Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet”

2020 may finally be history, but will 2021 be any better? Let’s find out…

Russell Dickerson’s record up to this point has been mixed: Technically he’s 4-for-4 with No. #1 singles since 2017, but they’ve oscillated between forgettable and slightly-above-average, and they’ve all taken forever to climb the charts. (His albums haven’t inspired much confidence either, with his current project Southern Symphony thus far peaking at a cringe-inducing #14.) Still, he seems to have found a niche as an inoffensive Boyfriend country singer that specializes in over-the-top love songs, and that’s pretty much what we get with his latest radio single “Home Sweet.” It’s essentially a clone of Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani’s “Happy Anywhere,” with a couple of irritating decisions that keep me from calling it a truly good song.

The production, like Dickerson’s track record, is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the arrangement features a bit more instrument diversity than your typical guitar-and-drum mix: We’ve got a mandolin-like instrument that opens the song along with Grady Smith’s favorite clap track, a “diet piano” that’s used to brighten the song rather than add weight and seriousness, and a rolling banjo that actually feels like a meaningful piece rather than a token addition. The result is a light, springy sound with some decent energy and momentum as establishes a happy, borderline-euphoric atmosphere that does a decent job supporting the song. The problem, however, is that the producer went way overboard with the echoey effects on this thing, and while this doesn’t cause much trouble on the sparser verses, the whole mess turns into a wall of noise when the guitars and drum set try to pump up the volume on the chorus, so much so that it starts to drown out Dickerson’s vocals as well. All in all, the sound does it job, but it’s like using bubble sort in production code: There has to be  a more efficient solution than this.

If you’ve heard one Dickerson song, you’ve pretty much heard them all: The man seems to do release nothing but love songs that try to stay on the sunny side of life, and he’s got a good handle on how to sell them. The song doesn’t present any real technical challenges (despite the brisk tempo, the lyrics never approach rapid-fire territory), but it does require a narrator to project a classic young-love attitude and and the unbridled optimism that defines it, which is exactly what Dickerson specializes in. With a bit of help from the spacious production (when it’s not overwhelming his voice, that is), Dickerson’s charisma allows the audience to get a sense of the narrator’s  unfiltered joy, which is more than a lot of artists could pull off (including Dickerson himself) in the last twelve months. Dickerson’s performance makes the speaker a more sympathetic and likeable character, and for a song like this, that’s about all you can ask for.

Lyrically, the narrator declares that home is just a mental construct defined by the love between themselves and their partner, and thus could be anywhere as long as they’re together. I have to admit, the “home sweet” hook sounds really stupid to methe second “home” was basically just chopped off to make the phrase fit/rhyme, and thus it always comes across as awkward and incomplete. What I do appreciate, however, are the vivid details provided for each scene, allowing the listener to visualize the honeymoon trip and the newly-purchased home full of cardboard boxes.  Providing vivid yet varied descriptions of “home” while consistently trumpeting the narrator’s newlywed optimism really drives home the song’s message and makes it feel more earnest and believable, despite the terrible hook. It’s a pretty straightforward tune that knows exactly what it need to do, and does it relatively well.

In the end, “Home Sweet” is a pretty okay song, mostly thanks to its upbeat nature and the way the sound, singer, and songwriters work together to project a positive outlook that feels believable (albeit a bit naive). It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s better than some of the bland tracks clogging up the radio right now. I have to admit, however, than I’m slightly concerned for Russell Dickerson’s future in the genre: He’s been a one-trick pony for the last couple of years, and I’d like to see him break out of his comfort zone and cover topics other than just how simple love songs. I’ll take this for now, but I’d like to see a bit more variety from him going forward.

Rating: 6/10. It’s a worth a few spins before the New Year’s optimism wears off.

Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Love You Like I Used To”

If you’re going to pull a head fake, don’t do it halfway like this, because you’re audience won’t follow.

By the numbers, Russell Dickerson has carved out a respectable little holding in Music City, with his first three singles from his debut album Yours reaching #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart. As much as I liked “Every Little Thing,” however, the song spent most of 2019 crawling up the charts, throwing a wet blanket on Dickerson’s momentum and hype as 2020 approached. Sensing that the time had come to turn the page, Dickerson is back now with the presumed leadoff single from his sophomore project, “Love You Like I Used To.” It’s a strange song that tries a reverse Thomas Rhett by deking towards a sad song before pivoting back to generic Boyfriend-country territory, but the fake is handled so poorly that the audience doesn’t really follow along, and is left more confused than anything else when the song finishes.

