carry a song like “Be A Light” or “What’s Your Country Song.” He’s at his best when he can make a song feel autobiographical, and this is the first time he’s succeeded in doing so in quite some time. There aren’t any technical issues to speak of here (with its limited range and relaxed flow, the song doesn’t present much of a challenge in that area), but it requires a narrator that can find comfort amidst complexity, and someone who can feel credible in both the rural and urban spheres referenced here. By these metrics, Rhett might be the perfect artist to drop a track like this, given both his family’s roots in the genre and his rapid rise to stardom presenting the classic rural/urban conundrum (going “big time,” “forgetting where you came from,” etc.). With his earnest charisma and suitable backstory, Rhett fills the narrator’s role without breaking a sweat, coming across as both sympathetic and believable. It’s the sort of performance I haven’t heard from Rhett in some time, and one that should pay dividends in the long run.

The writing is an interesting take on the tug-of-war between the life (and lifestyle) the narrator grew up with, and how the demands of celebrity and modern life have pulled them away from it (and subsequently how nice it is to return and be “country again.” (Kelsea Ballerini and Kenny Chesney explore a similar theme on “Half Of My Hometown.”) This is probably the weakest part of the track: There are some rougher moments here and there (the Eric Church reference feels a bit contrived, and saying “my roots…started missin’ me” feels a bit awkward), the track conveniently glosses over the darker elements of being “country” (like, say, the misogyny and racism), and while it it deserves some credit for taking the first step and not outright dismissing anything that falls outside the traditional rural sphere (the narrator “love[s] me some California” and “wouldn’t change things I’ve done or the places that I’ve been”), it still incorrectly champions the “country” lifestyle as inherently superior. Still, at this point anything that doesn’t immediately dismiss modern life or confront the listener with unnecessary anger is a positive development, and the writing does a nice job of softly pushing the trucks, boots, and fishing trips that the narrator treasures, striking a much more inclusive and comforting tone. (The critiques of modern life being so fast-paced, isolating, and cellphone-centered are certainly fair, albeit not terribly novel.) While it’s not the boundary-pusher that Paisley dropped nearly a decade ago, it’s comes closer to that most of its peers, and that’s a (slightly) encouraging trendline.

“Country Again” is a solid prototype of the stance I’d like country music to take going forward. Don’t just preach to the choir and scream about how big your truck tires are over soulless guitars and drums—instead, be a true salesperson and show people why you love what you love. This song attempts to do that through it throwback production, less confrontational writing, and a strong performance from Thomas Rhett himself. With this and “Half Of My Hometown” officially dropping next week, could this be a sign that country music is on the verge of an upswing? …Probably not, but I suppose a guy can dream.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 12, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

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

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

Gone:

  • Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (recurrent)

Leaving:

  • Florida Georgia Line, “Long Live” (down from #1 to #6)
  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #2 to #7)
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #6 to #8)

In Real Trouble:

  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (holds at #31, but lost its bullet again)
  • Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him” (holds at #48, but lost its bullet)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (down from #47 to #49, bullet-less for a second straight week)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (holds at #50, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage” (down from #18 to #19, gained only eleven spins and eighty-four points)
  • Carly Pearce, “Next Girl” (up from #25 to #24, but gained only sixty-eight spins and eighty-five points)
  • Elvie Shane, “My Boy” (holds at #29, but lost spins and gained only twenty-six points)
  • Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway” (down from #37 to #39, broke even on spins and gained only forty-seven points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (holds at #44, but gained only twenty spins and sixty-nine points)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (holds at #45, but gained only eight spins and thirteen points)
  • Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (holds at #46, but gained only twnety-five spins and thirty points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Luke Bryan, “Waves” (debuts at #35)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #20 to #14)

Bubbling Under 50:

  • None listed by Country Aircheck this week.

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: Is the spring thaw finally about to happen? With three tracks falling in the top ten (and a few more that look weak on the other end of the charts, and Stapleton likely to crash hard after his push to #1), it sure looks like it. The problem, however, is that the A-listers of the genre are simply using the express lane to jump right back into the fray (Bryan had a big debut this week; expect Rhett and possibly Ballerini/Chesney to do the same next week), and the floatsam keep piling in the lower half of the charts (songs like Janson’s, LoCash’s, and possibly Robb’s stick out this week, but for crying out loud, how many times does “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” have to lose its bullet before Little Big Town realizes it’s a dead song walking?). The charts remain in need of a good flushing, and despite all the songs scheduled to leave, I’m not sure it’s going to get one.

The coronavirus needs to be flushed from the nation as well, but it looks like that’s going to take a while too, with new cases on the upswing, daily death counts leveling off at an unacceptably-high number (the total count stands at over 563,000 now), and new hotspots beginning to flare up (most notably Michigan, but the Northeast as a region isn’t doing so well either). However, the vaccine will officially be eligible to everyone 18 and older next week, so if your moment to get an appointment hasn’t arrived yet, it will soon. Sadly, the distance between being eligible for an appointment and actually getting the vaccine can be far apart (for example, I’m stuck waiting another month for my shot), so we need to keep following best practices: Wear your masks, wash your hands, avoid large crowds, and do what you can to keep the people you care about safe.

