Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Water Under The Bridge”

The Bro-Country era is over, Sam Hunt. Get over it.

Remember when “Body Like A Back Road” was everywhere and Hunt was Public Enemy No. 1 in country music? Fast forward 5-6 years, and we’ve watched him go into hiding, take three years to release an album, sample Webb Pierce and lament the tech-less 90s, and generally fall back to the pack and become just another artist in the genre. While his previous single “23” did eventually make it to #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart, its weaker showing elsewhere (#10 on Hot Country Songs and #50 on the Hot 100, way off his usual pace and becoming his worst showings since 2018) indicate that his influence in Nashville is waning, especially giving that this was supposed to be the leadoff single for his next album (which admittedly probably won’t arrive until 2024). He’s in desperate need of a home run right now, but instead he’s given us the swing-and-miss that is his latest single “Water Under The Bridge.” Seriously, it’s as if the song was tailor-made for made to despise it: It’s a shallow, lazy, and blindly-nostalgic piece of garbage that offers nothing of value or interest to the listener.

The producer may be looking for an A for effort here, but you’ve got to do more than just include instruments in your mix—you’ve got to actually use them in a meaningful way. Careful listeners will note the presence of a lot of different instruments here (a classic piano, a Hammond B3 organ, a banjo, a dobro), but outside of the last of these four, they’re barely noticeable beneath (wait for it) an series of acoustic and electric guitars and a mix of real and synthetic percussion, which all seem to bleed into each other as the song progresses and eventually turns it into a bland wall of noise. (There’s also a weird low tone, likely from an electric guitar, running underneath the mix that is a bit distracting and seems like a mistake that should have removed in post.) With its deliberate tempo and bombastic approach on the chorus, this is a transparent attempt to recapture the party vibes and free spirits of the Bro-Country anthems of the 2010, and the result is just empty sonic calories that overshadow the writing rather than support it. (Then again, the writing is a massive nothingburger and not worth supporting anyway, but we’ll get to that later.) Hunt made a name for himself by using his fusion sound to distinguish himself from his peers, but now he sounds like everyone else in the genre, which may be part of the reason his star has faded over time.

Speaking of Hunt: What the heck happened to him on this recording? Did he have a cold or something? His voice sounds incredibly nasal and far less clear than on his previous tracks, and he seems to be singing in a higher key than normal as well. Whatever the difference, it’s a clear regression: He sounds more generic and replaceable on this track, but he still comes across as immature and not terribly likeable, and thus he can’t sell the narrator’s carefree recollections to the audience. It’s as if he’s singing inside a snow globe: He certainly seems psyched as he looks back on his youthful transgressions, but he struggles to share his fun with the listener. He’s just one more person reminiscing on how much fun life was way back when, and the listener duly notes their perspective and quickly moves on to something more pressing and/or interesting. These tracks were a dime a dozen not that long ago (and aren’t exactly rare nowadays either), so Hunt really needed to step up his game and be more than “just Sam Hunt” to make this one worth paying attention to, and he simply didn’t.

The writing is what really irritates me here, because it’s so basic and unimaginative that calling these lines “lyrics” feels like an overstatement. Remove the bridge from the equation, and you’ve got a cookie-cutter Bro-Country party track that checks all the usual boxes: The beer, the cigarettes, the gas, the trucks (I give the “Chevy jukebox” label a C+, and that’s as clever as the song ever gets), the girls, the speakers, the avoided authority figures…heck, even the muddy river is an overplayed trope. (Also, being the creep that “kissed a girl my buddy used to like” doesn’t help your favorability ratings.) Add the bridge back in…and we’re just partying on a bridge, with the classic “water under the bridge” phrase used as a hook in the most awkward and uninteresting way possible (water under the bridge is something that isn’t worth caring about, so why are you using the phrase to convince us to care about random parties of yesteryear?). There’s just nothing to this song, either literally (we only get half of a second verse, and ironically there’s no bridge at all) or figuratively (the imagery is stock, rudimentary, and not compelling at all), and with all the similar drivel that flooded the genre back in the 2010s, there’s just no reason to revisit this topic now.

