“Second Hand Heart”
Written by Dwight Yoakam
Easily his strongest single since “The Back of Your Hand”, Dwight Yoakam is at his best on his new release, “Second Hand Heart.”
Returning to the weathered heartache territory that he does better than anyone else, “Second Hand Heart” captivates from its opening line: “She said, ‘When I trusted love, I dreamed in color, too.'” Eight words out of her mouth and she’s a fully realized character, the mirror image of Yoakam’s protagonist, who recognizes a kindred spirit underneath all of that weariness on the surface.
“I See You”
Written by Luke Bryan, Ashley Gorley, and Luke Laird
This is the sound of an artist that’s struggling against the confines of the niche he’s been assigned, but not being willing to give up enough of the trappings to completely break free.
Blake Shelton & Ashley Monroe
Written by Brent Anderson and Ryan Hurd
It’s billed as a duet, but it’s about as much as an equal pairing as Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle back in the day. Monroe essentially plays a harmony role, singing an answer line from time to time.
Not the best use of her talent, though it seems the only way to get her on the radio is in a feature spot, which is better than nothing. “Lonely Tonight” is a decent spin on the classic “just one more night” theme.
“I’m to Blame”
Written by Westin Davis, Kip Moore, and Justin Weaver
When Kip Moore puts on the outlaw boots, they actually fit just right. He’s not posing. He’s not playing a character. He’s singing his truth, and he can get done singing that truth in two minutes and seventeen seconds.
Zac Brown Band
Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, and Niko Moon
Zac Brown Band has been doing so many variations on the same handful of themes – relaxing, drinking, digging your hometown – that each new release has to mix thing up a bit to justify its existence.
Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter
Written by Kenny Chesney, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
No, it isn’t as strong as “You and Tequila.” Let’s get that out of the way right now, because expecting that lightning to strike twice will make it easy to miss the subtle beauty of “Wild Child”, Chesney’s new collaboration with Grace Potter.
Potter’s harmonies provide the perfect lift to Chesney’s understated and grounded vocal performance, allowing for the two singers to mirror the two characters of the song: a free-spirited woman who follows the wind and the man who is along for the ride.
“Take Your Time”
Written by Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
“Take Your Time” is interesting for its combination of rapidly delivered spoken word and warmly sung melody, and for its tentative attempts to acknowledge a woman’s own agency.
The structure borrows heavily from contemporary urban music, and will sound familiar to anyone who has listened to a fair amount of Drake. But Hunt keeps the proceedings grounded enough in country that it doesn’t sound nearly as reductive as it could’ve been.
Written by Jaron Boyer and Sara Haze
This is quite the quiet riot. Rascal Flatts return to their signature ballad sound on “Riot”, which has moments that sound like a throwback to “What Hurts the Most.”
Unlike that classic hit, which soared with melodramatic intensity, this one never leaves first gear. All of the effective atmosphere that’s built up during the first verse dissolves into a very bland chorus that lacks any punch. Perhaps that’s because the whole conceit of there being “a riot breaking up my heart” if their love goes south doesn’t make much sense.
Written by Bill Anderson, Mo Pitney, and Bobby Timberlin
At first, Mo Pitney’s “Country” sounds like one of those songs they used to write to open an awards show back in the eighties. But as the song progresses, the scope of what he’s describing as country expands, until it moves into the surprisingly touching final verse that details a funeral for a fallen soldier.
“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.