Song Review: Old Dominion, “One Man Band”

Old Dominion is quickly becoming the band version of Thomas Rhett, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Bro-Country era gave us a bunch of one-trick meatheads that rode alcohol, cut-off jeans, and electronic beats to success, but those that survived did so by demonstrating a mature progression in their material, eschewing hookups and one-night stands for something more genuine and long-lasting. Rhett is probably the most extreme example of this (heck, now the man can’t stop singing about how awesome hiw wife and his family are), but Old Dominion has quietly been moving in the same direction, with its singles generally ranging from lighthearted love-forever material (“No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” “Make It Sweet”) to asking potential partners serious questions about their future (“Written In The Sand”). Their latest song, “One Man Band,” is closer to the former set, as the narrator uses a musical analogy to describe how meeting his significant other changed his life. It’s cute, fluffy, and not all that original, but it’s well-formulated and mostly harmless.

The production here uses a pretty sparse arrangement for five-person group, but it does a decent job setting the mood for the track. I especially like how the mix opens with a single, soft, overly-slick electric guitar carrying the melody, driving home the point the narrator is alone up on stage and lacks the accompaniment to create the moving, spacious arrangement they desire. Of course, in classic Old Dominion fashion, when more instrument do get the chance to jump in, all we get are various forms of percussion, ranging from maracas to clap tracks. (There’s a keyboard in the background as well, but it’s limited to atmospheric chords and ends up being barely noticeable as a result. However, I like that the song eventually brings in bass and tambourine to tie into the called-out lack of such things in the first verse.) It’s very much in line with past OD mixes and probably could use another instrument or two to give things a bit more warmth and texture, but the brightly-toned guitar does a decent job going solo on the atmosphere construction, and the chord structure strikes a nice balance between how empty life without someone there (minor chords) and how great life would be with another person there (major chords). In short, this mix isn’t going to clean up at the award shows, but it decent enough to avoid getting in the way and bogging down the track.

It’s the same story for lead singer Matthew Ramsey: He isn’t the strongest singer from a technical angle (the song forces him a bit too deep into his lower range at times, reducing his voice to a hoarse whisper) and isn’t the most distinctive frontman in the world (give this track to someone like Thomas Rhett or Brett Young, and it probably sounds the exact same), but there’s a real optimism to his delivery when he’s in his wheelhouse, and he’s got enough charisma to balance his desire for companionship with an almost-repentant view of his life up to this point, convincing the listener that this dude is in this for the long haul instead of a short-term thrill. Nobody’s heart is melting over this confession, but given how easily songs like this could go sideways and feel disingenuous (and even a little slimy), Ramsey at least keeps things in the middle of the road here (though the band’s backup vocals don’t add a whole lot), and makes sure we know that unlike on “Break Up With Him,” his heart is in the right place here.

Honestly, I think the writing is actually the strongest part of this song. Sure, on some level it’s the narrator trying to convince a potential romantic partner to ride with him (in “a run-down van,” no less), but I’m impressed by how far the writers are able to stretch the musical metaphor of a “one-man band” without it ever feeling forced or thinned out, and the hook is tightly coupled with the story for a change. Some of these are standard fare for such comparisons (harmony vocals, “singing in the same key as me”), but it also adds a little twist by borrowing from classic rock-star tropes (the “trash hotel rooms” line is my personal favorite…wait, is this actually a prequel for “Hotel Key”?). Instead of forcing a sexual metaphor down our throats like Easton Corbin’s “Baby Be My Love Song,” the focus here is on the journey rather the bedroom: “Run down your wild dreams,” “chase every high with you,” and the “nobody’s left here but we’re still playing” part represents growing old together rather than sharing a one-night stand. It’s a well-constructed song that helps elevate might feel like a run-of-the-mill effort from Old Dominion and their producer.

For what it is (a sappy song about true love), “One Man Band” is a solid effort from Old Dominion, and while I’d like to see the group try to take a step forward with stronger subject matter and more-interesting arrangements, I’ll settle for them not backsliding back into Metro-Bro territory for the moment. It’s a better song than “Make It Sweet,” and signals two things: The band isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the genre might actually be better because of this.

Rating: 6/10. Give this a spin and see what you think.