“Water Under The Bridge” is a poorly-executed throwback that no one wanted in the first place. Between pointless production, lazy writing, and a poor effort from Sam Hunt, the song is badly outclassed by both its competition and its inspiration, and it completely fails to justify its existence. The truth is that Hunt, much like fellow 2010s compatriots Florida Georgia Line, is an afterthought in country music today, having neither earned the stature of their predecessors (Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean) nor maintained the buzz of their successors (Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen). He’s just kind of hanging around in Nashville nowadays, and if he keeps dumping junk like this onto the airwaves, he won’t be hanging around much longer.

Rating: 4/10. Skip it.

Song Reviews: The Lightning Round (December 2021 Edition, Side B)

The train for the Korner’s year-end lists leaves tonight, and if a song hasn’t gotten a ticket/review by then, it won’t make it to the list in time! This means that songs have one shot, one opportunity to seize everything they ever wanted. So will they capture it, or will they let it slip? Let’s find out…

Walker Hayes, “AA”

All the viral success in the world can’t hide the fact that Hayes is a really poor excuse for an artist, and “AA” merely confirms this point. The song tries to make light of life’s common hardships and strike a “laugh to keep from crying” tone to signal solidarity with the working class, but between the slick synthetic beat, the guitars marinated in audio effects, Hayes’s raspy, toneless voice, and his utter lack of charisma (hearing him try to sell himself as “just another John Deere guy” is not only unbelievable, it’s downright laughable), the song completely fails to connect with its intended audience. As a result, the upbeat sound clashes badly with the gloomy lyrics (which are hit-and-miss at best—the oil-changing lines are okay, the pointless Nick Saban reference is not, and the “keep my daughters off the pole” line is just awkward), and the song winds up as a failed attempt at pandering, feeling neither believable nor relatable. It’s not easy making that common-man connection as Alabama does in “Forty Hour Week (For A Livin’),” and Hayes doesn’t even come close here.

Rating: 4/10. We all should try to avoid songs like this.

Brett Young, “You Didn’t”

Five years ago Young looked like the future of country music, but these days he’s scrambling just to remain part of the genre’s present. This song was released a while ago, and I was wondering why it wasn’t finding any traction on the radio. Now that I’ve heard it, I think I see what happened: Country music is drowning in tracks where unlikeable dudebros make pushy demands to be liked or cling to long-lost romances for way too long, and Young bucks the trend by doing the exact opposite. The narrator admits that the relationship it over, casts no blame on anyone, and tries to act in the best interest of the other person, and while a weaker vocalist would fall on their face trying to sell that last part, Young pulls out his best impression of another Brett (Eldredge), and while he doesn’t quite reach BE’s level, he does more than enough to make the narrator feel genuine and believable. The slick guitars and mix of real and synthetic permission give the song a slightly-sensual feel (honestly, this comes closer to being a sex jam then some actual country sex jams), and while the steel guitar doesn’t get a ton of screen time, it provides some nice accents for the arrangement. This feels like a return to form for Young after his more-generic Ticket To L.A. singles, and I will happily take it.

Rating: 6/10. This one’s worth taking a chance on hearing.

Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”

…Wait, didn’t I just review this song? After the nihilistic tire fire that was “I Was On A Boat That Day,” Old Dominion has returned to their senses, and take the Brett Young approach to approaching a failed relationship. This takes a slightly different approach than “You Didn’t”: For one thing, the vibe is much more springy and upbeat, with bright acoustic guitars and light-touch, improvised-sounding production (are those wood blocks, glass bottles, or something metallic?), and even some swelling bass notes all anchoring the production. The narrator achieves believabilty through a) lead singer Matthew Ramsey putting a spring in his step and matching the positive atmosphere of the sound, and b) by being honest about how much the breakup affected them initially: They were mad, they got drunk, and they’d still rather be together than not, but they worked through their grief and eventually came to the same conclusion that Young does (i.e. what makes the other person happy makes the narrator happy too). Old Dominion is much better when they try to be more thoughtful in their work, and here’s hoping they stay sober and off of that boat for a while.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins on the turntable.

