Song Review: Parmalee, “Take My Name”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

As much as the Boyfriend country trend annoyed me, the members of Parmalee probably wake up every day thanking their lucky stars that it came around. After several years of embarrassing failures (“Hotdamalama,” anyone?) and complete irrelevance, the group teamed up with Blanco Brown and did their best Dan + Shay impression for “Just The Way,” a forgettable Boyfriend track that nonetheless broke the band out of their slump and put them back at #1 (even if it took nearly ten months for it to happen). With no other options or redeeming characteristics, the band has decided to ride this train to the end of the line, and thus we’re now getting “Take My Name,” a boring by-the-numbers love song that feels consciously and conspicuously crafted to be a part of every wedding playlist in 2022. The track is equals parts cheesy and synthetic, and will be quickly forgotten once the newness wears off.

I feel like analyzing the production here is a complete waste of time, because let’s be honest, you already what instruments are here and what the mix sounds like. The song is primarily piano-driven, and while there are other instruments present (some acoustic and electric guitars for background noise, some steel guitar notes for flavor, and even what sounds like a token banjo buried deep in the arrangement), they don’t add a lot to the sound, and for the most part you won’t realize they’re even there (even the electric guitar solo is so short it feels kind of sad). Still, pianos are the ultimate “serious song” indicator are at least a defensible choice for the song, I can’t say the same about the percussion, which is dominated by a slick, synthetic beat (real drums occasionally pop in, but they sound dull and canned). The beat clashes badly with the song’s subject matter: If you’re trying to create/celebrate a love that is supposedly deep and everlasting, leaning on percussion that sounds this cheap and fake really undercuts your argument (after all, these are the same beats used in all the sleazy pick-up songs we’ve gotten over the last few years). I’m also not a fan of the overall feel of the sound, with the piano sounding too dark and the minor chords being too prevalent to let the song feel happy or romantic. In other words, this whole thing feels like a series of bad decisions, and simply doesn’t establish the right vibe for the writing.

On “Just The Way,” I declared that “Brown is the only big addition to Parmalee’s bland formula,” and with him gone the group reverts back to their usual bland mediocrity. Lead singer Matt Thomas avoids any technical issues on the track, but there’s nothing compelling about him as a vocalist (or distinct either; if you told me that, say, Matt Stell was singing this song, I would believe you). I’m sure the narrator cares a whole bunch about their significant other, but Thomas fails to allow the audience to share in those feelings, and thus he can’t convince them to give two you-know-whats about their love story, and as a result the song simply bores them to tears (seriously, I would have walked away from this song after the first listen if I wasn’t reviewing it). The rest of the band is as invisible and replaceable as ever: There’s nothing distinct about their sound or their harmonies, so why does Stoney Creek bother keeping them on the payroll? This song has been done a million times before (heck, Dan + Shay have done it several times themselves, although whether they did it any better is a matter of debate), and with nothing special to catch your ear from the vocals, you’re not missing anything by missing this one.

The lyrics are…well, they’re really just an extended marriage proposal, and frankly it’s so cheesy that you could serve it with red wine. The narrator is just so smitten with their partner that they’re throwing caution to the wind and asking them to “take my name” (which is pretty weak as far as hooks go). I understand trying to be “effectively vague” to make the song applicable to as many people as possible, but the song doesn’t provide any backstory for the narrator at all: No first meeting, no first kiss, no anything for the listener to visualize and imagine. The whole thing comes across as way more ephemeral than it should—it’s as if the pair just met and the narrator immediately decided it was forever (which is both creepy and par for the course for Boyfriend country). Another issue is that the song is heavily dependent on the performer’s charisma: With the narrator being the only character that’s even partially fleshed out (they’re declared to be “the last guy anybody think might ever be talking like this”), they’re reliant on the singer having a notable footloose-and-fancy-free persona to make the song believable, and Thomas isn’t really notable on any level (although anyone who sings a song like “Hotdamalama” might well be the last person you expect to make this kind of statement). In the end, this is a run-of-the-mill, paint-by-numbers love song that barely qualifies as the framework for a story, and we’ve all got better things to do than listen to a half-written song.

“Take My Name” is the country music equivalent of a no-op: It exists, but it does nothing, says nothing, and ultimately makes you feel nothing. The production is ill-fitting and bland, the writing is vacuous and half-baked, and Parmalee demonstrates all the charm and catchiness of a bag of potatoes. At a time when even Dan + Shay appear to have lost some of their luster (“Steal My Love” is barely crawling up the charts right now), I don’t see this off-brand version of that pair gaining much traction with this track, especially with wedding season so far away. You won’t hate the song if you hear it, but you’ll hate yourself for wasting valuable time listening to it, and by the end you’ll be telling this group to keep their crummy name as you head for the door.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t bother with this one.

Song Review: Parmalee & Blanco Brown, “Just The Way”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Just like last time, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee has released a single song every year since its mainstream debut in 2012, but the last time they popped up at the Korner was in 2017 with “Sunday Morning.” The song barely cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard airplay charts, and since then the group’s yearly single hasn’t popped up on either the charts of my radar (which is probably a good thing, given how critics ripped 2018’s “Hotdamalama” to shreds).  The group caught a break, however, when the genre turned towards their style with the Boyfriend country movement, and they’re back again this year teaming with Blanco Brown to release their latest single “Just The Way.” Sadly, you know “just the way” this is going to turn out: The song is yet another indistinguishable Boyfriend country track both and sound and subject matter, and is not interesting enough to warrant further inspection.