Let’s start with the production, which is perhaps the main culprit behind the failed reverse. The song opens with a semi-bright acoustic guitar and some spacious synth tones, but the riffs and the unorthodox IV-I-V-vi chord structure give the mix an unsettled and ominous feel (and the drum machine doesn’t help matters), which doesn’t raise any eyebrows because it fits the potential sad story of the first verse. When the deke hits, however, all the producer does is add a few washed-out, toneless electric guitars that barely add to the volume level, let alone the feel of the track. Not even some brighter strings (maybe a mandolin?) and an amped-up bridge solo add any life to the song, which means that while the narrator is professing their everlasting happiness, the one-note mix feels overly dour in comparison and makes the listener seriously doubt the narrator’s sincerity. I’ve heard some poor sound/subject matter pairings before, but I haven’t heard a mix undercut the writing this badly in quite some time, and it completely kills the mood of what seems like it could have been a decent track in a vacuum.

Dickerson doesn’t do the writing any favors either, as in his attempt to project more seriousness and depth, he loses all of the expressiveness and emotion he showed off on “Every Little Thing.” It’s as if there’s a wall between Dickerson and the mic: The listener can sense that he’s trying to pour his heart and soul into the song, but it doesn’t come through on the tape, and his tone and range feel artificially constrained and surprisingly flat. This also means that he lacks the punch to counter the poor framing of the production, and gets dragged down by the lifeless sound behind him. You just don’t get any sense of happiness from Dickerson’s delivery, and the performance feels a bit hollow and unbelievable as a result. I get the sense that Dickerson is the sort of artist who needs a lot of help from the producer to get his point across, and as well as the combination worked on “Every Little Thing,” it doesn’t work at all here.

The writing is probably the best part about the song, even if it spends much of its time in generic, overcooked territory. The narrator declares that they “don’t love you like I used to,” but instead of the usual yarn about a love gone cold, the writers borrow some ideas from Brad Paisley’s “Then” and declare that their feelings are even stronger now than in the beginning of the relationship. It’s an okay hook with some decent execution and even a few hints of wit thrown in (“What we got ain’t got no ending, like a band of solid gold”), but it also get too clever by half at points (lines like “But I keep fallin’ all in higher than I’ve ever been” and “gets as good as it gets old” sacrifice clarity for wordplay). Otherwise, the song mostly sticks to the Boyfriend country playbook while also staying annoyingly abstract and devoid of detail (we learn nothing about the other person, the scenario, etc.). It’s okay, but it’s not terribly memorable or passionate, and the listener has forgotten the track thirty seconds after it ends.

“Love You Like I Used To” makes we wish Russell Dickerson would sing songs like he used to, because this sterile, lifeless track isn’t a good look for him. The writing tried to set up a trick shot, but the producer never got the message, and Dickerson can’t rise above the mess to convince the audience to pay attention. In the end, the song goes nowhere and is nothing more than radio filler, and it’s a serious step down from “Every Little Thing” or even “Yours,” which leaves me wishing that Dickerson would release better tracks like he used to.

Rating: 5/10. Nothing to see here, folks.

Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Every Little Thing”

This is the dumbest little silly song I’ve heard in quite some time. So why can’t I stop smiling?

Country radio will give a debut #1 to just about anyone these days, but avoiding the “sophomore slump” afterwards has proven to be a tall task for a lot of new artists. Russell Dickerson, however, managed to scale the Billboard airplay mountain once again (albeit slowly) with “Blue Tacoma,” a generic, poorly-produced driving song that he managed to will across the finish line. Dickerson is his own best advocate at this point, and he show it on his third single “Every Little Thing,” a pointless, nonsensical song that is nevertheless the most fun thing I’ve heard on the radio in months.

The production here is sure to make traditionalists cringe when they hear it, but the synergy it has with Dickerson is a huge step up from “Blue Tacoma.” It opens with a drum set borrowed from LANco’s “Born To Love You,” but quickly settles into it main groove of artificial snap percussion and lighthearted whistle/dobro riff, with something (banjo? ukelele? the dobro again?) methodically keeping time in the background. It’s all pretty light and restrained…until a set of heavy electric guitar stabs kick in on the chorus, and a brighter electric guitar jumps to provide some background support and a rocking solo. There is absolutely no way this should all work, and yet the mix manages to create a fun, carefree atmosphere that’s surprisingly catchy, overloading the listener’s happiness glands until they just have to get up and dance along. No, it’s not really romantic, but a playful vibe like this one is the next best thing for a love song, especially when it’s got this much energy behind it. I’m tempted to say the producer just lucked into this one after their subpar performance on “Blue Tacoma,” but hey, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Apparently Dickerson heard me when I said he “seems to lack that extra something to make me care about…such a overdone topic” in my last review, because he stepped up and brought it this time. He shows off an easy, effortless delivery that goes from high to low with no trouble at all, and his flow is solid from start to finish. The biggest thing, however, is just how much energy and enjoyment Dickerson brings to the table. The man sounds like he’s having an absolute blast on this track, and he just can’t wait to share his good fortune with the audience. Instead of being so serious about how deep his feelings are, he takes the fun, playful route to romance that’s not as prevalent on the radio, but can be super effective when executed properly (see: Midland’s “Make A Little”). In short, Dickerson found that “extra something” on this track, which can only mean good things for him going forward.

