And here I thought Labor Day was supposed to celebrate work by not working…
I mentioned back in July that “everyone and their cousin’s ex’s pet is trying to peddle their wares to radio,” and two months later very little has changed, especially as radio ramps up for their summer-to-fall transition. With a bunch of A-listers making their second-half moves, it doesn’t feel like a great time to be pushing a new single with an artist with a low Q score, but Nashville keeps shoveling out soundalike songs just the same, and my review list keeps growing as a result. In order to keep up with the more important stuff, it’s time for another rapid-fire round of reviews for songs that just aren’t worth the usual deep dive. Without further ado, that’s more than enough waffling—let’s dive right into things.
Parker McCollum, “Handle On You”
As much as I don’t like Parker McCollum, I’ll give him and his team a little credit on this one: The production does a decent job capturing that retro 90s/2000s feel, and there are a couple decent lines included in the writing (“I tell myself that I should quit but I don’t listen to drunks” is the highlight). Still, at the end of the day this is just another cry-in-your-beer track in a genre’s that’s already oversaturated with them, and it just doesn’t go far enough to rise above its competition. The mix has a guitar-and-drum foundation and doesn’t go beyond the usual steel guitar riffs and brief keyboard appearances to make it stand out, and the instrument tones are a bit too bright and have a bit too much energy for the writing (the narrator’s supposed to be in pain, but it sure doesn’t sure like it). McCollum cleans up his act and doesn’t come across as poorly as he did on “To Be Loved By You,” but I still wouldn’t call him a charismatic artist and his performance doesn’t make the song any more compelling to listen to. The story barely qualifies as one, as the narrator is just trying to drink themselves into a stupor after a failed relationship, and both the hook and the Merle Haggard references feel more than a little forced (especially the hook; I see what they were trying to do, but using “handle” as a alcohol measurement seems too esoteric for most listeners to pick up on). It’s a “meh” song, but it’s one of the better “meh” songs, and after Michael Ray followed up a similar song “Whiskey And Rain” with “Holy Water,” I wouldn’t mind seeing McCollum follow a similar path.
Rating: 5/10. Pass.
Kenny Chesney & Old Dominion, “Beer With My Friends”
Oh joy, another booze-soaked party song that sounds the exact same as the last hundred of these things we’ve heard. I am really tired of junk like this, so if you’re going to drop one on me, you’d better change up your formula to keep me interested. Unfortunately, they followed the usual recipe to a T here: A guitar-and drum mix headlined by some rough-edged electric axes driving the sound forward, the standard “work hard, drink hard” story that we’ve all heard a million times before, and a pair of acts (on a song that has no right being a duet) that not only show no sign of the stress and anxiety they claim they’re facing, but also seem to cancel each other out (when Old Dominion jumps in on the chorus, Chesney’s voice practically disappears). An angle like this on a song like this can work (think Justin Moore’s “Kinda Don’t Care”), but you’ve got to do something to catch the audience’s ear and make them connect with you song. Moore did it with a throwback sound and by injecting some actual world-weariness into his performance, but Chesney & company turn in a soundalike, cookie-cutter (and out-of-season) party anthem that doesn’t justify its existence next to the hundreds of such songs we’ve gotten lately. You’ve heard this before, and there’s no reason to hear it again.
Rating: 5/10. Don’t bother with this one.
Corey Kent, “Wild As Her”
Okay, now I think Nashville is just trolling me. After hearing two lost-love songs featuring no trace of heartbreak, we get to the debut single of Kent (an Oklahoma native and former Voice contestant)…and it’s a dark, foreboding track full of minor chords and brooding hard-rock guitars. It’s a mix that might finally suit a lost-love song (even if it’s a little over-the-top)…except that the song is supposed to be celebrating an informal partnership between the narrator and a woman who’s “looking for somebody as wild as her.” Huh? The ominous tone might make sense if there was some actual danger in the relationship, but the pair isn’t doing anything risky (they’re just cruising down the road together like every other couple in a country song), and the narrator projects so much confidence that the not-actually-a-relationship will last that you don’t get the sense it will fail. As for Kent, he’s an off-brand Morgan Wallen vocally, and he delivers this song with an Aldean-esque intensity that feels way overdone and sucks all of the drama out of the story. I think the story has some real potential (characters that can’t be tied down are nothing new, but coming to a arrangement that only kinda-sorta ties them down is different), but I kind of wish it had dived into the other person’s motivations: What is it about commitment that concerns them? Have they been in bad relationships in the past? Instead, the writing barely scratches the surface, focusing on the less-interesting present and finding ways to work in some meta buzzwords to satisfy someone’s streaming algorithm. It’s just not something I’m interested in revisiting, and can be chalked up as another failed attempt by Music City to break in a new artist.
Rating: 5/10. Honestly, Tyler Joe Miller did it (slightly) better.
Matt Stell, “Man Made”
This song sits in the same awkward position as Cody Johnson’s “Human” for me: It seems like a song I should like, and yet I’m really not impressed by it. I think the issue starts with the writing: The narrator is trying to honor women by declaring that they are the real reason men ever accomplished anything (“If a man made anything, it’s ’cause a woman made that man”). It’s a topic that’s been done before, but the lyrics this time around don’t do a great job delivering the message: The opening verse is just a laundry list that got weaker every time I listened to it (many of these were invented at a time when anyone who wasn’t a white male never got a chance to make anything), and the line about man inventing the wheel to “drive a girl around and get stuck in some field” came across as both dumb and sleazy. The song just felt surprisingly reductionist to me, as if it were implying that women were only good for inspiration/moral support while pushing aside the real contributions they had made (for example, do we put “footprints on the moon” without the Black women who got John Glenn into orbit seven years earlier?) Stell remains a nondescript artist to me, and he didn’t have the charm or charisma to push me to focus on the positive side of his message. I’ll give the producer some credit for creating a lighter, reflective mix that invited listeners to ruminate on the writing (even if this is yet another guitar-and-drum mix whose only accenting instrument is the pedal steel). This one didn’t leave a huge impression on me in the end, and I doubt I’ll remember that it exists in another month or so.
Rating: 5/10. *yawn*
Ryan Griffin, “Salt, Lime, & Tequila”
Another nihilistic drinking song? Gag me with a spoon. Griffin is a Florida native who’s already on his second record label and is currently working for Jay DeMarcus, and the closest comparison I can think of for his voice is Hunter Hayes, but this performance is utterly replacable (stick any other creation from Nashville’s young male assembly line behind the mic, and nothing changes). The producer deserves a little credit for giving the song a tropical vibe with the bright acoustic guitar, but the drum machine can feel a little awkward at times, and outside of a steel guitar floating around in the background, that’s basically all you get here. However, it’s the atrociously generic writing that really gets my goat: There is nothing to this song beyond “life sucks, so just drink yourself silly.” We’ve gotten this song a hundred thousand times over the last few years (sometimes multiple times from the same artist—I’m looking at you, Thomas Rhett), and there’s nothing even even remotely interesting or novel that would make you pick this song over any of its competitors, and the “grain of salt, lime, and tequila” hook is nowhere near as clever as the writers thought it was. I put this L more on Music City than Griffin: Could Nashville put the freaking bottle down for a moment and not use getting drunk as a solution to everything? Is the only way to get a new artist some airplay these days making them blend into the background? It seems counterproductive and silly to me, because making an artist’s first impression this unimpressionable only seems like a good way to not earn them a second chance.
Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.