Song Review: Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”

Apparently Jordan Davis hasn’t been watching the news—this is the time to be selling dirt, not buying it.

2020 was a bit of an off year for Davis (although in fairness, it was an off year for a lot of people): His single selection has improved since his atrocious debut “Singles You Up,” but his recent self-titled EP didn’t go over so well, with its leadoff single “Almost Maybes” spending over a year on Billboard’s airplay chart just to peak at #5. Davis and MCA decided to pull the plug immediately, dropping a new EP Buy Dirt almost exactly a year after Jordan Davis and releasing the title track as his next single. Unfortunately, while Davis and collaborator Luke Bryan have their hearts in the right place, the song winds up feeling uninspired and cliché, and doesn’t provide any insight that the listener didn’t already have.

The producer takes a minimalist approach to the production here, but while the tone seems appropriate, the sound is a bit too lightweight to help drive the message home. The song is primarily driven by some acoustics, with a light-touch drum set waiting until the second chorus to jump in and an electric axe relegated to bridge solo duty (along with a few notes after the first chorus). I’ve got nothing against a less-is-more approach, and this mix does put the focus on the lyrics and lets the message shine through, but the bright and breezy vibe of the sound detracts from the supposed seriousness and importance of the message. By not building to a crescendo, the song doesn’t generate any momentum and fails to impress its message onto the audience—instead, it comes across as throwaway advice offered because the speaker couldn’t think of anything more useful to say. Adding another instrument or two to add some weight to the mix would have gone a long way towards increasing the song’s impact, because as it is it just kind of goes in one ear and out the other without leaving any trace of its passing.

If there’s a trend I’m already getting tired of, it’s unnecessary that add artists that add nothing to the song beyond marketing muscle. Not only does Bryan’s vocals add nothing to the song, he makes the same mistake that Davis and the producer do, which is to take the song so lightly that he fails to convince the listener that they should be taking the offered advice. For Davis’s part, he’s done an admirable job putting some distance between himself and the insufferable narrator from “Singles You Up” and “Take It From Me,” and he at least doesn’t seem out of place in the narrator’s role, but he just doesn’t feel very invested in the story and is just passively passing along some hearsay. While the lyrics don’t have much to say anyway (more on that later), with a bit more passion or power behind their delivery, either artist could have made people stop and think “This is important; I should pay attention.” Instead, we get what amounts to glorified background noise, and the audience never realizes how useless the advice is because they tuned the song out before the drums kicked on the second chorus.

I’ll be honest: I really don’t like the writing for this track, in which an old man imparts their secret to happiness to the narrator. For one thing, no one in history has ever used the phrase “buy dirt” in this way (it’s usually “ground” or “land,” while “dirt” is the stuff you buy in 40-pound bags for your garden), and referring to it in this way feels like it’s trying to minimize its importance (after all, it’s just dirt) rather than maximizing it. For another thing, the song boils down to “buy a house and start a family,” which is the sort of generic advice that everyone in history would give you if you asked, which means there’s no reason to bothering listening to the song in the first place. For a third thing, this supposed path to happiness isn’t an option for everyone: Millennial home-ownership rates continue to lag behind previous generations, and the rough economic climate of the last decade or so has put the dream of having kids and their own house far out of reach for many people, which makes the song come across as the out-of-touch ramblings of an old man (you just want to roll your eyes and say “okay, boomer”). In other words, this song has nothing of value to add to the conversation, so what’s the point of tuning in?

“Buy Dirt” is a forgettable, uninteresting tack that fails to justify its own existence. Everything about it, from its barely-there production to its platitude-filled writing to the uninspired vocals provided by Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan, can be summed up in one word: Weaksauce. It may be better than “Singles You Up,” but it’s also a step back from even “Almost Maybes,” and it winds up feeling like a meaningless waste of three minutes that could have been better spent on a better song (for example, “Some Of It”). If Davis is really looking to become a Nashville fixture, I’ve got some advice for him: Find some stronger material with a stronger message and put some real passion behind it, because otherwise your career will wind up as forgettable as this song.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

Song Review: Jordan Davis, “Almost Maybes”

Is it a step forward? No, but it’s not a step backwards either, and I suppose that’s something.

