Song Review: Parmalee & Blanco Brown, “Just The Way”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee has released a single song every year since its mainstream debut in 2012, but the last time they popped up at the Korner was in 2017 with “Sunday Morning.” The song barely cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard airplay charts, and since then the group’s yearly single hasn’t popped up on either the charts of my radar (which is probably a good thing, given how critics ripped 2018’s “Hotdamalama” to shreds).  The group caught a break, however, when the genre turned towards their style with the Boyfriend country movement, and they’re back again this year teaming with Blanco Brown to release their latest single “Just The Way.” Sadly, you know “just the way” this is going to turn out: The song is yet another indistinguishable Boyfriend country track both and sound and subject matter, and is not interesting enough to warrant further inspection.

Let’s be honest: You don’t need me to tell how this soundsyou can hear the production in your head right now. The opening piano and drum machine (of course there’s a clap track! Why wouldn’t there be one?), the guitar-and-drum wall of noise that hit you on the chorus, the token steel guitar that gets mostly drowned out on the chorus, the periodic minor chords that make the song feel more serious than celebratory…you know, the same darn mix every track in this lane uses. (Seriously, I hope Nashville got a discount on this arrangement for buying in bulk.) There’s a spacious, arena-ready feel to the sound, but the emotion feels a bit tempered and lukewarm due to the darker instrument tones the mix relies on. Don’t listen too hard for that extra special something that catches the listener’s ear and drawn them in, because it’s not here. It’s yet another soundalike song that passes in one ear and out the other without leaving any trace of its passing.

Brown is the only big addition to Parmalee’s bland formula, and to his credit his vocals are a real revelation: Where “The Git Up” kept him mostly trapped in his lower range, “Just The Way” turns him loose and allow him to showcase some surprising tone in his upper range (even if he sounds progressively more auto-tuned at the song continues). In contrast, Parmalee lead singer Matt Thomas showcases nothing distinct or unique in his delivery (stick any of Nashville’s faceless male artists behind the mic, and the song would sound the exact same), and while he exhibits enough charisma to give you the sense of his devotion to the other person, he doesn’t let the listener share those feelings, and doesn’t bring anything of note to the table to convince the listener to pay attention. The vocal chemistry between Thomas and Brown is also questionable, as their voices don’t blend together very well when they harmonize. (The rest of Parmalee suffers from the same problem as Thomas: Replace them with a bunch of session players, and neither the instruments nor the backing vocals would sound any different.) In short, the vocals feel as manufactured as the sound, and even Brown’s surprising vocal turn can’t mask the aggressive blandness of everyone else involved.

And then the lyrics…seriously, did it really take three people to write this drivel? You already know what’s coming: The narrator likes their partner “just the way God made you,” and then the stock footage reel comes out: The morning bed-head, the dimples, the re-watched movies, the drinking…even the hotel pool break-in is starting to feel passé. There’s absolutely zero wit or cleverness here (the “let my eyes be your mirror” line feels unnecessarily awkward), and the limp “just the way” hook gets real repetitive real fast. The whole thing resembles one of those ransom notes made from cutting letters out of magazines: A bunch of bits and pieces borrowed from a bunch of different sources, thrown together in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this story a million times before, and it’s no more memorable now than it was the first time.

“Just The Way” is a sad example of how Nashville works these days, pumping out rehashed, derivative works that all says the same thing. Everything here, from the production to the lyrics to Parmalee themselves, is bland, generic, and utterly forgettable, and not even letting Blanco Brown cut loose a little on the verses can change this. In 2017, I closed my review by saying “Let’s hope Parmalee can give us something a bit more interesting next year”; today, let’s hope no one bothers to give Parmalee another chance to do so, because they don’t deserve one.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Song Review: Blanco Brown, “The Git Up”

Well, at least it’s better than “Old Town Road.”

In the wake of what seemed to be a movement towards more-traditional sounds in country music, a surprising new trend has emerged: “Country trap,” where classical country instruments and paired with the sort of heavy electronic beats usually associated with rap music. There have been hints of these genres fusing for some time now (recall Jason Aldean and Ludacris’s “Dirt Road Anthem” remixFlorida Georgia Line and Nelly’s “Cruise” remix, and the hip-hop and rap elements that were generally present in the Bro-Country trend). it was Lil Nas X who kicked the doors open this year with “Old Town Road,” which as of this writing sits only one week away from tying the all-time record for time spent atop the Hot 100.