Ingrid Andress & Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”

Sadly, we close out the year with a pair doing some delusional “wishful drinking,” and it’s no more interesting than Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson’s recent failed attempt at closure. In contrast to Swindell/Wilson’s more-fiery take on the scenario, this one takes a smoother, more-pop-infused approach, with its prominent snap track and synthetic beat and its overall minimalist approach (less loud, less busy arrangement, using a dobro to drive the melody instead of harder guitars), and while I think this approach is the more effective of the two (I’d also argue that Andress & Hunt have better vocal chemistry), it still doesn’t help make the story any more interesting or compelling. There’s too much alcohol and not enough detail here: We don’t get any sense of the relationship that was lost, so the listener is forced to fill in the gaps will all the things the pair misses about each other, and in the end the benders accomplish nothing of purpose or interest. (Unlike the Swindell/Wilson track, you don’t even get the sense that the narrators made out or even met up at the end of the night; they might as well be on opposite sides of the world.) It’s more of a boring song than a bad one, and if teaming up with Hunt is the only way to get Andress more time on the airwaves, I suppose I’ll just have to put up with it for now.

Rating: 5/10. Both Andress and Hunt have better songs that are more worthy of your time.

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “23”

Would it kill Sam Hunt to release an interesting song for a change?

Sam Hunt made his name in the mid/late 2010s with his “unique” fusion of genres and mediocre talk-singing delivery, but lately he seems to have faded into the background as more artists adopt his sound, his output becomes more sporadic, and his songs become more and more uninteresting. Sure, tracks like “Hard To Forget” and “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” eventually made it to #1, but there was nothing that really stood out about them, and they were forgotten the moment they went recurrent. (Seriously, when the most interesting thing about your songs over the last eighteen months is Webb Pierce, you’ve got a problem.) Now, Hunt has closed the book on the Southside era barely a year after the album was released (that’s what happens when you wait four singles before dropping the LP), and has dropped “23” as the presumed leadoff single for his third album (it’ll be out just in time for the holiday season! …of 2023). Sadly, this is a bad-faith story from a resentful narrator that never answers the question “Why should we care about this?”, and the listener tunes it out before the second verse arrives.

The production here may be the usual guitar-and-drum mix everyone else used at its core, but it’s got some of the usual twists that you expect from a Sam Hunt record: The drums are mostly synthetic here, and the electric guitars are buried in so more reverb that it’s hard to tell exactly what they are (Electric? Pedal Steel?). The more-classical instrumentation Hunt was experimenting with on songs like “Hard To Forget” is mostly gone, but the one instrument that survived this purge is the dobro (it fact, given that is gets the bridge solo here, you could argue that it’s thriving), and it’s the one thing that helps the sound stand out a bit from the crowd. The major issue here is that the sound can’t seem to decide what mood it wants to set: The percussion is too busy to give the song a reflective or sad feel, but the instrument tones are a bit too neutral to make the song feel upbeat or positive. The sound is caught in an awkward position between a club banger and a solemn ballad, and it doesn’t provide any solid cues for how the listener should feel about the whole thing. In the end, this is a forgettable arrangement that passes through the listener’s mind without leaving a trace, and frankly it’s the least of this track’s issues.

Hunt himself sticks to a more-conventional delivery this time around, but I really don’t like his attitude on this track. The range and power demands here are minimal and he’s got plenty of practice with the faster portions of a song like this, but his voice lacks any tone and texture, and he sounds surprisingly detached from the story he’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about. Unfortunately, the not-so-subtle digs present in the lyrics betray him, and he winds up looking like a fraud, failing to play it cool while underneath he still burns at being rejected by his ex all those years ago. His claim that he wishes happiness on his partner feels hollow and disingenuous, and it seems like the memories the pair shared together is something that Hunt feels he can lord over them all those years later, as if they’re proof that the other person can never truly move beyond their lowbrow roots. In other words, it’s not a good look for the narrator, and instead of feeling sorry for them, the audience is left wishing they would get over themselves and just move on.

