You know you missed the mark when the listener’s first thought in “…I think HARDY did it better.”
Remember when we were actually excited at the idea of a new Jimmie Allen release? “Best Shot” was a solid debut single and held the promise of better things to come, but instead Allen seems to be regressing with every passing single, culminating in the formulaic snoozefest that was his duet with Brad Paisley “Freedom Was A Highway,” which took over a year to reach the top of the charts. Given that lukewarm reception, Allen and his team wisely closed the book on the Bettie James era and moved on to a new album and some leadoff single buzz, dropping “Down Home” at the presumed teaser for Allen’s third album. Unfortunately, while the song is supposed to be a moving letter to a passed-on father about how life “does home” is going, the execution is botched so badly so it comes across as a generic “I’m so country!” singalong that’s devoid of any real emotion. Allen is capable of doing so much more, but he needs to start delivering on that early promise.
In truth, Allen isn’t the biggest problem with this track. That would be the lazy, cookie-cutter production that’s indistinguishable from your typical Friday-night dirt road drive. The mix is an off-the-shelf guitar-and-drum arrangement with little else added for flavor (the keyboards are left buried in the background, and there’s a synthetic beat used that doesn’t fit terribly well with the real drums). The biggest issue is the mood that’s set: The instrument tones are surprisingly bright and the atmosphere is positive bordering on celebratory, with only a few minor chords hinting at the narrator’s loss and their motivation for telling the story in the first place. Instead of amplifying the loss, the sound ends up minimizing it to the point that you don’t feel any emotion towards the dead father at all. Compared to songs like Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here” and even HARDY’s “Give Heaven Some Hell,” this song pushes the death to the side instead of helping listeners feel the emotion behind the relationship, blunting its impact and making it less distinct and more forgettable as a result. It’s an egregious dereliction of duty from the producer, and whoever was behind the sound board for this should be barred from the studio until they learn to competently complement a track.
Similarly, there’s not enough feeling in Allen’s vocals to convince the audience that he actually misses his father as much as he claims. It’s a passable performance technically, but the brisk pace of the lyrics might be working against him, forcing him to focus of getting the words out quickly enough instead of infusing them with the necessary emotion. His overall tone is so relentlessly positive that it makes him sound disingenuous whenever he rushes through any sort of “I miss you” line, to the point where you question how strong the relationship between father and son actually was. It’s the raw, unvarnished emotion and pain that draws people into a song like this, but the wounds here have seemingly healed to a degree that the loss doesn’t actually add anything to the song, and it gets pushed into the background behind the uninteresting scenes of the present day. I can understand trying to focus on the silver lining when something like this happens, but for my money trying to turn this into a happy song was a mistake. Had Allen leaned in to the melancholy a bit more, it might have actually resonated with the audience rather than becoming the background buzzword drivel that it is.
So let’s talk about that background buzzword drivel, shall we? Ostensibly, the song is a personal note from the narrator to their deceased father, declaring their confidence that their father is in a better place and that everything is fine “down home.” The lyrics absolutely scream “wasted potential to me, and the problem here is two-fold:
- The track emphasizes the present far more than the past, dedicating the chorus real estate to life at home and leaving the father’s story to languish on the verses. We never get to hear the father’s story (heck, all we get to know about them is that they like fishing and Charley Pride), and it keeps us from sharing in the narrator’s feelings towards them.
- Focusing on the present day isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the images we get are mostly the same sort of stuff we get from every song. The indelible images here are of boilerplate domestic scenes like buying homes and raising families (and don’t even get me started on that “in my F-150 on a backroad” line), and even those are throwaway one-liners that are sped through so quickly you barely even notice them. Had the writers taken the time to expand on some of these scenes (the part talking about the narrator’s daughter could have been really touching had we been able to linger on it), the song might have forged the emotional connection with the audience that it was aiming for. Instead, the moment passes by so quickly that you barely even notice it, and if it’s not hammered home by the chorus, it’s forgotten immediately.
There’s a decent song buried in here somewhere: Slow your roll, give the father’s story more screen time, and put more focus on the d’awww-inducing moments to connect with the audience. It still might not have been enough given how bad this production is, but it would have give the song a fighting chance.
“Down Home” aims for the feels, but winds up missing by a mile because it is far too sterile and upbeat to feel personal or meaningful. The production is beyond awful for the subject matter, the writing makes too many unforced errors trying to tell its story, and Jimmie Allen fails to leave his mark on the track and just seems to be along for the ride. I had high hopes for Allen after “Best Shot,” but unfortunately he’s fallen in line with the Nashville meta and is just another unimpressive country artist now. If he can’t do any better than this for his third album, he tenure in Music City could end sooner rather than later.
Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.