“Better Than You Left Me”
Written by Mickey Guyton, Jennifer Hanson, and Jenn Schott
This is pretty much how a country ballad is supposed to sound, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing says heartache like a steel guitar, and if you’re going to sing with vulnerability, it’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. All you need to do is show up with a decent lyric, not let the production get in the way, sing the song well, and you’re done.
Mickey Guyton gets some of the above right, just not quite all the way in any way. The production stays out of the way, as it should. The lyric is your standard issue, stronger than before song. It gets the tone right but doesn’t have enough specific details or standout lines that linger in the memory. This theme has been done so many times before that you really need to do it very well for it to be memorable.
The lyric doesn’t live up to that need, and the vocal performance isn’t strong enough to carry it over the finish line. Guyton is a competent singer, but there’s nothing distinctive about her performance that makes the voice any more memorable than the lyric. Sometimes is takes a while for an artist to capture what makes their singing special on record. (Just go back and listen to Reba McEntire’s early work if you’re doubting that statement.)
If anything, “Better Than You Left Me” stands out from the pack because nobody’s doing these kind of records anymore. Back when they were, even a great record that met all of the above criteria – something like “Drive Time” by Lisa Stewart or “That’s Me” by Martina McBride – could still fail to find an audience. I’m all for this sound coming back. I just wish it was with a better record.