The writing here is the time-honored tale of a narrator who’s been left behind by someone who’s chasing bigger and better things out in the world, a time-honored trope in this genre. Ostensibly this song is about a narrator reflecting on the time they spent with their ex, wishing them the best and declaring that no matter where they go, they’ll “never be 23 with anyone” but each other. It’s a nice (if not terribly engaging) sentiment, but if you scratch the surface a darker thread emerges: The narrator makes a lot of insinuations that their ex is inauthentic and not true to their roots, talking about how they’re probably marrying someone “that really impresses your father,”that they might “straighten out your accent in the city, like your folks ain’t from Mississippi,” and that they might now “drink some wine in California” and are “so sophisticated” with “those skirts you always hated.” The narrator also makes a point of rehashing the night their ex dumped them “telling me your mind is changed,” making it pretty obvious that a) the narrator is not over the breakup, and b) they’re really unhappy with the other person about it. It reminds me a lot of Lee Brice’s irritating “That Don’t Sound Like You,” where the narrator thinks that they know the other person’s “true” self, and that they’re betraying both themselves and the narrator by moving on and doing different things (and they’re absolutely certain that the other person thinks that way too, with lines like “when you drink too much, I bet you’re thinking ’bout back when.” News flash, bro: People are allowed to change their minds and try (and even like!) different things, and with your mention of things like finding “grown up friends” and getting caught “in-between real love and real life,” even you’re admitting that your ex is maturing and finding their place in the world (and by comparison, you’re not). The whole mess feels like pointless sour grapes to me, and the listener is left wishing that the narrator would take a hint from their departed partner and get a life.

“23” is nothing more than a whiny tale of woe that isn’t worth listening to, a wolf in nostalgic sheep’s clothing that fails to conceal its true nature as a bitter rant from someone who just needs to grow up and move on. Both the writing and Sam Hunt himself drive this thing into the gutter with their insufferable attitude, and the producer can’t seem to decide if they want to lean into the negativity or use a dance beat to persuade people to ignore it. The result isn’t quite as annoying as “Parker Denning,” but it’s not far off, and it stands as another example of the “entitled, thin-skinned frame of mind” I’m hearing from Nashville lately, and we need to put a stop to this right now.

Rating: 4/10. No thank you.

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s”

For reference, breaking up was not easier in the 90s, but enjoying listening to country radio was.

Luke Combs may have the Thanos nickname and the “king of country music” title, but that’s only because Sam Hunt passed on his chance to claim then. With Montevallo putting four songs in the Top 40 of the Hot 100 and “Body Like A Back Road” dominating the genre in 2017, the door to the genre’s throne room was wide open for Hunt to walk through. Instead, however, he passed to take an extended hiatus from music, and although he’s since returned to collect a few more No. 1 hits (including his last single, the posthumous collaboration with Webb Pierce “Hard To Forget”), he’s never really been able to recapture his old magic (even his old role as the genre’s biggest villain has been filled by people like Walker Hayes and HARDY). His latest attempt at relevancy is “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s,” and while it’s not the clone of Hayes’s “90s Country” that we feared (thank goodness), it’s also little more than a run-of-the-mill lost-love song with a bit of doomscrolling tossed in to make it seem more modern. It’s at best a lateral move from “Hard To Forget,” and it’s certainly not the kind of song that’s going to launch Hunt back into the stratosphere.

Hunt’s production has actually been drifting slowly from the synthetic to the classic side of country music over his last few singles, but the remnants of his original style still remain, and they’re the biggest issue with the mix on this track. The primary melody driver here is an acoustic guitar, and it gets a surprising amount of support from a dobro and even a steel guitar, making it seem like a fairly conventional arrangement at first glance. The issue, unfortunately, is the electric instruments: The percussion is handled mostly by a drum machine that is way too loud in the mix, and the electric guitars and bass create a low-end wall of noise (especially on the choruses) that overwhelms all the other instruments and gives the sound a much blander feel than it should. The regular minor chords and synthetic elements give the song a cold and serious feel, but overall the mix just doesn’t sound distinct enough for it to leave much of an impression.

Hunt’s vocal delivery here is more of a return to the form of his earlier work: The verses are half-sung and half-spoken while the chorus as sung more conventionally and with a bit more emphasis behind them. The style seems a bit less obnoxious this time around (if for no other reason than we’ve come to expect the style from Hunt), and it’s a decent fit for the depressed nature of this song. That said, his attempt to inject emotion into the song feels a bit over-the-top on the chorus, making the listener more apt to tell him to chill out rather than commiserate with him. While the writing does a poor job framing the narrator as a sympathetic character, a stronger artist would find a way to elevate the material and connect with their audience, and Hunt just doesn’t pull it offthe listener can see that the narrator is sad, but aren’t convinced that they should care about it themselves.

