Song Review: Tenille Townes, “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)”

What’s the point of asking a question if you don’t care what the answer is?

I wasn’t a fan of Tenille Townes’s U.S. debut single “Somebody’s Daughter” because it didn’t know what kind of song it wanted to be: Was it the driving, energetic beat that the sound suggested, or was it the reflective commentary the lyrics seem to have in mind? I couldn’t figure it out, and apparently neither could country radio, as the song wound up with a paltry #29 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart (although it did reach #1 in Townes’s native Canada, for what it’s worth). A follow-up single “White Horse” didn’t generate enough buzz to chart at all, putting Townes in a metaphorical 0-2 hole while staring down the country music equivalent of Randy Johnson. Townes’s latest single “Jersey On The Wall” (I’m Just Asking),” however, has the opposite problem: While “Somebody’s Daughter” couldn’t decide which of many things it wanted to be, this song decided to be nothing at all. It’s a lifeless bore of a song that seems uninterested in its own story, and doesn’t convince the listener to bother paying attention.

The production is a mixed bag here, and features some of the same problems as “Somebody’s Daughter.” On the plus side, the simple, acoustic-guitar-driven arrangement keeps the song moving while staying out of the way of the writing. The tempo feels a bit too brisk for the subject matter, however, and the percussion (particularly the bass drum) is way to peppy given the circumstances, and gives the song an urgency that is totally unnecessary (it’s as if the drummer wanted to get this song over as badly as the listener does). Throw in the spacious electric guitars and strings in the background that seem too bright for the song (there’s also the piano that’s required by Nashville labor laws covering serious songs, but it’s barely noticeable), and the vibe has the same odd mix of positivity and melancholy that “Somebody’s Daughter” had, leaving the audience as confused as it was before. Townes needs to find herself a better producer fast, because whoever is behind the mixing board right now seems wholly incapable of setting a mood.

Then again, Townes has a lot trouble displaying any mood at all, giving us a performance that is sterile, stoic, and mostly devoid of any feeling. Her range is only kinda-sorta tested and her flow isn’t pushed at all, but even though this song doesn’t make a ton of demands of Townes’s charisma, she still botches the performance by delivering her lines with the detached, superficial concern of someone watching a sad TV news story about some faraway place. Seriously, if a random tragedy affects you enough driven to question God himself, put some freaking fire behind your delivery! Don’t tell us that this bothers you, show us! If you’re sad or frustrated or angry, put it out there and make us all feel that way too! Instead, we get this flat, defeated delivery that at best projects a “que sera, sera” attitude, and at worst convinces the audience that Townes doesn’t really care about this tale at all, and if she doesn’t care, why should we? (Her limp finish on the “stop that car from crashing” line, as if she loses her nerve at the last moment and is afraid to ask the question, is simply aggravating.) As much as I didn’t like her upbeat tone from “Somebody’s Daughter,” as least that song made me feel something. All I feel about this song is annoyed that it exists.

The lyrics here adopt a similar format to Clay Walker’s “A Few Questions,” although instead of asking about a wide variety of topics, the narrator asks their divine benefactor for comment mostly on a specific event involving a deadly car crash that killed a high-school star back in the day. (She also a bunch of random question about weather and planet rotation on the chorus, but they’re just throwaway softballs that obscure the main line of questioning.) There’s nothing terribly unexpected here (you’ve got the jersey, the yearbook, the mother who faith may have lapsed, etc.), but there’s at least a little bite to the lyrics: The narrator mentions how “your plan quit makin’ sense down here on Earth,” and declares that they will get an answer about this “some day” (sadly, it’s not enough to break through Townes’s cold delivery). I’m not a fan of the how the song frames the narrator as a casual bystander to this scene: If they really want to move the audience, the writers needed to make this a bit more personal, and put us in the shoes of someone who heard the deceased laugh and cry and share their deepest secrets. I think this setup could have worked with the right support, but such support is nonexistent from the sound and singer here.