Another pandemic returned to the headlines this week: The scourge of systemic racism, as shown by the recent shooting of Daunte Wright and the release of video showing police pepper-spraying Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario during a traffic stop. After all the marches and outrage that came about after the killing of George Floyd, we’re still stuck in the same place we were nearly a year ago, the same place we’ve been stuck for decades and even centuries. These acts may have left the front pages, but they’re still happening, and for all our high and mighty talk of last summer, we’ve made embarrassingly little progress towards rectifying the situation.

This sort of prejudiced bullshit needs to stop, and it needed to stop a long time ago. Black lives matter, even if our police departments don’t seem to think so. I don’t know if it’s police training or police culture or what, but we need to figure out why this sort of stuff keeps happening, and then take tangible, concrete steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Otherwise, we’ll be right back here next year, mourning another life taken too soon.

Song Review: Luke Bryan, “Waves”

If Luke Bryan is looking to put Ambien out of business, he’s got the perfect song to do it.

On some level, I feel bad for Bryan: Where once he stood atop the genre as one of the unquestioned kings of the Metro-Bro movement, these days he’s not even the best Luke in country music thanks to the rise of Thanos. It’s forced Bryan to go all-in on trend-hopping to maintain his influence, bouncing from Boyfriend country (“What She Wants Tonight”) to the Cobronavirus movement (“One Margarita”) to bringing back the “classic” Metropolitan sound (“Down To One”). Now, with country music seemingly stuck in neutral and unsure of its next move, Bryan is going back to the Boyfriend well with “Waves,” a song that may literally be the most boring track I’ve heard in the last twelve months. It’s a bland, uninteresting, unengaging snoozefest, a song so sterile that I had to look up the lyrics simply because the song couldn’t hold my interest long enough for me to hear them all.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The production here consists of…some electric guitars, a few spacious synths, and a mixture of real and synthetic percussion. How original! The major issue is that the producer seems to have gotten mixed up and put all the background instruments in the foreground: The louder guitars and real drums provide some occasional frantic energy bursts from them, but the bland background synths end up overwhelming everything else and cause everything to bleed together into an indistinguishable wall of noise. The tempo feels a lot slower than it actually is, and the neutral instrument tones and simple I-iii-IV chord progression cause the song to plod lifelessly from start to finish without building any momentum. There’s just nothing distinct or interesting here for the listener’s ear to grab onto, and ultimately it just kind of passes through unobtrusively without anyone realizing that it’s there.

Bryan is generally an emotive and charismatic artist, but he’s never been great with romantic tales (instead we get stuff like “Play It Again” and *gag* “Strip It Down”), and the axiom continues to hold here—something feels off, and it keeps him from truly connecting with the audience here. The issue is similar to what we heard with the guitars and drums earlier: There aren’t any technical issues with Bryan’s delivery, but it’s incredibly relaxed and much weaker than what we’re used to, which causes it to be overshadowed by the producer’s wall of noise. It makes Bryan come across as a bit dispassionate and not as emotionally invested as he should be (he just kind of glides over words and moments that are just begging for extra emphasis), which hurts his believability and prevents him from sharing the love with the listener. It’s a performance that should feel romantic but really doesn’t, and instead of making someone swoon, it puts them to sleep before the second chorus is complete.

The lyrics here tell the story of a narrator lying on a beach with someone, talking about how everything seems to be made for the moment and that the pair should take advantage of it. It’s basically Bro-Country on the beach: The trucks are traded for a “surf shop” and the drinking is limited to a metaphorical “margarita saltwater sunburned sip,” but otherwise it’s two people on a blanket under the stars about to get it on, with a couple of random references to flip-flops and tan lines thrown in. The “keep on coming in waves” hook feels surprisingly weak because the beach backdrop isn’t emphasized all that much (stick this pair in the middle of a cornfield, and the song barely needs to change), and for a song that focuses on a single moment, we don’t get a sense of the scenery because everything is focused on the narrator’s feelings (which are criminally undersung by Bryan and overridden by the production). The biggest issue is that the writing provides no hooks to draw the audience in: It’s just two people in a makeout session, and frankly a) nobody wants to watch someone else make out, and b) if they need a song to make out to, there are a million more options that are more sensual and less sterile than this track. Forget sex—this thing will put you to sleep long before then.

My “Blandemic” label never stuck the way Cobronavirus did, but we seem to be stuck in a very boring, uninspiring rut in country music right now, and “Waves” is emblematic of that trend. The production is a cacophony of nothingness, the writing fails to convince us that we should pay attention, and Luke Bryan doesn’t bring enough feeling or passion to his performance to make it work. This isn’t just background noise—it’s so sleep inducing that it’s dangerous for people to listen to it while driving. I’ve personally had it up to here with radio filler like this, and a veteran artists like Bryan should know better than to foist such drivel on the public. Songs like this won’t just keep him in the role of “the other Luke,” they may turn Thanos into the only Luke in country music if this Luke isn’t careful.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Beyond The Meme: A Defense of the Tenta Brella

They say to go big or go home, and we’ve already been home for a year, so…

I’ve played a lot of Splatoon 2 over the last few years, and if I’m known for anything in this game, it’s my bizarre brella shenanigans, mostly involving the Undercover Brella family. However, there’s a supersized version of this weapon class, and in my ongoing quest to become at least semi-competent with every weapon the game has to offer, I’ve been forced to confront my many nemeses: Sloshers, brushes, nozzlenoses, scoped chargers, and the Tenta Brella, a cross between Reinhardt’s shield, Symmetra’s photon barrier, and Joe Biden’s shotgun.

