Song Review: Kane Brown & Katelyn Brown, “Thank God”

How do you out-Thomas Rhett Thomas Rhett? Instead of talking about your wife, let her do her own talking.

Kane Brown’s path through country music has been a fascinating one, from his Metro-Bro beginnings to his recent dalliances with more-traditional sounds. All of this appeared to culminate in his recent #1 “Like I Love Country Music,” a hat-tip to 90s country that defied the radio’s slow escalator by rocketing to the summit and spending a mere sixteen weeks on Billboard’s airplay chart. There’s almost no way to follow up a song like this, but the show must go on eventually, and Brown is now back with the third official single from Different Man, “Thank God.” While it’s got a slight odor of Boyfriend country, this track is a bit more along the lines of Chris Stapleton’s “Joy Of My Life” and Eric Church’s “Doing Life With Me,” a fact hammered home by having Brown’s wife Katelyn step in as his duet partner. I wouldn’t call it a great song, but it’s a solid effort that helps lift the genre rather than weigh it down.

Let’s start with the production, which somehow creates a soft and tender atmosphere for the song despite breaking some of the cardinal rules I’m always blathering about. Primary melody duties are passed between an acoustic and electric guitar (the former handles the verses, the latter takes the choruses), while percussion duties are covered mostly by a drum machine (it sounds like Grady Smith’s favorite snap track is back…). Outside of some synth notes and a steel guitar that’s marinated in audio effects, this is all you get, and when you factor in the lack of brightness in the instrument tones, this sounds more like a recipe for disaster than a love song. So how does the producer make it work? Part of it is that the overall volume level is relatively low, letting the song support the vocals without stepping on them. Part of it is the measured, relaxed tempo that make the song less passion-driven and ephemeral, and makes the characters feel more connected and invested in the relationship. Part of it is the overall softness of the instrument tones (especially the drum machine, which is washed-out enough to sand the edges off of what’s usually a cold, hard beat), which helps the song feel a bit warmer and more heartfelt. Whatever the reason, I have to give some reason to whoever was in the production booth: It’s not a standout sound that will stick in my brain long, but it’s a suitable sound that does its job and keeps the focus where it should be.

Honestly, my first question after hearing this was “Who the heck is Katelyn Brown, and why haven’t we heard from her before?” Apparently she’s a singer in her own right who’s been more focused on the business side of the industry lately, but she’s a credible presence and a decent vocalist behind the mic ( I hear bits and pieces of Gabby Barrett and Kelsea Ballerini in her voice), and she’s got quite of bit of vocal chemistry with her husband (which probably shouldn’t be a surprise). For his part, Brown has trended away from the deeper vocal range that got him noticed early on, but he’s still got good tone higher in his range, and his floe is as effortless as ever. He doesn’t stand out quite as much as he did initially, but he pulls off the Rhett-esque metamorphosis perfectly here, moving past his Metro-Bro roots and into the role of a dedicated partner by bringing some notable depth and charisma to the table (of course, having his wife on this track doesn’t hurt either). This is an artist that’s shown some serious growth and maturation over the years, and honestly both artists do a nice job here. So when are we getting that Katelyn Brown solo album?

The writing isn’t terrible here, but I’d still call it the weakest part of the song. This is a fairly standard song of devotion (there’s no interesting backstory as in “Doing Life With Me”), and while there are hints of a longstanding relationship here (particularly in the opening lines), I think it’s the Browns that give the song a feeling of commitment more than anything else. The reliance on spiritual language (angels, Bibles, forgiveness, and of course the “Thank God” hook, which isn’t really that strong) is also nothing new or attention-grabbing, but it does get some points for its unwavering consistency. The main selling point of the lyrics is that by leaning into the sentimentality and religiosity, it leaves a lot of hooks for a charismatic performer to elevate the song to make it feel more meaningful, which works when you’ve got a pair of capable performers behind the mic as we do here. (It also allows for the other person to deliver their own side of the story, even if it doesn’t seem like it intentionally written that way.) It’s a story that’s not terribly interesting by itself, but it allows the pieces around it to make it feel a bit more special.

“Thank God” is a decent song that’s part of a decent mini trend that offers hope that we can finally move past the Boyfriend country hookup era, and I’d call it another decent step along the career path of Kane Brown (and a huge step for Katelyn Brown—could this lead to a solo release?). There haven’t been a ton of bright spots in country music recently, but I think Brown has become one (especially when compared to other A and B-listers). He runs the risk of falling into the same trap that Rhett did by overdoing this sort of song (and admittedly this song falls far short of greatness), but I’ll take this track for now, and look forward to better things to come.

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a listen to see how it strikes you.

Song Review: Kane Brown (ft. Brooks & Dunn?), “Like I Love Country Music”

This is the dumbest little silly song I’ve heard in quite some time…but I’ve said that before. It didn’t turn out bad then, and it’s not so bad now either.

