Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (August 2021 Edition)

The alternative title: “How Many 5/10 scores can Kyle give out at one time?”

My limited weekly posting schedule means that keeping up with new singles on the radio can be a struggle, and while I was hoping that my last lightning round post would help me keep pace, the rate of new singles (especially those from bigger-name artists that aren’t announced in Country Aircheck ahead of time and use the radio’s express lane to rack up big first-week numbers) has mitigated whatever advantage I thought I had. (The blog’s split focus on music and gaming puts me further behind too, but gosh darn it sometimes you have to talk about the latest Pokémon news or rant about Nintendo’s will-they-or-won’t-they DLC support strategy.)

The good news is that we aren’t dealing with the garbage that we ran into last round, but the bad news is there’s a lot of mediocrity being pushed on the airwaves right now. I’m not always keen to waste 800+ words on a song that could be summed up with a single “Meh,” so let’s see if we can knock these out quickly, shall we?

(Editor’s Note: There’s one notable omission from this list, but we’re going to need a full review to talk about Morgan Wallen…)

Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love”

You know that old line about putting lipstick on a pig? The ukelele and organ may give the production a slight island vibe, but at the end of the day this is yet another cheesy Boyfriend country ballad from a duo that only seems to release these sorts of songs (seriously, it feels like I’ve reviewed this drivel five times already over the last few years). Some of the more over-the-top declarations in the writing (like getting a tattoo of the other person’s name) make the song feel slightly creepy, and the “steal my love” framing of the track seems weirdly awkward to me (when contrasted with falling skies and unraveling worlds, artists usually say their love will never falter rather than never be stolen). Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney are no more interesting or romantic than they’ve ever been, and after re-plowing this ground so often, the listener is left wondering “is that really all you’ve got?” Basically, this song is a pandering-to-the-base move that won’t change anyone’s opinion of the duo: If you like them, you’ll like this one; if they bore you as much as they bore me, you’ll forget it exists in a month.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO”

I’d seen and heard a lot of hype for this song, so I was surprised to discover just how much it didn’t move me when I finally heard it. Part of it is the poor production choices, resulting in a song that too sounds too slick (that synthesized guitar on the bridge solo gives the song a strangely psychedelic vibe that doesn’t complement the story at all) and not moody enough for the subject matter—check out Montgomery Gentry’s “Speed” and note just how dark that song sounds in comparison. (Adding the fiddle sample from McGraw’s “Where The Green Grass Grows,” was an interesting idea, but its limited use means it clashes with the rest of the arrangement and feels tacked on and out of place.) The writing falls flat as well, as it relies too heavily on generic country tropes (yep, we’re back to aimless cruising and making out on tailgates) and spends way too long giving us pointless details about the truck that add nothing to the song. (Even the accident vignette doesn’t land like it did in Brad Paisley’s “Little Moments,” mostly because it’s quickly glossed over and doesn’t give us a glimpse of the other person’s personality.) McGraw doesn’t show much personality either; his delivery is awfully clinical and matter-of-fact for a guy who misses their partner so much that they have to sell their truck to forget them. I think there might have a been a good song in here somewhere, but poor execution from everyone involved dooms this track to irrelevance.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth its listing price.

Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts”

A more appropriate title for this one would have been “Tame Hearts.” Despite ostensibly being an ode to “the wild cards and all of the wild hearts just like mine,” there’s nothing terribly wild (or interesting) about Urban’s latest release. The production acts like it’s trying to build up to something on the first verse, but it just settles into a standard midtempo, mid-volume routine on the chorus, squandering whatever momentum it had generated. The second verse is just a mess: Whoever decided to cram a million extra syllables into it and make Urban talk-sing his way through it need to be sent back to English class (seriously, who decided to use “tail-of-a-dragon” as a adjective? What does that even mean?). That whole thing could have been trimmed down and sung normally to much greater effect instead of breaking up the flow of the song trying to fit it a few pointless extra words. For his part, Urban doesn’t do a great job selling the narrator’s role despite the unorthodox swings he’s taken on the production side lately (admittedly this would be hard for any mainstream performer; you really need an outsider/”outlaw” persona à la Eric Church to pull it off), and he doesn’t bring enough feeling in his delivery to stick the landing. In the end, the song winds up being an underwhelming celebration of bold dreamers, and just kind of exists.