What I’ve discovered during this journey is that you can get at least some utility out of just out any weapons (provided you can find a controller that isn’t drifting; forget about using chargers otherwise). While this has only earned most of the weapons in my doghouse my begrudging respect (okay okay, I suppose the Kensa Sloshing Machine can slay out and the E-liter can zap people from across the map), I actually enjoyed my time with the Tenta Brella, even if I needed a bunch of ice and ibuprofen for my aching trigger finger after every session. The weapon still remains a bit of a meme within the community (it’s comically big, comically slow, and really hard to play well), time, practice, and a steady stream of buffs have convinced people to take a chance with the big brella, and even made it a viable weapon choice in competitive play.

Still…it’s a giant freaking tent on a stick. Can we really take it seriously? I believe the answer is yes, and it starts with the right approach.

The Details

There are three different Tenta Brellas kits available, but all share the following characteristics:

  • A seven-pellet scattershot launch that has decent range and painting ability, but fires with such a wide spray that it’s really hard to confirm kills unless they’re at point-blank range or you have exceptional accuracy. A one-hit kill is possible, but a two-hit KO is more likely, and three or four shots might be needed if you can’t square up your opponent.
  • A massive shield that has lots of health (700 HP, 200 more than the regular Splat Brella) and takes up a lot of space, and inks a nice wide path forward when it detaches from the weapon.
  • A glacially-slow fire rate (35 frames, compared with 16 for other Brella types) and the ink efficiency of a early-2000s Hummer (11% of your ink tank per shot!),
  • As a heavyweight weapon, it reduces your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%.

As we can see, unlike the N-Zap (which does everything moderately well), the Tenta Brella has a lot of peaks and valleys in its attributes, which means we can’t just toss it into any situation and expect it to perform well. Thus, getting the most out of this weapon boils down to three things: preparation, positioning, and playstyle.

STOP! …Hammer time. (Image from Squid Research Lab Tumblr)

The Flavors

The Tenta Brellas comes with three different kits:

  • Tenta Brella (Squid Beakon/Bubble Blower): The original, and probably the most balanced of the three kits. Bubble Blower gives you a solid option for initiating a push into an area (think a rush to the basket in Clam Blitz or a zone retake in Splat Zones), and the weapon actually does a decent job of popping the bubbles by itself. The most effective way to deploy your special is through the use of what Etce calls “The Tech”: Deploying your brella shield and then unleashing your bubbles from behind it, forcing the enemy to work around both to hold the area and take your down. The beacons help you hold an area once you get it by cutting down the travel time from spawn, a useful trick when you’re dealing with reduced movement speed.
  • Tenta Sorella Brella (Splash Wall/Curling Bomb Rush): I’m really not sure what the point of the Splash Wall is on this weapon. Why toss out something that’s going to eat 60% of your ink tank when you’re already going to have trouble managing your ink supply, especially when you’ve got a mobile wall attached to your main weapon? There’s probably a use for it, but I haven’t found it yet. I have found a use for the curling bombs, however, and they represent another effective method for pushing into an area and forcing opponents to keep their distance.
  • Tenta Camo Brella: This is the most offensive-minded of the three kits, and quite possibly the best of them if you know what you’re doing (which I definitely don’t—my hammer game is a bit too stiff to be effective). Ink mines provide a way to help hold ground and track opponents intent on invading your space, and the Ultra Stamp lets you go on a short-range rampage while also providing a long-range threat to weapons that outrange you (it’s all fun and games until you toss your stamp like an Olympian and fry a charger from a mile away).

In terms of the best modes for the weapons: I would say the Tenta Camo Brella is a good option for Rainmaker, where you can open up lanes for the Rainmaker with either your shield or your stamp, and track you opponent’s movements with Ink Mines. In contrast, the vanilla Tenta Brella is a solid Clam Blitz play, using your beakons to help with mobility and your bubbles to advance to the basket. Both the camo and vanilla versions are good choices for Splat Zones, with bubbles, mines, and beakons to get you to the zone and help you keep it.

Tower Control is a tougher sell for the Tenta Brella, since you don’t want to release your shield and leave yourself exposed while tower riding (maybe that’s where the Splash Wall could be useful?), but it might be useful for redirecting foes through sub-optimal routes with your shields and specials. Turf War can be tricky as well, since you’re encouraged to explore the map and your limited mobility will hurt your painting effectiveness.

