Justin Moore, “Small Town USA”

justin-moore-copyWhat can you say when the song title tells you upfront how generic the song itself is going to be? I mean, the thing practically reviews itself, doesn’t it?

Seriously, though, the problem here isn’t that the song is about why living in a small town is (as you might guess) awesome.  The problem is that it doesn’t really give anyone who doesn’t feel the same way any reason to feel otherwise. It was clearly written solely to appeal to a demographic of people who also live in small towns and can relate to surface-level ideas like “everybody knows me and I know them” and “give me a Sunday morning that’s full of grace” (or in Moore’s case, “grA-a-A-a-A-ace”) without any further development of those ideas.

But that’s the thing: without further development, the ideas just sound really, really clichéd. Simply pointing out that you enjoy a “six-pack of Lite” doesn’t really tell me much about you, because guess what? Lots of people from lots of different living environments like lite beer. You have to give your ideas a little context for them to mean anything to anyone but you.

The problem reminds me of “Redneck Woman,” which also glorified a particular rural lifestyle but felt a lot more accessible in how it did so. I think what made the difference was that Gretchen Wilson explained why she liked being a redneck instead of just saying, “hey, I like being a redneck.” For instance, when she mentioned that she liked to drink beer, she set it up as a contrast to being a “Barbie Doll-type” who “swig[s] that sweet champagne,” so that even if we couldn’t relate to that particular preference ourselves, we could see where she was coming from and apply the greater principle in play to ourselves. If her life was a party, she let us in on it.

Moore, on the other hand, is like that guy who calls you from inside the party to let you know how awesome it is without actually explaining what’s going on. It’s not that you don’t believe him; it’s just that he never explains why you should happen to care.

Grade: D+

Listen: Small Town USA

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19 Comments

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19 Responses to Justin Moore, “Small Town USA”

  1. I basically had the same opinion about this song although I have a feeling that it was released just because it is a theme Radio loves nowadays….sigh….

  2. Kevin J. CoyneNo Gravatar

    That picture is just too funny.

    Regarding “Redneck Woman”, I think the reason that song worked was because it universalized being a “redneck woman” into being someone who doesn’t care what other people think, and is proud of who she is. A good friend of mine who was born and raised in the Bronx, teaches in Brooklyn, and is Nicaraguan, adopted it as her personal anthem for a bit.

    I think where Wilson got off track was when she started explicitly elevating the redneck woman image over every other conceivable form of American woman, with that terribly condescending “California Girls” single. It didn’t help that she was dressed like one in the video, either.

  3. JasonNo Gravatar

    I think that is the point. Get your song played on the radio so people can hear it and decide if it appeals to them.

  4. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    “I think the reason that song worked was because it universalized being a “redneck woman” into being someone who doesn’t care what other people think, and is proud of who she is.”

    I definitely agree. The point I was going for is just that she wouldn’t have been able to make that role seem so relatable if the song hadn’t given us a clear indication as to why the details of her testimony were significant to her. In the case of that song, it’s clear that she has been prompted to declare her self-worth because she’s reacting to actually having been looked down on and having seen models on TV and whatnot. We hear that in the lyric, we relate to having been marginalized on some level also, and we instantly relate to her.

    Contrast that with “Small Town USA,” where there is no palpable emotional reason for his taking this time to tell us how great it is to live in his hometown. His images feel lifeless not just because they’re cliche, but because he presents no actual reason for why he thinks they’re all so great or how he came to that conclusion.

    Regarding Wilson again, I do think she and her handlers really misinterpreted the success of “Redneck Woman” a great deal. From “All Jacked Up” on, it was clear no one really knew what they were doing anymore.

  5. ClayNo Gravatar

    I think its a Great song just like many others that he has written..And do you really think that someone that grew up in a large city and have never experienced southern living, small hometowns, and having a lite beer on the tailgate of a truck is even going to be listening to this song or enjoy country music?…..I would venture to say probably NOT! Nothing wrong with your opinions of the song, different strokes for….well you know the rest. Just think your analyzing a good song a little too much and blaming him for writing a song about real-life experiences that apparentley you cant grasp..

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Clay, You just named the problem, I’d say. A song needs to be good enough to reach more than one demographic, which as you say yourself, this song fails to do. Also, it’s inaccurate to suggest that people who live in big cities can’t appreciate country music. It’s like saying that people from small towns can’t appreciate movies that occur in big cities. If the song or movie does its job correctly, it will appeal to people from multiple geographic arieas/life styles. That’s the beauty of imagination.

  7. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Leeann’s comment said everything I’d like to and more. But I appreciate your feedback, Clay, and I thank you for being respectful with it. Believe it or not, there are a lot of country songs I really like that are about living in small towns; I just think they do a better job of portraying what’s so appealing about that lifestyle than this one does.

    Anyways, I actually really like Justin Moore’s singing voice – I think it has a lot of potential – but I do think he needs to find a more interesting perspective as a songwriter, or else find more interesting songs by other people. This song doesn’t do much to distinguish him from all of the other singers who love their small towns.

  8. Dan,

    I’d point people to Songwriter Wynn Varble’s “Small Talk Cafe” or “Cafe On The Corner” by Sawyer Brown or “God’s Country, USA” as examples of ‘good’ country songs, at least for people to compare this one to.

