Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 3

All of the creativity is outside of the mainstream this week, with two Best of 2024 contenders from Brei Carter featuring Elektrohorse and Waxahatchee & MJ Lenderman.


“Boots Get to Talking”

Brei Carter featuring Elektrohorse

Written by Brei Carter, Elektrohorse, Floyd Hollaway, and Ray Seay

JK: The chopped harmonica sample immediately recalls Timbaland’s production on Bubba Sparxxx’s “Jimmy Mathis,” which is to say I am sold on this single from the first four bars. “Boots Get to Talking” is a perfect example of how music that draws from disparate influences can do so in ways that highlight the strengths of individual genres: I love how that twangy harmonica sample, for instance, is just as essential to crafting the beat to this as are the drum loops. 

A lifetime ago, Rednex approached the notion of a non-traditional type of country “dance hall” as schtick, but Brei Carter and Elektrohorse know that something like this can work. They adhere to the fundamental truth of dance music, in that any song that implores the listener to, “Get up off that wall,” had damn well better give them a reason to, and Carter sings the absolute fire out of this. Just an outright triumph of escapism in a world worth escaping from for a few minutes, and respectful of genre signifiers, to boot.

Finally, someone caught up to what Laura Bell Bundy was trying to do a decade back. A

KJC: This is deliriously catchy and I’m 100% here for it.

Some Come On Over-era international dance mixes from Shania Twain flirted with this fusion of country instrumentation and dance beats, and as Jonathan notes above, Laura Bell Bundy knew exactly what she was doing ten years ago, and “Boots Get to Talking” doesn’t just build on those earlier sounds.  It renders them obsolete.

In a perfect world, this would be an intergenerational wedding reception standard by the end of the year.  I love every second of this.  A


“One Bad Habit”

Tim McGraw

Written by Marc Beeson, Aaron Eshuis, and Tony Lane

KJC: There’s a malaise that has settled over so much of Tim McGraw’s recent work, and it is present even in his most positive material.

“One Bad Habit” is a familiar sentiment that isn’t exactly given new life here: good girl loves bad boy, hope she doesn’t leave.  But as always, McGraw has a good ear for material that presents women as actual human beings in their own right, and so the portrait painted here of that good girl is nicely detailed.

If only McGraw sounded more invested here, he’d have ended up with a solid record.  C

JK: I’ve always been hit-or-mostly-miss with McGraw, and my view is that he only truly hits when he taps into a vein of vulnerability or humility. I don’t hear that in “One Bad Habit,” either as a song or in McGraw’s performance. He’s never been a convincing “bad boy” or “outlaw” at all, and the references to drinking whiskey and having tattoos feel almost quaint as signifiers of a rough life in 2024 compared to, y’know, Jelly Roll.

Even as a bid for radio relevance alongside someone like J. Ro, this feels half-assed. As Kevin notes, the woman in this song has an interior life of her own, and that matters when it comes to contemporary country, but this is still such a lazily constructed list of references that are meant to convey someone’s personality. Compared to something like Cody Johnson’s “The Painter,” this is pedestrian. And McGraw sings this with a flattened affect as though he’s fully aware that he’s no longer commanding songs on the level of “The Painter.” If McGraw can’t even emote convincingly, there’s no other way for him to elevate mid material. C-


“Right Back to it”

Waxahatchee & MJ Lenderman

Written by Katie Crutchfield

JK: Few artists in the country space are as gifted as Waxahatxhee at taking a single isolated instant and exploding all of its fraught emotions to the full length of a song: Her best songs stop time. “Right Back to It” is one such song, on which her narrator pauses to reflect on the complexities of a difficult junction in a relationship, allowing that pause to allow all of the good in the relationship to provide needed perspective.

“Right Back to It” is about a person’s ability to consider their own learning history and how it colors their perceptions, and it’s practically a how-to guide for diffusing an argument or navigating a crisis rather than escalating. “If I can keep up,” Waxahatchee sings, “We’ll get right back to it.” It’s a song of exceptional grace. The arrangement breathes, too, giving her the time and space she needs to let love back in, and MJ Lenderman’s harmony vocals highlight the support that’s been there all along. “Right Back to It” is almost impossibly lovely. A

KJC:  What I love most about Waxahatchee’s vocals is how they’re twangy and Celtic at the same time, as if Dolores O’Riordan and the Cranberries had cut their teeth in both Limerick, Ireland and Bluefield, Virginia. 

It hits all of those sweet spots that make both styles of music resonate so deeply. Those vocals paired with sophisticated, thoughtful material make for an irresistible record, one that hurts so good in a way that only twangy country can do.  

It’s a perfect balance between what Pam Tillis and Kathy Mattea were doing in the early nineties. A 


Take Her Home

Kenny Chesney

Written by Zach Abend, Michael Hardy, and Hunter Phelps

KJC: Kenny Chesney’s voice has gotten so deep and gravelly that he sounds like he’s singing with a bad cold. But like with McGraw upthread, he’s still got an ear for solid material, and at least he’s singing with some conviction.

 Chesney does well with dime store philosophy songs and true love songs, and this one borrows a bit from both categories. The production helps here too, sounding like a cleaner version of his mid-2000s backing track template. 

Even the title, “Take Her Home,” playfully subverts expectations like the Twitty songs of days gone by. Man, Twitty would’ve nailed this song in his prime. Chesney acquits himself just fine. B

JK: Chesney’s never been a good singer, full-stop. It’s only when his phrasing and shaky relationship with pitch are in-service to the song he’s half-singing that he truly shines on record. In theory, I like the idea of his voice aging into some sort of weird Tom Waits croak that’s more about character and its own oddity than it is about technical skill or interpretive ability.

“Take Her Home” hints that he might yet be headed in that direction, but he’s not there yet. So there’s still a disconnect between what he brings to the song itself with his limited skill set and what could’ve been. This is one of the better songs I’ve heard with HARDY’s name attached to it, though the third-verse pivot is still obvious and perhaps too easy. But there’s at least a bit of heft to this, both structurally and narratively, and the production stays out of both the song’s and Chesney’s way.

So “Take Her Home” is fine enough. Maybe it’ll slice a bit differently in his live set a few years on, when Chesney’s voice gets craggier. Today, it’s a C+.

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