In truth, the mode you run the Tenta Brella on probably matters less than the map: If you’ve got a map with a lot of tight spaces and long corridors (Camp Triggerfish, Port Mackerel, Moray Towers), you’ll have the advantage; if you’ve got a wide-open map with lots of ways around you (New Albacore Hotel, Snapper Canal, Shellendorf Institute), you may want to think twice.

The Gear

Choosing the right gear to mitigate the weaknesses of your weapon is key, and you’ve got plenty of holes to fill:

  • Ink Saver Main: This is incredibly important on a Tenta Brella—we’re not quite at a “Run Speed Up on a splatling” level, but we’re close. Without any ISM, that 11% per shot adds up quickly, and you’re limited to just 9 shots before your tank runs out. Using 2 mains of ISM brings your ink consumption back on par with that of a regular Splat Brella, and took 13 shots to empty the tank when I tested it (adding another two ISM sub abilities upped the shot count to 14). Ink is at a premium with this weapon, so saving as much as you can is critical.
  • Ink Recovery Up: This can be useful too, as having none means it takes a looooong time to recover enough ink to fire a single shot when your tank is empty. I think ISM is probably more important, but a few subs (or even a main) of ink recovery wouldn’t hurt.
  • Ink Save Sub: None of these weapons have spammable sub weapons (in fact, you’ll likely never use the Splash Wall at all), so ISS isn’t all that helpful.
  • Run Speed Up/Swim Speed Up: To bring a heavyweight weapon back on par with “normal” weapons like a Splattershot, you’ll need roughly two subs of Run Speed Up and 1 main ability of Swim Speed Up. However, while this will help you get around, I wouldn’t say that either are a necessity. Instead, for lack of a better term, what I found more important when using the weapons was “pocket mobility,” or the ability to maneuver around quickly in a tight space, such as around your brella shield as it’s moving forward. Thus (at least in Turf War), I found a more important ability to be…
  • Ink Resistance: Normally I subscribe to ThatSrb2Dude’s “5 subs” theory (or at least three of those subs), and only run one sub of ink resistance on my weapons. With the Tenta Brella, however, I found myself getting bogged down a lot in enemy ink, especially when trying to reclaim an area by myself. By adding the Bucket Hat shown above, I was able to regain my vertical mobility (i.e., the ability to jump normally and quickly while moving through enemy ink), which helped me hop around to cover turf and avoid enemy shots (especially when the shield has been launched or is in those pre-launch frames after a shot).
  • Special Charge Up/Special Saver: At 200 points, Bubble Blower and Ultra Stamp can take a while to charge, so it’s worth considering a sub or two of Special Charge Up to speed up that process. If you find that you’re dying a lot, Special Saver can help you keep some of the hard work you’ve done charging that special.
  • Sub Power Up: This is specific to the vanilla Tenta Brella, because it can make your beakons much faster for your teammates. Just one sub will speed up the jump by nearly 12%, so on maps that are a mile from their respective Splat Zones, this can be a clutch add for your team (assuming they actually use the beakons, of course).
  • Special Power Up: In theory this increases the stamp/bomb rush duration and makes your bubbles larger/more deadly, but the improvements are pretty minimal (1 main gets you 12% bigger bubbles and about 6 tenths of a second more bomb/hammer time), so it’s probably not worth it given all the other bases you need to cover.
  • Object Shredder: This is a common option for bubble blower weapons, but unlike the Heavy Splatling Deco or Custom E-Liter 4K, I don’t find Object Shredder to be that useful on the vanilla Tenta Brella. By itself, the weapon will usually pop its own bubbles with two shots, and Object Shredder only occasionally cuts that number down to one. With so many other things to worry about, I’d skip this one.
  • Main Power Up: I mean, every other weapon uses it, so why not this one? MPU adds extra HP to your brella shield (one main gives it nearly 90 extra HP), so this one may require some research on your part: If you think your Brella shield is going down too quickly, trying adding an MPU sub or two and see what happens.

In summary, I’d say prioritize ink efficiency and mobility, add a few single subs that are always useful (Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX), and tune the rest of your slots around your weapons and your game.

The Playstyle

Unless you’re a umbrella savant on the level of Kayotaso or Gene Kelly, you’re not going to be doing a lot of slaying with this weapon. Tenta Brella are meant to support their teammates in any way possible using the totality of their kit. Playing this weapon like it’s the Tetra Dualies will likely put you in a bad situation where you’ll be too slow to react to your opponent’s actions, so it’s best to be measured and deliberate with your playstyle.

When it comes to using a Tenta Brella, there are two key rules of thumb to follow:

  • Be hyper-aware of your positioning. Brellas are only protected from one side, so you need to watch your backside as your taking a position (especially in solo queue matches, because no one else is going to do it for you). Long, tight corridors are your friend, as they limit how your opponents can approach you (and the obvious route is blocked by a giant tent), but in a more open area you should always be looking for cover to work around (a bumper, a corner, or some other obstacle).
  • Channel your inner pushy Bro-Country singer and always make the first move. With a weapon this slow, you don’t want to be the one reacting to your opponent’s decisions. Instead, you need to dictate the parameters of the engagement by being proactive, forcing your adversary to make decisions on your terms. If you take the first shot, by the time the opponent makes their countermove you’ll already have your shield up and ready for it, and when said shield inevitably launches forward, you can prep for the retaliatory advance because there are only so many ways around your tent. If you’re dealing with a charger or splatling, fire your first shot into cover and wait for the brella to deploy before stepping out into the open, forcing them to figure out a way around or through the tent to get you.

