This review roundup features a few singles recently sent to country radio.
“Never Have I Ever”
Written by Laura Veltz, David Hall Hodges, and Danielle Bradbery
Like its predecessor American Idol, I think the main reason why The Voice has never been too successful in breaking out new artists is because the formula hasn’t changed. That, being: set the winning artist up with a selection of professional songwriters and proceed to scrub every iota of distinctive personality to create more bland material for the general public. Danielle Bradbery, for example, has managed to stick around in spite of that formula, but her and her team have also been trying to relaunch her career for around five years now, and the results have ranged from great (“Goodbye Summer”) to downright terrible (“Friend Zone”).
Sadly, I predict new single “Never Have I Ever” will get lost in the shuffle, too – an overly dark, serious piano ballad (complete with snap tracks, no less) that’s supposed to be about the joys of finding “the one,” but sounds cold and calculated, instead. For whatever reason, I recently remembered how much I love Sara Evans’ “As If,” which is basically this song with actual, you know, tempo and energy. Lyrically, there’s nothing to save this, either; especially when it’s all about empty feelings rather than details of what makes this relationship so great anyway.
“Where That Beer’s Been”
Written by Travis Denning, Rhett Akins, Chris Stevens, and Jeremy Stover
I’m starting to think the potential I heard in Travis Denning a few years ago with “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” was all for naught. The general public must agree, too, given that it took second single “After A Few” a mind-boggling 65 weeks to hit the top of the charts.
And you know that most of these artists are out of ideas when they start framing their songs around the life cycle of a beer can. No joke, the whole point here is to ponder how this mystical, magical beer got into his hands. I think I have a few books on supply chain from my college days, Denning – you’re more than welcome to them. Really, I know beer and trucks have been popular mainstream country conversation topics for, well, far too long now, but personifying these entities doesn’t make for interesting material.
It’s far from the worst song out there, but there’s hardly anything redeemable about this, either. Denning has never been a particularly great singer, but he’s found ways to sidestep those issues and let the song shine, for better or worse. Here, his twang is overexaggerated and unpleasant to listen to, and to fit with the modern times, this song features a weird mix of a crunchy electric guitar with a snap track, because we couldn’t figure out which market we wanted to pander to, I suppose.
“wAnt me back”
Written by Lindsay Ell and Kane Brown
Like with Keith Urban of the modern era, I’m left wishing we heard more of Lindsay Ell’s guitar playing that establishes her as a unique presence within mainstream country music, especially when new single “wAnt me back” doesn’t differ much from most other singles you’ll hear on the radio right now, special title formatting aside. The mix here is conventional: a combination of slick, electric guitars and an all-too-prominent drum machine that should never outright define the arrangement.
Granted, there’s a genuine frustration to Ell’s performance that greatly suits the content, in which she isn’t willing to restart a failed relationship with a character established as pushy and unlikable. I love the natural confidence in the tone and framing, but like with most singles these days, the details aren’t much of anything substantial. The past relationship is never fully explored beyond its sexual details, meaning that it’s hard to engage with this song beyond its run time, let alone during it. The potential is there, but wasted potential is sometimes more disappointing than an outright bad song.
Written by Randall King, Brice Long, and Mark Nesler
Not that the material is as fresh or exciting as I had hoped it would be, or that the impact has really been all that noticeable, but I’ve been happy to witness the Texas invasion within Nashville in recent years, in which acts like Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson have gone from independent success stories to mainstream hit-makers.
Hopefully that can continue with Randall King, who isn’t pushing the envelope by any means, but is providing solid country music that sounds like it actually belongs within the genre (unlike certain songs in this roundup). New single “Hey Cowgirl” has an interesting premise, and there’s some great warmth to the fiddle that plays off the solid, understated bass groove. There’s a mysterious aura to this that fits the mystique of the “cowgirl” character in question, too.
It’s just that the actual details never fluctuate. King notices from afar that this character has her eyes set on leaving for somewhere new, but we only ever know her by her looks – right away with the first verse, but also with how every cowboy in town has tried to win her over and failed. The George Strait reference is fitting and all, but it’s a line that could have been devoted to answering the real questions. We don’t know who she is or why she’s leaving, and the entire song just feels unfinished because of it, even if it sounds really nice.