One of the more-fascinating stories I’ve charted over our time here at Kyle’s Korner is the evolution of Kane Brown as a country artist. He began his career as part of the genre-fusing Metro-Bro crew in the mid 2010s, then quickly morphed with the meta to become one of the more-conventional (and boring) acts in the genre, and now he seems to be trying to call back to the 90s and pivot to a more-traditional sound. I wouldn’t call his path a steady march towards improvement thus far, but I will call his latest single “Like I Love Country Music,” the third standalone single he’s released since Mixtape, Vol. 1 (it’s four if you count his duet with Chris Young “Famous Friends,” but I’d prefer to forget that tire fire), the closest thing this genre has gotten to a neotraditional tribute since the Hot Country Knights were in town. Much like Russell Dickerson’s “Every Little Thing,” this is a silly-sweet love song that doesn’t have a whole lot to say about love, so it leans into the country music portion of the title to make the song a rollicking good time for all.

I’ve been railing against the bland standard that is Nashville’s current guitar-and-drum template for a while now, so the production here manages to feel old-school and fresh at the same time. Much like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, everyone is here: The fiddle (which has been getting a lot more screen time in Brown’s releases lately), the steel guitar, the twinkling piano, the electric guitars with that distinct mid-90s tone, the drum set, the extended instrumental outro, Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn, etc. The more-modern elements are here as well, and are blended with the neotraditional elements with mixed results: The drum machine that helps open the track and covers the first few verses is unobtrusive and fits in well, but the hard-edge rock guitars are wayyyyyyy too loud in the mix and drown everything else out when they’re cranked up on the chorus. Still, I’d say this arrangement hits more often than it misses, bringing an intensity and an energy that amplifies the narrator’s feelings towards their two true loves, while also creating a fun vibe that makes the whole thing down go easy. Outside of the Knights, the only example of a sound like this in recent memory is Thanos’s “When It Rains It Pours,” which helps this track stand out from its peers and draw in listeners. It’s a mix that’s both retro and radio-friendly, and with summer on the way, I expect it to be a potent combination of the airwaves.

As far as Brown’s vocal talent, if this song can’t convince you that’s he’s a above-average artist, then I don’t know what will. This is not an easy song to pull off, as it requires a) the flow to quickly blast through the verses while still putting some feeling behind the words, and b) the range to go deep on the verses and then climb the ladder on the choruses without losing your vocal tone. Brown passes both tests with flying colors, showing off both the deeper voice that drew listeners to him in the first place and a smooth flow that lets him breeze through the verses without braking a sweat. He’s been a bit inconsistent on love songs up to this point (“Good As You” was kinda-sorta okay, “Worship You” not so much), so I think leaning into the fun here rather than the romance was the right call, and there’s a real enthusiasm to Brown’s delivery here that leads you to believe he’s as big a fan as he claims. (Brooks and Dunn are limited to one line apiece, but they still sound good, and it’s nice to see the song go beyond the usual name-drops to actually include some of the people they talk about.) Overall, this is a solid performance that helps extend the song’s good vibes, and hopefully it will push people past Brown’s previously polarizing performances and convince them to give him the respect he deserves.

The writing is…well, let’s say it’s not a terribly deep song. The narrator uses their love of country music to demonstrate how deep their love is for their partner, and leans on a few old-school references to drive home their point. In truth, the writing feels like a placeholder, giving the singer and sound an excuse to go wild with their retro tribute. The whole song has two quick verses and a bridge (it’s leans on its outro to really feel complete) and is built around only five real music references, which are more silly and nonsensical than anything else (“high like Willie,” “gone like Jones,” the fact that the narrator needs their partner and a record player on a desert island, etc.). It’s not as packed as Walker Hayes’s “90s Country,” but thankfully it’s nowhere near as sleazy either, as it emphasizes the song’s less-serious nature and indicates that the bond here is just as much emotional as it is physical—above all, the two are together because it’s fun! Unlike “Every Little Thing,” this track wants you to at least care about the lyrics a tiny bit, but just to set the mood so it can then sweep you away in a nostalgic wave. No one’s going to win a Nobel Prize for literature with this song, but if you end the song feeling better than when it started, that’s close enough to perfect for now.

“Like I Love Country Music” is just a sugar high, but at least it’s a quality sugar high, featuring a throwback sound, a fun vibe, and a charismatic performance from Kane Brown to help remind folks like me why we love country music in the first place. Despite its ephemeral nature, it does a lot of things right: It brings back the instrumental variety and tone of the 90s to distinguish itself on the radio, it tells a love story without feeling too sappy or creepy, and it lets people enjoy themselves without falling prey to nihilism or alcoholism. It also gives Brown an intriguing path moving forward that might help him reclaim the buzz of his early releases, and really shines in a year that’s felt pretty weak overall thus far. It’s not my favorite song of the year, but at this point I’ll happily take it.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out—I think you’ll be glad you did.

