Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 8

Adeem the Artist is way out in front this week.


“Where the Road Goes”

Old 97’s

Written by Ken Bethea, Murry Hammond, Rhett Miller, and Philip Peeples

JK: They’ve been on a hell of a late-career tear of killer singles– “Good With God,” their collab with Brandi Carlile, remains a favorite– and it’s in that context that Old 97’s’ “Where the Road Goes” is something of a disappointment. It’s not that this outfit can’t pull off something melancholy, it’s that their songwriting here lacks the usual flair that they bring to even their most somber narratives. Here, “Where the Road Goes” plays, at least obliquely, as a message of encouragement to someone who was, at one point in the past, considering death by suicide. There’s a sincerity to frontman Rhett Miller’s delivery of this particular message that reaffirms his versatility as a vocalist, and his wiseass streak as a lyricist is confined to just a couple of stray wordplays in the verses.

While that restraint is appropriate for the subject at-hand, the end result is perhaps the most conventional single Old 97’s have released since the early aughts. Accessibility is never a bad thing in and of itself, but it’s an odd and not entirely effective pivot for the band at this juncture. They’d been scoring reliable AAA airplay for a minute now, and, for as lovely as the sentiment is on “Where the Road Goes” might be, there’s little that bears the trademarks of a forever-underrated band. B

KJC: Echoing Jonathan’s comments above, I was surprised that such a potentially powerful narrative devolved into such a generic alt country track.

There isn’t an overarching emotion that takes the lead, and that compromises the performance. There are some big feelings that could be tapped into here.  Perhaps a sense of euphoria for a life that wasn’t cut short, or just a sense of relief from going so close to the edge without tipping over.  Maybe even a shot of anger for being so reckless with one’s life and getting away with it.

Where the road actually goes is straight down the middle, like their friend just missed an exit on life’s highway instead of driving right off of a cliff.  B-


“This Town’s Been Too Good to Us”

Dylan Scott

Written by John Byron, Ashley Gorley, Taylor Phillips, Dylan Scott, and Ryan Vjotesak

KJC: I often pick a title that I find interesting and gamble on including it in this feature. This week, the gamble paid off surprisingly well.  

I thought I was in for another one of those small town list songs that exudes “Small country towns are great!” over a blistering rock track.

“This Town’s Been Too Good to Us” is much more than that. It captures a true sense of gratitude for growing up in a small town and not even respecting it, let alone appreciating it. As Scott looks back on the vandalism and other hell raised during his youth with his friends, he expresses both guilt for his actions and gratitude for what he once took for granted.

All he did was trash the limitations of the small town he grew up in, but now that he’s older, he realizes that the town was so much better to him than he ever was to the town. Hell, it was “too good” to him, giving him a safe place to run wild.  What he thought was holding him back was really protecting him.  Scott and his friends tried it in a small town, and the small town loved them anyway. 

I love that the song maintains a tasteful restraint from start to finish, and on the pre-chorus, I’ll be damned if I don’t hear the influence of Taylor Swift in Scott’s phrasing.  What a pleasant little surprise this is. B+

JK: Kevin’s feeling more generous of spirit than I am. 

I do appreciate the nuance in the songwriting here, for sure. There is a predominance of the kind of rote rural signifiers that have been omnipresent in the genre for the last twenty years, but this is a song that, at the very least, contemplates the impacts on a person who limits their entire worldview to that one set of experiences. I don’t hear much depth in Scott’s contemplation there, but it’s not nothing, so I suppose that’s progress.

So the songwriting clears a low bar for being a slightly better variation on what has been Music Row’s anchor point for too long. Were that the same were true of the production, which is built around a snap-track beat that was played out at least a couple of Cole Swindell albums back, and Scott’s vocals, which adopt that same adenoidal, slightly flat tone and half-rapped cadence that literally 90% of the men in Nashville use. A song that’s at least a little distinctive is undercut by a production style and a vocalist that are both indistinguishable from the norm. C-


“One Night Stand”

Adeem the Artist

Written by Kyle Bingham

JK: They’ve described it as their bald-faced attempt at recording a hit record, and goddamn if Adeem The Artist’s “One Night Stand” doesn’t sound like a record that would, at the very least, have scored moderate rotation on CMT back in the 90s. The production is as contemporary and on-trend as anything Adeem has ever released, and that accessibility suits them just fine: There’s a full chest-voice confidence to their delivery here that holds up to the robust instrumentation and sells the absolute hell out of the song’s hook.

The lyrical hook (“He says he only wants a one night stand / I want a lifetime of nights with him”) does a lot of heavy lifting, to be sure, but it’s the specificity of the verses that details the sources of the narrative’s overwhelming sense of longing. The story here recalls the bygone era of country music by and for adults, as Adeem’s narrator reflects on clandestine hook-ups with a presumably closeted friend who, whether due to social pressures or personal fear, insists that anything more would just never work out… That the friend keeps returning intermittently for the occasional one night stand is enough to keep alive the sense of hope that a lifetime of being strung along might yet transform into something wherein the morning after turns into the afternoon after and beyond.

This is a song that traces a razor’s edge, as both characters here recognize that getting something they want, even for a stolen moment when one person places his hand on the small of another’s back, is both rapturous and devastating in equal measure. “One Night Stand” is about wondering if something that will never be enough truly has to be enough. That LGBTQ+ artists in the country space are always told to feast on scraps is right there in that tension, too. A

KJC:  There shouldn’t be anything groundbreaking about this record.  And in that sentence, “shouldn’t” is doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

“One Night Stand” is a beautiful love song about a man who wants more than just a one night stand.  Yes, they’re singing it about another man. In a perfect world, male listeners would be able to process that the same way they can process a woman singing about a man.  That’s certainly how it sounded to my ears.