To say Jordan Davis made a bad first impression in country music is an understatement:His debut single “Singles You Up” would up as the worst single of 2017, and his follow-up “Take It From Me” finished as the fourth-worst song of 2018. 2019’s “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot,” however, was a much better showing, offering a brief glimpse of hope that Davis could eventually become a competent country artists. Now, Davis is back with a new self-titled EP and new radio songle “Almost Maybes,” and it…well, it’s more of a lateral move than anything else, continuing to hint at Davis’s potential but not really turning in into production. It’s a decent-but-flawed look at how past relationships are stepping stones to present ones, and it’s at least a step up from the careless Cobronavirus party tracks we’ve been force-fed over the last few months.

Davis’s style has always run closer to the Metropolitan movement than Bro-Country, and that trend continues here: The track opens with a slick electric guitar and a full string section, and is eventually backed by the most diverse percussion set I’ve heard in a while, including everything from hand-played bongos to drum machines to thew usual drum set. (A keyboard and dobro can be heard in the background as well, but neither adds a ton to the mix.) The tone of the arrangement walks a fine line here: There’s a lot of past negativity to parse through, so the instruments don’t sound exceptionally bright, but there’s a fair amount of energy here and the overall vibe is generally optimistic to reflect the payoff for the narrator and their current partner at the end of the tunnel. This sound won’t set the world on fire by any means, but I appreciate the producer’s willingness to take a few risks on some non-standard instruments and walk a fine line through a complex, two-sided subject.

I’m also happy to report that Davis’s improvements as a vocalist seem to be more than temporary changes. Despite the sleazy persona he cultivated with his first few singles (or perhaps because of it), he’s actually believable in the role of an unlucky-in-love sap who’s finally stumbled into a good thing and has learned a) what they want, and b) how not to lose it when they find it. It’s a passable performance technically (the range and flow demands are minimal, although Davis still lacks the vocal identity that would distinguish himself from his peers), but being able to credibly deliver these lines and convince the audience that he’s really learned his lessons is a big step forward in his development. I wouldn’t say I’m convinced that he’ll actually make this particular relationship work, but I’m reasonably confident he’ll make a good faith effort.

I have mixed feelings about the writing here: On one hand, I like the recognition of the various reasons the narrator’s previous relationships ended (he actually admits that he ended some of them by choice!), there are a couple of nice line mixed in (“the weeds that looked like daisies,” “My mama loved her more than me”), and I’ve always had a soft spot for songs like this that recognizes the failures of the past and proclaim that they will learn from them. On the other end, we’re never really given a reason why some of the other parties ended the relationship (things just kind of stopped from the narrator’s perspective, and it’s hard to learn from an experience when you don’t understand why it happened), and the “almost maybes” hook is weak and poorly constructed (it’s as made-up a term as “singles you up”was). I’m also not a huge fan of the bridge: The “sad songs” line doesn’t fit in the story at all, and I really don’t like the “bat shit crazies” label the writers throw in. There’s a decent kernel of a song here, but I feel like it could have used a bit more polish.

While I would rank “Almost Maybes” behind “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot,” it wouldn’t be by much, and the song is still a huge improvement over the drivel Jordan Davis was dumping on us in the beginning. The production is solid, the vocals are believable, and the strengths of the writing help balance out its weaknesses. I doubt I’ll truly remember this song in a few months, but I’m also reasonably certain I won’t be cursing its name the way I am with Brad Paisley’s “No I In Beer,” and it gives me hope that Davis might eventually find his footing in country music and contribute to the genre rather than detract from it.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see for yourself.

Song Review: Jordan Davis, “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot”

Okay, now Jordan Davis is getting somewhere.

