Supersized Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 17

As the pace of this year’s releases keeps accelerating, we’re going to supersize some of our Single Review Roundups to keep up.  Six excellent singles are featured this week, including a stunner from Reba McEntire.


“I Like Trains”

Ashley Monroe

Written by Fred Eaglesmith

Jonathan Keefe: I don’t know that I had any real expectations for what Ashley Monroe’s comeback single would be, but I know “cover of a Fred Eaglesmith rarity” was nowhere on my radar, and, Lord God, is this a fantastic surprise. After dabbling in more alt-pop sounds for a couple of albums, this finds Monroe pivoting back to the type of haunting and haunted country music that have made her a generational talent. 

I love everything about this record: The nearly a capella arrangement, the intimacy in the use of Monroe’s scratch vocal, the fact that she knows she’s singing about literal trains and also that she definitely isn’t. Eaglesmith is one of my favorite artists, but the idiosyncrasies of his music make him tough to cover well. Monroe, wisely, lets Eaglesmith’s song breathe, with the spare production and her world-weary phrasing heightening the sense that this is a narrator who is out-of-sync with the world in which she finds herself. It’s Monroe’s finest moment on record since “The Blade.” A

Kevin John Coyne: Back in the stone ages when I was a classroom teacher, middle school English Language Arts was part of my course load. Whenever I had a new class, I did a lesson on our favorite words. As the model, I always used “melancholy” because it’s a great word for a certain kind of bad feeling. 

Ashley Monroe is the mistress of melancholy. Her sad records hurt so good. Has a loving ode to the train ever sounded so desperately sad? ,

Of course she likes trains. She could sing over a lonesome whistle like it’s a fiddle track. I’ll go a little less further back and call it her finest moment on record since “Orphan,” my personal favorite from her.  A


Scary Love

Mickey Guyton

Written by Victoria Banks, Emma-Lee, Mickey Guyton, and Karen Kosowski  

KJC: It is really difficult to even write a song like this without it devolving into a syrupy mess, and that’s before a sentimental producer gets the chance to schlock things up with the arrangement.

I think what’s most impressive about “Scary Love” is that it captures the intense feelings of being a new parent while also exploring how it transforms that new parent’s understanding of their own parents.

Guyton executes this so beautifully, and I love hearing some more traditional country elements in her production. This isn’t a honky tonk record. Guyton’s not a honky tonk singer! It’s more akin to when we’d get prominent fiddles and steel on a Trisha Yearwood record. The sophistication and complexity remain, but there are some pure country elements that give “Scary Love” some additional warmth.

This is my favorite record that she’s done so far, as much as I’ve loved her singing and songwriting all along. A

JK: I remain entrenched on the hill that “Nice Things” is Guyton’s finest record, though I’ll endorse this as a strong runner-up. As great as “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” and “Black Like Me” are– and they truly are– they didn’t sound like obvious radio hits the way “Scary Love” does. 

To Kevin’s point, it’s the traditional country flourishes in the production that make this sound current in a way that allows Guyton’s gifts to shine. She’s a songwriter who brings such humanity into her narratives, and country music is all the more rich when it makes space for a wide range of the lived experiences of people other than white men who “paid their dues” on the Texas country circuit as the only credible artists. 

To mince fewer words: Guyton brings real authenticity here. A


“10lbs of S#!T”

Drake White

Written by Kelli Johnson, Matt Koziol, and Drake White

JK: Having his commercial momentum– he had a streak of three straight top 30 hits, and all three of them were great– derailed by a major health crisis hasn’t diminished Drake White’s indomitable presence on record. He has a real gift for the natural meter of language, and there’s a good-natured playfulness that is a throughline in his songwriting.

“10lbs of S#!T” finds White fast-talking his way through what amounts to an origin story– it’s akin to Kane Brown’s recent “Fiddle in the Band” in that regard– with a mix of genuine pride and self-deprecating humor. Outside of Chris Stapleton, he’s the best male vocalist to flirt with any mainstream success in a generation, and he sings the absolute fire out of this one. In a just world, this single would get him another hit record. A

KJC:  A lot of stylistic throwbacks this week, starting with Drake White’s homage to the “Six Days On the Road” style of rapping over a driving beat. If traditional country was defined properly, it would include this kind of record in its definition.

White’s backstory is entertaining and quite specific, and given how compelling he is when he’s singing, it’s impressive that he can emote just as effectively through spoken word. The title alone will keep it off of radio,unless Morgan Wallen or Megan Moroney are available for a remixed version.

I hate myself for releasing that thought out into the world, but I sure do love this record. A


fault line

Carly Pearce

Written by Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally, Carly Pearce, and Jordan Reynolds

KJC: First, let’s give credit where due. This clever piece of songwriting borrows heavily from Crystal Gayle’s “Our Love is On the Faultline,” and it’s about time somebody built another great song around that specific play on words.

Gayle once sang, “Our love is on the faultline, and you’re sayin’ that the fault’s mine.” Pearce’s spin is “We’re livin’ on a faultline, and the fault is always mine.”

But you could drive an eighteen wheeler through the relative levels of assertiveness. There ain’t no way Crystal Gayle would’ve ever sang, “I turn into the bitch that you say I am,” and Pearce sings the hell out of that line and the rest of the song, too.