Rating: 5/10. Whether you’re dreaming big or not, you have better ways to spend your time.

Kane Brown, “One Mississippi”

This is a track that can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be. The lyrics try to tell the story of a pair of exes that can’t seem to let each other go, but the primary focus seems to be the constant rendezvous and the sentiment that this isn’t actually what the couple wants only gets a few lines of lip service. The production leans on plentiful minor chords and darker instruments tones to indicate that the relationship is not ideal, but the quicker tempo and busy, spacious choruses (and especially the lively guitar on the bridge solo) over-infuse the song with energy and push the focus away from the conflict and towards the lovemaking (it reminds me more of Thomas Rhett & Maren Morris’s “Craving You” than something like Cole Swindell’s “Stay Downtown,” despite the latter being closer thematically). Brown himself seems to be just along for the ride: His narrator clearly prefers that the relationship be on rather than off, but he seems to consider himself completely powerless in the matter and subject to the whims of the alcohol and the other person.(which simply isn’t true; he can always cut things off completely or at least broach the subject of getting back together more permanently). I’m not sure what to make of this song, but it’s certainly caught my attention and given me something to think about, which is more than I can say for the most of these other tracks.

Rating: 6/10. This one’s worth a few spins to see how it strikes you.

Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty”

Chalk this one up as yet another unimpressive debut single from an artist that just rolled off of Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line. The production is mostly the standard guitar-and-drum mix everyone relies on (there’s a steel guitar here, but it’s relegated to background support for the entire song), and while it sets a suitably reverent tone to support the writing, the general vibe isn’t all that romantic, and it doesn’t do enough to catch the listener’s ear and draw them into the story. It’s just as well, however, because you’ve already heard this story a hundred times: The narrator’s partner doesn’t believe that they’re pretty, and the narrator spends the entire song insisting that they are. It’s cut from the same Boyfriend country cloth that “Steal My Love” is, and it’s actually less interesting than Dan + Shay’s single because it tries to hard to blend in instead of stand out. For Barnes’s part, his voice reminds me a little bit of Neal McCoy, but his delivery lacks the emotion and charisma to really connect with the audience and let them share in his feelings. This thing was barely on the Mediabase chart long enough to say so, and it’s not hard to see why.

Rating: 5/10. Better luck next time, I guess.

Dylan Scott, “New Truck”

Can someone tell me why we’re still trying to make Dylan Scott a thing? I mean, did “Nobody” take the hint after “Nobody” took sixteen months just to wind up as a Mediabase-only #1? To add insult to injury, this is the exact same song as “7500 OBO,” and given Tim McGraw’s long track record and serious radio clout, this thing is pretty much dead on arrival now. The irony is that while neither song is any good, I think I like Scott’s take on the memory-haunted truck idea better: The details are a bit more novel (finding lost hair ties and chapstick), and the production doesn’t feel quite as slick (the drum machine isn’t as prominent here). Unforutnately, the improvements are relative but not substantial, and the song still relies on the same old generic memories to haunt Scott’s narrator (and Scott’s performance is nothing special either). I’d buy this truck over McGraw’s, but I’m not really in the market for either of them.