The lyrics are…hey, did I mention how great the production and vocals are here? It’s a good thing, because the lyrics are the most bizarre, random collection of sentences I’ve heard all year. The basic gist is that the narrator is head-over-heels in love with their partner, and they’re grasping at ways to explain just how deep their feelings are. However, the comparisons they use range from generic (“endless August summer,” “easy like Sunday morning,” “24-carat goodness”) to just plain weird (he compares the woman to Alabama, Seattle, and Sonoma?), and the choruses are beyond repetitive:

‘Cause I love every little, every little, every little thing about her love
Just a little, just little, just a little ain’t enough
Gotta get a, gotta get a, get a little more of all she does
I’m all hung up
‘Cause I love every little, every little, every little thing about her love

Seriously, did it really take three songwriters to put this together? It’s a good thing Dickerson and the producer laid the good feelings on think enough to make the listener say “Lyrics? Who cares about the lyrics?” because there isn’t a lot to care about here.

“Every Little Thing” is basically Russell Dickerson saying “To heck with it: I feel good, and I’m going to let the world know about it,” and amazingly, that was enough to make it the best of the three recent love songs I’ve reviewed in the past few days. Unlike Garth Brooks and Luke Combs, Dickerson and his producer discard any pretense of this being a serious song about serious emotions, make the song a rollicking good time full of energy and passion, and are better off for doing so. There are a lot of newer acts in country music that I’m not particularly thrilled with, but between this song and “Yours,” I’m surprisingly intrigued about Dickerson’s future potential.

Rating: 7/10. Give this a spin if you’re having a bad day. Heck, do it if you’re having a good day too!

Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Blue Tacoma”

Let this song be a lesson to all you young singers out there: Choose your producer carefully, because they can destroy you as quickly as anything else.

I actually didn’t mind Russell Dickerson’s debut single “Yours,” and apparently radio felt the same way, as the song wound up topping Billboard’s airplay chart back in January. Lately, however, it’s been the second single that determines whether an artist has staying power or not, and if Dickerson’s follow-up track “Blue Tacoma” is any indication, he’s in for a major sophomore slump. The song is yet another drum-machine-heavy “driving around with a girl” song that feels so run-of-the-mill and generic that it just rolls off listeners’ ears like water off a duck’s back, and can’t seem to hold my attention for more than about twenty seconds.

Most of what goes wrong with this track can be credited to poor production choices. I’ve heard enough Bro-toned songs like this that I can pretty much tell what’s coming that minute I hear the opening beat: An in-your-face drum machine that’s turned up way too loud for the mix, a token banjo that’s forced to carry the melody on the verses, and select electric guitar stabs on the chorus that give way to a bright-but-nondescript guitar solo. Even amongst similar songs, this mix feels exceptionally commonplace and even boring, to the point where it doesn’t even to generate the energy and momentum you’d expect from such a celebratory, uptempo track. Maybe these sorts of party-vibe song have finally reached a critical mass for me, but “Blue Tacoma” didn’t register for me all, and I found myself ignoring it in favor of scrolling through my other web browser tabs before the first verse had finished.

To his credit, Dickerson isn’t the problem here: He’s a strong technical singer (good range, solid flow) with an easy, earnest delivery, and he has enough charisma to sell the track and convince me that he’s found heaven on Earth with his partner. Unfortunately, where a veteran performer like Darius Rucker can take an unremarkable song and make it at least a little compelling, Dickerson seems to lack that extra something to make me care about a song on such an overdone topic. Whatever emotion he brings to bear is pretty much overruled by the subpar production, which keeps him from leaving his mark on the song. It’s yet another example of a promising singer getting derailed by bad production decisions (and very reminiscent of what happened to Carly Pearce on “Hide The Wine”), and something that could very well cost Dickerson all of his “Yours” momentum.

