Song Review: Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)”

Sorry Caroline Jones, but…wait, is this a decent song for a change?

Mailboat Records has been pushing Jones to country for several years now, and up to this point they’ve had little to show for their efforts: Of the five singles Jones has released to the radio, none of them have even cracked the top fifty on Billboard’s airplay chart (and given how mediocre “Chasin’ Me” and “All Of The Boys” were, this wasn’t much of a surprise). This year, however, Jones took a page from the female empowerment anthems that have been slowly growing in number lately, and released “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable),” setting some strict relationship boundaries while being backed by a beat with some bounce. I wasn’t expecting much going into this review, but I’m actually kind of impressed by what I’ve found here: There have been quite a few songs singing the praises of strong women recently, but very few of them have been this much fun to listen to.

It all starts with the production, which stands as an example of how to take a typical guitar-and-drum mix and turn it into something exciting. The electric guitar (which Jones handles herself, including on a solid solo) has a bright, rollicking sound, and the percussion, while perhaps a bit too reliant on Grady Smith’s favorite clap track, gives the song a lively, back-porch feel. The pair teams up with a fiddle (which sounds great during its solo turn, but honestly should be have used a lot more, at the very least as a background space-filler) to create a barnburner of a mix with tons of momentum and energy to burn. While the song places an unfairly-heavy burden on the sound (more on that later), this arrangement is more than up to the task, as it mixes the song’s strong, confident message with a fun, positive vibe that can get everyone tapping or dancing along. I’ve given Jones’s production team a fair bit of grief for having too many empty sonic calories in her sound, but this time I think they got the balance just right.

I’m still not 100% sold on Jones as a vocalist, but at least this track seems to play to her strengths. There aren’t any real technical issues (although I feel like some of the lines try to cram too many syllables into a line), but Jones doesn’t have the power or presence in her delivery to sell a heavier, more-serious approach to this topic. Playing up the ‘fun’ angle of the song, however, allows her to bring some personality and attitude to the table, making the narrator feel more three-dimensional while earning the audience’s respect and empathy. Jones may not a big-voice balladeer like Carrie Underwood or Mickey Guyton, but her narrator is in total control of this situation, and when she declares that nothing is happening here without her approval, you believe her. After struggling with more sensual or emotional performances on previous singles, I think Jones may have found a niche as a Miranda Lambert-type artist who brings some serious confidence to the table, and while she lacks Lambert’s sharper edge in her delivery, she’s more than capable of getting her message across here.

As far as the lyrics go, I think the writers had the “write” idea (this is what you get when you start watching DashieXP videos while writing a review), but the song feels surprisingly unfinished to me. The narrator strikes a confident tone with the hook, declaring that they won’t be pushed around and that “I wouldn’t want to be you when I want you gone,” and the “park your truck facing out” line is a nice touch. (There’s also some unexpectedly rough and direct language here; I like how they use this to amplify the narrator’s attitude, but I’m kind of surprised to see a buttoned-down format like country radio let a line like “you ain’t getting in my pants” onto the airwaves.) The issue is that the lyrics get repetitive quickly: The opening “come in, but don’t make yourself comfortable” block used up getting used three times, the other verses only vary the wording slightly, we get what passes for a chorus repeated twice, and that’s all. The “whoa-oh” part is a complete waste of time, and the instrumental breaks run a bit longer than they ought to, making it feel like the writers gave up about halfway through the track and tossed in a bunch of filler to stretch the song to three minutes. The problem with loading up your song with attitude is that it puts the focus squarely on the writing, and when it’s this undercooked, it makes it seem like you really didn’t have that much to say. It’s a good thing that the other pieces of this song are so strong, because the writing left a lot to be desired despite its good intentions.

Despite its shortcomings, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” turns out to be an enjoyable,and while its messaging is held back a bit by the incomplete writing, the solid efforts from both Caroline Jones and her producer more than make up for it. Listening to mainstream country music this year has been a bland and rarely-enjoyable exercise, so it was nice to hear a song that created a fun, upbeat atmosphere while avoiding the nihilistic, devil-may-care trap that got us stuck in the Cobronavirus era to begin with. Whether or not the radio will embrace this track is still to be determined, but much like Lainey Wilson did with “Things A Man Oughta Know,” this song gives Jones the chance to re-introduce herself to the world on better terms, and perhaps find a more-permanent home on the radio and in the genre.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a chance and see what you think.