Rating: 5/10. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left”

Oh joy, another attempted sex jam from a genre that should know better by now. To its credit, the production at least attempts to change up the formula by leaning on spacious electric guitars that match the starry night sky of the cover art and give the song a psychedelic vibe (unlike McGraw’s tune, it kind of suits the mood here), but it doesn’t capture the depth or the recklessness of the sentiment within the writing. Said writing is little more than a bunch of intercourse euphemisms, and there’s nothing here that differentiates this encounter from a garden-variety hookup (there’s passion, but no substance, and I wish there a bit more explanation behind the feelings involved). For her part, Cam does a decent job infusing the some with emotion, but I still wouldn’t call this track terribly sensual or romantic—you can hear the passion in her delivery, but she isn’t quite able to transmit that feeling to the audience. All in all, this is probably the closest that country music has come to a sex jam in a while, but they’ve still got a long way to go.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two—maybe you’ll get more out of it than I did.

Song Review: Dylan Scott, “Nobody”

“Nobody” is an accurate description of how many people were waiting for Dylan Scott to come back.

Scott’s 15 minutes of fame came and went with 2016’s “My Girl,” and after “Hooked” took over a year just to reach #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart (which is still tied for the longest chart climb, although Jimmie Allen is now threatening that mark), “Nothing To Do Town” wasted forty-plus weeks just to earn a laughable #32 peak. There’s always another trend for artists like Scott to hop on to, however, and with Boyfriend country having a brief moment (although I’m getting the feeling said moment may have already passed), Scott and Curb Records decided the time was right to drop the reheated love song “Nobody” as the second single from his Nothing To Do Town EP. The song is a generic, repetitive snoozefest that doesn’t justify the existence of either the song on the radio or Scott in Nashville.

You can probably already guess what this song sounds like: A deep-throated piano (serious song alert!) opens the track and drives the melody, Grady Smith’s favorite clap track anchors the production (the real drums are here, but don’t get as much screen time), and outside of some spacious electric guitars and keyboards floating around in the background of the chorus, that’s pretty much all you get. There’s a positive vibe to the mix despite the darker piano tones, but there’s no feeling or energy behind it, keeping it sound from feeling terribly romantic or passionate. The arrangement’s slower tempo and simple construction causes the song to bog down under its own weight, and it fails to capture or hold the listener’s attention. In short, this is a mix that just seems to exist, and its limited impact on the song ends up limiting the song’s impact on the listener.

Much like the sound, Scott comes across as nothing more than a placeholder on the track, winding up behind the mic simply there were no better options available. He’s still got some decent depth in the lower range of his voice, but he never seems to escape that depth even though the song doesn’t restrict him in any way. He gives me the impression that he’s intentionally holding himself back for some reason, but the approach hinders his delivery because the lack of any sort of passion and power makes Scott feel emotionally uninvested in the song (and if he doesn’t really care, why should we?). It’s a lifeless performance that pushes the audience to tune out rather than tune in, and even Scott clears the hurdle of making us think he truly cares about the other person, he fails to make us care about his caring. It’s the sort of song that would sound the same with anyone from Nashville’s faceless male artist assembly line in the booth, and honestly, at least someone else might have brought a bit more personality and passion to the table.

The lyrics here, which are nothing more than yet another age-old cookie-cutter love-you-forever story, get really repetitive really quickly, thanks mostly to the chorus:

Girl nobody, nobody, nobody gonna love you like I do
Yeah nobody, nobody, nobody gonna love you like I do
I’mma love you till the good lord comes back for me and you
Yeah nobody, nobody, nobody gonna love you like I do

Sheer poetry, eh? I’d be surprised if it took longer than five minutes to write this drivel.

The scenes here are…well, there really aren’t many scenes at all, and we do see is all stock footage, from the leering crowds at the bar to the narrator’s ability to concoct a favorite beverage or trigger any emotion. (On top of this, the song overstays its welcome badly: It drops off naturally at the end of the bridge, but then launches into an extra chorus rendition that “Nobody” asked for.) Every inch of ground here has been plowed a hundred times before, and the song’s only saving graces are a) the lack of objectification of the other person, and b) its ability to make people stop caring before the second verse finishes.

