“We Went” Randy Houser Written by John King, Matt Rogers, and Justin Wilson Randy Houser released one of my favorite debut singles back in 2008. I wrote back then that he sounded like a young Ronnie Dunn. He still sounds like Ronnie Dunn, but now he sounds like him when he was phoning in rave-ups during the latter days of Brooks & Dunn.
“21” Hunter Hayes Written by Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley, Hunter Hayes, and Kelly Lovelace Back in the days of cassettes, a faulty player would run the tape through a little too fast. It made the beat quicker and the singer’s voice a bit higher. “21” sounds like Keith Urban album filler played on one of those faulty cassette players. He’s an Urban LP at 45 speed.
“Kick the Dust Up” Luke Bryan Written by Dallas Davidson, Chris DeStefano, and Ashley Gorley I actually kinda like Luke Bryan. But I still hated this song before the first twenty seconds were up. He sounds like he’s deliberately dimming his own talents, trying to get down to the Jason Aldean level when he’s got the chops to strive for Conway Twitty.
“That Don’t Sound Like You” Lee Brice Written by Rhett Akins, Lee Brice, and Ashley Gorley I really like Lee Brice. He’s got an interesting voice, and his phrasing is always original. It’s like he sneaks up behind his notes and surprises them. “That Don’t Sound Like You” succeeds purely on Brice’s merits as a vocal stylist. The song itself is iffy.
“I’m Comin’ Over” Chris Young Written by Corey Crowder, Josh Hoge, and Chris Young He’s still got a great voice, and that’s still giving him the confidence to keep the production flourishes in check. So “I’m Comin’ Over” is identifiably country and not unpleasant to listen to. That’s already enough to be in the upper tier of country radio singles in 2015.
“Love is Your Name” Steven Tyler” Written by Lindsey Lee and Eric Paslay When word came out that Tyler was releasing a country album, the first thing that came to mind — at least in my mind — was “cash grab.” After all, rock & roll is more endangered than the rhinoceros, and pop has become the playground for young hip-hop and EDM influenced singers. Where else is the 67-year-old frontman of Aerosmith going to get played on the radio?
“Buy Me a Boat” Chris Janson Written by Chris DuBois and Chris Janson It’s about time that Eric Church’s sound started showing up on other people’s records. Chris Janson’s “Buy Me a Boat” is lyrically something you would’ve expected from Alan Jackson back in the day. He’d have done it with a goofy smile. Janson does it with the same amount of twang, but it sounds like he’s grimacing instead of grinning.
“Traveller” Chris Stapleton Written by Chris Stapleton With all of the lamenting that many of us do regarding mainstream country music, those of us who are practical are aware of the conflict of knowing that the songs that we would choose to be played on radio must at least maintain a balance of quality songwriting and sounding country while still being accessible to a mainstream audience, which is what much of nineties country music did so well.
“Loving You Easy” Zac Brown Band Written by Al Anderson, Zac Brown, and Niko Moon Zac Brown Band’s groove was in danger of becoming a rut, and their new album, Jekyll + Hyde, is their game attempt to expand their sound. You know, mix it up a bit. I almost feel guilty for faulting them for “Loving You Easy.” They’re really trying to do something new.