When Jason Aldean wraps his voice around compelling material, the results are magical.
But more often than not, Aldean is delivering mediocre material. “When She Says Baby” is a great example of how he can take a pedestrian, paint-by-numbers song and make it a little more interesting. He plays with the speed of the lyrics in the chorus, all while keeping in time with the music behind him. He adds a working man’s frustrated exhaustion as an undercurrent when the lyrics bemoan the daily grind, and effortlessly switches to the relief of a man who has a great woman to come home to, just as soon as the lyric switches to being about her.
But when a guy can do so much with so little, even a moderately pleasurable listening experience like this one leaves but one question lingering after the music fades: “Why did he record this?”
Brad Paisley’s had a lot of hit love songs over the years, many of which I’ve found irritating because they are either blithely condescending (“To the world, you’re nothing, but to me, you’re the world!”) or downright insulting (“I love the little moments where you do something stupid!”)
On “The Mona Lisa”, he opts for humility instead, and knocks it out of the park. He compares his own purpose in life to being the frame that holds the Mona Lisa, serving as nothing but the backdrop for the jaw-droppingly awesome lady he just feels lucky to have. Couple that with an incredibly fresh production, which showcases his guitar prowess and a remarkably alive vocal performance, and you’ve got one of his greatest singles to date.
A breakthrough single that’s as notable for what it isn’t as for what it is.
“Friday Night” is nothing special in terms of lyrical content, and while Paslay is a competent singer, there’s nothing on the track that indicates he’s the next Keith Urban, or even the next Blake Shelton. But he’s learned a few lessons along the way about what not to do. The arrangement is simple, the musicianship clean and crisp, and the banjo drives the hook, rather than loud electric guitars or cumbersome percussion.
But I think what I like the best about “Friday Night” is its brevity. Clocking in at just under three minutes, Paslay’s single ends a little abruptly, just when you think it’s going to devolve into an endless chorus with louder vocals and busier instrumentation. It’s a production approach that makes a great song go on for too long, and a tolerable one become insufferable.
So kudos to Eric Paslay for not wearing out his welcome the first time around.
Written by Rob Crosby, Rose Falcon, and Eric Paslay
So… this is coming from pop idol Britney Spears’ 22-year-old younger sister who starred in a teen sitcom on Nickelodeon, and who became a tabloid favorite thanks to a controversial teen pregnancy. By all immediate expectations, her debut country single should be a disaster, and I should be making a stale pun out of the song’s title, right?
Only it isn’t a disaster. It’s well written, competently sung, and backed by a confident, un-fussy production that unmistakably identifies it as a country record. No disastrous attempts at power notes, no wall of thrashing guitars – just simple, gimmick-free, no-frills storytelling with generous amounts of country instrumentation. A pleasant surprise coming from a figure who could easily coast along on name recognition.
It’s unfortunate that “How Could I Want More” is hindered by a few clichés (“Treats me like a princess,” “Let’s me have it my way,” etc.), but the gaps are filled in with a fully realized melody and a tastefully restrained vocal. One might even hear shades of Deana Carter in Spears’ vocal stylings – poised, subtle, sincere, and with a hint of twang.
We’ll have to wait and see if Spears’ full-length debut country album, due out later this year, will bring her any closer to the potential suggested by this single. But if “How Could I Want More” is a sign of an artist taking her cues from country’s finest storytellers of the nineties, I will gladly welcome the younger Spears sibling into the country fold with open arms.
Written by Jamie Lynn Spears and Rivers Rutherford
While I waiting for the YouTube video to load, they played a 30-second commercial for the Duck Dynasty Christmas album, which apparently has the reality show stars singing Christmas standards while ducks quack along with them. It sounded better than “Stay.”
Cheap shot? Perhaps. The truth is, I’ve avoided writing about Florida Georgia Line as much as possible, as I can’t remember an act I felt so tremendously indifferent to. Ten years ago, I’d be angry about their prominence, but mainstream country music has lowered its standards so much at this point that it seems totally normal that a song written and sung this poorly could be a big hit by an award show dominating act.
The reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year have covered a mediocre track from a little known rock band called Black Stone Cherry*, and now it’s their latest single. I believe it’s already a hit. This is the new normal. Have fun.
I think I’ve discovered a virtue of rock bands that choose to go country. They feel a need to dial it back a bit, so we end up with a less cluttered, more straightforward performance.
There’s nothing distinguishingly country about “Carolina”, which makes it stand out among a lot of what’s on country radio right now. But here’s the rub. It stands out because it’s not as garishly loud as the rock wannabes up and down the radio dial right now. They don’t try as hard as Darius Rucker or even Sheryl Crow to make it at least sound like they’re seriously attempting country music, but maybe less loud rock music is the best we can hope for these days.
So, in case you’re pining for the days of Third Eye Blind and such, here you go. They’re called Parmalee.
Written by Rick Beato, Barry Knox, Joshua McSwain, Matt Thomas, and Scott Thomas
He may have been the runner-up on one of the weakest seasons of Survivor (finishing second to this strategic powerhouse), but Chase Rice has beaten tough competition from the likes of Jason Aldean’s “1994,” Parmalee’s “Carolina,” Ashton Shepherd’s “This is America,” Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here,” Krystal Keith’s “Daddy Dance with Me,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” for the title of 2013′s worst country single.
For all of the countless complaints about the rise of “bro country” during the past year, what much of the criticism of this trend has ignored is its fundamental anonymity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of songs that champion tailgate parties or casual weekend hookups, as the kinds of experiences characterized in songs like Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” or “Ready Set Roll” are familiar to an audience that is not insignificant in size or purchasing power.