“Jersey On The Wall” resembles the Jacoby Ellsbury jersey my brother hung on his wall years ago, mostly because not even he cares it’s there anymore. Whatever tearjerking potential resides in the lyrics is buried under odd production choices and a disappointing, unfeeling performance from Tenille Townes herself, and the result is a song that no one will care about in the moment or remember in the future. If Townes is serious about staking a claim in the American market, she’s going to need a lot better material than this.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

Song Review: Tenille Townes, “Somebody’s Daughter”

I’m confused: Is this song supposed to make me feel happy or sad?

Tenille Townes is an Alberta native who came to Nashville five years ago looking for success in the US market, but only recently joined a major label when she signed with Columbia Nashville last April. This signing led to the release of her latest EP Living Room Worktapes and eventually to the release of her debut single “Somebody’s Daughter.” While it attempts to raise some moderately-tough questions about society, it ends up being a confusing mess of a track whose upbeat production completely contradicts the writing, and it just doesn’t dig deep enough to make the listener care about the subject.

It’s a good thing Townes is dumping her EP producer for the veteran Jay Joyce on her eventual album, because whoever put this mix together either wasn’t actually listening to the lyrics or thought the “sad song sung happily” approach that Thomas Rhett used on “Crash And Burn” would be a good fit here. (It’s not.) The song opens with a bright, energetic acoustic guitar (and maybe a mandolin?) backed by a hard-driving percussion line with both real and synthetic elements, and outside of a background electric guitar that pops up on the choruses and bridge, that’s basically all you get. The mix has a hopeful, almost uplifting quality to it, which makes absolutely no sense for a song talking about someone caught in a hopeless situation. It’s like the mix is throwing a party when partying is the last thing you want to do, and it leaves the audience confused as to whether they should feel happy or sad when the song is over.

Vocally, Townes sounds a lot like Miranda Lambert, with a little bit of Maren Morris thrown in for good measure (although that might be due to the track’s echoey vocal effects that bring “My Church” to mind). The song doesn’t test her flow much, but she demonstrates decent range and the song’s occasional high notes without any trouble. The problem is that much like the production, Townes’s tone is too upbeat to convey any empathy towards the woman holding the cardboard sign, and the narrator doesn’t come across as terribly interested in the sign holder’s plight. Sure, there’s some token interest/awkwardness that’s piqued by the woman’s constant presence, but Townes’s delivery gives off the impression that the sign holder is forgotten five seconds after the light turns green. As a result, the listener isn’t inclined to care any more about the other person than the narrator does, and just moves on to the next song.

In truth, the writing is just as culpable as Townes (if not more so) in minimizing the audience’s interest in the other woman. The story itself tells the tale of the sign holder the narrator sees at the same traffic light every day, and who that person might have been to other people in the past (a best friend, a sister, and of course “somebody’s daughter”). The problem is that the items the narrator chooses to focus on are about the least compelling ones you could think one, as they waste a bunch of time wondering what her name might be and bringing up a bunch of bland, boilerplate imagery (lemonade stand, high school dances, etc.). If the writers really wanted to make a point about something here, they would have asked some tougher questions:

  • What circumstances drove the sign holder to the street corner? Were they laid off, evicted, or driven to bankruptcy?
  • Are they trapped in the throes of addiction?
  • Do they have a place to stay? Where is their next meal coming from?
  • Are they trying to support other people as well as themselves?

Inquiries like these could have shed some light on real societal problems and perhaps even moved the audience to some sort of remedial action. Instead, the song pulls its punches and focuses on things that feel trivial and superficial, showing just enough concern to ease the narrator’s conscience and keep them (and their listeners) from actually doing something substantial.

In the end, “Somebody’s Daughter” is a confusing cop out of a song, and doesn’t do enough to make whatever point it was aiming for. Both the production and writing are plagued by poor choices, and Tenille Townes herself doesn’t do enough to interest me in hearing more of her material. The song shares one unfortunate thing with the down-on-their-luck sign holder it describes, as both are ignored by the rest of the world as they drive on by.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.