To say Davis hasn’t made a good impression on yours truly would be an understatement: His debut single “Singles You Up” wound up as my worst country song of 2017, and his follow up “Take It From Me” showed only enough improvement to be my fourth-worst country song of 2018. Unfortunately, the radio accepted Davis with open arms (even if “Take It From Me” spent forty-plus weeks on the charts just to scramble for a Mediabase-only #1 before Luke Combs could take over the world), which meant he got a third chance to assault our eardrums with…

With…

…wait a minute, my ears don’t seem to be bleeding. Could it be that Jordan freaking Davis has actually released a decent song?

After repeated pain-free listens, I’m amazed to report that yes, “Slow Dance In A Parking Lot” is a song you can not only listen to without throwing your radio off the nearest third-story balcony, but you might even enjoy hearing it. With some decent writing behind him, Davis is able to channel his inner Thomas Rhett and express his feelings without coming across as a unsympathetic douche for the first time in recorded history.

The production is the weak point here, as it feels a bit too cold and synthetic for the subject matter. The instrumentation is about what you’d expect from Davis at this point, opening with clean electric guitars, drum machines, and some atmospheric synth tones in the background. Eventually, however, some rougher guitars and real drums join in on the chorus, and the sound veers from “slick Metropolitan track” back into “generic modern country” territory. The darker, more-serious vibe of “Take It From Me” is switched out for a bit brighter feel this time around, but the biggest change from Davis’s past releases is the (lack of) tempo: This is a much slower song than his previous work, giving both Davis and the lyrics some room to breathe (and what do you know, the lyrics are actually worth listening to this time!), while also providing just enough energy to keep the song moving forward. Again, while some acoustic texture would have made this mix a lot more palatable, it’s half-decent as is, and when you’re starting from as far behind as Davis was, this is about all you can ask for.

Davis’s vocal performance is the biggest surprise, as stepping back from the frenetic pace and sleazy vibe of his past work has allowed to show off some earnest charisma and actually feel likable for a change. Solid writing or not, I was ready for this “slow dance in a parking lot” to feel like a reheated euphemism for sexual intercourse, but when Davis said he’d like to spin his partner around a Walmart parking lot, I…I actually believed him for once! I wouldn’t say I felt the love for his partner too strongly, but I felt like he felt it, and instead of the sex-craving meathead we’ve come to know and loathe over the past two years, we got a narrator that had real, honest-to-goodness feeling about someone, and was more than happy to take it slow with a waltz across an asphalt dance floor. This was a giant leap in the right direction for Davis as a vocalist, and one that I’d like to see him build on in the future.

Of course, having some decent lyrics behind you can make all the difference in the world, and these lyrics definitely clear that bar. The big thing, of course, is the narrator’s respectful tone towards his partner: Instead of feeling the need to steal someone’s girl and drag them into his bed, this speaker is someone who doesn’t feel rushed and is truly appreciate of the time spent with their special someone, even for “a slow dance in the parking lot.” I’m also surprised at the level of detail provided in the song (I love the rent-a-cop description and the visual of “moving our feet over the painted white lines”), which paints a vivid picture of the entire scene in the listener’s mind. (Yes, there’s a name-check here, but at least it’s Garth Brooks instead of the obvious and overdone George Strait/Alan Jackson choices, and I appreciate the deep dive into Brooks’s discography, as I’d completely forgotten that “She’s Every Woman” even existed!) Toss in the lack of objectification (the only description of the other woman we get mentions her eyes), and you’ve got an unexpected breath of fresh air from the most unlikely source imaginable.

“Slow Dance In A Parking Lot” won’t make my best-of list for 2019, but it’s got a great chance of sneaking into the upper half of that list, and given where Jordan Davis has spent the last two years, that’s saying something. The writing is fairly strong, Davis finally demonstrates some charisma and charm, and the production mostly avoids killing the buzz here. If we’re really stuck with Davis in country music, then I hope he sticks to this Rhett-lite lane, because honestly, he’s not half-bad in the role.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a listen. No, seriously!