The song’s premise is pretty simple: The narrator is driving around California in a “Blue Tacoma” with the object of his affection, declaring that “if heaven is anywhere,” it’s right here. I’d throw the track into the same “Bro-Lite” category as Chris Young’s “Hangin’ On,” as the usual tropes are present but toned down: The narrator is drinking Sunkist rather than Crown Royal, the pair is driving in the daytime rather than the nighttime, the name-dropped song is by Shania Twain rather than the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, etc. Even so, however, on paper the lyrics feel like they should have enough emotion and personality to move the listener by themselves. The problem is that they as overwhelmed by the production as Dickerson himself, and are further hampered by the song’s structure (the rapid-fire sections keep the words from getting the time and space they need to let their emotional content sink in to the listener’s mind.) As it is, the lyrics flow in on ear and out the other without leaving a trace, instead serving as a prime example of the destructive power of a drum machine.

I’m not sure “Blue Tacoma” could have been a great (or even good) song, but it could have easily been a lot more memorable or interesting had the producer not decided to dress it up like a Florida Georgia Line track.  How costly a decision this turns out to be for Russell Dickerson remains to be seen, but it makes him blend in more than stand out, and that’s a major problem for a newer artist.

Rating: 5/10. Why bother? You won’t remember hearing it anyway.

Song Review: Russell Dickerson, “Yours”

If I could sum up Russell Dickerson in a sentence, I’d say that he does Sam Hunt better than Sam Hunt does.

Dickerson is a Tennesse-based artist who has been kicking around Nashville as since 2010, but only recently scored a major-label deal with the newly-formed Triple Tigers label. “Yours” was actually released independently all the way back in 2015, and had already racked up thirty million Spotify streams and been declared one of the best new wedding songs of 2016 before its official release to country radio back in April. While the song is an obvious play for both the contemporary-country and wedding-song crowds, it’s also easy to see the song’s appeals after a few spins.

The production here is exactly what you’d expect out of Nashville these days. The song opens with a low, moody piano backed by a restrained electric guitar and steel guitar, then slowly builds energy and momentum by adding instruments as the song progresses (first a drum machine halfway through the first verse, then some real drums after the first chorus, and then finally a cranked-up electric guitar for a solo on the bridge). The mix does a nice job accentuating the song’s message by using darker tones and keys while the narrator details his past on the verses, and then shifting to a brighter, more-celebratory tone as the focus shifts to the present on the choruses. It’s a nice blend of modern and traditional sounds that keeps the synthetic elements in a supporting role while featuring just enough polish to remain easy on the ears.

Vocally, Dickerson is basically Sam Hunt with a slightly-smoother voice and without all the annoying talk-singing. He seems a bit more comfortable in his upper range, but he’s capable enough in his lower registers, and his flow on some of the faster-paced lyrics is pretty impressive. His biggest asset, however, is the earnestness of his delivery—he comes across as believable and sells the song incredibly well. The song also complements Dickerson’s voice well, as the lower-ranged verses are somber and reflective (which keep him from overextending his voice), while the choruses let him climb the ladder to exert a bit more vocal power. He may not be the strongest vocalist in the genre, but he’s got the vocal charisma to make a song like this feel heartfelt without sounded too corny.

The songwriting here is surprisingly strong, even despite its overarching (and overdone) theme of “my life sucked before you, but it’s awesome now because of you.” The images here are specific, vivid, and mostly unique, such as with the opening lines “I was a boat stuck in a bottle/That never got the chance to touch the sea.” The lyrics also reflect the current anti-objectification trend in the genre: The song focuses on feelings rather than appearances, and cleverly flips around the typical ownership dynamic in its hook (instead of “you’re mine,” the proclamation is “I’m yours”). The lack of gender language here is also interesting, as the song never makes a “she/her/girl/woman” reference about the narrator’s partner, and thus broadens its appeal by potentially applying to anyone. While the song is a bit one-sided (the feelings of the narrator’s partner are never mentioned, and the narrator never talks about becoming a better person for their partner), Dickerson’s delivery and vocal charisma keep the song from ever feeling shallow or self-serving.

Overall, “Yours” is an impressive debut and a great choice for a first single, featuring a mixture of sharp writing, a strong delivery, and production that doesn’t get in the way. It’s the kind of song that draws people to it even if they’re not at a romantic stage in their life, and I’m very interested in seeing how this fares on mainstream radio and where Dickerson chooses to go from here.

Rating: 6/10. Give it a few spins and see how it feels.