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: Chris Young & Kane Brown, “Famous Friends”

There’s a reason we’ve never heard of these “Famous Friends” before: Judging from the song, they’re not worth knowing.

Chris Young may well be the Barbara Mandrell of our time, because while everyone is jumping onto the same-sounding Blandemic trend right now, Young was boring before boring was cool (seriously, I’ve been running this Korner for four years now, and he’s earned a 5/10 every flipping time he’s popped up on my radar). I didn’t expect him to break that streak when I saw that he and Kane Brown (another artist whose star has waned recentlyhe’s topping the charts, but he’s not driving the country conversation the way Thanos is) had joined forces for the presumed third single off of Young’s presumed eighth album (it’s been nearly two years since “Raised On Country” came out; that album’s got to be coming out someday…right?). Spoiler alert: He actually did manage to break his streak…except he did so in the worst possible way: I hate everything about this track, making it the perfect closer to this tire fire of a year. (Editor’s Note: There are still some songs that need to be reviewed before the year-end lists come out, but this may be the last song to get a full review.)

To say this is the same stupid guitar-and-drum mix everyone else is using is giving it too much credit: The song opens by smashing you in the face with several barely-distinguishable electric guitars (the only one you can really pick out is a slicker, higher-pitched one borrowed from Jake Owen) and a run-of-the-mill drum set, creating a toneless, relentless wall of noise that the mix just beats you over the head with for the entire song. (There are some keyboards buried deep in the background, but they contribute nothing to the overall feel of the arrangement.) The volume level, darker guitar tones, and frequent minor chords give the song an ominous and even slightly aggressive feel, causing it to clash badly with your subject matter—the song comes across less like a celebration of their “famous” friends and more of an opportunity to shove them in the listener’s face for no apparent reason. While Jason Aldean would be proud of the result, everybody else is repulsed by the unnecessary attitude and seriousness of the sound (this isn’t fun, it’s just annoying). This is about the worst possible mix that you could use to back a song like this, and the audience is heading for the exits before the second verse is complete.

We all might like to name-drop important people we “know” to feel special by association, but nobody likes to listen to other people do it, and unfortunately that’s pretty much all Young and Brown do here. There aren’t any technical issues here (both artists are capable singers who breeze through the song’s minimal range, flow, and power demands), but no one sounds like there’s actually having fun here. Instead, the vibe I get from the singers is smug self-importance, flaunting their connections to “important” people to make themselves appear above the city folk they’re addressing. There’s a defiant, holier-than-thou edge to both artists’ vocals, and it puts listeners on the defensive instead of bringing them into the narrator’s camp: Instead of the reaction being “Oh wow, it’s super cool that you know these people!” it becomes “F*ck you, I know some important people too, unlike the two-bit hacks you hang out with!” It reminds me a lot of Robert Counts’s “What Do I Know,” as there’s a strong undercurrent of “us vs. them” exclusivity in the deliveries of both men. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that there’s no reason this should be a duet: Having two singers here brings adds absolutely nothing to the trackit’s just an excuse for Young to try and use Brown’s star power to jump-start his stagnant career.) Instead of elevating the track, Young and Brown actively drag it down with their vocals, making the narrators unlikable and the song unlistenable.

My biggest problem with the lyrics is that completely fail at their main task: Framing the narrator’s not-actually famous connections as people we should respect and care about. Instead, the song reduces them to a laundry list, and we get throwaway lines about preachers and teachers and some brief mentions of people who frankly aren’t worth celebratingwhy should we care that someone is ” the life of every party” or holds a local football record? (The attempted bragging about the narrator’s police officer connection really irritates me, as it smacks of undeserved privilege, and it’s more than a little twisted that the line is given to Brown, a biracial man who knows all too well how police officers would view him and that they wouldn’t just let him go.) You could potentially make these characters into interesting figures, but the writing leaves them as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts and relies on the listener to fill in the details. (Think you can’t flesh out characters like this in the span of one song? Randy Travis begs to differ: He took “a farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher” and turned in into one of the best songs of the 2000s.) Throw in the fact that these are the sort of generic roles and professions that everyone name-drops on a track like this, and the writing winds up feeling more lazy than anything else (and no, randomly tossing in the county you grew up in does not make the song feel personal). As I mentioned before, there’s a reason these “famous friends” aren’t actually famous, and the writers completely fail to convince us that they should be.

“Famous Friends” is a complete failure on every level: The production is dark and edgy instead of warm and celebratory, the lyrics are bare-bones and run-of-the-mill instead of descriptive and unique, and Chris Young and Kane Brown make the narrators less instead of more likeable. Much like with “What Do I Know,” there was a possible way forward with a track like this, but everyone involved did the exact opposite of what they should have, and we’re left with this monotonous, aggravating drivel that has no place on country radio, pop radio, ham radio, or any sort of radio. Brown still has enough clout and popularity to survive this misstep, but is this is what Young is going to drop on us after several years of putting us to sleep, then it’s time to let Brett fill our Young quota in Nashville, and put Chris on a shelf (next to the elf) for a while to make him think about what’s he’s done.