So about the writing, let’s start with this limp “breaking up was easy in the 90s” hook: Instead of referencing 90s music like you might expect, it’s an indirect reference to the fact that people weren’t perpetually connected via cellphones and social media feeds, and the narrator can’t tear themselves away from their digital life long enough to get over their partner. Unlike Instagram and iPhones, however, broken hearts were developed long before the 21st century, and given that lost-love might be the trope that defines this genre, breaking up is no harder than it’s ever been. Sure, Facebook and Twitter and missed-call notifications give us a unique window into the lives of other people, but couldn’t you just, you know, unfollow the other person so every detail of their lives isn’t sent directly to your eyeballs? The truth is that “modern hearts breaking” are just hearts breaking, given the subsequent lack of detail as to exactly why the relationship ended (and the lack of Hunt’s usual wit; “when I don’t miss your calls, I miss you calling” is the closest he gets), the audience is left unconvinced as to why they cry along with the protagonist, or even pay attention at all.

“Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90s” is just another song killin’ time while we all wait for better times and better material to arrive. The production drowns out all the interesting components with unnecessary beats, the writing fails to make the case that our overly-connected lives make heartbreak any harder to stomach than it’s ever been, and Sam Hunt can’t interest us in listening to the same old story. While Hunt’s last single was literally “Hard To Forget,” this one seems a bit too easy to forget, and only reinforces Hunt’s middle-of-the-pack status instead of pushing him towards the front. I don’t know if it’s me, Nashville, or 2020, but there seems to be a lot of songs with little to say and even less to feel right now, and Hunt once again passed on the opportunity to walk through an open door and deliver a message with some momentum. Who will benefit this time? (Spoiler alert: I see “Martha Divine” is coming to radio today…)

Rating: 5/10. It exists, I guess.

Song Review: Sam Hunt (ft. Webb Pierce?), “Hard To Forget”

Honestly, this song feels a bit too easy to forget.

For a few years during the 2010s, traditionalists declared that Sam Hunt was public enemy number one in country music. Since achieving world domination with “Body Like A Back Road” back in 2017, however, Hunt has maintained a fairly low profile, releasing only one single a year (and 2018’s “Downtown’s Dead” was DOA and only made it to #15 on Billboard’s airpay chart). Unfortunately, the rise of Boyfriend country seems to have awakened Hunt from his hibernation, and “Kinfolks” rebounded to reach #2, raising the specter of another Hunt-dominated summer. Now, Hunt is back with “Hard To Forget,” and the early reviews have been less than enthusiastic, which made me nervous when the song was officially announced as his next single. In truth, however, he had nowhere to go but up after “Kinfolks,” and even a bizarrely-upbeat and ultimately-forgettable retelling of “Break Up In A Small Town” like this track counts as progress, even if it remains far from a track that’s worth your time.

I like to start my reviews by examining the production, which means it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Hunt’s head-scratching decision to open the song with the first verse of Webb Pierce’s 1953 hit “There Stands The Glass,” immediately chop it up and toss an in-your-face drum machine on top of it, and continuously sample lines of the verse throughout the entire track. Surprisingly, I think this turned out to be a good decision for the song—the sample provides pretty much the only melodic foundation the track has, and it convinced whoever mixed this thing to drop in a few more classical instruments (wait, there’s actual fiddle and dobro here?!) to augment the standard, sanitized acoustic and electric guitars. However, let’s be honest: All of this could have been done on its own without dragging Pierce’s song into the mix, and the sampled verse really doesn’t add anything to the arrangement, especially since the percussion is so loud in the mix that it overwhelms everything else. (At least Brad Paisley’s use of Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” fit with the carefree nature of the song, and it was more of a complementary piece of the mix.) It also doesn’t do anything to address the main problem with the sound, which is that it’s way too bouncy and upbeat for what seems like a melancholy subject. The narrator is whining about how hard their ex is making it to forget them, but the bright instrument tones and toe-tapping tempo makes it feel like they’re singing with a smile, making their complaints feel completely disingenuous. In other words, sampling a 50s icon could have worked in another situation, but here, it’s just a distraction from the mess the producer left in the mixing booth.