Let’s be honest: You don’t need me to tell how this soundsyou can hear the production in your head right now. The opening piano and drum machine (of course there’s a clap track! Why wouldn’t there be one?), the guitar-and-drum wall of noise that hit you on the chorus, the token steel guitar that gets mostly drowned out on the chorus, the periodic minor chords that make the song feel more serious than celebratory…you know, the same darn mix every track in this lane uses. (Seriously, I hope Nashville got a discount on this arrangement for buying in bulk.) There’s a spacious, arena-ready feel to the sound, but the emotion feels a bit tempered and lukewarm due to the darker instrument tones the mix relies on. Don’t listen too hard for that extra special something that catches the listener’s ear and drawn them in, because it’s not here. It’s yet another soundalike song that passes in one ear and out the other without leaving any trace of its passing.

Brown is the only big addition to Parmalee’s bland formula, and to his credit his vocals are a real revelation: Where “The Git Up” kept him mostly trapped in his lower range, “Just The Way” turns him loose and allow him to showcase some surprising tone in his upper range (even if he sounds progressively more auto-tuned at the song continues). In contrast, Parmalee lead singer Matt Thomas showcases nothing distinct or unique in his delivery (stick any of Nashville’s faceless male artists behind the mic, and the song would sound the exact same), and while he exhibits enough charisma to give you the sense of his devotion to the other person, he doesn’t let the listener share those feelings, and doesn’t bring anything of note to the table to convince the listener to pay attention. The vocal chemistry between Thomas and Brown is also questionable, as their voices don’t blend together very well when they harmonize. (The rest of Parmalee suffers from the same problem as Thomas: Replace them with a bunch of session players, and neither the instruments nor the backing vocals would sound any different.) In short, the vocals feel as manufactured as the sound, and even Brown’s surprising vocal turn can’t mask the aggressive blandness of everyone else involved.

And then the lyrics…seriously, did it really take three people to write this drivel? You already know what’s coming: The narrator likes their partner “just the way God made you,” and then the stock footage reel comes out: The morning bed-head, the dimples, the re-watched movies, the drinking…even the hotel pool break-in is starting to feel passé. There’s absolutely zero wit or cleverness here (the “let my eyes be your mirror” line feels unnecessarily awkward), and the limp “just the way” hook gets real repetitive real fast. The whole thing resembles one of those ransom notes made from cutting letters out of magazines: A bunch of bits and pieces borrowed from a bunch of different sources, thrown together in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this story a million times before, and it’s no more memorable now than it was the first time.

“Just The Way” is a sad example of how Nashville works these days, pumping out rehashed, derivative works that all says the same thing. Everything here, from the production to the lyrics to Parmalee themselves, is bland, generic, and utterly forgettable, and not even letting Blanco Brown cut loose a little on the verses can change this. In 2017, I closed my review by saying “Let’s hope Parmalee can give us something a bit more interesting next year”; today, let’s hope no one bothers to give Parmalee another chance to do so, because they don’t deserve one.

Rating: 5/10. *yawn*

Song Review: Parmalee, “Sunday Morning”

Don’t look now, but it’s time for our yearly dose of Parmalee pop-country. Don’t worry though, you won’t taste a thing.

Parmalee has released a single song every year since its mainstream debut in 2012, and while they achieved some success with their debut album Feels Like Carolina, things haven’t gone quite as well for their second disc 27861. The leadoff single “Roots” sputtered its way to a #35 Billboard airplay peak, and “Sunday Morning” has taken almost three months just to crack the Top 50 on Mediabase. After a few listens, it’s easy to tell why the song has been slow to catch on: It’s a bland, generic song that doesn’t stand out from its peers.

The production sets a serious atmosphere right from the start, opening with a darker-toned piano and a punchy bass drum that does a nice job driving the beat. The choruses mix in some growling electric guitars and a superfluous drum machine, and the sound becomes a bit less unique as a result. Both the piano and the song’s reliance on minor chords help drive home the pressure of the verses, but the mood is a bit too heavy for choruses that try to celebrate the impact of the singer’s significant other. Overall, it’s not bad, but it’s not really impactful either.

Lead singer Matt Thomas doesn’t has the most distinct or unique voice (give this song to someone like Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, and it basically sounds the same), but he does a good job selling the song and making it sound believable. Unlike the production, Thomas is able to properly adjust his tone from the seriousness of the verses to the reverence of the chorus. The song is a moderate test of Thomas’s range and flow, and he passes both with a workmanlike delivery. Finally, the harmonies here are nothing special, which is a little surprising for a group (you expect a bit more than from an individual singer). Overall, Thomas’s vocals and charisma are fine, but they lack that extra something to make the song more compelling.

The writing here is a tale of a narrator overwhelmed by the chaos of the world around him, and how their significant other is the one who rescues him from despair and makes life bearable. There’s nothing here that you haven’t heard a thousand time before: the theme, the imagery, the co-opting of religious terminology, etc. On top of it, the lyrics themselves feel rudimentary rather than clever: “You don’t have to get on my mind/’Cause you’re already on it,” is what passes for wit on this track. It’s bland, it’s boring, and it doesn’t convince the listener to actually care about what’s being said. (It’s also shown up badly by its contemporaries, such as Jerrod Niemann’s “God Made A Woman” and Drake White’s “Makin’ Me Look Good Again.”)

Overall, “Sunday Morning” is about as middle-of-the-road as you get on a country track, and thus only rises to the level of “forgettable radio filler.” Neither the production nor the vocals nor the writing gives you a good reason to pay attention to this song, so you might as well spend your time listening to something better.

Let’s hope Parmalee can give us something a bit more interesting next year.

Rating: 5/10. You won’t notice it even if you hear it.