“Nobody” is just another song by just another singer that threatens to clog up the airwaves when there is so much better stuff to listen to right now. The production is generic, Dylan Scott’s vocals are uninspired, and the writing is formulaic and lazy. It’s only redeeming factor is how much wordplay fun you can have with the title: “Nobody” was chomping at the bit waiting for this song to drop, “Nobody” will give two you-know-whats when they hear it, and “Nobody” will miss it when it’s gone.

Rating: 5/10. Listen to Sylvia’s “Nobody” instead:

Song Review: Dylan Scott, “Nothing To Do Town”

“Nothing to Do Town”? More like “Nothing To Hear Song.”

So far, nobody seems terribly enthused to have Dylan Scott hanging around country music. His first two singles “My Girl” and “Hooked” eventually reached #1 and #2 on Billboard’s airplay chart respectively, but each one took over a year to do so, and sales dropped off considerably for “Hooked” once the new-artist shine had worn off. In response, Scott and his team had closed the book on his self-titled debut album and opted for a shot of leadoff-single buzz, releasing “Nothing To Do Town” as Scott’s next single. However, there’s nothing new about this song: It’s the same old small-town party song you’ve heard a million timed before, featuring the same old urbanized sound, the same old 90s-era name drops, and writing that stands out only in how annoyingly repetitive it is. It’s a forgettable combination that fails to justify either Scott’s or the song’s existence in the genre.

The mix is…well, it’s a standard Metro-Bro arrangement that’s been done to death in the genre lately: Slick, clean electric guitars (with some hard-rock chords for the chorus), some sharp acoustic strumming for the verses, a single steel guitar riff repeated a few times for street cred, and a synthetic hand-clap track that transitions to a skittery beat for the choruses even as real drums are introduced, all set to a “Cruise”-like cadence that marches along diligently from start from finish. The vibe, like all party songs, is lighthearted and celebratory, backing the narrator’s assertion that despite not having all the attractions of the big city, they still have their fair share of fun out in the sticks. However, there’s nothing in the mix that really distinguishes the song from its many peers, and thus it comes across as generic and unmemorable, and feel like little more than background noise on the radio.

Similar to Kane Brown, Scott’s calling card is his deeper voice, which he can use to give his performance a distinct flavor and stand out from the faceless mass of young male country singers. However (and also similar to Kane Brown), “Nothing To Do Town” traps Scott in his mid-to-upper range and makes him sound about as indistinct as possible, taking away the one thing that might make people say “Hey, that’s a Dylan Scott song.” Unlike Brown, Scott does not have the natural charisma to fill this gap, and while his flow is passable enough for the faster portions of this track, there’s a noticeable lack of excitement in his delivery that keeps his audience from sharing in his joy surrounding small-town party life. Give this song to one of Scott’s fellow country artists, and the darn thing would sound the exact same, and that’s a really bad sign form someone who’s still trying to lock down a place in country music.

And then we get to the writing, which is about lazy and generic as a song like this can get. The narrator proclaims that despite not having the clubs and bars of a larger city, he and his fellow small-town folk can still get together and drink, blast the radio, and run all night just like the city folk. I’d like to say that this is just another rural party song that says absolutely nothing clever or original (and it is), but it’s so much worse than that:

  • The writing is incredibly repetitive, especially on the chorus:

    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    Who says there’s nothin’ to do
    In this nothing to do town

    Good grief, and I thought “Closer To You” was monotonous…also, if I may channel my inner Chandler Bing: Could the hook be any weaker?

    There’s also a line claiming that “We ain’t got a lot, but we sure do a lot with the little bit that we got,” which sounds like a lame attempt at Clint Black-like wordplay minus Black’s wit and cleverness.

