Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 18

Kaia Kater leads the pack this week, with support from Aoife O’Donovan.


“Leave a Light On”

Sug Daniels

Written by Danielle Johnson

Jonathan Keefe: Last we heard from Sug Daniels was her gorgeous cover of “You’re Still the One,” and this original composition sees a bit of a throughline from the best of Shania Twain’s work with its effortless melody and an underlying optimism. There are so many elements here– the ukulele, the child’s piano, the brass section– that should scan as twee, but Daniels manages to keep “Leave a Light On” grounded, instead, in the genuine feelings of buoyancy and ebullience of a newfound love. 

That’s no easy feat when singing over an arrangement that sounds an awful lot like The Boy Least Likely To, but Daniels is just so skilled when it comes to the construction of this particular narrative– the way she out-of-nowhere growls, “She said, ‘Come here, woman!’” is utterly delightful– and is a vocalist of such warmth that she’s able to sell it. It’s a record about joy that actually sounds joyous. A-

Kevin John Coyne: WHat Sug Daniels achieves here reminds me of how Randy Travis covering Paul Overstreet songs helped them strike the right balance of sentimentality. Daniels is a skilled vocalist who elevates anything that she records, so when she’s working with a solid composition like this, nothing can go wrong.

It doesn’t soar quite as high as some of her other efforts – it reads like track 2 of a CD, sandwiched between the attention grabbing opening cut and the first single – but it’s a lovely listen, nonetheless. B+


“Never Been Over”

Darius Rucker and Jennifer Nettles

Written by Thomas Miller, Josh Osborne, and Darius Rucker

KJC: Duets can be tricky. 

Rucker and Nettles sound great individually on this track, which has a warm nostalgia for a long-lasting relationship but doesn’t overlook the scars earned along the way. The arrangement is tasteful and pleasantly twangy at all the right moments, given both singers ample room to shine.

But their voices don’t meld well together when they get to the chorus. It sounds like they each recorded a solo take and one track is laying over the other. It undercuts the intimacy of the song because it doesn’t sound like they’re singing in the same room, let alone to each other.

It’s better than the vast majority of the collaborations on the radio right now, but I expected more from a pairing of two truly great talents like these.  B-

JK: The interplay between Rucker and Nettles on this reminds me of all of the Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood duets. It doesn’t matter how much I might like them as individual vocalists– and I like both Rucker and Nettles plenty– I just don’t think their particular vocal timbres sound good together. They’re both such idiosyncratic singers– Rucker with his gravelly, mealy-mouthed delivery and Nettles with her doth-protest-too-much accent and melisma– that it’s hard for anyone to sing a true duet with either of them.

It’s a decent enough song, and I had high hopes for this collaboration, but this just doesn’t for me at all. The oil-and-water of their performances is just more than I can get past. C-

“The Witch”

Kaia Kater featuring Aoife O’Donovan

Written by Kaia Kater

JK: I absolutely love the production on this record: The muted percussion, the simply strummed acoustic guitar and nimbly plucked banjo that are obscured in the mix, the flourishes of string and woodwind instruments that punctuate the arrangement at unexpected times. It all works to create a sustained mood that is otherworldly and unnerving. 

That’s fitting, of course, for a song on which Kater casts herself as a witch and leaves it up to the listener to decide if she means that literally or figuratively. O’Donovan, as a sister in her coven, surely doesn’t commit to a definitive answer, either. The tension of the song is in its ambiguity, as Kater dresses down an oppressor (“Single me out as the source of your dread/I don’t need to suffer your threats,” and come the whole way on with that slant rhyme) while later threatening to “burn [her] name into [his] chest” all the same. 

There’s evil in Kater’s world, to be sure. And she wants everyone to know that she isn’t the source of it, but she’s damn sure going to handle it. A

KJC: This record is so richly atmospheric that I want to live in it. I’m involuntarily swaying along with it as I write this.

Usually it’s hard for a lead vocal to stand out when a record is arranged with such complexity, but Kater remains in control the entire time, and the support from O’Donovan adds another sonic element that contributes to the moody melancholy of “The Witch.”

Now to find the right opportunity at work to tell a co-worker, “Single me out as the source of your dread.” A

MIA Down in MIA

George Strait

Written by Adam Craig and Dean Dillon

KJC:  Speaking of expecting more, I have to ask: What fresh hell is this?

George Strait returns after several years with “MIA Down in MIA,” and I can’t believe that his usual standard of quality control failed him so badly here.

This is a terrible song full of so many tired “drinking in paradise” references that even Kenny Chesney wouldn’t have given it a second listen.

Strait sounds completely disconnected from the lyric, as if some suit told him that he had to record this one “I promise George, it’s a smash!” single so he could do whatever he wanted with the rest of this album.

Strait has been vocal about his disappointment about being exiled from country radio after the longest run of hits in country music history. But he needs to realize that radio doesn’t matter anymore. Artists are connecting directly with their audiences now. 

His last lead single, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” was fantastic, and even though it fell short of the top fifteen, it was recently certified platinum, making it one of his biggest digital and streaming era hits.  He doesn’t need to be doing derivative tripe like this.  D

JK: I cannot think of a time in George Strait’s career when he was pandering to trends, until now. And, because this is exactly the knockoff of Kenny Chesney’s schtick that Kevin noted above, it plays as pandering to trends that are already two decades out of date. This single is the equivalent of that Steve Buscemi “fellow youths” meme, and it gives me secondhand embarrassment for an artist who has long been defined by his consistency.

This record is beneath George Strait. D

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