Rating: 3/10. Get that garbage outta here!

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Worship You”

I’m gonna need some wine to go with all this cheese.

Has the window for country superstardom already closed for Kane Brown? Where once he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt as one of the most polarizing figures in the genre, he now seems to be at risk of sliding into irrelevance, with his most-recent single “Cool Again” getting shut out of the Mediabase top spot by Lee Brice and having to settle for a #3 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart. Now, Brown is back with an official follow-up single from Mixtape, Vol. 1 (“Worldwide Beautiful” didn’t receive a full push to radio) called “Worship You,” and good grief, if Boyfriend country hasn’t jumped the shark already, it has now. This thing is the most cheesy, over-the-top, sticky-sweet love song I’ve heard in a long time, going so far out on a limb with its declarations of love that they’re more laughable than believable.

For someone who used to make traditionalists’ blood boil with their genre-fusing mixes, Brown’s production has become much more safe and predictable over time. The song leans on an acoustic guitar to carry the melody and a restrained, inoffensive drum machine keeping time behind it. Outside of the slick electric guitar solo, this is pretty much all you get here: Despite experimenting with classic country instrumentation on tracks like “Homesick,” the steel guitar and fiddle are barely used here (with the former pushed so far into the background that it’s barely noticeable), and the real drums that jump in are completely overshadowed by their synthetic counterparts. The instrument tones seem very neutral here, and while the resulting atmosphere is serious, it’s not especially romantic and doesn’t do a great job conveying the depth of the narrator’s feelings. It’s an arrangement that just kind of exists, and it fails to offer adequate support to the lyrics and vocals.

Of course, part of the reason that the production struggles in its role is that the lyrics completely fail in theirs. We’ve seen other Boyfriend country tracks fall all over themselves professing their unending affection for their partners, and we’ve seen other tracks rely on religious imagery to express their romantic conviction, but this track cranks the cheesy dial up to eleven and lays it on extra-thick: They compare the other person to an entire religion, saying that they “might have to worship you” if that were the case. I mean, I get that love can be a spiritual experience, but putting them on par with a god? Yeah, that’s going a little overboard (and frankly, it strikes me as a pretty dumb comparison). What’s worse, however, is that the argument behind the comparison is based purely on physical attraction, with lines like “Your body, baby, it’s divine,” and “Sleeping next to you is heaven.” It makes the relationship feel incredibly shallow, and makes the narrator sound like they’re speaking from their penis rather than their heart. Combine this with the fact that there’s only really half a song here (we only get one-and-a-half verses) and that most of the chorus is wasted on meaningless statements about what the narrator would do if their partner actually was a religion, and we’re left with a mess of a song that doesn’t convince anyone that this is really about love.

Thanks to the track’s lyrical deficiencies, Brown is left with a gargantuan task: Can he make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what and turn this into a heartfelt love ballad while keeping it from careening into the gutter? He only half-succeeds here: He’s mostly able to keep the track from sinking into the mud, but he doesn’t make the audience feel the love. Technically, it’s a solid effort: The range and flow demands are minimal, and Brown breezes effortlessly through the track. On the charisma front, he offers enough emotion and charm to both feel kinda-sorta believable in the narrator’s role and keep the track’s darker insinuations from bubbling to the surface (at least during a cursory listen). Unfortunately, he isn’t to sell the narrator’s outrageous claims of love, and he doesn’t let the audience share in his good feelings, leaving us to feel like bystanders as he gushes over his partner. It’s just not an interesting or engaging performance, and given the sheer number of these tracks that have been dumped on us over the last few years, it’s not enough to make the track stand out.

In the end, “Worship You” is just not a good song: The awful writing drags it down like it an anchor, and the ambivalent production and a merely decent performance from Kane Brown just aren’t enough to bring this mess back above water. This is subpar even by mediocre Boyfriend country standards, with declarations so outlandish that no one could really take them seriously. I get the sense that Brown is looking for a moonshot here to re-energize his suddenly-stagnant career, but I don’t see that happening with this single. He’s officially just another country singer now, and unless he can find some better material, he’ll be stuck in that position for the foreseeable future.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Worldwide Beautiful”

It’s about time this genre stepped up to the plate.

Country music’s first reaction to the turmoil of 2020 was to double down on mindless partying reminiscent of the Bro-Country movement a decade ago (hence the ‘Cobronavirus’ term I keep throwing around), but a few artists are starting to reflect the seriousness of our times in their material. Luke Combs and Dolly Parton tried to offer reassurance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Mickey Guyton asked us all to consider the perspective of people of color in America, and now Kane Brown is doing a little bit of both on “Worldwide Beautiful,” a surprise single release who proceeds are being donated to the Boys and Girls Club of America. While it can be a bit awkward and repetitive at points, the message here is still a thoughtful one that emphasizes our common humanity, and it’s capped off by perhaps Brown’s best performance to date.

