“Prize Fighter” (with Kelly Clarkson)
Written by Jessi Alexander, Sarah Buxton, and Ross Copperman
Yes, it’s been more than seven years since Trisha Yearwood has released a proper single. Yes, it was worth the wait.
“Prize Fighter” is uplifting, inspirational, and powerful. It showcases Yearwood’s still flawless voice, an instrument that is effective at every setting between whisper and shout, and is always properly calibrated to the material it delivers. It’s a credit to Kelly Clarkson that she can even keep up with Yearwood, and her contributions to the track are complementary, if not entirely necessary.
Written by Ross Copperman, Tony Martin and Mark Nesler
Good for Josh Turner for sticking with his neo-traditional country sound, even though he’s in the oft talked about minority nowadays. I don’t listen to country radio anymore, but I imagine that some people will think that “Lay Low” sounds stale and boring amongst the bombastic and party anthem “escapism” of country radio playlists these days.
“Something in the Water”
Written by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Carrie Underwood
If anybody’s going to sing a song about the power of the water to cleanse your soul, it should be Carrie Underwood. Her voice and her presence on record are enough to wash country listeners’ ears clean from all the dreck we’re being assaulted with these days.
Underwood previews her upcoming hits collection by revisiting a theme that she’s explored before, but with a wisdom and maturity that can only come from life experience. “Something in the Water” shifts the transformative experience of “Jesus, Take the Wheel” into the first person, a sign, along with her co-writing credit, of how much more personal ownership she now takes over her work. So as great as that first hit was, it’s the new release that throbs with urgency and intensity, moving the spiritual experience from something philosophical into something viscerally real.
Florida Georgia Line
Written by Felix McTeigue, Chris Tompkins, and Craig Wiseman
A piece of trash so shamelessly awful that it is beyond parody. Beyond comprehension. Almost beyond comment.
To observe that Florida Georgia Line’s work barely qualifies as country music seems pointless, given that it barely qualifies as music in the first place. It’s noise. Loud, irritating, soulless, pandering, patronizing noise. This record is so bad that it should end with an apology and a voucher for time lost that the listener can never get back.
Written by Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey, and Troy Verges
Tim McGraw’s been getting his groove back lately. Much of his new album, Sundown Heaven Town, recalls the sound of his biggest turn-of-the-century hits without sounding dated.
“Shotgun Rider” is a great example of this, having that wistful, floating on air quality that made “Just to See You Smile” and “For a Little While” so infectious. Sure, he’s singing about riding around town in his truck with a pretty girl. Hardly groundbreaking lyrical territory these days.
Written by Andrew Dorff, Mark Irwin, and Josh Kear
Brooks & Dunn made an entire career out of honky tonk puns and play on words. “Neon Light” is a throwback to those songs, with Blake Shelton previewing his new album with a song built around there being “a neon light at the end of the tunnel.”
To his credit, Shelton plays it subtle, with the song not having that arena-in-mind noisiness that has come to define today’s country music. But the song never quite gets out of first gear, either. Sure, the song didn’t need power chords and hair band chants. But it certainly would benefit from more aggressive fiddle and steel guitar.
“People Loving People”
Written by Michael Busbee, Lee Thomas Miller & Chris Wallin
There is no nuanced way to say it. Garth Brooks’ long anticipated comeback single is really bad with a little bit of good to keep it from being really, really bad.
We’ll start with the good. The message and concept of the song is admirable and hits my personal sweet spot of songs that promote love, peace and goodness in the world. He posits that it’s simply people loving people that will make the world better. It’s a simplistic view of things, but a sweet one that I can get behind on a basic level. In fact, the lyrics are well constructed and not even too cloying to sell the sentiment, which is a difficult line to balance.
“Burnin’ it Down”
Written by Rodney Clawson, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, and Chris Tompkins
Country music isn’t historically prudish. It covers the topical gambit of love, drinking, cheating, murder and, yes, even passion. Conway Twitty, Alabama, Charlie Rich, even Alan Jackson ,as well as many others, haven’t shied away from memorably singing about sexual intimacy. But their songs maintained a respect for the intimacy, which Jason Aldean’s “Burnin” it Down” grossly fails to do. Instead, the song is high octane graphic with no sense of real intimacy and nothing left up to the imagination.
“What We Ain’t Got”
The power of simplicity is on full display here.
Jake Owen’s new single is a powerful ballad because it’s not a power ballad. He pairs an intimate and quite painful lyrics with a piano and subtle backing vocals.
The thing about Chris Young is that he’s a great traditional country singer. I think that’s his preference, too.