Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (May 2022 Edition)

The charts are a pretty active place right now, and it’s getting hard to keep up with all the new arrivals in the Mediabase Top 50. Normally this would be a problem…except that much of what we’re getting isn’t worth keeping up with in the first place, so it’s time to once again speedrun through a few singles and see exactly why they’re so darn forgettable. We’re on the clock, so let’s get on with the proceedings and roll the tape…

Russell Dickerson ft. Jake Scott, “She Likes It”

Good grief, can Nashville just give it up with the mediocre sex jams already? While the writing here clears the bar of “not a complete train wreck” (there are some decent moments in the verses that suggest this relationship is more than a random hookup), it’s still an uninteresting foreplay narration at its core, and it gets absolutely no support from its compatriots. The production is the worst offender here: Who in the heck thought using a leaden beat, a choppy electric guitar, and nothing else was a good idea? Instead of creating a sensual atmosphere, the resulting mix feels like it barely exists and doesn’t create any vibe at all. The artists aren’t much help in this department either: Neither Dickerson nor Scott put any passion or energy behind their performances, and they fail to get anyone in the proper mood. (Also, Scott has absolutely no business being on this track. The man has zero name recognition in the genre and sounds almost identical to Dickerson, making his inclusion nothing but a painfully-obvious play for streaming numbers.) This is subpar even compared to other Nashville sex jams tire fires, and it belongs in the recycle bin.

Rating: 4/10. Nope.

Dillon Carmichael, “Son Of A”

I’m generally a Carmichael fan and I’ve been known to fanboy over obvious tearjerkers (RIP “Bye Mom”), but “Son Of A” is a bit too saccharine and cloying even for my tastes. It’s supposed to be a celebration of parenting and tough love, but it feels incomplete: The story is really slow to develop and doesn’t include enough detail to connect with the listener (for example, I spend most of the first verse wondering what the heck the kid was being punished for). The hook is underdeveloped and obvious to the point of being a little cringe, and the pivot to talking about two-parent families and “broken-home buddies” makes the song come across as unfocused, like it isn’t really sure what it should be saying. The production features some interesting pieces here, but it doesn’t really use some of them (there’s a fiddle buried here, but it’s barely noticeable), and while it does a decent job feeling reflective and building to a climax, there’s just something missing here to induce the listener to stay tuned in. Similarly, Carmichael is okay here, but his performance ultimately feels replaceable, and doesn’t do a great job selling the story. I’d be happy to see Carmichael find radio traction of any sort at this point, but I’d still be disappointed if this were the song radio embraced.

Rating: 5/10. Skip this one and stick with “Hot Beer” instead.

Caitlyn Smith, “Downtown Baby”

I know Mark Grondin at Spectrum Pulse has been hyping up Smith’s work (especially compared to labelmate Walker Hayes), but I just can’t find a reason to jump on her bandwagon. She’s certainly got some vocal talent (the phrase that comes to mind is “more-mature-sounding Sarah Buxton”), climbing the ladder here to show off some impressive range and sounding (relatively) smooth on the rapid-fire chorus, but she doesn’t do a whole lot to interest the listener in the story. Of course, this is primarily the story’s fault: It’s a late-night romp through the city checking all the usual boxes (the “K-pop karaoke” line is the only one that really catches your ear), and seems to be trying a bit too hard with clunky lines like calling the other person “a kaleidoscope of Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and John Wayne.” The production is exactly what you’d expect: A slick, synthetic guitar-and-drum mix (including Grady Smith’s favorite snap track), and while it captures the “urban” element of the song, it doesn’t capture the more-important “fun” or “romantic” elements that it needs. It’s the sort of song you’ll forget two minutes after you hear it, which it means it’s not the kind of song Smith needs at this (or perhaps any) point in her career.

Rating: 5/10. Pass.

Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living”

Honestly, this song’s biggest sin is its timing: It focuses on the silver lining around the clouds of life, but when said clouds are this freaking thick, you can’t help but feel like the narrator is more than a little out of touch. From the whistling that opens the track to lines about things like concentrated orange juice and sleeping naked without AC, there’s a general lack of seriousness here that makes the song feel kind of pointless and unbelievable, and a line like “ain’t makin’ no worry no bigger then it is when it isn’t” feels tone deaf when the problem seems to be that we’re not making a big enough deal of what’s happening. (This is a problem I have with these songs in general: Sure, don’t let things get you down, but don’t delude yourself into complacency either.) It’s still Joe Nichols and he still sounds a good as he did twenty years ago, but even he can’t convince the listener to share in the narrator’s optimism. The sound is bright and upbeat, but perhaps a bit too much so, make the song feel fanciful and even a bit dismissive of the trouble that immediately spring to mind. We’ve already got enough songs encouraging people to live in the moment and forget about everything else; we don’t really need another, bad times or not.

Rating: 5/10. A good song for skippin’.