For once, Hunt’s ultimate undoing is not his singing technique: His delivery is completely conventional this time around, and he shows off (dare I say it?) decent tone and solid charisma, letting the narrator share in the good vibes he gives off. The question, however, is why he chooses to project such comfort and happiness while telling us that his ex is always on his mind and torturing him with memories at every turn. I didn’t like “Break Up In A Small Town,” but at least Hunt was appropriately moody and dour about the whole thing—here, he gives the audience the distinct impression that he actually enjoys his current situation, making the lyrics ring hollow and the whole song feel a little surreal. (Maybe Hunt’s just a glutton for punishment?) In the bizarro world that is the planet Earth in 2020, Hunt seems to have made noticeable strides as a performer, but that’s the major reason this song doesn’t work: As likable and fun as this “new” Hunt seems to be, there’s absolutely zero synergy between the writing and the vocals, making you wonder what the point of him complaining was in the first place.

Hunt has shown flashes of decent writing in the past, but I question why he brought out this song after he told this same darn story four years ago: The narrator has an ex that seems to be needling him from a distance with her memory and her wardrobe choices, making her “hard to forget.” The story isn’t quite as raw this time around, and the wordplay’s a lot better here (“I got a bottle of whiskey but I got no proof,” “I swear your number’s all my phone wants to call”), but the details are a bit more washed-out (we’ve got from “that white Maxima with the sticker on the back” to “your car,”) and there’s no indication of what or who actually caused the relationship to fail (so who exactly in the villain here?). Ironically, there’s nothing terribly “hard to forget” about anything that’s said (it’s the beat that leaves the biggest impression), and not even the unexpected inclusion of Pierce keeps this song from being quickly flushed from the listener’s mind.

“Hard To Forget” might have a catchy beat, but it’s completely nonsensical as a song: It’s a tug of war with Sam Hunt and his producer on one end of the rope and the lyrics on the other, and while the two-person team wins out in their quest for summer-song domination à la “Body Like A Back Road,” they can’t cover up the fact that the writing has almost no connection to the rest of the track. Amazingly, this mess still constitutes a step in the right direction for Hunt, and there are admittedly some things to like here, but none of the pieces actually fit together (especially Webb Pierce’s surprise addition, which is never truly justified), and we’re left with a song that simply exists, for better or worse.

But hey, at least people will know who this guy is again:

Rating: 5/10. Wait, what song was I reviewing again? I’ve already forgotten.

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks”

This is a bad song, but perhaps not for the reason you might expect.

Sam Hunt was perhaps the primary culprit for ushering in the Metropolitan era back in the mid 2010s, and as late as 2017 he spent the entire summer atop the country world (and nearly the entire musical world in general) with his mega-yet-mediocre hit “Body Like A Back Road.” Since then, however, Hunt has been mostly AWOL: “Downtown’s Dead” had a brief shelf life and petered out at a surprising #15 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and otherwise…nothing. Few shed tears over Hunt’s disappearance, however, and even fewer are rejoicing over his apparent return with his yearly single “Kinfolks.” This song, however, isn’t the boundary-pusher that his previous work (partially because the boundaries are still stretched out from his prior work): Both the sound and subject matter tread what feels like familiar territory, with the latter joining an increasing (and irritating) trend of creeper guys who want to jump immediately to Step 69 of the relationship the moment someone catches their eye. We just cleaned up from the last time this plague went around, and I’m not about to stand for it now.

Let’s start with the surprise: The production, while certainly not anything I’d call “traditional,” isn’t the synthetic, 808-heavy mix you probably expected from Hunt. Yes, it’s still slicker than my aunt’s newly-polished floor, but it’s a choppy acoustic guitar that does the heavy lifting on the melody for a change, and the drums are nowhere near as busy or as prominent (or as fake, giving the real drums that jump in on the first chorus) as you’d think. The clap track appears briefly, and there’s a token banjo buried deep in the mix (and some of the strings have an exotic flair to them, like the sitar-like banjo that dominates the outro), but otherwise this mix feels surprisingly conventional, as if Hunt has finally carved out a space in the genre where his style of sound belongs. Unfortunately, the result this time around doesn’t feel remotely romantic or sensual, and it doesn’t entice the listener to pay it much mind.