Song Review: Caroline Jones, “All Of The Boys”

Sorry Caroline Jones, but you’re not making many friends with this song.

When last we saw Jones, she was trying to break through the country radio blockade with the mediocre “Chasin’ Me,” which was like trying to cut through steel with a butterknife (and it was just about as effective too, with the song peaking at a cringe-inducing #51 on Billboard’s airplay chart). For some artists/labels, this might suggest a change in strategy, maybe a slight change in sound or subject matter to see if it catches the audience’s attention. Jones and Mailboat Records, however, are flipping the bird to the definition of insanity and tossing out the same “sonic equivalent of cotton candy” that they did before, this time in the form of “All Of The Boys.” The result is no more interesting than it was the first time, and doesn’t bode well for Jones’s chances of success in the genre.

The production here veers a bit more towards pop-rock territory than “Chasin’ Me”: The guitars that dominate the mix have a meatier tone, the synth tones are mostly left in the background, and and the drums have (slightly) more punch this time around. (A token banjo also pops up during the bridge solo, and the background vocals have morphed from “spacious” to “robotically auto-tuned.”)Despite its bright, cheerful feel, this arrangement strikes me as a watered-down version of Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles’s “Do What You Can”: The guitars aren’t as forceful, the pace isn’t as quick, and the overall vibe doesn’t really match the sensual vibe the lyrics seem to be shooting for. In particular, the background vocals give the track an extra-saccharine vibe that succeeds in distinguishing the sound from a generic guitar-and-drum mix, but fails to add anything of substance to it, and as a result the listener has pretty much tuned it out by the end of the song. (Also, the decision to leave which amounts to a bunch of dead space before the bridge solo is just baffling.) It’s a very “meh” mix, and that’s not good when you’re still trying to make a name for yourself in the business.

Jones herself is a competent-enough vocalist that handles the technical challenges of the song without much trouble, but she lacks the vocal power and charisma to bend the track to her will. She isn’t pushed quite as deep into her soprano range as “Chasin’ Me” did, but she’s generally stuck in her upper register once again, and she handles it admirably, maintaining her tone and flow while showcasing a bit more range than before. She does, however, try to add a sensual flair to her delivery (especially to the second verse, which opens with an emphatic “uhhhh”), but it falls flat in the face of the move-it-along production and never gets to take root. Beyond that, she isn’t able to dig the narrator out of the hole the lyrics put them in (more on this later), sounding just as vapid and shallow as any Bro-Country singer and failing to more them feel empathetic and likeable. She’s not the problem here, but she isn’t really part of the solution either.

However, The terrible writing is the problem here. Not only are the lyrics incredibly repetitive (the “I make friends with all of the boys, I make love to you” hook makes up literally half of the song), but they come across as superficial and sophomoric, framing the narrator in an unflattering (and borderline-demeaning) light. The attraction here is completely framed around sex, making the pairing feel more like a hookup than a long-lasting relationship, and the constant insistence that the narrator is just “friends with all of the boys” makes them more suspicious than an Among Us imposter (“the lady doth protest too much, methinks”). In a year where we’ve seen a number of empowering songs from female artists, this one feels strangely disempowering, as the narrator spends most of their time minimizing themselves and detailing their own flaws (they barely mention their partner and what makes them so awesome). It’s about as poorly-framed as a song like this could be, and the audience has had more than enough of it by the time it’s over.

“All Of The Boys” is nothing but poorly-timed radio filler (seriously, where was this song three months ago when the season was more suitable for it?) that still fails to make a good case for Caroline Jones within the genre. The production is reheated rock with a thin layer of sugar on top, the lyrics only fill half a song and needed more details and less innuendo, and Jones lacks the vocal presence to command and elevate the song to respectability. It’s no better than the Cobronavirus junk that’s been cluttering up the airwaves the last few months, but perhaps there’s a silver lining here: Maybe going 0-for-2 will push Jones and Mailboat to finally try a different approach that better suits Jones’s style. For their sake, they’d better find a new formula sooner rather than later.