Getting a feel for the timing of the Tenta Brella is essential. It takes .75 seconds to open after a shot and 5.67 to regenerate after it launches, and with your slow fire rate you’re very vulnerable if it’s not around. Make sure you take these times into account when you initiate an encounter, so you don’t jump immediately into the fray and die before your brella has a chance to protect you. (Keep in mind, however, that network latency can throw this timing off, and sometimes leads to you getting shot through your shield.) If you’re stuck in a bad, brella-less spot and can’t retreat, make use of that “pocket mobility” and break your opponents’ ankles with dodges and jumps until your shield comes back.

While other Brellas are best with the shield attached (otherwise a Splat Brella turns into the world’s slowest curling bomb), you should expect to launch your shield at every opportunity, and base your approach to a situation around this. Since your barrier is only a barrier to your opponent, when they inevitably go around your shield you can simply swim underneath it, keeping a wall between you two as necessary. You can also play mind games with a shield: Just because it’s launched in a certain direction doesn’t mean you have to follow it—if you’ve got enough ink around you, you can take another route to flank and try to catch your opponent napping, or you can simply disengage and retreat to safer ground.

Keeping tabs on your teammates is extremely important as well, because let’s be honest: Everyone could use a a giant piece of camping equipment in front of them as they make a move. The big brella makes you the ultimate wingman, and if you see a teammate trying to do something and think you can help, get in there and lend a hand! This is especially true if your teammate has left themselves exposed via a panicked inkjet launch or an ill-advised super jump—a well-timed shield deployment could mean the difference between life and death. You can’t save them all the time, but you can save them some of the time, and sometimes that’s enough to make a difference.

Of course, there’s one potential downside you have to be aware of…

About that…any enemy bombs that hit your shield will explode on contact, and if you or any of your teammates on the wrong side of the shield when it happens, you’re toast. As with most things in life, please brella responsibly. 😉

The Conclusion

The Tenta Brella has a lot going for it, and if you can find a way to mitigate the downsides, you can get some serious value from it in nearly any context. While I will always and forever be an Undercover Brella partisan, I’ve come to respect what the Tenta Brella has to offer as a weapon, enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how best to use it. If you wish to walk the same path, hopefully some of this can assist you on your journey.

Now if only a Tenta Brella could protect me from Travis Denning’s latest single…

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 5, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

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

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

Gone:

  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (recurrent)
  • Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Brett Young, “Lady” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (down from #2 to #3)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (holds at #7, but is still much weaker than its competition)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (up from #33 to #32, but gained only thirty-one spins and 114 poInts)
  • Kane Brown, “Worship You” (up from #34 to #33, but gained only twenty-six spins and seventy-eight points)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (up from #48 to #47, but lost its bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Little Big Town, “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” (up from #32 to #31, but gained only twenty spins and eighty-five points)
  • Priscilla Block, “Just About Over You” (up from #37 to #36, but gained only thirty-three spins and forty-nine points)
  • Michael Ray, “Whiskey And Rain” (down from #39 to #40, gained only twelve spins and eighty-two points)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #51 to #50, but gained only twenty-two spins and eighty-seven points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (up from #47 to #43

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #25 to #20)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

Overall Thoughts: This was an interesting week defined by two phenomena:

  • The deflation of Rhett & Brett Young’s recent chart-toppers released a bunch of spins back into the wild (Parmalee & Brown, not so much), and while the upper half of the chart certainly grabbed their share of the spoils (Owen got nearly 500 extra plays, Barrett got nearly 600), the spin division was a hair more equitable this time around, with nearly everyone on the chart reporting triple-digit point gains. Bryan will likely hit the airwaves like a tidal wave next week and put the breaks on this trend quickly, but with the summer approaching, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a sign of radio stations beginning to (ever-so-slightly) expand their playlists. Only time will tell.
  • The spin losses didn’t really translate in spot losses, however, which meant that the escalator ground to a halt this week, with Brothers Osborne’s recurrence accounting for most of the miniscule gains we saw. Rhett and Brett Young will likely disappear soon, but with Bryan looking for a big splash and Ballerini/Chesney also positioned for a decent debut, some songs might find themselves going backwards next week.

While some more tracks have popped up on the April radar (i.e. the Add Date box in Country Aircheck), I think Bryan and Ballerini/Chesney are the only ones primed for impact in the short term (Maddie & Tae & Brothers Osborne have struggled historically, Moon has to prove he can avoid a sophomore slump, Denning’s song hasn’t shown much airwave strength yet, etc.). It feels like a quieter transition than I expected, but with Florida Georgia Line and a bunch of mediocre tracks set to leave soon, there’s some potential for Pulse growth if the right songs start rising to the top.