The problem, then, with this glut of frat-boys in their Ed Hardy gear and pick-ups– and what Rice and “Ready Set Roll” epitomize– is their interchangeability. Rice and his co-writers (usual suspects Rhett Akins and Chris Destefano) write almost entirely in clichés (“Yeah, we can run this town / I can rock your world / We can roll ‘em down, fog ‘em up / Cruise around and get stuck”), such that none of the experiences they’ve written about here are the least bit distinctive. But for a deeply gross line that goes farther in the objectification of women than do most songs of this ilk (“Get ya fine little ass on the step / Shimmy up inside / And slide girl, by my side girl”), there isn’t a single line in “Ready Set Roll” that couldn’t be exchanged word-for-word with lines from “Cruise” or Jake Owen’s “Days of Gold” or Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” or Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” without changing those songs in any meaningful or even noticeable way.
Setting aside the shallowness of the subject matter and Rice’s struggles with even basic syntax, it’s that lack of any discernible point-of-view that makes “Ready Set Roll” such appalling poor songwriting, the nadir of a trend that has quite rightly drawn the ire of those who value country music for its history of distinctive narratives, personal insight, and pure escapism that is still respectful of both craft and its audience.
And, thanks to a dated, cheap-sounding production job and Rice’s limited vocal ability, “Ready Set Roll” doesn’t even work as a throwaway, escapist single. The use of a digitized text-reader voice to bookend the single is jarring and adds nothing of value to the track. The most pedestrian of hip-hop beats drowns out the requisite handful of rote country signifiers, and the mixing sounds like it was made on a circa-2004 version of Winamp.
As he sort-of-raps his way through the track, Rice affects a throaty growl that unfavorably recalls Brantley Gilbert, and he dutifully emphasizes every syllable on the 2 and 4 counts without regard for whether or not native speakers of American English would emphasize those syllables. As co-writer for “Cruise,” Rice proved that he might be capable of writing a memorable hook, but there’s not one thing he and his alliance of bros do well on “Ready Set Roll.”
Written by Chase Rice, Rhett Akins, and Chris Destephano
Brett Eldredge caught the critics’ attention with 2010’s heartstring-tugging ballad “Raymond,” and caught radio’s and fans’ attention with his gold-selling number-one single “Don’t Ya,” while a coveted opening slot on Taylor Swift’s Red Tour certainly didn’t hurt. He aims to pull off a successful one-two punch with his latest radio bid, “Beat of the Music,” currently in the Top 40 and climbing.
As suggested by its title, “Beat of the Music” is a light-hearted up-tempo that goes down smooth and easy, with Eldredge’s narrator “falling in love to the beat of the music” and the beaches of Mexico serving as a backdrop. Such may be well-traveled territory for today’s country hits, but “Beat of the Music” transcends its rudimentary lyrical content by creating just the right musical atmosphere. The track begins with a sparse arrangement which builds toward the song’s exuberant chorus. A hand clap section and an inviting melody ensure that toes are quickly set tapping.
In spite of needless digital effect during the chorus, the single also proves an effective showcase of the vocal talents one of country radio’s most distinctive and dynamic male newcomers. Eldredge’s rich baritone bends the notes just night, rendering the song with a flair that makes “Beat of the Music” an effortlessly entertaining listen. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but as a bit of feel-good pop-country fun, “Beat of the Music” gets it right.
Written by Brett Eldredge, Ross Copperman and Heather Morgan
Five years ago, if someone said that Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert were going to do a duet, there’d be good reason to be excited. An A-list superstar pairing with an up-and-comer, both of whom were making some of the most interesting and innovative music under the country umbrella? What could possibly go wrong?
So much has, a mere five years later. Interesting has morphed into overbearing. Innovative has become predictable. “We Were Us” showcases the worst excesses shared by both of these artists today. It’s this stubborn insistence that bigger means better, that louder vocals mean deeper meaning, that mixing vague feelings with trivial details somehow adds up to something that is…universally specific? Specifically universal?
The goodness is still there underneath it all, you know. That signature Urban banjo. Lambert’s distinctive edge in her vocal. But it’s like trying to find diamonds in a tornado. It’s simply more effort than it’s worth.
Written by Nicolle Galyon, Jon Nite, and Jimmy Robbins
Judge by the title, and you’ll think you’re getting just another mindless rave-up. Sure, it will be catchier than most of them because of Luke Bryan’s irrepressible vocal charm, but a mindless rave-up is a mindless rave-up.
It’s tempting to make the jump and think Bryan is deliberately playing against expectations here, recording a song with a predictable title that leads to the completely unexpected territory of grief and loss. But maybe it’s just that if drinking a beer is the way you celebrate with friends and loved ones, it’s the logical thing to do when you’re trying to cope with their unexpected departure.
Bryan’s sort of become the poster boy for the brozation of country music. I’ve got two problems with that. One is simply philosophical. The failure of country radio and the larger industry to present more diverse points of view lies with radio and the industry, not with those who have the one approach that’s being too prominently showcased. Blaming Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark’s lack of airplay on Luke Bryan makes about as much sense as when Shania Twain was blamed for radio not playing George Jones. Focus on the players, not the pieces, people.
But my second problem is that Luke Bryan shouldn’t be defined so narrowly in the first place. He’s not chasing trends. He’s completely genuine, and the music he started out with a few years ago hasn’t changed all that much. There’s just a lot more people being successful with it. They don’t do it as well as him, though.
“Drink a Beer” is a great reminder of how he’s a few steps ahead of his peers in song choice and vocal delivery. He’s good enough to keep it clean. No fancy arrangements, vocoder tricks, or arena beats are needed to distract from the guy at the mic. He’s in full command, singing a beautiful song about painful loss. Sounds almost like country music, doesn’t it?