Single Review Roundup: Vol. 2, No. 6

Three new singles get positive marks across the board.

“Dents On a Chevy”

Ty Herndon & Terri Clark

Written by Starner Jones, Will Robinson, and Leslie Satcher 

ZK: Two prominent ‘90s country hitmakers come together to pick up where they left off. Granted, both Ty Herndon and Terri Clark never really left and have each recorded plenty of material in the aftermath of their respective commercial heydays. But it’s good to hear them get back to the basics and deliver a cheeky, cutesy love song that feels indebted to the era in both its lovably cheesy, tongue-in-cheek sentiment and well-balanced neotraditional instrumentation. 

It also helps that they’re both naturally charismatic and can lean into this song for all it’s worth. Some of the comparisons used are certainly a bit more cliché in keeping with modern country standards (bonfires, beers, and yetis are mentioned), and this certainly is more pleasant than excellent. But hey, that works. B+

KJC: God, the baseline of professionalism was so damn high in the nineties. Ty Herndon and Terri Clark were consistent hitmakers who were able to make music that sounded as good or better than the records from the superstars of their day, which makes the contrast between their collective talent and what’s on the radio today comically dramatic.

Clark was able to showcase her wit more on record back in the day, so she’s in a familiar groove here.  It’s the looseness and good humor of Herndon that feels revelatory.  “Dents On a Chevy” is a charming romp that showcases two veteran talents that are still in full command of their gifts. And let’s be real: this would’ve been a top five hit, minimum, if it came out back in the days when talents and gifts still mattered.  B+

JK: Clark has always low-key been one of the funniest folks in country music, and I love hearing her on something this coy. This isn’t on the same level of ironic as the all-double-entendre track she cut with Hot Country Knights a few years ago, but it’s actually a better-written song on the whole, and Herndon’s an ace duet partner. They sound like they’re having fun with this, and, though I’d never considered the possibility of the two of them pairing up, their voices compliment each other nicely. Nothing earth-shaking here: Just a couple of veterans of the mid-90s scene still making terrific music instead of showing up on The Masked Singer or Dancing With the Stars. B+

“If He Wanted to He Would”

Kylie Morgan

Written by Zandi Holup, Benjamin Johnson, and Kylie Morgan

KJC: The titular phrase is getting some pushback after it took off like wildfire on TikTok, but the criticisms levied against the use of “If He Wanted To He Would” on social media don’t really apply to the way the concept is executed in this song.

Perhaps that’s because there’s such a rich lineage of advice songs in country music, especially from female artists.  This one reminds me especially of Chely Wright’s “Shut Up and Drive,” and I half expected a reveal that she was talking to herself all along.

That never came, though it certainly could still be interpreted that way by anyone who chooses to. Regardless, “If He Wanted To He Would” is refreshingly candid, and it’s performed well by a promising new artist. It makes for a nice antidote to all of the dudebros on the radio who folks keep making excuses for. They ain’t “Mr. Misunderstood,” either.  B+

JK: Because I am who I am, the title immediately made me think of The Bangles’ cover of Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants,” which someone will eventually cover as a country song and rightfully so, instead of any of the handwriting over relationship advice that has apparently taken on a life far bigger than anything this phrase or this particular single can truly justify. As an advice song, the lyrics are interesting in that they push a woman toward self-worth and independent agency by trying to get her to center herself instead of an emotionally stunted man-child in a never-going-to-happen relationship. That’s a great shift, philosophically, from the way women have been written about in popular country hits for the last decade, on which those emotionally stunted man-children objectify women without actual interior lives. As pop-country feminism goes, I’m on board.

But do I ever wish a stronger vocalist were delivering this message. Morgan’s timbre is pinched and unpleasant, and her phrasing is so stilted that it sounds like no two words of the chorus were recorded in the same session. Give this to, say, Mickey Guyton or Maddie & Tae or Caylee Hammack, and it’s a potential all-timer. As is? I don’t know that I’ll revisit it much, even though I’ll still root for it to make inroads at country radio. B-

ZK: Social media references aside, I like the conceit of this song, particularly in how it comes through with a refreshingly confident point-of-view to move on and quit hanging on to an old flame who isn’t worth it. 

But I don’t know, there’s not enough unique dynamics in the production to match the firepower. The electric axes balanced out against the pedal steel lead to a sound that’s smooth enough, but also a tad sleepy. And while Morgan isn’t a bad vocalist, her flow – particularly, on the chorus – is incredibly choppy. It’s fine and provides a pleasant start; I just don’t have much more to offer other than that. B-

“Too Much of a Woman”

Roberta Lea featuring Jackie Venson

Written by Roberta Lea

JK: Ask and ye shall receive, right? 

When we reviewed the already pretty fantastic acoustic version of this song last year, we were all eager to hear how its impact might be heightened on a full studio version. And that’s exactly what Roberta Lea and partner-in-crime Jackie Venson have accomplished here: “Too Much of a Woman” now sounds fully like the classic country single it was always destined to be. Lea’s vocal turn here swaggers and struts with even greater command than on the earlier version, and she’s bolstered by an arrangement that draws evenly from country, blues, and soul. Best of all is the slithering pedal steel accompaniment that creates a singular throughline in the production: It strikes the right balance between drawing just enough attention to itself without pulling focus from Lea. 

Copy-paste from any review we write for a single by a black woman: No matter how good or how “country” or how of-the-moment they might be, there are barriers of race and gender that will keep this from being the hit it ought to be. And, for however loudly some gatekeepers might piss and moan about how the only source of discrimination in country music is against “real country,” there’s ample data to prove over and over that artists like Lea and Venson don’t get a fair shake. But make no mistake: “Too Much of a Woman” is current enough and country enough and great enough of a single that it ought to be one of 2023’s biggest country hits. A

ZK: My natural reaction was to compare this to the stripped-down version we reviewed last year, but really, it’s two sides of the same coin. There’s power in letting an artist speak for themselves and having their message roar regardless of what’s further added to it, and as Kevin noted once before, “Too Much of a Woman” worked with “too little of a production.”  

But it is nice not only to hear those sinuous pedal steel licks carry the message until those fiery electric axes bring it home, but also to hear Jackie Venson add further fuel to the fire. It always had more than enough bite, but with a bit more pronounced groove this time around, it’s a winner yet again. A-

KJC: It pisses me off that this song feels so revolutionary in 2023, when it would’ve been a multiformat smash 25 years ago. Lea would’ve joined the Chicks on country radio and the Lilith Fair tour and sounded perfectly in her element in both worlds.

I love the contrast between this rocked out version and the original acoustic record.  Last time around, she sounded like a woman discovering her worth and putting it into words for the first time, leaving behind a man who didn’t treat her right.

 This time around, she sounds like she’s giving a preemptive warning to any suitors who dare come to her door: If you can’t handle this much woman, keep on walking. You’re not worth the time or energy.  A 

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