This review roundup features a few singles recently sent to country radio.
“Never Have I Ever”
Written by Laura Veltz, David Hall Hodges, and Danielle Bradbery
Like its predecessor American Idol, I think the main reason why The Voice has never been too successful in breaking out new artists is because the formula hasn’t changed. That, being: set the winning artist up with a selection of professional songwriters and proceed to scrub every iota of distinctive personality to create more bland material for the general public. Danielle Bradbery, for example, has managed to stick around in spite of that formula, but her and her team have also been trying to relaunch her career for around five years now, and the results have ranged from great (“Goodbye Summer”) to downright terrible (“Friend Zone”).
Sadly, I predict new single “Never Have I Ever” will get lost in the shuffle, too – an overly dark, serious piano ballad (complete with snap tracks, no less) that’s supposed to be about the joys of finding “the one,” but sounds cold and calculated, instead. For whatever reason, I recently remembered how much I love Sara Evans’ “As If,” which is basically this song with actual, you know, tempo and energy. Lyrically, there’s nothing to save this, either; especially when it’s all about empty feelings rather than details of what makes this relationship so great anyway.
“Where That Beer’s Been”
Written by Travis Denning, Rhett Akins, Chris Stevens, and Jeremy Stover
I’m starting to think the potential I heard in Travis Denning a few years ago with “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” was all for naught. The general public must agree, too, given that it took second single “After A Few” a mind-boggling 65 weeks to hit the top of the charts.
And you know that most of these artists are out of ideas when they start framing their songs around the life cycle of a beer can. No joke, the whole point here is to ponder how this mystical, magical beer got into his hands. I think I have a few books on supply chain from my college days, Denning – you’re more than welcome to them. Really, I know beer and trucks have been popular mainstream country conversation topics for, well, far too long now, but personifying these entities doesn’t make for interesting material.
It’s far from the worst song out there, but there’s hardly anything redeemable about this, either. Denning has never been a particularly great singer, but he’s found ways to sidestep those issues and let the song shine, for better or worse. Here, his twang is overexaggerated and unpleasant to listen to, and to fit with the modern times, this song features a weird mix of a crunchy electric guitar with a snap track, because we couldn’t figure out which market we wanted to pander to, I suppose.
“wAnt me back”
Written by Lindsay Ell and Kane Brown
Like with Keith Urban of the modern era, I’m left wishing we heard more of Lindsay Ell’s guitar playing that establishes her as a unique presence within mainstream country music, especially when new single “wAnt me back” doesn’t differ much from most other singles you’ll hear on the radio right now, special title formatting aside. The mix here is conventional: a combination of slick, electric guitars and an all-too-prominent drum machine that should never outright define the arrangement.
Granted, there’s a genuine frustration to Ell’s performance that greatly suits the content, in which she isn’t willing to restart a failed relationship with a character established as pushy and unlikable. I love the natural confidence in the tone and framing, but like with most singles these days, the details aren’t much of anything substantial. The past relationship is never fully explored beyond its sexual details, meaning that it’s hard to engage with this song beyond its run time, let alone during it. The potential is there, but wasted potential is sometimes more disappointing than an outright bad song.
Written by Randall King, Brice Long, and Mark Nesler
Not that the material is as fresh or exciting as I had hoped it would be, or that the impact has really been all that noticeable, but I’ve been happy to witness the Texas invasion within Nashville in recent years, in which acts like Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson have gone from independent success stories to mainstream hit-makers.
Hopefully that can continue with Randall King, who isn’t pushing the envelope by any means, but is providing solid country music that sounds like it actually belongs within the genre (unlike certain songs in this roundup). New single “Hey Cowgirl” has an interesting premise, and there’s some great warmth to the fiddle that plays off the solid, understated bass groove. There’s a mysterious aura to this that fits the mystique of the “cowgirl” character in question, too.
It’s just that the actual details never fluctuate. King notices from afar that this character has her eyes set on leaving for somewhere new, but we only ever know her by her looks – right away with the first verse, but also with how every cowboy in town has tried to win her over and failed. The George Strait reference is fitting and all, but it’s a line that could have been devoted to answering the real questions. We don’t know who she is or why she’s leaving, and the entire song just feels unfinished because of it, even if it sounds really nice.
Blake Shelton (w/ Gwen Stefani)
Written by Ross Copperman, Josh Osborne, and Matt Jenkins
You know how Blake Shelton’s last single revolved around how much he loved Gwen Stefani? Well, this is basically that again – just with better instrumentation and production. Really, the earthy, rollicking banjo and lingering pedal steel in the low end both provide a sense of warmth that suits Shelton’s older style better than any single of his as of late not named “God’s Country.” But for as charismatic as can be, his performance here feels lacking and cold, and Stefani is barely noticeable. Plus, it’s not like this stands out that much to not feel interchangeable with a good chunk of his 2010s material. It’s decent, but I grew tired of settling for decent from Shelton a long time ago.