Speaking of rising, the coronavirus continues to dominate the country, with new cases continuing to rise at a significant clip. The death count, however, has not yet followed suit (it’s at roughly 556,500 now), which means the future is a bit murky right now: Will the rapid pace of vaccinations and prioritization of vulnerable individuals keep the hospitalization and death counts from spiking, or is a full-blown fourth wave just around the corner? Personally, I’d rather break the wave before it hits, so let’s keep on combating the virus by doing the right things: Wearing our masks, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, and especially getting vaccinated (President Biden has declared that vaccines will be open to all by April 19th, which means my own eligibility date is finally coming up). While more people I talk to are being vaccinated, more people I talk to seem to be getting infected too, so we can’t afford to let off the gas right now. A return to normalcy is on the horizon, and we can all get there so long as we stick together and keep one another safe.

Song Review: Kelsea Ballerini ft. Kenny Chesney, “Half Of My Hometown”

The best way to sing a hometown song is to not focus on the hometown.

Kelsea Ballerini found herself in a tough spot after “Homecoming Queen?” only reached #17 on Billboard’s Airplay Chart, “The Other Girl” failed to launch at all, and the release of kelsea was disrupted by a global pandemic. Luckily, she had an ace up her sleeve in the form of “Hole In The Bottle,” a song that seems to strike a chord with the country music community even as it had to settle for a Mediabase-only #1 (and there’s no shame in finishing second to Thanos), and helped get the re-release of her album ballerini off the ground and out into the world. Now, she’s back with fellow Knoxvillian Kenny Chesney to discuss their shared place of origin in “Half Of My Hometown,” and while I generally don’t like songs like this, I feel a bit more positive about this one because it focuses on the people more than the place, and generally seems more clear-eyed and honest about the mixed emotions the location makes her feel.

Speaking of mixed emotions, that’s what I feel when I listen to the production: It generates a suitably wistful atmosphere to support the subject matter, but it also blends it a bit too much with the rest of the radio and is begging for a bit more instrument diversity. Yes, there’s a mandolin that helps open the track and gets some extended airtime on the second verse, and there’s a token banjo that’s barely noticeable as it slow-rolls in the background, but the primary melody drivers are the usual suspects: An acoustic guitar and a drum machine for the verses, and some electric guitars and real drums that jump in for the chorus. It feels like a “necessary but not sufficient”sort of mix: It supports the writing by reflecting the qualified devotion to the area and giving the song a balanced and neutral feel, but it could have done so much more to make the song stand out—an extra instrument here, a different riff there, etc. (I’m also a bit conflicted about how well the electronic beat blends with the acoustic instruments; the pairing seems a bit awkward, even despite how restrained the beat is.) I suppose that what we get is okay overall and you can’t say it doesn’t do its job, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to me.

I would call Ballerini’s performance as quietly impressive, given the surprising degree of difficulty presented by the song’s tone. Its limited range and relaxed flow present no challenge, but the artist has to strike a careful balance with their delivery: The have to exhibit impartiality with their message without coming across as disinterested or bored. In this regard, Ballerini does a nice judge projecting feeling without judgement, painting a picture with their words and letting the audience draw their own conclusions. You get the sense that she appreciates her hometown and the people in it regardless of their feelings or behaviors, although I wasn’t convinced to reflect and be more appreciative of my own hometown as a result (it’s an evil place, don’t ever go there). I know Chesney also hails from Knoxville and is therefore a logical choice to help out with this song (even if it’s just for harmony vocals), but I honestly don’t think it was a good choice: His voice is distinct but doesn’t add a ton to the song, and he and Ballerini don’t sound good together at all (and given how little volume Chesney’s vocals get, the producers seem to agree). Despite that, however, I think the vocals are a net positive on balance, and reflect how far Ballerini has come from the pop-princess image Black River was pushing a few years ago.

Talking about someone’s hometown is old hat is country music (especially when an artist is trying to flex their credentials), but generally the songs devolve into checklist tracks featuring beer, mama, and old athletic achievements. Instead, this song takes a different approach by focusing more on the people the narrator grew up with, and how their behavior has diverged over time: Some stayed and reveled in their history, while others left to chase a better future. The song tries not to play favorites and deliver both sides of the argument, and does a nice job focusing on some aspects of leaving home that don’t get a lot of airtime (how opinions differ on the narrator leaving, the contrast between “miniskirts” and “dressed for church,” and so on). There are definitely some subpar moments here (the initial contrast between drinking and making out doesn’t really go anywhere, and the math doesn’t add up on the hook—”part of me will always be half of my hometown” feels like a awfully small percentage of hometown), but the descriptions are generally vivid and lively (the crowd singing the fight song at the end was particularly well done). I’m not a hometown homer, but I heard enough on this track to appreciate where the listener was coming from.

I wouldn’t call “Half Of My Hometown” a great song, but it’s a solid effort from Kelsea Ballerini that is radio-friendly enough to build on her momentum from “Hole In The Bottle.” While I think the track had a lot more potential in its sound and could have used another iteration or two on the lyrics, Ballerini does a nice job on the vocals (Kenny Chesney less so, but his role is effectively minimal anyway) and helps elevate the track above the soundalike songs I’ve been reviewing lately. It’s the kind of hometown ode that I can actually get behind, and given how stale the radio has felt lately, I’ll take any good news that I can I get.

