This week’s winner is the War & Treaty by a landslide.
“Angels Don’t Always Have Wings”
Written by Julian Bunetta, Jaten Dimsdale,, Thomas Rhett, and Josh Thompson
KJC: I’ve been pretty merciless to Thomas Rhett over the years, but after hearing how great he sounded on his BRELAND collaboration, “Praise the Lord,” I wanted to give him another shot.
On paper, “Angels” should be right up my alley. It’s the kind of song that Kane Brown would record, and Rhett even shares a producer with Brown. And through the first verse, I was pretty into it. I liked the sparse arrangement, which is closer to Stapleton than Aldean, and his vocal was decent enough.
But it all fell apart for me with the chorus, which is mind-bogglingly loud. I’m not sure if he’s oversinging to the point where the melody gets lost or if there was just no melody to begin with.
“Angels” drown in its own sense of self-importance, a common mistake when artists are trying to express a meaningful sentiment. This record required intimacy, not arena-rattling drama. C
JK: When I listened to this single’s parent album what feels like a lifetime ago, I remember being grateful that the False Tricksy Hobbit wasn’t trying to cover Robbie Williams. That’s as much praise as I could muster at the time, and I’m not feeling much more generous of spirit today. Was a time he was among the worst acts getting regular airplay at country radio. What I can say for “Angels” is that it would be at least something of a reprieve from Morgan Wallen et al. D+
ZK: I remember this being one of the better tracks when I covered Rhett’s album last year, but that’s not saying much. For as much natural warmth as he’s aiming for with the acoustic bedrock, there’s still that oily snap percussion to contradict it and make it come across as the saccharine radio fodder it was destined to be.
With that said, while I am very much over the trope of male country acts likening their partners as literal gifts from the Lord almighty (God doesn’t just hand you women, my dudes; that’s not how that works), there’s actually a fair bit of self-awareness in how Rhett admits to his own faults and seems to want to work toward meeting his better half on her level. At the very least, it eschews the “I’m just a man” trope for something a bit deeper. It’s his 978th song or so to play toward this lane, so he was bound to get it right sometime. It’s not particularly detailed, and I won’t revisit it, but it’s not bad for what it is. C+
“Ain’t No Harmin’ Me”
The War and Treaty
Written by Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter
JK: What I love about The War & Treaty’s Lover’s Game is that it lands in the dead center between country, gospel, blues, and soul: The duo actually brought out the best in producer Dave Cobb in a decade, and he’s smart enough to give the Trotters ample room to belt and growl and wail. That’s precisely what they do on “Ain’t No Harmin’ Me,” the best single from the album thus far. Like Zack, I wouldn’t testify in court that I know who or what is threatening to harm the duo on this song, but I know that the conviction in their performances make those threats sound like a very, very bad idea. A
ZK: I’m not exactly sure what Michael and Tanya Trotter are referring to that could harm them here, but between the genuine dramatic urgency in the sinuous organ and bass interplay off the minor keys and their terrific-as-ever harmonies and performances, I certainly believe they’re strong enough to persevere.
That strength is actually a key element of their great new album – particularly in the intersection of faith in the gospel underbelly – with this being one of my personal favorites moments off of it. My one complaint with them up to this point was that their sound could use the added muscle to meet their huge ranges, and thankfully, this delivers. A-
KJC: The War and Treaty give a tour de force performance here, even by their own lofty standards. Tanya Trotter could go toe to toe with Chris Stapleton at his rafter rattling raspiest, and quite possibly emerge the victor, which is no small feat.
I’d actually like to have a bit more specificity in the lyrics, but I guess there is something powerful about it being nondescript enough to leave the demons up to the listener’s imagination. B+
“Giving Up On That”
Written by Adam Craig, Dalton Dover, and John Pierce
ZK: Unlike most mainstream male newcomers to the format, Dalton Dover is one hell of a vocal presence, with a huge, expressive range and chops as an emotional interpreter that, albeit only slightly, get tested here.
Hence why I’m a bit more torn on the lyrical content. There’s a good conceit at the core, where he’s had to accept some hard responsibilities and consequences in the wake of a partner’s departure and make some needed changes in his life – hopefully, to win her back.
Aside from a reference to alcoholism, however, there’s not much in the way of detail, which is one reason this song could have used a genuine bridge to tie everything together. And he has to accept that while he’s never going to give up on making her see the changes he’s made, he might have to accept that it’s not enough for her to want to try again. It also doesn’t help that the production, save for a few warmer touches of banjo in the first few seconds, opts for the same ol’ washed-out guitar-and-drum combination that doesn’t have the intended punch or power, or, conversely, allow for any sense of intimacy or nuance to support the conceit. It’s a shame, because there’s a really good core underneath the clutter. B-
KJC: I am so tired of songs like this.
The yelling, the unnecessary drama, the “this record is making a personal statement about me” lyrics that never get around to saying what that personal statement is.
You’re not a saint? Wow. Never heard that one before.
This is all bark and no bite. Enough already. D
JK: A few weeks back, I was chatting with friend-of-the-blog Will Groff on Twitter, who posed the question, “When did country music normalize men who sing like absolute dogshit?” It’s a great question, and any time I give a first listen to a new male artist, I find myself holding my breath, waiting to hear exactly how execrable their singing turns out to be.
So kudos to Dover for not making me want to pull my ears clean off my own head like M3GAN did to that pre-teen bully. It’s clear from this track that he’s at least a couple of standard deviations better than the mean of his contemporaries. But I wish this song demanded much of anything from him, instead of letting him try to bring emotional depth to a lyric that simply doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. I’m intrigued to hear more from Dalton, but I don’t think I’m keen to listen to this single again. C-