Song Review: Jordan Davis, “Take It From Me”

Sorry Jordan Davis, but I’ve taken about as much of you as I can stand.

Davis’s debut single “Singles You Up” may have ended up at No. 1 on the airplay charts, but it also ended up at the very bottom of my 2017 country single rankings, fending off Walker Hayes and a pair of Dustin Lynch releases to claim the inglorious honor. When an artist drops a single that putrid, there’s really nowhere to go but up, but Davis’s follow-up single “Take It From Me” falls short of even the low bar of generic mediocrity. It’s a sex jam with absolutely no sex appeal, no to mention no groove, no wit, and no compelling reason to keep listening.

The production here is a paint-by-numbers Metropolitan effort that stands out only in how much it doesn’t stand out. It’s got the usual acoustic-verse/electric-chorus guitar split, the usual combination of real and synthetic percussion, and above all, the usual dark, serious attitude that seems to plague every freaking song on the radio these days, regardless of how it meshes with the writing. In the case of “Take It From Me,” it doesn’t mesh at all: The opening electric guitar has a bit of a raunchy feel to it, but otherwise there’s nothing sexy about this sound. After Aaron Watson demonstrated just how powerful a “dark-sexy” track could sound, this thing just feels weak and half-baked in comparison. There’s still some energy in the tempo and a few of the guitar riffs, but they’re just empty sonic calories that you’re better off wasting on better songs.

While Davis mercifully ditches the sleazy, unsympathetic narrator from “Singles You Up,” he still doesn’t come across as someone you want to spend time with, much less someone worth getting it on with. It’s tolerable from a technical perspective (his range isn’t really exercised, but his flow is actually decent), but he just isn’t able set the proper mood for the song. Instead, he feels like just another club-hopping dudebro hitting on an uninterested woman, begging them to be his partner for the night without even a hint of charm or chivalry. Davis’s lack of charisma means he’s simply not able to interest the listener in his escapades or convince them to ride shotgun with him. Personally, I had my fill of performers like this during the Bro-Country and Metropolitan eras, and I’m not looking to revisit those times with meaningless songs like this one.

The writing here is essentially an alternate telling of Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt,” where the narrator offers to trade a night of sexual bliss is exchange for…their favorite T-shirt? Davis’s tune falls short of Rhett’s mostly because it lacks both context and detail, and the whole thing feels vague and sleazy as a result.

  • In “T-Shirt,” Rhett gives the listener enough detail to set the scene (right down to the “Christmas lights in the middle of June”) and give them a sense of the current relationship (the impromptu foreplay was a reoccurring theme of an existing relationship, and was at least consensual).
  • “Take It From Me,” in contrast, provides nothing but an inferred club scene and a shot of a woman in a hallway “running your finger down the wall” (because that’s apparently a sexy thing to do). While the lack of relationship context can be framed as “oh,the narrator is just trying to start something by dropping some pick-up lines,” outside of his T-shirt, the speaker offers absolutely no benefits for the potential partnership besides saying “I got what you need.” There’s no mention of love or commitment or even “hey, you’ll really enjoy this!”—it’s basically a horny guy asking for a one-night stand, regardless of how it makes the other party feel.

Frankly, if someone dropped these lines on me, I’d say “Oh no, I’ve got what you need”…and then throw my drink in their face and kick them in the crotch.

At its core, “Take It From Me” is an unsexy, unimaginative throwback to the lowlights of the Bro-Country era, and I want absolutely no part of it. With generic production,one-sided writing, and a poor showing from Jordan Davis, the song is underwhelming at best and revolting at worst, and it has no business being on the radio. If Davis’s label had any sense, they’d hire Aaron Watson to slap Davis in the face and teach him to write a real sex jam.

Rating: 3/10. Weaksauce.

Song Review: Jordan Davis, “Singles You Up”

Move over, Jake Owen—you’ve got company.