Rating: 6/10. Give this a few spins to see what you think.

Song Review: Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”

I’m confused: Did anyone actually look at this song before they went and recorded it?

Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris married back in 2018, but nobody has ever confused them for a Nashville power couple. Sure, Morris has had some big hits like “The Middle” and “The Bones,” but her single releases are pretty inconsistent (her last one “To Hell And Back” only made it to #32 on Billboard’s airplay chart), and Hurd has only managed to be consistently mediocre (his #22 single “To A T” remains his best showing, and “Every Other Memory” barely cracked the top fifty). Now, the pair has teamed up for a new single “Chasing After You,” and it’s about as bad of a clash of ideas as I’ve seen in a long time: The singers and the producer clearly went into the studio thinking “sensual love ballad,” so why in the world are they recording a song about an on-again, off-again romance that will never work out? Instead of trotting out the cheesy clichés and doing their best Tim & Faith impression, Hurd and Morris leave the listener feeling mostly confused, wondering why the heck they chose to deliver such a song in such a way.

On its face, I don’t actually mind the production that much—I just find it to be an incredibly awkward fit for the song’s subject matter. There isn’t a whole lot to this arrangement: It’s a simple electric guitar backed by a deep, sparse drum machine and wrapped up in some spacious synthesizers (eventually a real drum set joins in on the first chorus). It’s lacks instrument diversity and the riffs are mind-numbingly simple, but the slower tempo and deeper guitar and drum tones actually do a decent job of creating a sensual atmosphere (this sounds far more sexy than most of the attempted country sex jams I’ve heard over the last few years). The problem is there really isn’t anything sexy about the song: Sure, the narrators engage in some implied “physical activity,” but the crux of the song is that the relationship never holds up and the pair eventually separates, and there’s nothing sexy or romantic about a Groundhog Day-like breakup loop. It’s almost as if the song is trying to convince the listener to ignore the writing and get lost in the sound, but the twist on the chorus is impossible to ignore, and it leaves the listener confused about what the song is trying to say. It feels like the producer and the writers are working as cross-purposes here, and it leaves the listener feeling very little at all in the end.

The mismatch between the sound and the subject matter puts Hurd and Morris in a tough spot, and while both decide to throw their weight behind the producer, it’s still not enough to paper over the song’s inherent conflict. Hurd is clearly the weaker of the two artists here: He’s a product of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line (stick anybody else behind the mic, and this song sounds the exact same), and his soundalike voice and limited charisma do little to convey the passion within the sound. Morris’s voice is both more distinct and more emotive, but her role is a bit more limited (she’s the one always stuck on harmony duty when the pair sings together), and she doesn’t bring a lot of power to the table on this track, causing her to be drowned out by the added instrumentation on the second verse. I think the pair has some decent vocal chemistry and could actually make a romantic power ballad work, but this isn’t that kind of song, and trying to turn it into that song takes a tool on both their believability and their ability to transmit their feelings to the audience. It’s not a great look for anyone involved, and unlike the narrators, the listener is more than ready to move on after hearing this track.

The writing here tells the sad story of a couple who just can’t seem to find the magic formula for love, but can’t seem to stop looking for it. I’ve never been a fan of these kinds of songs, because it paints the speakers in a negative light: If the relationship has crashed and burned so many times, why don’t you show some self-control, stop beating a dead horse, and move on? Much like the relationship, the story never progresses either: We get a drunken night together, a few TL;DR statements about how the relationship cycles, and some lines about how the narrators can’t stay apart because “it feels too good” (which implies that the attraction is purely physical and not based on any meaningful feelings). It would be different if the narrators were doing something—anything—to change the outcome each time, but we get no indication that they do anything but drink and make out. (Even the “guess I love chasing after you” hook feels born of resignation more than anything else.) The whole thing make the song feel incredibly pointless: The narrator’s aren’t happy with the on-again, off-again status quo, but they’re too comfortable with it to do something about it, and thus they’re trapped in an unappealing cycle that the audience would rather avoid altogether.

“Chasing After You” is a song that is unsure of its true purpose in life, and when it tries to be two separate things, it ends up being neither of them. The writing is an uninteresting tale of woe from two people who aren’t bothered enough to change the ending, the production is more suitable for a sex jam than a melancholy song like this one, and Maren Morris and Ryan Hurd fail to make chicken salad out of the chicken you-know-what they’re left with. It’s the sort of unengaging track that’s only suitable for background noise, and I’m not sure even Morris’s star power is enough to make this one leave a mark on the airwaves. I think the there’s enough chemistry shown off here that the couple should try this trick again, but only if they learn from the mistakes of the protagonists here and make the changes necessary (stronger material and a more-consistent approach from everyone involved) to do better next time.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t go chasing after this one.