The production here is pretty standard for Brown’s work, but it succeeds in setting a suitable tone for the song. It opens with the typical slick electric guitar and prominent drum machine for the first verse, sticking with this sparse arrangement to emphasize the lyrics. Starting with the first chorus, some more-conventional guitars and real drums jump in to add some punch and volume to the mix and help it build momentum as it goes (although it makes the mix sound a lot more generic as well). The final piece is the backing choir, which slowly gets more lines during the choruses and are the primary “instrument” featured on the bridge solo (the guitar drops a mediocre solo as well, but all the attention is on the choir), giving the song a spiritual feel and helping it close on a high note. The regular minor chords and dim-but-not-dark instrument tones impress the seriousness of the matter on the listener, and the increasing volume and spacious feel of the sound are what convey the hope and optimistic the producer was shooting for. Overall, it’s a well-constructed arrangement that does its job well.

I usually criticize artists who try to pull a Sam Hunt and half-sing, half-speak their way through a song, but I think having Brown recite the opening half of the first verse was brilliant, as it made the message feel more direct and personal (and it let him use his distinctive lower vocal range, while the rest of the song traps him in his upper register). His technical skills remains sharp (good range, solid flow, enough power to get the job done), but it’s charisma that this song really demands (after all, you’re asking people to reconsider potentially-longheld beliefs), and that’s exactly where Brown shines on this track. His opening statements come from the heart, and despite the vague, generic platitudes that characterize the rest of the track, the listener can feel Brown’s passion and emotion behind it, and it moves them to line up behind his message of equality. Unlike his disappointing performance on “Cool Again,” Brown brings his A-game to the table here, and the song is much stronger for it.

The lyrics here are really the tale of two songs: The first verse, and basically everything after it. A wise man once told me to “put the punch line first,” and that’s exactly what happens here, as the former is easily the stronger of the two pieces. Despite the awkwardness of using death as a way to show our common bond, the message still gets through: We’re all human, we’re all equal, and we’re all beautiful (hence the “worldwide beautiful” hook). The verse is simple yet powerful, and it begs the question “If we’re all equal, why doesn’t the justice system see it that way?” Beyond this verse, however, the song weakens considerably: There are vague calls to come together, the hook isn’t really that strong, and the “one love, one God, one family” and “Thank God” chants get really repetitive really quickly. (The reliance on religion as a uniting force seems like a questionable choice as well, given how much blood has been spilled across history over the debate about exactly who that “one God” is, or whether they exist at all.) Thankfully, the recognition of the inherent beauty within all of us gives the song a more reassuring and optimistic tone, which helps tie the two pieces of the song together. On the whole, however, I’d like to have seen this song go through a few more drafts to make the latter portion as strong as the opener.

“Worldwide Beautiful” isn’t the defining song of this era (that would be “Black Like Me”), but it’s a great addition to country music canon, and is a far better than “Cool Again.” While the writing it inconsistent, its gets its point across, and Kane Brown and the producer do their part through expressive vocals and a well-constructed arrangement. This song contributes far more to the genre than the plethora of Cobronavirus tracks that preceded it, and with any luck it will be songs like this that stand the test of time when the history books look back on 2020.

Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Cool Again”

Sorry Kane Brown, but just like our post-coronavirus society, nothing’s going to be “Cool Again” without some serious effort from all parties.

It wasn’t that long ago that Brown was a provocative, genre-blending superstar-in-the-making, enthralling his audiences and infuriating his critics. In the last few years, however, he seems to have faded into the background, becoming just another country artist trying to get their name onto the genre A-list (a list that currently only has Thanos‘s name written on it ten times). Now, looking to reclaim some of his lost hype, Brown and RCA have closed the book on the Experiment era (which never felt that experimental in the end) and introduced “Cool Again” as the presumed leadoff single for his eventual third album. Unfortunately, while the song is a return to the synthetic Metropolitan style that Brown rode into Nashville on in the first place, it’s no more interesting than his last offering, featuring a nasty sound/subject mismatch and a narrator who isn’t terribly keen on self-reflection.

If there’s one thing I got wrong when thinking about what COVID-19 would do to country music (at least so far), it’s my prediction that artists would return to more serious topics in their music. Instead we’re getting upbeat romps like “One Margarita” and “No I In Beer,” and while “Cool Again” isn’t a party song, you’d never know from the production, which has the same bright, beachy vibe and the above singles. It’s also a return to Brown’s previous slick, synthetic Metropolitan style: The melody is primarily driven by slick, sharp electric guitars and a drum machine, with only an effected dobro and some hand-played drums giving the song any real texture. The bright tones, faster tempo, and summery flair of the mix make this feel happy and upbeat, which is the absolute opposite of what the writing is trying to say. (There are a fair amount of minor chords here and the verses feel a slight bit dark, but they seem to be minimized by the volume and energy of the chorus and  don’t add a ton of seriousness to the atmosphere.) All in all, this sound makes the song feel like it’s trying to be both happy and sad, and it winds up being neither.

