Harlan Howard, when asked once about his Judds classic, that “Why Not Me” was a weak title, so he had to repeat it over and over again to make it work.
A similar approach is taken in “Yeah”, which is essentially Nichols’ one word answer to everything said and done throughout the song. The passiveness of our narrator has a certain charm to it, striking a balance between being respectful of the girl and also not wanting to say or do the wrong thing and derail where the night is heading.
As always, Nichols delivers a charismatic vocal, though this one is hampered a bit by being overly processed. I can’t say “Yeah” to Music Row’s bizarre desire to have its guys sound like a slightly twangy Mr. Roboto. But the end result is still better than a lot of what’s out there, even if it will be little more than an afterthought when Nichols’ best performances are collected for posterity somewhere down the road.
Flipping through an old country magazine, I read a review of Tim McGraw’s then-new album, Everywhere.
The journalist noted his surprise at the title track, which demonstrated more subtlety and gravitas than he’d previously thought McGraw was capable of.
That was so many years ago that it’s hard to remember that McGraw was something of a novelty singer back in the day, a step or two above Billy Ray Cyrus but not quite up there with Joe Diffie.
Fourteen years later, we’ve had so many thoughtful and compelling records from McGraw that when a new one comes along, it’s easy to take it for granted. Standing in the shadow of “Live Like You Were Dying” is a hard place to shine.
So while “Better Than it Used to Be” is classic McGraw and a welcome relief to hear after “Felt Good on My Lips”, it’s not quite in the league of his very best songs in the same vein, like “One of These Days” and “My Next Thirty Years.”
But I do have to publicly thank him for the clean, tasteful, and decidedly country production. Any record that doesn’t hurt my ears these days is greatly appreciated.