Success like that is bound to bring imitators out of the woodwork, but it’s hard to call Blanco Brown an imitator, as the Georgia native has been writing and producing songs for several decades and working on his “trailertrap” style since 2011. His debut single “The Git Up” has already topped Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart and spawned a viral dance craze on TikTok, and even appears to be making inroads into the notoriously risk-averse format that is country radio.

The big question is whether or not the song is actually good enough to warrant the momentum it seems to be building. After a few listens, the song appears to be a clear across-the-board upgrade over “Old Town Road,” but like most dance-craze songs, it’s a bit too simple and repetitive to leave much of a memory once the initial sugar high wears off.

The production is slightly more interesting here than “Old Town Road,” but that’s a low bar to clear, and it doesn’t address all of the former’s sonic issues. There’s a little bit more going on arrangement-wise,with a few “regular” guitars getting some airtime alongside the steel guitar and drum machine (and as basic as the steel riffs are, they add a bright touch to the mix and are still more interesting than the “Old Town Road”‘s banjos). These additions, combined with the slightly-faster tempo, try to give the song a fun, energetic feel suitable for a dance track. However, they seem to be working at cross-purposes with the percussion: It’s not as in-your-face as “Old Town Road,” but it’s still a bit too high in the mix, and its deep, throbbing sound conflicts with the brighter vibe of everything else. The result is a sound that only kinda-sorta captures the carefree, enjoyable spirit it’s going for, and while it’s a catchy tune on balance, it lacks the depth and cohesion to rise beyond being a brief, forgettable distraction.

On the plus side, I’m impressed by how compelling and charismatic Brown as is a performer. As an artist with an extensive background in both the rap and country genres, his range and tone are better than I expected (especially in his lower range, where he can reach down without sounding too rough or losing much power), and his smooth flow is a major upgrade over Lil Nas X’s choppy, hyperbolic delivery. There’s no confusion in this performance: Brown is having a good time, he wants everyone else to have a good time, and the good vibes are (mostly) passed along to the audience. That said, he struggles to overrule the percussion’s dark undertone, and he can sound a bit monotone on some of the more repetitive sections of the song (the “that was not so bad” lines are not so good). Overall, however, I hear a lot more potential in Brown’s vocals than I heard in Lil Nas X’s, and am interested to see what direction he goes off in as he continues to refine his craft.

The lyrics are easily the weakest part of the song, even by dance-track standards. While there’s no confusion as to the narrator’s motivations or goals (we’re all here to dance and have fun!), when the song is stacked up against other country songs in this lane (the examples that jump to mind are Alan Jackson’s “Good Time” and Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”), it comes across as incredibly repetitive and simple (a better comparison might be Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe”). As “the git up” was assembled specifically for a TikTok challenge, the narrator is forced to spend most of the song describing the never-before-seen dance, and thus to accommodate the two-left-footed masses that couldn’t dance if their lives depended on it, we’re stuck slogging through step-by-step directions like we’re trying to build IKEA furniture. Despite the excruciating detail in the verses, the chorus still introduces confusion (you can’t just say “cowboy boogie” or “do the hoedown” and expect people to have any idea what you’re talking about), and the closing “that was no so bad, was it?” lines are ear-grating and unnecessary. Usually I’m a bit more lenient on lyrics where the songs are supposed to move you physically rather than emotionally, but when you have to pay such close attention to get the dance right, your writing better be on point, and that isn’t always the case here.

Overall, however, “The Git Up” is tolerable (but not especially memorable) for what it is: A superfluous dance track that doesn’t take itself too seriously. With decent vocals, not-so-decent writing, and production that splits the difference, this track is not a world-beater by any means (then again, I wouldn’t have bet that “Old Town Road” was either), but it’s an indication that country trap is, in fact, a thing, and that it’s likely going to get better and more-popular as the sub-genre matures. It’s basically at the level of radio filler right now, and while that’s not a great place to be right now, I suppose you have to start somewhere.

Rating: 5/10. Check it out to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t expect it to stick with you very long.