Kameron Marlowe, “Giving You Up”

Marlowe is a North Carolina native best known for a semi-successful run on The Voice in 2018, and he’s been riding this song for a looooong time: He released it independently back in 2019, and then released it as a radio single with Columbia last September. It’s yet another guy that’s angry at an ex over a breakup, and while it’s not as bad as others in this lane (at least it tries to justify the narrator’s feelings by indicating the ex was the one who a) ended things and b) is trying to start them up again), it’s no more compelling or interesting either. The hook here is weak and unoriginal (oh, you’re “giving you up” like smoking and drinking? Gee, I’ve never heard that one before), and Marlowe himself (who sounds like an off-brand Mitchell Tenpenny) makes the narrator feel less sympathetic by leaning on their anger instead of letting the audience share in their pain. The production is nothing to write home about, using a darker-but-generic guitar-and-drum mix to get its point across (and making a jarring transition from real drums in the intro to a drum machine on the first verse) and failing to do anything to make the song actually stand out. With this many miles on its odometer and a different song (“Steady Heart”) seemingly getting more buzz recently, don’t expect this one to stick around.

Rating: 5/10. Meh.

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

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

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

Niko Moon, “NO SAD SONGS”

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

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

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

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

Heath Sanders, “Old School’s In”

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

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

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

Rating: 2/10. Yuck.

Toby Keith, “Old School”

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

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

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

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Nelly ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Lil Bit”

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

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

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

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

Gabby Barrett, “Footprints On The Moon”

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

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

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

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

Dillon Carmichael, “Hot Beer”

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

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

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

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Dillon Carmichael, “I Do For You”

The Metro-Bro era may be rising from the dead, but don’t sleep on the 90s-era neotraditional revival either.

Dillon Carmichael is a Kentucky native with a strong family connection to the music business: His uncles just happen to be noted country artists John Michael and Eddie Montgomery (and the connection with the latter is apparent the moment Carmichael opens his mouth). He signed with Riser House Records back in 2017 and released his debut album Hell On An Angel in 2018, but hadn’t found any traction on the airwaves until recently, as his new song and presumed leadoff single for his eventual sophomore album “I Do For You” now sits just outside the Mediabase Top 50. Basically, Carmichael takes Riley Green’s approach from “There Was This Girl” and doubles down on it: This is a fiddle-and-steel ode to how a significant other can change someone’s behavior and attitude, and it’s a surprisingly fun song to listen to.

Where Jon Pardi’s “Heartache Medication” felt like a modern update of the neotraditional sound, the production here feels more like something you would have heard on the dial in 1995. The electric guitars have a bit more body and presence, the fiddle and steel are plentiful without feeling forced, and the whole mix has a less-clean finish to it that betters mimics those 25-year-old recordings (as a side note, I feel really old saying that). The percussion has some extra punch to as it as well, and while it’s not as neoteraditional as the rest of the arrangement, the drums do a nice job pushing the song forward and maintaining both the tempo and the energy level. The overall vibe here is relentlessly positive, driving home the fact that while there are a lot of things they doesn’t want to do, they will not only gladly do them for their significant other, but they’ll enjoy them too. It’s the sort of warm, celebratory atmosphere that sits squarely in 90s country’s love-story wheelhouse, and it not only suits the mood perfectly, but also sharply distinguishes the tracks from even its classically-nodding peers.

If you didn’t know Carmichael was related to Eddie Montgomery, you’ll figure it out within the first line or two, because vocally Carmichael is a dead ringer for his uncle. (This is good because Montgomery was a decent singer in his own right, but bad because it reminds you that we lost Troy Gentry way too soon.) That sound and lineage gives Carmichael a unique credibility when delivering his lines: When he proclaims that “I don’t do weddings and I don’t do dishes,” he’s got so much natural gruff and attitude in his delivery you can’t help but believe him. On the flip side, when he makes his face turn and proclaims that he would do any of said things for his partner, he shows enough earnestness and heart that you can’t help but believe him here either. From a technical perspective, he demonstrates enough range and flow to keep the track moving and stay in character, and seems to stay squarely in his comfort zone for the entire track. It’s an impressive performance overall, and one that entices me to dig into his discography a bit deeper.

I’m a big fan of the lyrics here, because they do a great job capturing the classic country outlaw in their transition from wayward rabble-rouser to doting, open-minded partner. The voice and personality behind the writing absolutely nails the old-school gruff reluctance to things like malls, weddings, and leaf-peeping that describes at least half my extended family, as well as the unexpected transition of these chores to enjoyable activities simply by adding another person to the picture. (My brother never liked bathroom candles either, but after several years of marriage he’s got a whole shelfful of them, and like any thoughtful sibling I never miss an opportunity to needle him about that.) The details here are sharp, vivid, and even occasionally novel (I don’t know if I’ve ever heard leaf-peeping referenced in a song before), and the progression of the story draws a clear line from obstinate (yet still oddly relatable) single to responsible human being to devoted husband. There’s a real maturity to the lyrics that you don’t see in songs like, say, Sam Hunt’s “Kinfolks” or Dan + Shay + Justin Bieber’s “10,000 Hours,” and it strikes a nice balance between the rebellious and reverent sides of the speaker.

I have to admit, I liked Dillon Carmichael’s “I Do For You” a lot more than I expected to. Its avoids the sappy and/or sleazy tropes that are getting thrown all over Nashville these days, and with classic production, solid writing, and a throwback vocal performance from Carmichael, it delivers a thoughtful, optimistic take on love while giving us just enough of a taste of attitude to make the whole thing feel real. Eddie Montgomery stuck around mainstream country music for quite some time back in the day, and if Carmichael is going to keep putting out songs like this one, I wouldn’t mind seeing him do the same.

Rating: 7/10. Give this one your full attention—you won’t regret it.