Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 15

Rhonda Vincent enthusiastically covers an Olivia Newton-John classic, while Shelby Lynne makes a very welcome return. 


Lori Yates

Written by Lori Yates

Jonathan Keefe: Yates’ brand of forward-thinking alt-country was truly ahead of her time when she made her Nashville debut at the tail end of the 80s. The influence of her albums Can’t Stop the Girl and Breaking Point is all over today’s Americana scene. That’s why “Matador” sounds so current: Even though she hasn’t released new solo music in nearly a decade, Yates sounds fully on-trend here on what is a most welcome return.

A tinge of disappointment that this isn’t a Gretchen Peters cover fades pretty quickly once Yates starts singing her tribute to a legendary venue made famous in Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time.” Always a firebrand, Yates takes gentrifiers to task, capturing the one-of-a-kind inhabitants of The Matador with her affinity for outlaws and underdogs. “Matador” might not be quite as meaty as her very best work, but it’s just so, so good to hear from Yates again. A-

Kevin John Coyne: Full disclosure: as much as I love Gretchen Peters’ “The Matador,” I don’t want to hear anybody else attempt it for a very long time because Trisha Yearwood already recorded it, and that’s an impossible bar to clear.

Yates does a wonderful job constructing a living, breathing community on her “Matador.”  A wonderful enough job that I found myself rooting for the place to stay open. Where are all of these lonely souls supposed to go if they tear it down? Don’t tear it down!

Yates is still in fine voice, and it’s good to hear from her again. I echo Jonathan’s celebration of her early albums as foundational for today’s Americana.  Here’s hoping that the album is as good or better as this single.  B+


“Drinkin’ Buddies”

Lee Brice featuring Hailey Whitters and Nate Smith

Written by Chris DeStefano, Zachary Hale, and Justin Wilson 

KJC:  It’s just so loud.

My apologies for showing my age, but this could’ve been such a fun record. It’s a well-written song that feels like it’s supposed to have three singers collaborating on it.  I adore the way that Whitters is written into the second verse, and I can’t remember the last time that platonic friendships across genders was showcased in a country song.  

But it’s just so loud.  It’s that “God’s Country” syndrome of making the chorus overly bombastic. It’s completely out of sync with what’s working best in country music right now, even though it will certainly be a big radio hit.  Another reason not to listen to the radio.  C-

JK: Hell, maybe I’m just grumpier than usual, but I don’t even think this is a well-written song. I do appreciate what Kevin notes about how unprecedented it is for a modern country song to suggest that men and women could ever be friends, but I just don’t think these characters are drawn as anything more than the broadest of caricatures to make that matter. There isn’t a single detail here that isn’t a cliché.

And Lord God, do I hate the lead vocals on this. Both Smith and Brice sing like they’re trying to pass a kidney stone, rather than gearing up for a good time at the bar. Whitters is fine, I guess, but not in a way that I’m invested in at all. 

That this pulled in over 100 station adds in its first week while Shaboozey has the actual hottest country single on streaming platforms but has yet to scrape the bottom of the Mediabase panel says so much about the rot at the roots. But wooooooo, drinkin’ buddies, amirite?!? D


“But I Ain’t”

Shelby Lynne

Written by Ben Chapman, Jay Joyce, Shelby Lynne, 

Meg McCree, Ashley Monroe, and Dorothy Overstreet

JK: The minimalism of “But I Ain’t” makes it surprising to see that it took six songwriters to write it, especially when considering how it is such a prototypical Shelby Lynne song. At her best– the best of her output in this century, anyway– Lynne’s songs favor brief impressions over linear narratives, and they play up the simplicity of her deep-deep-South vernacular. Truly, there’s no one else like her.

“But I Ain’t” is one of the best singles Lynne has released since rebooting her career some twenty-five years back. It boasts the soulfulness– and hints at the powerhouse, fiery vocal performances of her major label run– of her landmark I Am Shelby Lynne, set against the unconventional and moody production that made Revelation Road such a compelling listen. What I love most about this record is how Lynne sings about being stuck in the past while her music sounds like Americana that has actually spent the last two decades evolving

It’s thrilling to see her getting her proper due from her peers in the country industry: She’s been touring for a couple of years now with Mandy Barnett and Emily West, she’s collaborating with the likes of Ashley Monroe and Jay Joyce here, and Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town is her new manager. I’ll always go to bat for her Restless and Temptation era, but “But I Ain’t” suggests that Lynne’s best work may still lie ahead of her. A

KJC:  I’m going to come from a completely different angle here. To my ears, what Shelby Lynne is doing on “But I Ain’t” is interloping a beat from her late nineties I am Shelby Lynne album and crafting a late nineties R&B throwback jam.

