Single Review Roundup: Miranda Lambert, Darius Rucker, and Clay Walker

This roundup post features a few singles recently sent to country radio.

Miranda Lambert Wildcard

“Settling Down”

Miranda Lambert

Written by Miranda Lambert, Luke Dick, and Natalie Hemby

As our recent CMA showcase suggests, none of us here at Country Universe were that wild about Wildcard. With that said, the success story for “Bluebird” is one of few bright spots in this otherwise terrible year, so the obvious next single choice to capitalize on that momentum is either “Track Record” or “Dark Bars,” right?

Sadly, no, and quite frankly, while “Settling Down” is still one of the better offerings from Wildcard, it’s only an average cut in Lambert’s discography as a whole. There’s some merit to the writing, which finds Lambert questioning her own insecurities and reservations when it comes to giving in to love – it’s the thematic undercurrent of Wildcard as a whole, really, meaning this fits in better as an album track than as a standalone single. Granted, there’s some great imagery implemented within the metaphors and questions asked throughout, but without that easy resolution explored elsewhere on that album, it leaves this particular track somewhere in the middle.

But “Settling Down” is also emblematic of the problems facing Wildcard as a whole, an overmixed track where, yes, those tinges of atmosphere blend nicely with the minor guitar strums leading into the track. But they never balance right with the sandy drums, and the bass shouldn’t be louder than Lambert herself on the prechorus.

It’s still fairly decent as a whole, but there were stronger single choices on Wildcard to sustain Lambert’s commercial rebound.

Grade: B-

Darius Rucker Beers & Sunshine

“Beers and Sunshine”

Darius Rucker

Written by Ross Copperman, John Thomas Harding, Josh Osborne, and Darius Rucker

It’s August. Why are we getting a sluggish summertime anthem now? As Darius Rucker’s first solo single since reuniting with Hootie & the Blowfish last year, “Beers and Sunshine” is an all-around mediocre track, designed only to offer empty calories in a dark time. And after laying out my problems with this in recent reviews for Brothers Osborne, Luke Bryan and Easton Corbin (and plenty of other singles I’ve outright ignored), I’m tired, y’all.

Now, I wouldn’t call it a revival of bro-country – there’s nothing wrong with inherently dumb, fun party music, and I’d argue that trend was more about leering misogyny than anything else – but Kelsea Ballerini is the only artist in 2020 to even get it remotely right; give these tunes some flavor, some pizzazz, something distinctive!

Don’t do what “Beers and Sunshine” does, which leads the way with an odd blend of acoustics, snap tracks and synthetic elements that sound cold and chintzy. Sure, there’s shades of ukulele and pedal steel thrown into the mix, but they’re pushed so far back that they may as well not even be here, which is a shame, given how they could have added some much-needed energy and breeziness to this slog of a tune.

As to be expected, it’s the lyrics in 2020’s summertime anthems that are most infuriating, mostly because they’re all framed as mindless escapism and nothing more. The only “BS” this character here needs is beers & sunshine, which is one of the most terrible hooks I’ve heard all year. Not that I exactly love quarantine-themed songs myself, but the alternative these days is just lazy.

Granted, this is just turning into more of a general rant at this point. For this particular song, Rucker’s serviceable, charismatic performance is probably the only redeeming factor of this song, which isn’t so much bad as it is terribly mediocre.

Do better, country music.

Grade: D+

“Need A Bar Sometimes”

Clay Walker

Written by Clay Walker, Jaron Boyer, Josh Mirenda, and George Birge

Something’s brewing in the Clay Walker camp. After floating as an independent artist following his departure from Curb Records – which resulted in 2019’s Long Live The Cowboy and recently released single, “Easy Goin’” – Walker’s now on Show Dog Nashville, so it’s debatable whether that was actually a trade up or not.

While Walker hasn’t given up the radio airplay fight quite yet, his current place in country music scans as an all-too-familiar tale of the choices artists like him have at this point in their careers: age gracefully with the material, or try and compete with today’s market. It’s the latter option that artists often choose, and – barring, say, the late Kenny Rogers – it rarely works.

Granted, new single “Need A Bar Sometimes” is somewhat better than anything off Walker’s last album, but that’s not saying much. The percussion is clunky and sitting at the front of the mix to give us all headaches, and the pedal steel is placed through a synthetic filter to try and put a fresh spin on an old sound, but sounds cold and not at all fitting for the subject matter.

Which, frankly, isn’t interesting, either. It’s a platitude-filled, checklist, ultra generic way of pandering to the Holy Grail of country song settings – a bar. There’s good intentions to the framing, to be fair, what with Walker pointing out how these establishments act as needed crutches to heal emotional anguish. But there’s plenty of better songs that speak to that darker subtext much more effectively by carrying a sharper lyrical focus, and it’s hard to tell if the hollow production is supposed to make this feel celebratory or serious.

In other words, I’m going back to listening to “Dreaming With My Eyes Wide Open” for now.

Grade: C

 

5 Comments

  1. For the Miranda Lambert single, I think Settlin’ Down is a radio friendly choice that balances the country sound that she made and the melodic pop that just won’t leave the ear. It is one of my favorite tracks in the album.

    Track Record or Fire Escape would have been a better choice though. But I am so not complaining as long as it’s not the horrid Marren Morris collab or that trashy White Trash.

  2. Perhaps I was negatively affected by the first five seconds of Way Too Pretty for Prison. That destroyed my ears. Otherwise, it’s pretty okay for a ditty.

    Agreed. This feels like a step backward. There is usually a cut in a Miranda Lambert album that screams “This is a classic!”

    Yep. Wildcard has none.

  3. For what it’s worth, I’m not wild about “Way Too Pretty For Prison” either. I just find it hard to believe that Miranda Lambert – The artist who sang “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead” – would play a character who’d have any reservations about going to jail.

  4. The Miranda song is the best one here for me because it at least has a catchy melody, and I like the dobro. Not a fan of all the production choices, though, and some of the lyrics are still a bit checklisty for me. This will probably be one of the better songs on the radio, but she’s definitely done better than this.

    Yet another boring, forgettable song by Darius Rucker…sigh. Don’t people ever get tired of hearing these kind of songs? I guess not, since we’re still getting them here in 2020.

    The Clay Walker song is my biggest disappointment, since I definitely know he’s capable of much better. Clay still sounds great, but I’m just not a fan of the production, at all. Also, what’s with all the songs about bars, whiskey, and drinking lately? See also recent singles from George Strait, Garth Brooks, Jon Pardi, and others. Sure, those topics have been in country music forever, but it seems like this whole “return of traditional country/90’s country” trend has people thinking that almost all songs now have to be about bars and drinking when 90’s country and traditional country in general has always been much more than that. Anyway, I’m going back to listening to “You’re Beginning to Get To Me,” “If You Ever Feel Like Loving Me Again,” and some of Clay’s other classic hits.

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