The Current Pulse Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: March 29, 2021

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

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

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

Gone:

  • Niko Moon, “GOOD TIME” (recurrent)
  • Cody Johnson & Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo” (recurrent)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Parmalee ft. Blanco Brown, “Just The Way” (down from #3 to #5)
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night” (down from #22 to #26)

In Real Trouble:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over” (down from #6 to #7, lost spins and gained only 174 points, and just appears to be out of gas)
  • Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (up from #35 to #33, but gained only forty-one spins and forty-nine points)
  • Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow” (holds at #36, but loses its bullet)
  • LoCash, “Beers To Catch Up On” (holds at #43, but gained only twenty-two spins and seventy-four points)
  • Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (down from #42 to #44, gained only twenty-four spins and twenty-three points)
  • Chris Janson, “Waitin’ On 5” (down from #45 to #46, gained only nine spins and eighty points)
  • Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet” (down from #44 to #47, lost spins and gained only six points)
  • Teddy Robb, “Heaven On Dirt” (down from #46 to #48, gained only twenty-four spins and seventy-seven points)

In Some Trouble:

  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided” (down from #18 to #19, gained only twenty-four spins and thirty-five points)
  • Brantley Gilbert, “Hard Days” (holds at #27, but lost spins and gained only thirty-six points)
  • Kane Brown, “Worship You” (holds at #34, but gained only six spins and twelve points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You” (up from #53 to #42)
  • Lady A, “Like A Lady” (up from #48 to #41)

Is Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Forever After All” (up from #28 to #25)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Travis Denning, “ABBY”

Overall Thoughts: This week is mostly a continuation of trends we’ve already pointed out: Little chart movement above #40 with lots of movement below it, massive gains for established artists (where the heck did Owen find 2000+ points lying around?) and minimal gains for everyone else, and a whole lot of flotsam still clogging up the charts. This week, I’d like to take a closer look at a few specific tracks:

  • “Lady,” Brett Young: This makes Young 7-for-7 in getting singles to #1, which makes me wonder what this means for Young’s position in genre history: Is this a predictor for all-time greatness? Frankly, no—I would argue it says more about how watered-down the “#1” distinction is these days, and perhaps how watered-down it’s always been. (Thanos went 7-7 with his first seven singles too, and no one would argue that Young is anywhere near his level of stardom.) With rankings this open to manipulation and any of them allowing you to claim the “#1 hit” title, “#1 single” doesn’t always mean “hit,” and while Young has had some legitimately huge songs (“In Case You Didn’t Know”), I have a feeling most of these original seven won’t stand the test of time.
  • Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over”: Anyone who’s ever reached X rank in Splatoon 2 and immediately gotten their head handed to them knows how Stapleton feels right now. “Starting Over” appears to be way over its head and has been stalled inside the Top 10 for nearly a month now, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon (note how much bigger the point gains were for Arts and Owen just below Stapleton). A #1 in still a possibility, but Mercury’s going to have to bring their promotional A game to make it happen.
  • Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided”: These two really misread the moment: They went all-in on a plea for unity, and discovered that no one is in the mood to compromise, whether in Washington or in the rest of the nation. We remain an angry, bitter, polarized nation, which means that they’re really isn’t an audience for a song like this, and hence it seems to have stalled just above #20.
  • Brothers Osborne, “All Night”: I declared back in February that “if these losses grow and [“All Night”] quickly goes recurrent, it would not be a good look for country music.” Fast forward two months later, and the song appears to officially be on the way out, making zero headway after TJ Osborne came out as gay. Perhaps the song had already stalled out before the announcement, but it’s still not a good look for a genre that desperately wants to be seen as inclusive. (Meanwhile, Morgan Wallen continues to move a ton of albums while acts like Chapel Hart and Mickey Guyton still can’t find any radio traction.) Country music is many things, but moments like this remind us that “inclusive” isn’t one of them.
  • Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know”: Hey, a rare success story! Wilson certainly benefited from her selection as the next ‘On The Verge’ artist, but I did not expect her to explode like this (from #53 on March 1st to #29 as of today’s rolling chart), which makes me think two things:
    • This song could be an actual hit, unlike some of the rotating #1 songs we’ve seen recently like “Lady.”
    • Exactly how many artists are out there who would be doing the same thing is they were able to get an OTV-like push? With the charts being so stale lately, I would love to see PDs and stations take some more chances on below-the-radar talent, because a little exposure could end up going a long way.

April looks like a pretty quiet month for releases so far (only Hurd/Morris, Dennig, and the new Kelsea Ballerini/Kenny Chesney single look like they’ll be joining the charts in the short-term), so we may be waiting a while for the full seasonal airplay rotation to kick in.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to remind us that it isn’t going anywhere for a while: New case reports are back on the upswing, which usually means hospitalization and death increases aren’t far behind it (our current death toll sits at nearly 551,000). With newer, nastier variants of the virus taking the country by storm, we need to hang on tight and keep doing the right things (wearing masks, avoiding crowds, getting vaccinated ASAP) to avoid another deadly surge. As tired as we all are of being stuck at home for the past year, now isn’t the time to let up—if we can push the virus numbers down and the vaccination numbers up, a more-normal summer is well within our grasp.