I feel like I’m one of the few people who actually thinks Brown is a charismatic singer, but I’m not terribly impressed by his performance here. The song does him no favors by keeping him in his decent-but-nondescript upper range, giving him no chance to show off the deeper vocals that caught peoples’ ears in the first place. He’s still got decent range, but I’m not really feeling his performance as a narrator who’s hoping to hit rewind on a relationship that went wrong. His delivery strikes me as more stoic than serious, and it lacks the heartfelt commitment that we saw from Old Dominion’s “Some People Do” (the lyrics admittedly deserve some blame for this as well). The listener doesn’t get the sense that the narrator is ready to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work this time aroundthe vibe is more “hey, let’s hook up again so I can have fun again!” (Also, whoever decided to cast the Transformers as backup singers here needs to be locked out of the control room for a few months.) Brown has the skills to pull off a song like this, but he chose not to use them here, and the track suffers as a result.

As bad as I found the lyrics to Parker McCollum’s “Pretty Heart” to be, they did one major thing that the lyrics here do not: They at least considered (in the shallowest way possible) their own culpability in the breakup that occurred. There’s no such reflection in “Cool Again”: The narrator is in full-blown nostalgia mode, reminiscing about all the fun things they did with their partner (which apparently was just drinking and having sex) and wishing they could just go back to doing them all again. I mean, I’m sure you enjoyed all that, but there’s probably a reason the relationship ended, and it’s probably because the other person wanted more from their partnership. Just hitting rewind on a failed relationship isn’t going to work; you need to go beyond saying “Where the hell did we go wrong?” and actually figure out where the hell you went wrong, or at least pledge to change whatever needs to be changed when you figure it out. Beyond this, there really isn’t a whole lot to the song: There are many questions, no answers, and even fewer scenes to collect evidence towards these answers (and the hook gets really repetitive really fast). “Pretty Heart” may have needed a lot more drafts, but this song would have benefited from another round of editing itself.

“Cool Again” is actually an apt metaphor for Kane Brown’s career at this point: His initial buzz is gone, and he’s going back to basics in an attempt to reclaim it. However, it’s going to take more than lukewarm radio filler like this to pull it off: The writing needs more detail and depth, Brown needs more charm and charisma in his delivery, and the producer needs to realize exactly what kind of song they’re making a mix for. Without better execution in the studio, Brown’s once-red-hot career could wind up ice cold before long.

Rating: 4/10. Not cool at all.

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Homesick”

Is it just me, or has Kane Brown gone from controversial to conventional in the span of three singles?

After all the buzz surrounding Brown’s rapid rise and radio success, he appears to have been somewhat forgotten in 2019. Sure, “Good As You” eventually became his fourth Billboard airplay #1, but its five-month-long trek to the top was fairly unremarkable, and it lost the hype battle by a wide margin to songs like “Beautiful Crazy” and “Whiskey Glasses.” Now, after a brief foray into pop collaborations with artists like DJ Khalid and Marshmello, Brown has returned to the country charts with “Homesick,” the third single from his Experiment album. While it’s not a bad song by any measure, it’s also surprisingly by-the-book and indistinguishable, and blends in a bit too well with all the lightweight love songs that are floating around the genre right now. If Brown wants to return to the forefront of the country music conversation, it’s going to take a lot more than this track to do it.

The production here is a classic example of how a producer can ruin the mood by over-inserting themselves into the process. There’s actually a surprisingly classic foundation here: An acoustic guitar carrying the melody with dobro support, a light hand-played percussion line, and even a classic fiddle-and-steel combination, with the former even getting some solid solo time. This arrangement gives the mix a rich, warm feel, and while the instrument tones aren’t terribly bright, they do a nice job reflecting the sadness and longing of the narrator as they spend time away from their partner. All of this is great…so why why why did the producer have to drop a snap track in the middle of this thing? It feels completely out of place and sticks out like a sore thumb, detracting from the atmosphere the other instruments worked so hard to create. (The rapid tambourines don’t help matters either.) It’s like sticking a red clown nose on the Mona Lisa: The picture is still beautiful, but you can’t help but focus on the unnecessary blemish. Sometimes a producer needs to know when to get the heck out of the way, and this lack of awareness really hurt the sound here.

It’s too bad the production stumbles so badly, because I think is the best Kane Brown has ever sounded. The biggest difference this time around is that his delivery seems more relaxed this time around, instead of the louder, more-direct style from “Lose It” and “Good As You.” He also avoids pushing the boundaries of his range in either direction, which make him sound a bit more comfortable and makes his flow even smoother than usual. Finally, he uses his distinctive tone to greater effect here, as opposed to his more-generic performance on “Good As You.” The changes suit Brown’s style well, and while he already had enough charisma to sell the narrator’s role, they make him sound even more earnest and believable, and combine with (most of) the production to effectively share his feelings with the audience. It’s a a strong performance that the rest of the track fails to live up to.