  9. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar

    I’m not at all opposed to these kinds of songs. Like Dan, I just prefer better ones. One of my favorite small town Saturday night songs is called just that — Hal Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night.” It’s very similar, but does more showing and less telling, and I didn’t have to grow up in a small town to love it.

  10. T.J StiltnerNo Gravatar

    i could understand where someone from the city wouldn’t understand what the song really means. but for me living out in the country i understand what the song really stands for. the simple things of a smalltown that mean everything and that really matter are in this song. But this type of theym for this song is getting over play in the country music industry alot. but its a gret song i love it

  11. TomNo Gravatar

    Country music songs are not supposed to appeal to anyone who doesn’t like it. Most people that listen to country come from small towns like myself. Not everyone is gonna like country but the people that do probably love this song like myself. I doubt Justin or true country fans give a crap about your opinion anyway Mr. Miliken.

  12. I’m a songwriter in Nashville who deeply respects country music, and has had some very close calls at getting a song recorded by a major artist. The point I want to make is that if I (as an undiscovered songwriter) were to bring this song in to show an A&R person at a record label in hopes of getting it recorded, they would tell me that it was a cliche’ effort and that I’m gonna have to do a hell of a lot better than that to get a cut!! …Yet here it is on the airwaves. LOL- Believe me when I tell you that there is better material out there to choose from- some of it from unknown writers like us… but until the fans demand more from the record companies, they will keep selling you what you seem to be buying.

  13. AndyNo Gravatar

    Did you ever consider that the lack of development helps lend credibility to the intention of the song? Someone creating an elaborate description of small town ideals in a song that emphasizes how low impact small town life can be is nothing short of hypocritical.

    Frankly, it’s irresponsible to put an artist on blast for connecting with a primary demographic of the country music simply because a segment of the general population cannot relate.

  14. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Andy,

    First off, I think “irresponsible” is over-dramatizing my role a bit. Irresponsible to whom? Anyone who reads this review is free to agree or to think I’m full of it. My opinion may be a little more public than someone else’s because it’s on a blog, but it’s still just an opinion.

    Anyway, I actually like the point you’re making about the nature of the song reflecting its intent – it’s an interesting idea. I just don’t feel it quite applies here. When I talk about this song being underdeveloped, I don’t mean that it’s not elaborate or complex enough. I just mean that, given what the song presents, it’s impossible for me to experience as a listener – I can’t see the hallowed old dirt road, the Sunday morning full of grace, all that, so I can’t feel the singer/writer’s pride in them.

    And that’s not because I’ve never seen those things in real life (I have); it’s because the song itself doesn’t do anything to show us them. It spends all its time on spoon-feeding us a message – “I like small-town living, I find it superior” – when it ought to be cultivating an idea of that small town in our minds, showing us what makes it idyllic. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to be more exact. Look at a song like Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road,” which has passing references to kids racing barefoot to a fence and picking blackberries. Not complex ideas – just specific enough ones to help get a listener engaged.

    Or, if my living environment is really the problem, imagine if the song was about my scenario. Let’s say someone puts out a song about living near downtown Nashville and basically spends the entire time just saying, “I love it here. Some people don’t, but I do. I like to drink beer here and sit with my baby and go to church and to downtown. And people are nice. Here in Nashville, Tennessee.” It may have some nice ideas, but it doesn’t give you much of a distinct picture of what makes Nashville great, does it? I wouldn’t want to listen to that song, and I live here. That’s my issue with this song; I love small towns, and I don’t think this one does them justice.

    Sheesh, sorry that turned so long!

  15. TomNo Gravatar

    too much brain meets too little substance. however, the song comes across quite nicely on the radio due to justin moore’s voice. And by the way, i haven’t got a clue how things were in Luckenbach, Tx at the time, either.

  16. tboNo Gravatar

    Are you kidding me? Someone put it very well earlier. Do you honestly think he cares what people like you think about his song. i love the song. If people dont “get it” then dont listen to it. His whole cd is great. I think there should be some more folks like him in country music. He’s not like tim mcgraw or kenny chesney, when you hear his music you know he trily believes what he is saying. Thats credibility, not long chesney singing about the country and how much he loves it but then lives and parties in the carribean or wherever. This guy is real not fake like too many country artists today.

  17. Personally, I feel that you put this song down simply to make yourself feel intelligent. The song does appeal to the demographic and, hmm, isn’t that the point? All music appeals to people in different ways. Saying that this song only appeals to those who are experiencing or have experienced living in a small town is being extremely stereotypical. Give up and allow people to like what they like. Thanks.

  18. Why do men in country style clothing look good always even if they aren’t? I mean like they always got this macho mark on them and we couldn’t get away with that do we? But of course except when Broke back mountain came out of theaters, we just had a whole new vision on them… but hey they still looked good!

  19. NickNo Gravatar

    Sorry Dan,

    I have to completely disagree with you here! It’s absolutely refreshing to here a country singer nowadays go back to his base and not try to cater to the suburbia crowd that most of country music attracts. The vast majority of “original country fans”( the ones who liked country before it was cool) I know, cannot stand the majority of todays country singers because they don’t sing country anymore. When Aldean performed with Ludacis it was a real big low point for folks like me. If we wanted rap music we would listen to rap music!