So how do you do a Boyfriend country song right? Well, moving past the boyfriend stage is a good place to start.
Eric Church has never been a hugely successful artist by traditional measures (in an era where mediocre singles regularly ride the escalator to #1, Church only seems to reach the chart summit every couple of years), but he’s built himself a successful brand and a devoted following over the course…wow, has it been over fifteen years already? His decision to carve out his own path has given him a fair amount of freedom when it comes to single releases, allowing him to look past ephemeral trends and make music with some actual meaning behind it. Of course, he also stands out through better execution as well, which brigs us to his current single “Doing Life With Me,” for fourth song from his Heart & Soul triple album. It’s a standard love song (i.e. not usually a song that registers with me at all), but it’s got some added texture that elevate it above beyond the usual wafer-thin Boyfriend fare and its contemporary “Joy Of My Life” from Chris Stapleton despite plowing essentially the same ground.
Let’s start with the production, which is eerily similar to Stapleton’s song when you listen to the pair back-to-back, featuring the same “prominent acoustic guitar” and same “light-touch snare percussion.” The electric guitar is here, but not nearly as prominent (Stapleton gave it the bridge solo; this one is limited to background work on the final chorus), and producer Jay Joyce adds a bit of extra brightness to the mix courtesy of Charlie Worsham‘s mandolin (side note: this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Worsham in the “liner notes” of a Topic video; is he following Ilya Toshinsky’s lead and turning into a session player?). Worhsma’s work and the faster tempo helps to put a spring in the step of this song, and honestly makes it feel more happy and joyful than Stapleton’s track, despite Stapleton putting “Joy” in the title! The mix gets a little heavier when the piano jumps in near the end, but it never gets in the way of the writing, and the warm, positive atmosphere it creates reflects and amplifies the narrator’s good vibes and helps the audience share in his mood. It’s a rare love song that I actually kinda-sorta enjoy listening to, and it’s why I wish more people move beyond the generic guitar-and-drum formula to find ways to make their mixes both stand out and support their messages.
As far as Church goes…let’s be honest, outside of Dierks Bentley he’s probably the only artist who could deliver a song like this with any credibility. His outsider persona and position as an heir to the outlaw movement makes him exactly the kind of person you might expect to live hard and stare down a judge’s gavel a time or two. The song really doesn’t test him on a technical level (although he jumps up into his falsetto a time or two without breaking a sweat), but it’s all about selling the audience on the story and letting them share in the narrator’s feelings, and Church’s warm, weathered delivery and abundant charisma are more than up to the task. There’s a profound sense of gratitude that radiates through this performance, and when he says he’s moved beyond personal wants and learned to appreciate the important things in life, you nod along without question.) In contrast with the many interchangeable turns behind the mic we’ve gotten this year, this is a song that would suffer considerably with nearly anyone else on the vocals, and Church doesn’t miss his pitch here.
At its core, this is a simple love song for the narrator’s partner, and while we’ve certainly gotten more than our share of these over the last few years, there are a few things I like about this one over the field:
- For one thing, this isn’t your typical love story: The narrator has been around the block a few times, living as a traveling musician (or “a road dog,” as they put it) and going through some serious rough patches (“The fists and the fights and the scars of the battle, the ups and the downs of the judge’s gavel”). Although it’s heavy on metaphors and light on details, its a seriously compelling story to hear, and it makes the devotion of the speaker’s partner sound that much more impressive.
- An outgrowth of this long story is the implication of a longstanding relationship behind it. This is not a fly-by-night Boyfriend artist declaring someone their forever love on first sight; this is a time-tested partnership featuring love with a capital L, the kind of special bond that’s worth devoting a song too.
- Honestly, I like the plainspoken-yet-witty feel of the lyrics, with the narrator able to express their affection (and work in some nice turns of phrase) without getting too flowery in their prose. The writing for “Joy Of My Life” always felt a little too gooey and saccharine to me, which may have contributed to its heavier feel overall. (Stapleton’s tune is also very reliant on generic, predictable imagery; even lines like “spend my living giving thanks for the ships I never sank” feel fresh by comparison.)
Where Stapleton is reliant on the listener to contribute their own experiences to the song, Church has a story of his own to tell, and it’s one that I appreciated hearing.
“Doing Life With Me” may not be groundbreaking or edgy, but it’s a classic tale that’s set up and executed to perfection, and is the rare love song that actually adds something to the airwaves. The production is breezy and tasteful, the writing has something meaningful to share, and Eric Church sells the story wonderfully with his background and his roguish charm. It’s a solid recipe for a solid song, and I wish some other members of the genre would start taking notes: Tell your own story, use the sound to support it, and just try to be honest and forthcoming in the vocal booth. I’ve called out a few Nashville denizens who really need to take a break, but Church sounds like he’s in top form and could keep going for a while, and I’m totally okay with that.
Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen or two to see what you think.