It wouldn’t be a Sam Hunt song if he didn’t talk-sing his way through the verses, but even his unorthodox delivery has conceded some points to the mainstream this time. His lines stay (almost) completely married to the tempo for a change, and he at least tries to infuse the verses with some tone and cadence. Unfortunately, his attempt isn’t terribly successful, and instead of coming across as a sincere suitor, he feels like a generic meathead who is not believable at all when he claims he wants to introduce the other person to his “kinfolk.” (When he says “I don’t want to wait around for the right time,” he sounds like a pushy jerk looking for a quickie rather than someone who doesn’t want to watch their chance for forever love walk away.) Hunt’s reputation as the Metro-Bro to end all Metro-Bros precedes him hear, and unlike some artists who’ve shown some actual growth and maturation since 2014 (Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett, etc.), Hunt’s growth appears minimal at best.

While I consider Hunt to be at least a decent songwriter, the lyrics here are basically the exact same pile of garbage that I called out Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber for: Guy meets girl, guy just has to partner up and learn absolutely everything about this girl right this very moment, and leans on the old ‘introduce you to my parents’ trope to signal their “devotion.” First of all, slow your freakin’ roll dude: Relationships and meaningful connections don’t just happen, and the other person has a lot more say than you imply in this decision: They will decide when and what to reveal about themselves on their own schedule, and if you don’t like it, you can take a long walk off of a short pier. The narrator comes across as a slimy player who’s not interested in love beyond the physical connection, and  statements like “I know what I like, and you’re the only one of you” just make my skin crawl. (50/50 calls like the aforementioned “I don’t want to wait around for the right time” all go against this joker in the audience’s mind, and boilerplate denials like “I don’t mean to pry” ring as hollow as an empty soda bottle.) Hunt really needs to take his own advice and “Take Your Time” on this one, because rushing in to a relationship like this makes everyone within earshot question the speaker’s motives.

There’s a dichotomy happening in country music right now: While women seem to be doing a lot to push the genre forward, men are releasing stalker tunes like “Kinfolks,” fawning incessantly (and insincerely) over the object of their affection to get the same slice of booty they were getting five years ago. The production may have a different feel this time around, and Sam Hunt may have changed things up slightly to better achieve his goals, but it’s not nearly enough when the writing is this sleazy and Hunt’s track record is this long. Where Hunt, D+S&B, and Chris Lane come across like simplistic idiots, someone like Ingrid Andress is taking the ‘take you home to mama’ trope and actually making it meaningful. Come on guys, y’all need to learn something from the ladies and step up your game.

Rating: 3/10. Bleh.

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Downtown’s Dead”

I don’t know about downtown, but this song sounds pretty lifeless.

Sam Hunt spent 2017 rewriting every rule and record book in country music with his (mediocre) single “Body Like A Back Road.” The track spent a mind-boggling thirty-four weeks atop Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart, and defied gravity on the Country Airplay chart by sticking in the top five all freaking summer after reaching No. 1 in May. Despite this success, however, Hunt made the curious decision not to capitalize on ths song’s momentum, declining to release a full album and spending the entire winter in hibernation away from the spotlight. Now, over a year after “Body Like A Back Road” was released, Hunt has finally brought out a follow-up single: “Downtown’s Dead,” the presumed second single from the album I eventually expect him to release. Frankly, the song wasn’t worth the wait: It’s a forgettable, unappealing track that removes the most inflammatory elements of “Back Road” but doesn’t replace them with anything interesting.

The production is a bit more stripped-down than I expected, but unfortunately less isn’t more here. Despite the long list of instruments the song claims to have (and seriously, who are they trying to kid? There’s no steel guitar within a mile of this song), the only components you’ll actually notice are:

  • A mixture of real and fake percussion (the most heavy and prominent feature of the track).
  • A classical-sounding guitar with so much added echo you’ll think it was recorded in a cave.
  • A bunch of random, fuzzy shouts and sounds that are more annoying than anything else.
  • A brief-but-tolerable dobro solo on the bridge.
  • A couple of whistling parts (which, in all fairness, sound much better than anything Walker Hayes tried to do on “You Broke Up With Me”).

The volume and the electronic influences are tuned down significantly compared to “Back Road,” but it leads to a real lack of groove or energy (I wouldn’t quite call this mix “plodding,” but it’s not far off). To be fair, it’s the first song in a while that actually warrants the seriousness of its tones and chords, but this isn’t enough to make the song compelling or interesting. Basically, the track boils down to a bland wall of noise, and it’s not something I’m keen on hearing.

