Lydia Loveless leads the pack this go around, alongside a solid effort from Carly Pearce and Chris Stapleton, and a lovely Shania Twain cover from Sug Daniels.
“We Don’t Fight Anymore”
Carly Pearce featuring Chris Stapleton
Written by Pete Good, Shane McAnally, and Carly Pearce
KJC: Carly Pearce is solidifying her status as one of the genre’s strongest artist songwriters.
“We Don’t Fight Anymore” is constructed solidly from start to finish, with flashes of absolute brilliance. She’s a keen observer of human relationships, and she’s carrying on a tradition of domestic strife from a woman’s point of view, properly updated for the current era.
This is some of the best songwriting of the year right here: “I had a bad day but you don’t know it. ‘Cause you don’t ask and I don’t show it.”
Stapleton’s harmonies lift up the melody of the chorus, and his presence is a reminder of his own exploration of this theme on “Either Way.” It’s good to hear them together, especially given how well both of them played second fiddle to Patty Loveless in the last two years.
“We Don’t Fight Anymore” is a promising preview of Pearce’s upcoming album. It’s so good to hear her continue to grow as an artist. B+
JK: It’s been interesting to see how Pearce seems to get far more traction within the mainstream when she’s part of collaborations. That radio is ambivalent, at best, when it comes to her perspective as an adult woman coming fully into her own agency… Well, that all 100% checks out.
This isn’t my favorite collaboration Pearce has done, but it’s still one of the better mainstream singles we’ve covered this year. Stapleton doesn’t completely overpower her in the ways I was worried he might. I like how his presence just sort of looms in the background: It parallels the distance between the two partners described in the song in a way that elevates the single. That’s needed, because the melody has such a limited range, and Pearce makes some awkward, less-than-effective choices in her phrasing, especially at the line breaks in the chorus.
If this were released during Loveless’ heyday, it would be slaughtered by the comparison. But grading on a curve against the latest from Bailey Zimmerman and Megan Moroney? This lands as a solid B.
ZK: I echo Kevin’s note on the Patty Loveless influence here. This sounds more like a single release you would have expected to hear in the ‘90s, what with it being a slow, heavy ballad anchored in beautifully crisp production (that dobro, y’all).
With that said – and more importantly – it’s also a note on Carly Pearce’s continued growth as an artist and songwriter. This is the sort of mature, adult perspective you don’t hear much of on radio anymore, capturing the difficult of an estranged marriage that’s over, if just unofficially. In a way, it almost doesn’t make sense for Chris Stapleton’s natural bellow to contribute to something so restrained, especially given how he’s really just a background character here. But the two vocalists sport surprisingly good chemistry, and his tense but subtle counterbalance is effective as is, given that this is largely Pearce’s story to tell from her own perspective. It may be a song about emptiness, but the haggard frustration on both ends gives it a lot of life. B+
“You’re Still the One”
Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Shania Twain
JK: I love that Shania Twain is getting her proverbial flowers these days. She’s been embraced as a key influence by current artists across the musical spectrum in ways that are genuine and warm, and she deserves every bit of it. Enter Sug Daniels’ cover of Twain’s biggest crossover hit and signature ballad. As Kevin notes below, the most striking change here is how Daniels sings both parts of the call-and-response structure of the song’s hook, and it’s a change that makes for an even more intimate and personal hook.
What sells me on this cover, though, is Daniels’ unique voice, with a timbre that lands somewhere between Adia Victoria’s sultry take on contemporary blues and a less affected version of Joanna Newsom’s warble. Hers isn’t the kind of voice you expect to hear on the most mainstream of mainstream pop-country songs, and it feels like she’s claiming “You’re Still the One” as a modern standard.
She’s correct for doing so, and this is one of the most thoughtful covers in a year chock full of them. A
ZK: On one hand, this feels a bit too muted and buried in the overall production to stand up with Shania Twain’s original. On the other hand, given her most recent output, it’s the best song I’ve heard associated with Twain in decades. And by infusing a naturally soulful rollick into this version, there’s something a bit more carefree and easy about it that arguably fits the sentiment even better than before. This is far from my favorite Twain song, but this is a likable cover by a name new to me. I dig it. B
KJC: Come On Over was so big for so long that it took me well over a decade after the album cycle ended to hear any of it with fresh ears again.
Slowly, “You’re Still the One” moved up my most played tracks playlist to emerge as my most frequently played Shania Twain track. So I’m especially pleased that this is the Shania jam that Sug Daniels chose to reimagine.
She makes two major changes that really put a fresh spin on a familiar tune. One is in the structuring of the chorus hook. Daniels singing both the lead and background lines makes her version sound more intimate and personal. The second change that works really well is using the bass to deliver the musical hook instead of the mandolin and steel on the original hit recording. It manages to recreate the warmth of Twain’s original using entirely different instrumentation.
Daniels manages to take one of the most omnipresent hits of the last 25 years and reveal new layers of meaning with her interpretation. Color me impressed. B+
Written by Lydia Loveless
ZK: Coming off of 2020’s understandably frayed Daughter, I’m glad to hear Lydia Loveless return to full form. Because in brash, don’t-give-a-fuck territory, they always operates at their best. “Toothache,” then, feels familiar but nonetheless fresh and invigorating in all of its jangly alt-country glory. Granted, it’s also a song about self-destruction, so all of that frustration is definitely building toward something. But in the moment, it’s so infectious and urgent, that I think I’ve got a sweet tooth for it. A-
KJC: Lydia Loveless shares a surname with nineties country legend Patty Loveless, but to my ears, her performance on “Toothache” recalls the unique phrasing of nineties rock icons Natalie Merchant and Dolores O’Riordan. And oh, how I’ve missed such wry, self-deprecating delivery of sophisticated lyrics like this:
Now that I’ve cobbled together the Dominos
I wanna watch ’em explode
Yeah, I really wanna let go
But I find myself hyper focused on the dirty windows
And running out of dish soap
‘Cause it’s different all on my own
‘Cause I’m always shooting for high falutin’
And then I fuckin’ choke
And it’s not that I’m losing
I just keep using the only way I know
Someone get Sarah McLachlan on the phone, because Lydia Loveless is as good a reason as any to resurrect Lilith Fair. A
JK: God, it’s so great to have Loveless back. Do I hope to have reason to say that about the other Loveless someday soon, too? Of course. But Lydia Loveless has hit my 90s alt-country sweet spot for a good long while now, and this may be the best standalone single she’s ever released. “Toothache” is a marvel of balance: Loveless is in full, confident command of her artistry here, but she’s singing a song of withering self-assessment. These are the words of someone unafraid to engage in deep self-reflection, whose songwriting belongs in any conversation with names like Isbell, DeMent, Giddens, and Childers. A