Jordan Davis is a Lousiana native who signed with UMG Nashville back in 2016, but just released his debut single “Singles You Up” (which is apparently a phrase he and his co-writers invented) last month…and after over a year of preparation, this is the best song they could find?! I’m not going to mince words here: This song is a sleazy, tone-deaf, Metro-Bro pile of garbage that immediately displaces Dustin Lynch’s “Small Town Boy” as my least favorite single of 2017. It’s tone and theme are eerily similar to Owen’s disgusting “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You,” and the only question left is whether it can surpass Owen as the worst-reviewed song on this blog.

The production here is a standard-and-unabashed Metropolitan mix that features slick-sounding guitars and uses a drum machine for its foundation. It follows the “acoustic verses, electric chorus” pattern seen in a lot of songs these days, but the former is much more pronounced in its role while the latter tends to get pushed into the background (it even gets overshadowed by Davis during its bridge solo). To its credit, the mix establishes a bright, energetic atmosphere that is easy on the ears (even if it doesn’t really match the tone of the lyrics), and it embraces its modern sound by not including even a token banjo, steel guitar, or any other “country” instrument in the mix. Truth be told, the production is probably the high point on the song…but it all goes downhill from here.

Davis himself sounds pretty “meh” to me. There are shades of Sam Hunt in his voice (although his delivery is more traditional than Hunt’s talk-singing approach), and his flow on the faster lyrics is impressive, but otherwise his sound is pretty unexceptional. His biggest flaw is his lack of vocal charisma: Unlike Owen, Davis is just not terribly believable is the narrator’s role here. While that mostly works in Davis’s favor on this track (he doesn’t come across quite as sleazy as Owen did), when he drops a line like “I’m sorry if I’m overstepping boundaries,” you don’t buy his apology at all.

And then we get to the writing, and it’s beyond terrible. At its core, the song is a copy of “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You”: The narrator decides to hit on a girl who already has a boyfriend, saying to look him up if the relationship goes south. Here are my problems with the song.

  • No consideration is ever given to the woman’s feelings and/or decision process. The narrator completely ignores the possibility that she’s “sippin’ white wine instead of whiskey” and being “a little more city” because that’s just what she wants to do,  leaving the narrator looking shallow and self-serving. It reminds me a lot of Lee Brice’s clueless “That Don’t Sound Like You,” where the narrator just attributes any undesired changes to their girlfriend to the evil guy she’s with. Word to the wise, guys: The trend in country music right now is to give women more respect, not less.
  • There’s no indication that the relationship the narrator is targeting is on the rocks. The only evidence offered by the narrator is that the guy isn’t looking at the woman enough and doesn’t sing along to her favorite song. It’s not enough to convince me that the woman needs to be saved from a bad relationship, and it makes the narrator come off like a slimy douchebag trying to break up a seemingly-solid relationship.
  • The opening line “I ain’t heard you laugh like that in a long time” indicates that this is not a spur-of-the-moment outburst, but rather something the singer has been thinking about for a long time. It amps up the creepy factor and makes you wonder “Is this guy just stalking this girl hoping she sees the light and hooks up with him?”
  • It’s a minor nit, but the made-up title/hook is confusing enough to ask Google what the heck it means (which failed, by the way). Encouraging people to dig deeper into this lyrical mess is not going to help matters.

There’s no blatant sexual innuendo here, but the Bro-Country undertones bleed through this song like a Sloppy Joe overflows its bun. Pair all of this with Davis’s inability to elevate the concept to something respectable, and you’ve got a narrator who comes off as creepy, selfish, and unsympathetic (not to mention unoriginal), and that’s a really bad look for a singer, especially on a debut single.

Quite frankly, “Singles You Up” has no business being on country radio in 2017. With its overly-modern production, Bro-Country attitude, and unremarkable vocal performance, the label should have voted this one down and told Jordan Davis “Try again, dude.” I wouldn’t rank it ahead of “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” in terms of outright awfulness, but it deserves a place right next to it in Kyle’s Country Music Hall of Infamy.

Rating: 2/10. Avoid this like the plague.