Like, pre-Destiny’s Child nineties R&B.  Aaliyah or Faith Evans could’ve had a massive hit with this track.  The callback “Did you miss me?” while Lynne confesses that she’s also still in love has that tricky balance of confidence and vulnerability that this year’s Rock Hall inductee Mary J. Blige perfected back in the day, and it fits Lynne like a hand in glove.  A


Please Mr. Please

Rhonda Vincent

Written by John Rostill and Bruce Welch

KJC:  When you’ve known a song by heart for so long that it predates most of your childhood memories, and when that song is a highwater mark in the catalog of a singer you hold in the highest esteem, and when that singer has recently died and that’s what it took for her to finally be appreciated, you’re hit with a lot of emotions when you get a cover of that song delivered by a legendary bluegrass artist.

I share all this because my joy that this cover exists is inevitably going to push up against my reverence for the Olivia Newton-John recording.  “Please Mr. Please” is an exquisitely produced record, and unless you’ve heard the original by Bruce Wallach – who wrote and released it after ONJ broke up with him and moved to America – it’s hard to fully appreciate what a masterful job that John Farrar did arranging the hit version.

Some of those elements that he introduced are reimagined in Vincent’s version, with different instruments delivering some of the hooks that Farrar weaved into Livvy’s classic release. Vincent herself takes a different approach to the lyric than Newton-John did, even making one slight lyrical change: the good Kentucky whiskey that ONJ was drowning her sorrows with is available at the bar, but Vincent ain’t drinking it.

There’s more of an aggressiveness here with the “button-pushing cowboy,” too.  Where Newton-John gave a desperate plea – “Don’t play B17” – Vincent delivers a casual warning, as if the song is going to kill her buzz, but not shatter her heart.

That posturing works well with the uptempo rearrangement, which makes it different from the other covers of this song that have surfaced over the years. Vincent made the right choice there. No singer in her right mind would attempt to replicate Olivia Newton-John in her prime, and she doesn’t try. 

She makes it a Rhonda Vincent record instead, and it works. B+

JK: Without having the same attachment as Kevin to the Olivia Newton-John classic– though I will also loudly contend that it’s an all-timer of a record– my approach to this cover was more of pleasant surprise. ONJ was once the bane of country purists, so to hear someone like Rhonda Vincent, a dogged traditionalist, give one of ONJ’s hits a reverent and enthusiastic cover was a wonder.

Vincent and her ace backing band are unimpeachable musicians, and I love how a bluegrass arrangement highlights what a strong composition “Please Mr. Please” always has been. It’s certainly robust enough to hold up to Vincent’s unique interpretation of the song: As Kevin noted, Vincent’s performance is nowhere near as torrid or fraught as Newton-John’s. Vincent, instead, sounds almost inconvenienced by this guy, and she brings a completely different emotional tenor to the song. However great Vincent always is, I can’t say that approach is equally as compelling as ONJ’s take, but it’s still a great listen. More than anything, I love that this record exists at all. A-

Open in Spotify


  1. Um Jonathan, it’s important to note that the Shaboozey song hasn’t even impacted country radio completely yet. I do agree though that “Drinkin Buddies” sounds pretty bad imo. Just the production and Lee Brice’s vocals are so bad and a huge flop.

  2. Hi there, Raymond! Always happy to see you in the comment threads!

    I mentioned this in my discussion of Beyoncé’s singles, but I truly believe that all of the hoops that country radio– unique among radio formats, at least to the extent that they do this– mandates that artists jump through for a Program Director even to entertain the notion of adding a single is a form of gatekeeping. And that gatekeeping disproportionately impacts non-white artists, LGBTQ artists, and “non-mainstream” artists who are all resonating with big audiences but might not have the resources or the desire to play Music Row politics.

    Country radio PDs figured out how to play viral hits by Megan Moroney and Dasha while the major label bidding wars for the both of them were still ongoing. But they didn’t do that for Chapel Hart, who had fantastic streaming numbers during their America’s Got Talent run, or for Shaboozey, who has the #1 song on the Hot Country Songs chart. I think the reasons why the industry actively chooses to problem-solve for some artists but not others are obvious.

    So I definitely understand the idea that Shaboozey’s song hasn’t “impacted” country radio. But I believe that those “requirements” have been put in place solely to uphold a very, very narrow view of who is allowed on country radio and when. It’s a form of institutionalized bigotry.

  3. It’s such a delight to hear Rhonda Vincent’s bluegrass-flavored take on ONJ’s classic, country hit. Love it! I love, too, seeing all of the talented young musicians performing with Rhonda in the video. I’m sure ONJ would have felt honored by it.

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