Vocally, Hunt is who he is as this point, and while he’s moving (slowly) away from the atrocious talk-singing, he just doesn’t have the charisma to make the narrator come off as sympathetic. The song’s key doesn’t help matters any, as it forces Hunt deep into his lower range on the verses and saps his voice of whatever power it had. (He sounds much more comfortable on the choruses, where he avoids repeating Scotty McCreery’s mistake on “This Is It” and brings a bit much power and emotion to bear.) While Hunt feels earnest and believable on the track, he completely fails to transmit the pain from the lyrics to the listeners, and as a result, not only do I not care that he’s sad about a breakup, I wish he would clam up and stop being a killjoy about the whole thing. (As a wise man once said, “don’t ruin it for the rest of us.”) In the hands of a better singer, there might have been some potential here (heck, Brad Paisley basically did a better version of this almost ten years ago), but Hunt just doesn’t have the chops to interest listeners in the story.

What bugs me the most about Sam Hunt is that for all his foibles, he’s actually a pretty decent writer. There were a few glimmers of wit in “Body Like A Back Road,” and the same is true here, although the story (which is just “the night life just isn’t the same without my lost love”) isn’t terribly interesting. His images of city streets of club moshpits are descriptive enough to give you a clear picture of the scene, and he drops the occasional clever line like trying to “paint a ghost town red.” Still, the writing is not without its flaws, most notably the huge gaps in the middle of the chorus that have to be filled by washed-out shouting (they couldn’t think of anything more to say here?). While the blatant objectification from “Back Road” is gone, what’s left just isn’t that compelling, and when neither the singer nor the sound can draw listeners in, you’re left with little more than a waste of time.

‘”Downtown’s Dead” is as lackluster as the fictional city it describes, and both Sam Hunt and his producer fail to inject any life into the song. As much as “Body Like A Body Road” annoyed me, I’d take that tune any day over this lifeless corpse of a single. Hunt may have enough cachet to make this another hit song, but I don’t see it dominating the summer like its predecessor did, and frankly, I’m okay with that.

Rating: 4/10. Is it over yet?

Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Body Like A Back Road”

If nothing else, “Body Like A Back Road” cements Sam Hunt as the class clown of country music, determined to push the boundaries to see just how much he can get away with before he gets caught.

For everything that Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida-Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, etc. have done, no one takes more flack for “destroying” country music than Sam Hunt. This is because while most artists at least make a token attempt to “sound country,” Hunt instead flips a long, stiff bird at the establishment, and doesn’t even try to conform to traditional standards. Listeners have responded favorably to Hunt’s unorthodox style and rewarded him with four No.1 hits off of his debut album Montevallo, emboldening Hunt to take another step beyond the usual boundaries with the leadoff single for his second album, “Body Like A Back Road.”

The production heroes is surprisingly minimal, but what is here sounds like a turn-of-the-millennium R&B song than anything else, complete with synthetic hand snaps/claps, electric guitar stabs (whose tones call to mind Rhett’s “Star Of The Show”), and people shouting “Hey!” rhythmically in the background. The song sets a poor tone at the opening with some bizarre synth sounds that never reappear again, and some steel guitar is thrown in at random times, but unless you’re a country purist, there’s nothing terribly offensive here.

To his credit, Hunt ditches his usual talk/sing style and mostly sticks to singing here. His raspy vocal tones suit the tone of this song fairly well, and while Hunt isn’t the most proficient vocalist in the world, he’s able to convene his affection for the women that he’s sings about. Again, if you don’t reflexively recoil from Hunt’s material, it’s a passable delivery.

Where this song falls flat on its face is in its lyrics: This is a guy ogling his girl and describing his sex life with her, and no amount of clever metaphor use can hide that fact. While the writing actually has some wit to it (Exhibit A: “me and her go way back like Cadillac seats”), most of it is wasted on Florida-Georgia-Line-level innuendo like “on the highway to heaven, just south of her smile.” Apparently Hunt and his co-writers didn’t get the memo about Bro-Country falling out of fashion. The lyrics wear on your ears like a cheese grater, and the so-so production and vocals do nothing to ease the pain.

Overall, “Body Like A Back Road” is a mediocre song with garbage lyrics, and is further proof that Hunt will be doing his own thing regardless of the rest of the industry. While this devil-may-care approach has worked out for Hunt so far, this song is a bridge too far for me, and I wonder how many other listeners will feel the same way.

Rating: 4/10. It’s not really worth your time.