Like “I Won’t Let Go” a few years back, “Changed” is built on a sweeping sentiment, rousing melody and very little else. That’s not an inherently bad thing; despite an ounce of detail about the confessor, “Changed” feels like a confession –it pleads and swells and submits. Add in an earnest and relatively restrained performance, and the song has legs.
Written by Gary LeVox, Wendell Mobley & Neil Thrasher
There’s something slightly jarring about the patrons’ terribly depressing hardships when the only payoff in the song is alcohol-infused hope. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe the bartender’s storyline is just a pinch undercooked. Regardless, it’s hard to knock the lovely, retro-Keith vocals and arrangement.
Tim McGraw ft. Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, “Highway Don’t Care”
In theory, this is a cool track: Swift’s removed, floating performance makes sense in a song about loneliness, and Urban’s vigorous guitar work could mirror the discord in any relationship. But the melody just isn’t as driving as the three artists think it is, and the pairing of McGraw and Swift doesn’t have much grit, sonically or romantically. There’s little to grab onto past the second or third listen.
Written by Mark Irwin, Josh Kear, & Brad and Brett Warren
story subtle dimension. Best of all is the jolt that comes from one ever-relevant line in the chorus, smartly directed at the listener: “Happiness don’t drag its feet” is as sage a piece of advice as any given by our favorite ’90s storytellers.
An ode to being a chains-free, red wine-drinking hot mess could be tacky and unnecessarily snarky. In Armiger’s hands, it’s tasteful, swampy and empowering. Grade: B+
Brett Eldredge, “Don’t Ya”
It’s been awhile since we’ve heard a voice as soulful as Eldredge’s massage a melody as enticing as this one. “Just Got Started Loving You” this song is not, but with its sly lyrics and irresistible chorus, it comes close. Grade: B+
Justin Moore, “Til My Last Day”
Written by Brian Dean Maher, Justin Moore & Jeremy Stover
Written by Lindsay Chapman, Natalie Hemby & Blu Sanders
You can’t blend two of the greatest voices of our generation without a decent result. Unfortunately, that’s all this is – a pleasant, sweetly sung sleeper that doesn’t do much to elevate either of these enormous talents. Grade: B-
Miss Willie Brown, “You’re All That Matters to Me”
Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange
A manic, over-the-top love letter that’s simply not wacky enough to be the self-parody that its music video suggests. Grade: C
Jason Aldean ft. Luke Bryan and Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know”
Written by Ben Hayslip and David Lee Murphy
Three of the fastest-rising male artists in country music are also three of the most distinct male artists in country music, each having built his fanbase on a unique persona and brand of swagger. Oddly, this collaboration seems to meld their personalities together into one that’s less interesting than all three.
But that’s not the bigger issue at hand. The song sinks because of its empty lyrics, its jarring theme of “humble pride” against a needlessly aggressive arrangement, and its subtle implication that a work ethic cut from a different cloth than the narrators’ is a lesser one.
We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).
Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”
Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson
Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B
Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”
Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk
Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+
Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”
Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann
Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-
Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”
Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele
Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B
Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”
Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall
If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-
Written by Ryan Fleener, Jeff Middleton and Justin Wilson
Their Springsteen is showing too much, but I still hope it’s a hit. Like “Something Better” before it, solid blue-collar bar rock.
Old Crow Medicine Show, “Wagon Wheel”
Written by Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor
I’m confused. Are they actually releasing this oldie as a single? Wasn’t it already one? This is probably just some random promo thingy. In any case, still one of country music’s all-time great sing-alongs.