“Good With God”
Old 97s featuring Brandi Carlile
Written by Old 97s and Brandi Carlile
Veterans of the 90s alt-country boon, Old 97s have the makings of their first bona fide hit on their hands, more than two decades into their career. “Good With God,” their collaboration with the terrific Brandi Carlile, is rapidly climbing the AAA radio charts.
While it’s tempting to delve into the reasons why the band seems poised to break through only now when they’ve been crafting this type of rollicking, hook-heavy material for twenty-odd years, that might imply that “Good With God” is somehow a departure from what Old 97s have always done. But that isn’t the case: It’s a raucous slice of alt-country that draws from Bakersfield country, surf rock, pure honky-tonk, and power-pop, with lyrics that are at turns witty and provocative. “Good With God” is every bit as impressive as the Old 97s routinely are.
The song opens with the band’s frontman, Rhett Miller, recounting his shortcomings with a glib, off-handed dismissal: “I’m not afraid, got no regrets/I’ve paid my dues, I’ve paid my debts… Alls I knows I’m good with God/I wonder how she feels about me.” Carlile then takes the second verse, making for an unexpected call-and-response: “You should be scared/I’m not so nice/Many a man has paid the price/You’re pretty thick, so I’ll tell you twice.”
The song works, then, as both a broader question about redemption and spiritual reckoning and as a conversation between two contentious lovers. Carlile plays God in both a literal and figurative sense, and it makes for a single that is both riveting and playful. Old 97s keep the song barrelling forward at a breakneck speed: If hellfire and brimstone are about to rain down, the band sounds unafraid to meet their fate.
The song’s a bit too rapid for my liking, but I enjoy most of it. Sadly, Brandi Carlile’s contribution resonates a bit less with me because she gets swallowed up by the production a bit whereas Rhett Miller shines through much more clearly. I like the call-and-response idea of it, but it would have worked better for me had Brandi been a bit less quiet.
Glad to see some discussion on this one!
I do love a good uptempo cut, but I can see that others might find it a bit much in this instance. This one has a breakneck pace. I do agree that the mixing of the two vocal tracks is very different. Personally, I like that Carlile’s track is mixed in such a way that it sounds more removed or distant– I think that works well in the context of the song itself. But, again, I can definitely see how that might not work for everyone!
At the moment I think I find myself agreeing with Pete’s comment about Carlile’s vocals (though that may change over time), but overall I am liking this song quite a bit. Very fine review, Jonathan.
I really like this!! I think Brandi’s kind of distorted vocals is purposeful and works in the context of the song. I like the rapid tempo too.