Her voice is actually perfect for this particular lyric. The cracks in her vocal track emphasize the shaky ground that she’s standing on. She does bitter better than most, and I’d be totally fine with that being the emotional beat she makes her signature. It works.  B+  

JK: Pearce enlisted Patty Loveless to sing harmony on “Dear Mrs. Loretta” during her last album cycle, and with “fault line,” she’s crafted the first single of her career that truly sounds like a Patty Loveless record of its own accord. Granted, Loveless could still sing Pearce under any table in Kentucky, but this record is more about the tone of Pearce’s performance than it is about her limited technical skill. Try holding pitch in an earthquake, right? It reminds me of something like Kenny Chesney’s “Anything But Mine” or Lady [Redacted]’s “Need You Now” in that way: The singer’s marginal skill set actually serves the narrative of the song and elevates it.

And what a clever song this is. It’s a wonder of snark and bitterness. That, “I turn into the bitch that you say I am,” line took me the whole way out on the first listen, and I can attest that it holds up at least two dozen more times after that. Pearce sneers and eye-rolls her way through her performance like someone who has really and truly had enough and who is ready to shake the foundations. This is easily her best single since “Hide the Wine,” and here’s hoping it helps to re-center her in the conversation among the genre’s A-list women. A-



Kyle McKearney featuring Trey Hensley

Written by James Jannetty and Kyle McKearney

JK: God, do I love it when a train song actually hits with the force of a runaway locomotive, and “Lonesome” has the kind of momentum that never lets up. Not to take anything away from McKearney’s fiery vocal turn or from a lyric that puts several clever spins on familiar imagery, but I think the best part of this single is the absolute barnburner of an instrumental bridge. The picking on this single is just absurd: It manages to be nimble while also having a real sense of heft about it. 

A lifetime ago, this might’ve gotten some airplay, too: Think along the lines of Sara Evans’ “Coalmine” or Zac Brown Band’s “The Wind” or Joey+Rory’s “Cheater Cheater.” That, today, it counts as Americana– by way of Canada– is what it is, but what’s most important is that it’s an absolute banger of a record. A

KJC:  This week’s roundup is brought to you by Amtrak.

But I don’t mind another train song, especially one that sounds like a long lost cut from the bluegrass album that Hal Ketchum never made.

I’m still adjusting to nineties country being such an obvious influence on records being released today, but I’m hoping we get a few good years of it before things inevitably pivot to whatever hell child will be conceived between 2000s “Jesus Loves Me and You Better Love Him” Country and today’s “Let’s Get Drunk and Throw a Chair Off the Roof” Country.

McKearney and Hensley’s track has flawless musicianship, and while they don’t break new sonic ground here, that’s not really the point. The lonesome train song formula was perfected by Hank Williams and McKearney and Hensley honor that legacy.  B+ 


“I Can’t”

Reba McEntire

Written by Victoria Banks, Tania Hancheroff, and Tia Sillers

KJC: The reason we’re still talking about Reba McEntire nearly fifty years into her recording career is because of records like this.

She’s never been a trend chaser so much as a trend borrower. She can adorn her records with fiddles and steel as easily as with a string section, and that voice is still going to cut through, provided she’s got herself a solid lyric to work with.

This one’s a humdinger, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s her first real gospel record. She pulls off a soulful performance for the first time in her career, and she picked the right time to do it. Her voice is weathered but still strong, and she uses her lower register to drive home the dark mood of the song.

You can feel her intense pain, but also her cautious sense of relief that she’s finally choosing herself over the toxic partner who has been pulling her down. And much like last year’s Maren Morris release “The Tree,” it doesn’t necessarily have to be about a toxic partner. It can apply to a friendship, a family dynamic, or a hostile work environment. 

Reba McEntire’s last two proper country albums are among her career-best. “I Can’t” suggests she very much can keep that trend going. A

JK: My only reservation with this record is that, on first listen, I thought Reba was singing, “I can’t go to the cross right now / I’m too busy building a bridge,” which was a line so shocking and loaded that it would’ve been a fit in Katie Pruitt’s album. So there’s a tinge of disappointment that the line is actually, “I can’t row you across right now,” which still makes for a fantastic lyric, but it’s one that is less mind-blowing.

Other than that? This is my favorite single Reba’s released this century– and she’s had a couple of tremendous ballads (“Just Like Them Horses,” “Stronger Than the Truth”) that are real career highlights. I love the grit in her delivery here, and what is perhaps the most subtle use of a gospel choir I’ve heard in ages.

The notion of “self-care” is so overused in contemporary therapy-speak that it’s practically meaningless. What “I Can’t” does so brilliantly is take that concept back to the roots of why it’s necessary in the first place. There’s an element of the thesis of the “Serenity Prayer” in these lyrics, too, in the way the narrator is recognizing that their locus of control is limited to what they can do for themselves. Reba delivers that message and sets clear boundaries without any sense of apology or regret, and this is the most psychologically healthy narrator she’s ever given voice to. It’s a powerful and essential single. A

Open in Spotify


  1. As someone who’s never been completely sold on Carly Pearce(I’ve always found her voice to be pleasant but unremarkable), I think Fault Line is her best non-collaborative single to
    date. And the vocal is surprisingly robust.

    Reba’s I Can’t stirs up memories of Fancy and even her cover of The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. As someone who thought Stronger Than the Truth was her best record since the nineties (What It It’s You), this one is a highly promising sign for her next album.

  2. As someone who’s never been completely sold on Carly Pearce(I’ve always found her voice to be pleasant but unremarkable), I think Fault Line is her best non-collaborative single to
    date. And the vocal is surprisingly robust.

    Reba’s I Can’t stirs up memories of Fancy and even her cover of The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. As someone who thought Stronger Than the Truth was her best record since the nineties (What If It’s You), this one is a highly promising sign for her next album.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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