Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 11

This week’s batch peaks with Kenny Chesney’s finest moment on record.


“Beg Your Parton”

The Kentucky Gentlemen

Written by Brandon Campbell, Derek Campbell, John Frank, and Tom Pino

Jonathan Keefe: Surely to God, someone has used that pun in an actual country song before now, right? Right?!? Google says no, and I’m shook.

What I love about The KY Gents is that they are so unapologetically bidding for mainstream country traction. “Beg Your Parton” sounds like a hit record. So did “Whatever You’re Up For” a couple of years back. We all know why radio isn’t biting– and, to be clear, arguments that their label didn’t submit the single for adds via MPE the way country PDs expect to be serviced is just another form of genre gatekeeping, so don’t even start with that shit.

I’ll admit I liked the melody and how the cadences of “Whatever You’re Up For” a bit more than this one: Some of the lines in the chorus don’t flow quite as smoothly here. Still, that’s a relatively minor knock against something that would immediately make country radio sound better. A-

Kevin John Coyne: I was lukewarm on this until that fiddle part came in halfway through, which changed everything for me.

My jam these days is the juxtaposition of multiple genre elements, so I love hearing that pure fiddle cut through a smooth R&B backing track.  As soon as I heard it, I was hooked, and was able to listen with new appreciation to the lyrical callbacks that pay tribute to the greatest female country artist of all time and, hell why not, the greatest living American songwriter. 

If someone had asked me to come up with an Americana sound before one was established, I would’ve said that Americana would sound like the coming back together of all American musical genres that had been divided back in the day.  Americana would sound like a Dolly Parton mixtape, with the synthesizers of “The House of the Rising Sun” pushing up against the pure bluegrass of “Travelin’ Prayer” and the melancholy twang of “Jolene.”  

All three of those songs started in one genre and worked just as well as they traveled to other ones. The Kentucky Gentlemen belong squarely in the country mainstream, and like Kane Brown sang last week, they can bring a little bit of everything with them to Music City.

What a cool, fun, and confident record.  I’m liking these gentlemen more and more.  B+   

“Tie Up”

Zac Brown Band 

Written by Marc Beeson, Aaron Eshuis, and Tony Lane

KJC: This is a competent summer boating jam with one really cool turn of phrase: “getting trailer trashed.”

Their musicianship is engaging, and I’m sure this Zac Brown Band single will be playing on tons of boats this summer.  It certainly captures the summer boating experience with specificity and good humor.

Country music never really needs another drinking on a boat song.  But country radio needs records like this that are just engaging enough – and familiar enough – to keep listeners from changing the station.

It’s sparkly spackle for the FM crowd.  C

JK: There was a time when even their throwaway, escapist singles boasted a level of craft that elevated country radio, but Zac Brown Band derailed so long ago that there’s little lingering goodwill. This clears the bar of being superior to the Dustin Lynch – Jelly Roll collab, but it really isn’t a patch on the ol’ “Pontoon” or even “Buy Me A Boat.”

Hell, it isn’t even up to the level of “Lake Beach.” D+


“Where Have All the Cowboys Gone”

Lola Kirke featuring Kaitlin Butts

Written by Paula Cole

JK: A late addition to Kirke’s three-quarters terrific Country Curious EP, this cover of “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” feels at least a decade overdue. Cole’s dramatic, affected pop style made for a striking single back in the Lilith Fair era, but this song has  just been waiting for the right artist to bring it into the country fold.

Kirke leans pretty hard into irony as a performer, so it’s hard to suss out exactly how much of a put-on this is, but Kaitlin Butts is one of modern country’s most empathetic vocalists, so there’s a great balance to their interplay. The arrangement draws from Western Swing in a way that’s perhaps a bit on-the-nose, but it also works for the song itself. It’s a sullen and frustrated rendition that doesn’t wholly reinvent a familiar hit, but I dig it. I just hope it doesn’t overshadow Kirke’s even-better singles. A-

KJC: I have a godson who is very well versed in contemporary music, and when the Paula Cole hit popped up on shuffle last week, he noted that this was a song just waiting to be sampled, like what Nicki Minaj did with “No More ‘I Love You’s’.”

We’re going to have to wait a little longer for that, but how fitting that this winsome country cover of the song has surfaced.  In their own way, I think they get closer to the sound that Paula Cole was going for, before it was filtered through her idiosyncratic filter. And I will go to the wall for This Fire, so that isn’t a criticism! 

That being said, I don’t think carrying over Cole’s cold and flat delivery works as well as a version that truly tapped into the vocal talents of Kirke and Butts would’ve done. There’s so much angst and pain in this song, which Cole lets it out in a primal roar toward the end of her original recording. Kirke and Butts wrap things up with a lukewarm outro that reminded me of post-Globe Sessions Sheryl Crow. 

I’m happy to hear the song again in any context, and I think both of these artists are excellent in their own right. I just wish they’d been more creative here with such a familiar piece of material. B

Wherever You Are Tonight

Kenny Chesney

Written by John Harding and Shane McAnally

KJC:  I was a Kenny Chesney fan out of the gate. I had the “Whatever it Takes” cassette single. I was thrilled when he surfaced on BNA and released a string of memorable hits that I still listen to today, like “Fall in Love,” “Grandpa Told Me So,” “All I Need to Know,” “A Chance,” and “That’s Why I’m Here.”

Once he shifted into a stadium filling superstar and started leaning heavily into the island themes, I started to waver.  But he’s always been able to bring me back when he digs deeply with his material.  “Anything But Mine” and “Who You’d Be Today,” for example, and my deep cut favorite, “The Road and the Radio.”

One song that didn’t work for me, however, was “A Lot of Things Different.” This was simply because he was far too young to be singing it, in my opinion, especially when compared to John Conlee.

But he’s much older now, and “Wherever You Are Tonight” is the best thing he’s recorded in a very long time. It has added potency because he sounds older.  It’s the voice of a man who has lived long enough to experience loss.

It’s such a beautifully written song too, the kind that sneaks up on you and then you’re suddenly crying at a red light on your way to work, cursing the Spotify algorithm that suggested you listen to this after checking out “Fiddle in the Band.”

Chesney’s overdue for a late career signature song, and this could be the one.  A

JK: Unlike Kevin, I’m barely a Chesney fan in any capacity. As I’ve said before, he really only has two singles– “Anything But Mine” and “You and Tequila,” for those keeping score– that I’ve liked at all. A track record of two singles in a career that’s now well into its third decade is pretty grim, so what a tremendous surprise “Wherever You Are Tonight” is. It isn’t just that he has a third brilliant single to his credit; it’s his finest moment on record, full-stop.

The song itself caught me flat-footed in the way that only the best country songs can, and I did not anticipate a mainstream country single in the year 2024 would invoke the same type of agnostic questioning in the face of grief that made Jason Hawk Harris’ Thin Places one of the best albums of my lifetime. And I certainly would never have anticipated such a thing would come from Kenny Chesney.

But here we are now. The weird little nooks and crannies of Chesney’s aging voice lend this song of loss and reflection the gravitas it deserves, and it’s to his tremendous credit that he had the wherewithal to record it at all. A

Open in Spotify

1 Comment

  1. …incidentally youtube gave me “there goes my life” right after having checked out “take her home” for approx. the 10th time, trying to figure out what i’m missing there. didn’t really get it once again. when “dont blink” followed and “better boat” came on next automatically i realised that i’m still listening to him and kinda enjoyed it. is it that age makes you milder in general, or that kenny chesney ain’t so mediocre most of the time after all? coin, please.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.