Blake Shelton (w/ Gwen Stefani)
Written by Ross Copperman, Josh Osborne, and Matt Jenkins
You know how Blake Shelton’s last single revolved around how much he loved Gwen Stefani? Well, this is basically that again – just with better instrumentation and production. Really, the earthy, rollicking banjo and lingering pedal steel in the low end both provide a sense of warmth that suits Shelton’s older style better than any single of his as of late not named “God’s Country.” But for as charismatic as can be, his performance here feels lacking and cold, and Stefani is barely noticeable. Plus, it’s not like this stands out that much to not feel interchangeable with a good chunk of his 2010s material. It’s decent, but I grew tired of settling for decent from Shelton a long time ago.
This is the first Blake Shelton song that I’ve liked in many years.
My problem with the Danielle Bradbery and Lindsey Ell songs is not necessarily that they’re pure pop songs being labeled as country, but that they’re boring pop songs. Cold and calculated is definitely the right description for Danielle’s song. I actually enjoyed her on the Voice. She had a nice, innocent charm about her, and though not too distinctive, I liked her voice too. It also didn’t hurt that Blake gave her a bunch of good 80’s and 90’s female country songs that don’t normally get national TV exposure these days to sing. I even liked most of her first album, which still had a good amount of country elements to classify it as such. Not a fan of the direction her music has taken after that, though.
I’m with Leeann on this being the first Blake Shelton song I’ve actually kinda liked in a long time. I’m really liking the melody to this, and I also love the arrangement, especially the steel guitar in the background. For me, this is definitely a step back in the right direction for him.
Also liking the Randall King song for the most part, though I agree that it could’ve been better lyrically. Judging on just how it sounds, I’m definitely a fan! Love the prominent fiddle and steel, and I especially really like the melody in the chorus. Also, I like Randall’s voice. He’s definitely someone I’ll be keeping an eye on. Btw, it’s nice to see Mark Nesler still showing up in some recent songwriting credits. Another one of my favorite underappreciated singer/songwriters.
Oh, I have no problem with pop-country, either. People like Shania Twain and Glen Campbell influenced my early love of the genre as a whole. But yes, bad, boring pop is what’s been the main problem for, well, a while.
I liked Bradbery’s debut album for the most part; things went off the rails with “Friend Zone” and haven’t really recovered since.
I liked “God’s Country,” but haven’t liked much else Shelton has done since … wow, “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking”?
Regarding Randall, for as much as people threw the George Strait comparison in the air when Easton Corbin came around, this is sounding more like it.
I’ve only listened to “God’s Country” once, but I didn’t like it. I’ll have to give it another listen. I haven’t really loved a Blake Shelton album since Bobby Braddock stopped producing him, though I’ve liked an unreleased song here and there since then.
I’ve honestly never been impressed by Bradbery: She was completely run over by the songs Shelton pitched her on The Voice, and what she’s released since announcing her intent to be the “female Thomas Rhett” has ranged from mediocre to outright wretched.
I don’t mind this particular Shelton single, which, by default, puts it in the top half of his recent output. King’s single is solid, though it’s been oversold within some corners of Very Online Country Social Media. I hear the potential, so I’ll say he’s one to watch.
I agree that Ell’s guitar-work is much like Urban’s: It could elevate her singles and make them far more distinctive than they are. This one has the best vocal performance I’ve yet heard from her, at least.
“God’s Country” was not too bad, and it at least had a lot of energy and showed more personality, but I wasn’t a fan of the hand clap production. “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” is also the last song I remember really liking from him before this one.
Zackary, Glen Campbell is one artist who’s discography I’ve enjoyed exploring in recent years. :) When it comes to pop country, I like a lot of what came out from around 1997-2002, when artists like Shania, Faith, Martina, etc. were on top. I’ve also enjoyed going back and exploring a lot of pop country from the 80’s and 70’s I’ve never heard before. Today’s pop country, for the most part, leaves a lot to be desired.