  • Despite their attempt at salesmanship, the narrator comes across like they have a massive inferiority complex to those gall darn city slickers. Noting the lack of rooftop bars in town in one thing, but to only be able to claim that “yeah, you might not hate” partying in the backcountry? Seriously, you can’t even say that people might like it with a straight face? (Then again, if you’re just sitting around a fire drinking and blasting Tim McGraw, perhaps you’re better off not overselling the experience.
  • Speaking of McGraw, you can probably guess the 90s-era stars the narrator name-drops while talking up their small-town throwdown (McGraw, George Strait, and Brooks & Dunn), which is both predictable and a little depressing. Do people not realize that Strait’s music is just not made for blasting? (Because nothing gets your blood pumping like “Today My World Slipped Away” at full volume.)

Add it all up, and there’s absolutely no reason to listen to “Nothing To Do Town.” It’s a bland, milquetoast ode to backwoods parties with unremarkable production, unimpressive vocals, and ear-grating lyrics. This sort of song has been done before (a lot) in country music, and it’s usually done a lot better than this. A few more releases like this, and Dylan Scott may discover that he has nothing to do in Nashville either.

Rating: 4/10. Next!

Song Review: Dylan Scott, “Hooked”

Oh joy, another generic, mediocre male singer making dated love-as-a-drug references to convey the depth of his passion. Just what the genre needed!

Dylan Scott is a Louisiana native who had been releasing singles to absolutely zero acclaim for several years before finally catching lightning in a bottle with “My Girl,” a half-fast, half-slow, all-boring ballad that took over a year to reach the top of the charts. Now, Scott is try to follow up his success with “Hooked,” and while the song is a bit more sure of what it wants to be, it’s the sonic equivalent of empty calories, a fast-paced tune that provides energy and nothing else.

The production here is the song’s main selling point, mixing the bombast of Bro-Country with the toe-tapping feel of an old-school country stomper. The mix is primarily beat-driven, with a prominent bass drum shouldering the load on the verses and the full kit jumping in on the chorus. The chorus also features hand claps and a rolling banjo, both of which sound much more natural and authentic than on most Bro-Country tracks. Beyond that, the mix is surprisingly minimal, with only some guitars floating around in the background (the electric guitar only comes to the forefront on the bridge solo). Some crowd noise is pumped in artificially to add some noise, but I found that this detracted from the mix and just made the song harder to hear. Overall, though, the tempo and intensity of the track generate a ton of energy, and the vibe is a decent mix of seriousness and positivity. There’s potential here in the sound, but sadly there’s nothing else here that measures up to it.

Vocally, Scott reminds me a lot of Kane Brown, as both men have an impressive lower range that they can show off at will. However, while “My Girl” gave Scott a few chances to show off his deep baritone, “Hooked” traps him in his much-less-impressive upper range, which makes him sound like just another guy. (The verses allow him to get kinda-sorta low, but not enough for his voice to resonate like it does on “My Girl.”) Scott’s flow sounds fine, and he certainly sounds like he’s having a blast singing the song, but there’s something missing here that would really make the song stand out and memorable, and thus the performance just flows in one ear and out the other without leaving an impression.

That “something missing” is likely the songwriting, which is about as bland and generic as it could possibly be. Not only is the song based on a typical Bro-Country trope (meet a girl at a bar, reduce her to her physical characteristics, immediately take her home and sleep with her), but it leans on a love-as-a-drug metaphor (he “hooked” and “buzzing” on her) that’s been done to death in the genre (Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful Drug,” Chris Lane’s “Fix,” Thomas Rhett’s “Craving You,” etc.). The song does its level best to paint the narrator’s intentions as noble, dedicating the entire second verse to the fact that he isn’t going to leave the girl even though he totally could, but there’s still a layer of sleaze here that the lyrics can’t mask. It’s a story I’ve heard a hundred times before, and it’s not one I’m itching to hear again.

Overall, “Hooked” is a track that is all style and no substance, with its in-your-face production trying really hard to convince you not to look behind the curtain and notice its unmemorable vocals and uninspired writing. It just ends up feeling kind of “meh,” and there are better love songs on the radio right now (“For Her,” “Unforgettable,” “A Girl Like You”) that are more worthy of your time.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t bother with this one.