The writing here feels uninspired and unimpressive, and doesn’t provide Brown any help is making the audience care about his plight. The narrator is a traveler who longs to be home with the one that they love, which would be a decent-enough sentiment is the execution were a bit sharper. The “homesick” hook is one of the lamer ones I’ve heard this year (it’s got all the cleverness of a “did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” pickup line), and both the memories and language are about as cookie-cutter as it gets. Even the personalized second verse doesn’t feel fresh, as country singers have been trying to reconcile their home life and touring life since the beginning of time. I feel like I’ve heard this song a hundred times before, and as good as Brown’s delivery is here, there’s only so much life he can breathe into a bland ballad like this.

“Homesick” might be Kane Brown’s best single to date, but I’ve got enough issues with it to hold off of truly labeling it a good song. The paint-by-numbers writing and poor production decisions really take the wind out of what could have been a solid effort, wasting Brown’s vocals and the unexpectedly good arrangement. I still think Brown is trending in the right direction, but this song’s got a lot of company in the genre right now, and it’s not going to be enough to put him back on the pedestal with Combs and company.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth hearing, but it won’t stick with you for long.

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Good As You”

Country traditionalists better make their peace with Kane Brown in the genre, because it looks like he’ll be here for a while.

Brown’s unorthodox rise to fame and his use of sounds and instruments not commonly associated with country music have earned him a sizable number of detractors within the genre, including some fairly prominent names. Try as I might, however, I just can’t bring myself to hate Brown’s output the way some of my contemporaries do. Instead, I see an artist cribbing from the playbook of other successful artists (especially Thomas Rhett) and who seems to be showing genuine improvement over time, even on a song like his previous single “Lose It.” His latest offering, the second from his Experiment album, is “Good As You,” and despite the album’s title, this is probably the least experimental song I’ve heard Brown perform. Instead, it’s a saccharine “wish I was as awesome as you” song, and while it’s certainly more generic than groundbreaking, the sound and vocals are strong enough to give the song some emotional weight and effectively share their good feelings with the rest of us.

The production is most impressive for what it isn’t than what it is: Brown’s songs have been heavily reliant on synthetic elements in the past (drum machines in particular), but this one seems to be completely driven by real instruments, with a slick electric guitar carrying the melody, an organ providing some background atmosphere, and a simple drum line from a standard drum set giving the song a solid foundation. While it’s far from perfect (the token banjo returns, and I’m not crazy about the decision to include a wood block and tambourine in the drum line), the resulting mix is a restrained one that supports Brown with a relaxed, positive vibe and a decent groove without getting in the way of his message. Instead of distinguishing itself instrumentally, the mix surprises the listener with its overall tone: Despite all the pieces being in place for a ‘sexy’ sound, there’s really no sexual energy at all here, which suits the high-minded romantic feel of the writing perfectly. Similarly, the mix’s bright feel overwhelms whatever negative energy the frequent minor chords generate, giving the track a unexpectedly-classy sound. It’s a lot more than I expected from a Kane Brown single, and I hope he builds on this sort of sound in the future.

I’m not completely sure how to feel about Brown’s vocal performance here. On one hand, the same range questions I ran into on “Lose It” are still present: The song traps Brown almost exclusively in his upper range, despite the fact that it’s his deeper vocals that really make him stand out from the rest of the genre. On the other hand, however, this is the most earnest and charismatic I’ve ever heard Brown sound, and his brings so much charm to the table that you never even think to question his intentions like you might many others in the genre (I’m looking at you, Michael Ray). Against all odds, Brown comes across as the perfect gentlemen here and sounds genuinely awed by the kindness of his significant other, and when the narrator proclaims that they want to better themselves to be as great as their partner, you’re totally convinced that they will! What’s lost in distinctiveness is regained in sheer likability, and on the whole, I’m extremely impressed with Brown’s delivery, even if he sounds a bit too much like Granger Smith in the process.

The writing is…well, think of it as a less-interesting version of Jimmie Allen’s “Best Shot”: The narrator is in a relationship with a saint of a partner, and they want to better themselves to make sure the relationship never ends. While Allen focuses on his flaws, however, the narrator here sticks to the conventional script of lauding the other person, and outside of the “taking care of your mama” line, there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard a hundred times before. Moreover, while never leaving “‘I love you”‘ left unsaid” is a good place to start, it’s kind of a lousy place to finish when that’s about the only resolution you make (the narrator leaves the door open for the other person to “tell me everything you need,” as if self-improvement were as easy as buying groceries). Additionally, there’s an annoying flaw in the hook that should have been caught in the studio: It falls one syllable short of the beat, which could ave been fixed with one simple word: “I just wanna be AS good as you.” It’s a song that way too reliant on the singer to make it memorable, and while Brown’s performance is up to the task, I wish the writing were a bit stronger to do more of its own heavy lifting.