It’s so beautifully late nineties country, too.  You know, that slightly more slick country that kept one foot in the new traditionalist sounds popularized by Alan Jackson and Clint Black, but with a smoother pop sensibility.  You could drop this on to Tim McGraw’s Everywhere between “Where the Green Grass Grows” and “For a Little While” and it would fit perfectly.  It might’ve even replaced the latter track as the album’s sixth single.

Country music by and for adults, as Jonathan said, and somehow that feels nearly as groundbreaking these days as the song being about two men hooking up.  A 

“Country’s Cool Again”

Lainey Wilson

Written by Trannie Anderson, Aslan Freeman, Dallas Wilson, and Lainey Wilson

KJC:  I loved this record until she started singing.

It has a nice early Judds-style arrangement that I could listen to all day long.  But as soon as Wilson starts singing with her exaggerated twang about being the modern day Music Row messiah, I lost interest.

I’ve been listening attentively to country music for more than thirty years, and it was in the background for the early years of my life before that. I’ve heard the pendulum swing from super traditional country to pop crossover to bluegrass to the unique hell of bro country that the genre still hasn’t fully gotten away from.

It’s frustrating because Wilson’s got a pretty good voice, and there are moments at the mic here that recall Twice the Speed of Life-era Jennifer Nettles. But the idea that Wilson brought traditional country music back to Nashville and made it cool again is as ridiculous as it is arrogant, and she completely misunderstands why nineties country broke out so big: 

Once you get a taste, you’ll lick the spoon

Learn every word to The Dance and Neon Moon

And next thing you know

You’ll hang a swing on a piece of land

Start sayin’ things like hell naw, hot damn

“The Dance” is a profound piece of songwriting that is still helping folks process their grief.  “Neon Moon” is a masterpiece of country heartbreak that spoke to everyone nursing a drink and a broken heart.  These were deep, meaningful songs that transcended any sense of country, suburban, or city lifestyle.  They were about the universality of the human experience, and they made country fans out of city boys like me.

They most certainly did not motivate us to hang a swing on a piece of land – we’ve got those in our parks and playgrounds already – and us New Yorkers already know how to swear.  

If you can’t write better material than this – with three co-writers, no less – then stop by a publishing company on your next visit to “Guitar Town” and find yourself some better material.

What a condescending cornpoke mess of a record.  D 

JK: This record puts Lainey fully in the camp of another Wilson– Gretchen– who was catapulted to the A-list so rapidly that folks didn’t necessarily have a great deal of runway to figure out why that happened or if she’s an artist who’s in it for the long haul. While I believe Lainey offers greater range and depth of substance than Gretchen did– a topic for another time, surely– “Country’s Cool Again” lays it plain that the reason she’s been embraced so tightly by the industry is that she is eager to embody the one presentation of womanhood that is allowable. She’ll get rowdy but not too rowdy, and she’ll sit quietly in a church pew on Sunday morning and know her place.

So yeah, she’ll holler “hot damn!” with her “crooked drawl,” but she’s never not going to toe the party line. So here, we have a song that exists for no real reason other than to make for a rousing, pandering performance to open a forthcoming industry awards show. The production is catchy and hook-forward, the lyrics include some clever turns of phrase (I actually like that, “you’ll lick the spoon,” line Kevin mentioned), and Wilson sings the hell out of it. But it’s the country equivalent of one of those rote coronation anthems the American Idol winners used to be forced to record: “Country’s Cool Again” insists upon itself in a way that great music never needs to, with a slick professionalism that is never really objectionable but is certainly never great art.

The reigning Entertainer Of The Year, taking a victory lap. Sure. This is nothing more than genre-affirming care. C

Open in Spotify


  1. …usually, when something is pointed out so blantantly, it marks the end of it. a bit like when your uber driver is giving you stock recommendations all the way home. then you just know everybody and his dog knows about the bullmarket and there’s probably not too many buyers left out there. is ms. wilson driving ubers these days and talking nvidia perhaps?

    so glad to see that dylan scott found a new truck. to ditch the last (still good looking) one over a woman, was a little too country, wasn’t it? yet, another sign that things might look a little topish.

    slightly out of synch these pictures new and old in that 97s clip but quite a nice reminder of 77 that song. are the 70s cool again too these days?

    i hear “only was a one night stand” and read “aniversary”. things seem to move real fast for adeem the artist (gosh, how i love these mafia-style names: tony “the knife”, fredo “the slicer”, adeem “the…). however, not quite in the right direction it seems. almost as good as a “will & grace” episode. wasn’t grace adler a godess.

    • I’ll bite: I legit can’t tell in context if you mean for that Will & Grace comparison to be favorable or not…

      • …being mentioned in the same paragraph with one of the most enjoyable/entertaining sitcoms ever (in my book) can’t be anything but favourable.

        if you send me your email, i’ll send you some time next week my piece on “empathy in country music”, in which your point of view and your name are featured and published next to those of a noble prize winner (also in a favourable context) in the same paragraph.

        i’d publish it openly here, but it branches out into swiss specifics (politics, art and more) since it was written for a swiss readership, hence, in order to understand/enjoy it really, one would have to be accustomed with these topics by and large. it would get lost in translation completely, i guess. but for your personal record it could be fun…and a little challenge to make sense of it.


        • I just thought I’d clarify, since that show’s legacy in the U.S. has proven divisive, at best. I would’ve been surprised if the Adeem single hadn’t been to your liking, though!

          Contact info is easy. For both Kevin and me, we can be reached at “Firstname” at “This website’s full URL”

          Looking forward to reading this!

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