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

Song Review: Caroline Jones, “Chasin’ Me”

Sorry Caroline Jones, but this isn’t a song that’s worth chasing.

From a distance, Jones (the rare artist from the country music hotbed that is the New York City metro area) looks like the second coming of Barbara Mandrell: She plays six instruments, has already released five albums (and produced or co-produced all of them), and hosts a monthly radio show on SiriusXM. For the moment, however, she remains outside the mainstream country scene, releasing her Bare Feet album on Jimmy Buffett’s Mailboat label last year and getting nothing onto the major airplay charts. Now, Jones is back with a brand-new single “Chasin’ Me,”a Hallmark-ready love song that comes across as the sonic equivalent of cotton candy: Light, fluffy, saccharine, ephemeral, and not terribly filling.

The production is exactly what you’d expect from a song like this, featuring bright, borderline-squealing electric guitars, spacious background vocals, synth tones ripped from 80s pop, and real-but-punchless drums. The mix has an airy feel and a light touch that at the very least fits the tone of the lyrics (contrast this with whoever tried to make Caylee Hammack’s “Family Tree” a dance track), but it’s also aggressively bland and completely uninteresting, relying on sparse, simple riffs to try to carry the melody (honestly, if feels like Jones’s vocals are doing most of the heavy lifting). The slower, deliberate tempo robs the song of its energy,  and while the guitars halfheartedly try to inject some life on the bridge, the listener has already tuned out by then and it’s too little, too late. (For someone as musically talented as Jones, it’s almost criminal that the producer didn’t find a way to showcase her talents here.) It’s a sound that will elicit contented sighs from the sappiest among us, but for everyone else this song is empty sonic calories, and when it’s over you’ll wished you’d had spent your daily carbohydrates on something with a little more substance behind it.

If you took Kellie Pickler are drained away all of her vocal power, what remained would sound a lot like Jones. To her credit, Jones has a pretty high ceiling on her range and the song gives her plenty of room to show it off, but her voice gets overly breathy when she tries to push it a little too far, and sounds thin and frail overall (although that may be an intentional decision to pull back and match the production). While she certainly sounds smitten with the Prince Charming character she’s found, she just isn’t able to share her feelings with the audience, which just stands around on the sidelines and says “That’s nice” before looking for another song to listen to. There’s a real overdone fairy-tale vibe to the whole thing which heightens the audience’s sense of disbelief and keeps them relating to the story, putting up a wall that Jones isn’t able to scale. In other words, it’s not a great song for Jones as a vocalist, and making it her debut single seems like a bad decision to me.

The writing is…well, I’ve already thrown the terms “fairy-tale” and “Hallmark-ready” around, so let’s keep running with them. The narrator has the typical heart of stone that will never give in to the silly notion of romance…until the right person comes along, and the narrator’s worst fears are realized, and they realize it’s not so bad after all. It’s a well-worn trope in country music by this point, so much so that writers have to throw in at least some interesting details to keep listeners paying attention, but this song? It doubles down on the boilerplate imagery right down to the guy waiting outside the girl’s house in the rain, and there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard a hundred times before. The “chasin’ me” hook feels weak even by love song standards, and combines with the second verse to make the guy here feel a little pushy (unlike Jordan Davis of all people, this dude doesn’t seem to have a ton of patience), and it takes Jones’s explicit confirmation that she’s okay with all this to keep the song from careening into the gutter. In the end, however, the middle of the road is the only place the song ends up going, with nothing here to make it stand out or stick in the listener’s memory.

“Chasin’ Me” is just another song from just another singer, and that’s a huge problem when you’re trying to push an artist into the mainstream conversation (and double trouble when you’re also fighting the headwind of country music’s allergy to female artists). It’s a sticky-sweet love song with bland production, boring writing, and a mediocre performance from Caroline Jones herself. Unlike with Hammack’s debut single, I heard nothing here to interest me in hearing more from Jones, so if she’s as good as her bio proclaims, she needs to find a way to prove it, and fast.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*