Song Review: David Lee Murphy, “I Won’t Be Sorry”

Well, I guess this explains why David Lee Murphy is still hanging around.

When “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” hit the airwaves last year, my first thought was simple: Why? Murphy had been silent for fourteen years after a brief run of success around the turn of the millennium—what had possessed him to jump back the young man’s game of mainstream radio at nearly sixty years old? Murphy blamed Kenny Chesney and I blamed money, but the singer offers a third reason on No Zip Code‘s second single “I Won’t Be Sorry”: He didn’t want to be asking himself “what if?” when the Grim Reaper finally came for his soul. The track is a “live life to the fullest” anthem with a serious edge to it, and as nervous as I was in the wake of his last (and lifeless) single, I have to admit, I’m not sorry he did this one either.

On an instrument level, this is an extreme example of the guitar-and-drum paradigm you hear all the time in country music. If you listen hard enough, there’s an acoustic guitar and an organ buried deep in the background, but from the opening riff to the extended outro, this song is all about rough-edged guitars and hard-hitting drums. However, for such a sparse, generic arrangement, it’s amazing how distinct the producer manages to make this song sound. The rock-tinged guitars have more bite than I’ve heard in quite a while (and they rock harder the longer the song goes, concluding with that impressive outro), and the entire mix has a real defiance to it, as if it’s raising a sonic middle finger to those who question the narrator’s lifestyle. With the lyrics themselves not featuring a ton of attitude (or originality, but more on that later), it’s the production that really gives the song its unapologetic vibe, accentuating the writing more than complementing it. I’ve given Kenny Chesney has fair share of grief on the years (including on the Murphy-cowritten “Bar At The End Of The World”), but he and Buddy Cannon deserve some props for taking off-the-shelf components and creating something unique with them.

Murphy is not the strongest singer in the world (especially at this stage of his career), but he’s got just enough juice left to stick the landing here. The key is that the song doesn’t demand a whole lot from him technically: Neither his range nor flow are tested, and while he’s never had a ton of vocal power (he’s always felt dialed-back whenever I hear him), the song doesn’t ask for much of that either. Instead, all the song requires of the artists is investment and attitude, and even deep into his sixth decade, Murphy has enough charisma to bring the goods here. Much like Aaron Watson in “Run Wild Horses,” you can feel Murphy strain to deliver his lines with purpose, which adds an extra feel of authenticity to the performance. He sells the song to his audience and allows them to share in his defiance, and that’s all you can ask of an artist of any age.

The lyrics are easily the weakest portion of the song, as they’re little more than a collection of repetitive clichés. The words may change with every line, but they all say roughly the same thing: The narrator isn’t going to regret the things he didn’t do—instead, he’s going to do them with a vengeance until the day he kicks the bucket. Not only does the song never budge from this point, but it repeats the point in all the overused ways you’d expect: Ships that sail, glories that blaze, candles that burn at both ends, sidelines that house the timid souls…frankly, it’s about as generically-written as a song could ever be. While Murphy and Chesney/Cannon deserve credit for elevating the song beyond its boring roots into something more poignant, you can only go so far with a song this run-of-the-mill, and it makes you wonder how far the song could have gone if the writers had been a bit more creative.

Thankfully, there’s at least a little meta-commentary to chew on here. After being AWOL for over a decade, jumping back into the rigamarole of Nashville and making another go at a mainstream career is exactly the sort of behavior the narrator is calling for. The odds were definitely stacked against Murphy and there were a lot of doubters (myself included), but by practicing what he preaches here, Murphy was able to find both a second wind and a second #1 song (albeit a terrible one). While it may cause others to view his musical legacy less positively, at least he can go to bed knowing the “what if” question has been answered.

All in all, “I Won’t Be Sorry” is a pleasant and unexpected surprise from a singer I thought should have let sleeping dogs lie. With his newfound “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, David Lee Murphy delivers a solid performance with decent production that builds on his momentum from “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” While it’s got no chance of appearing on my “best song” list, I can certainly appreciate its presence on today’s radio.

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

Song Review: David Lee Murphy & Kenny Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”

There’s a fine line between a chill song and a lifeless one, and unfortunately for David Lee Murphy, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” is the latter.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Murphy’s career existed at all: He peaked briefly in the mid-90s with tracks like “Dust On The Bottle” and “Party Crowd,” racked up five Top Ten Billboard hits over his nondescript career, and hadn’t released a single to radio since 2004. Suddenly, however, Murphy has a new album (No Zip Code) slated to release this year, with “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” a duet with album co-producer Kenny Chesney, serving as the leadoff single. In theory the song is meant to reassure and reinspire its audience in the face of tough times, but in practice the track is a plodding, monotonic mess that depresses the listener more than anything else.

The production is incredibly basic and bare-bones, with most of the song featuring a lazy one-note riff repeated over a drum machine. An organ jumps in on the chorus to add some background atmosphere, and an electric guitar provides a (boring) solo, but they’re not featured enough to add much to the song. The combination of a slower tempo with the dimly-toned guitar and drums sets a way-too-dark tone for the song, making it sound more like a funeral march than a relaxing beachside tune. Basically, the mix sets the exact opposite tone that it should, and makes what should be a hopeful, optimistic song feel dreary and boring.

Vocally, Murphy sounds about the same as he did when I last encountered him on “Loco” over a decade ago, but he’s hampered by two issues: The song constrains his range and traps him in his lower register for most of the song, and the echoey effects added to his lines make him sound even raspier than usual. As a result, his delivery comes across as monotonic and lifeless instead of relaxed and optimistic. For Chesney’s part, he sounds the same as he usually does, and while his performance lacks energy, he at least sounds invested in the track, unlike on “Bar At The End Of The World”). (However, the song is most definitely not written as a duet, which begs the question why Chesney was added in the first place…besides the obvious financial and radio implications, of course.) The pair appears to have some decent vocal chemistry, but the harmony vocals are so low in the mix that you barely hear them. Overall, the pair offers a tolerable-but-forgettable performance that is immediately washed out of your ears by the next song.

There isn’t a whole lot to the writing here, as the song just talks about the narrator being uplifted by a sign in a bar saying “everything’s gonna be alright.” It’s not a particularly deep or compelling tale, and doesn’t really offer any reason to feel optimistic outside of blind faith (basically, the message is “everything will be fine, because…it just will.”) Throw in the usual barroom and drinking tropes, and this song falls into the same category as Chris Janson’s “Fix A Drink”: A shallow escapist song that encourages peoples to ignore the problems around them instead of addressing them. It’s not overly offensive, but it’s not memorable either, and with the lyrics and production setting opposite moods, it’s not a terribly pleasant listen.

Overall, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” is a misnomer: If you mix shallow writing and tone-deaf production, everything’s actually gonna suck. “Loco” put a nice bow on David Lee Murphy’s career, and he would have been better off not chasing radio relevance with this half-baked track.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.