While I can’t speak for his albums, singles like “Good As You” indicate that Kane Brown is showing some growth as an artist and moving in the right direction. His material may still leaves a lot to be desired, but this time it’s cheesy instead of irritating, and he and his producer make chicken salad out of bland, canned, processed chicken to make something that feels heartfelt and meaningful. Country music may be stuck with Brown for the foreseeable future, but if he continues his current trajectory, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

Rating: 6/10. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s worth a spin or two.

Song Review: Kane Brown, “Lose It”

Hold up…did Kane Brown just do Jason Aldean better than Aldean does?

Brown might be one of country music’s most polarizing artists, but with his last two singles (“What Ifs,” “Heaven”) topping Billboard’s country airplay charts, even his detractors have to acknowledge his position as an established artist in the genre. I’ve never had a terribly strong opinion either way on Brown, but I have noticed that his releases have drifted towards a more ‘conventional’ sound over time, and that trend continues with “Lose It,” the leadoff single for his eventual second album. It’s a hard-driving country-rock blend that gives off more of a classic Aldean vibe than a Metro-Bro one, and even tosses in a bit of raw sensual energy (much like Aaron Watson’s “Run Wild Horses”) for good measure.

The production opens in a similar fashion to Aldean’s “She’s Country,” with a prominent bass drum, kinda-token banjo, and even some drawn-out notes on a fiddle (!). The big difference, however, is the dark, serious tone of the instruments, giving the song a sense of danger and foreboding that “She’s Country” actively avoids (despite the fact that Aldean’s song features minor chords more prominently than Brown’s). The mix gets a bit more conventional as it goes along (adding some in-your-face electric guitars and a drum machine on the choruses and bridge solo), but that foreboding tone never goes away, coming together with the lyrics to generate the same sort of restrained-but-raw passion that Watson brought to bear in “Run Wild Horses.” The main difference between Watson’s tune and “Lose It” is where the song draws it energy from: Watson himself delivered much of the passion for his song, whereas it’s the production (especially the electric guitars) that provide much of the power on this track. Nevertheless, it’s a nice mix with a head-bobbing groove, and it’s not something I’d object to hearing on the radio.

I’m admittedly a little torn on Brown’s vocal performance on this track. Most of his songs up to this point have used plumbed the depths of Brown’s deep voice and used it as a selling point for the track, and while he never sounded quite as comfortable at that range as singers like Josh Turner, it was certainly something that made Brown’s singles more unique and less generic. “Lose It,” however, keeps Brown mostly in his voice’s upper range, and while he sounds much more comfortable in this area, his voice loses a bit of its distinctive tone and causes him to sound like just another generic male country singer (actually, he reminds me a lot of Granger Smith, except Brown is more believable and charismatic). Otherwise, there isn’t a lot to say here: Brown’s flow is fine, he does a nice job filling the narrator’s shoes, and he comes across as passionate without feeling sleazy or creepy. I’m just not sure he and his team has found the optimal balance of tone and comfort with his voice just yet.

The writing here is very similar to Jordan Davis’s “Take It From Me”: Guy is smitten with girl, guy asks girl about an impromptu makeout session. However, while I detested Davis’s track, I didn’t mind the lyrics here all that much. What’s the difference?

  • Unlike the impromptu meeting between Davis and the object of his affection, the story here places the narrator and their partner in a car heading off towards a party. Setting aside the tired “evening driving” trope, the scene at least indicates that the characters knew each other beforehand and had some prior relationship (perhaps even a romantic one).
  • The “lose it” isn’t the strongest hook in the world, but it’s tolerable, and it helps provide some of the details that set the scene (which Davis’s song lacked): The “little ringing buzzing good-for-nothin’ phone,” the bobby pins in the woman’s hair (didn’t see that coming), etc.
  • While Davis spends the chorus hammering home a message of “let’s go have sex already!”, Brown instead focuses on how the woman affects his mind (i.e., makes him “lose it”). It may not seem like a major difference, but given how often the last few lines of the chorus are repeated, it has an outsized affect on how the song is received.

We should also acknowledge the role of the song’s other pieces: Unlike Davis’s bland production and unconvincing vocals, the sound here has some real bite to it, and Brown demonstrates enough vocal chops to keep the track out of the gutter.

“Lose It” is an interesting example of the fine line between a good song and a bad one. Take a run-of-the-mill Bro hookup song, tweak a few details to move the focus away from the sex slightly, back it with intriguing production with some energy, and hand it to a singer who has enough skill to elevate the song, and suddenly you’ve got a song that’s tolerable, and perhaps even enjoyable. I still don’t have a terribly strong opinion on Brown, but I’m okay with him sticking around a while longer.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a listen and see what you think.