Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 20

An iffy week overall features a brilliant effort from Caitlyn Smith.



Caitlyn Smith

Written by Joe Clemmons and Caitlyn Smith

Jonathan Keefe: The 90s were such a golden era for the women in country music that there were extraordinary talents– Mandy Barnett, Allison Moorer, Joy Lynn White, and countless others– who didn’t find the success they truly deserved. The 2020s are not an era overrun with that same depth of talent, at least not within the genre’s mainstream confines. Which makes Caitlyn Smith’s lack of real commercial support just maddening.

“Static” is maybe the fourth-or-fifth best single she’s released in the past few years, but it is still absolutely stunning. She mines a real sense of menace from the idea that what had once been a pounding heartbeat has faded to little more than white noise. Instead of nailing her vocal to the wall from the opening bars– that first crescendo on “High” remains an all-timer of misdirection and pure power– she allows her confidence to build over the course of the song. As ever, Smith is as good as pop-country gets, and she deserves so much better than what she’s gotten to date. A

Kevin John Coyne: This one’s a heartbreaker.

So many songs about love gone bad have a flashpoint that makes goodbye a necessity, but in real life, it’s more common for love to just slowly fade away until one or both partners realize it’s not going to get better.

That creeping sense of dread is all over “Static,” and the metaphor is used brilliantly to compare being unable to tune into a radio station with being unable to tune into what your heart is trying to tell you.

“Static” is further enhanced by a vocal performance that cuts through the uncertainty with moral clarity and a clear sense of purpose. Her heart may not be communicating clearly, but her voice lets us know that it’s all over but the leaving. A


“Austin (Boots Stop Workin’)”


Written by Cheyenne Rose Arnspiger, Kenneth Travis Heidelman, 

Anna Dasha Novotny, and Adam Wandler

KJC: I can understand the appeal of this song. Sonically it’s one part “Texas Hold ‘Em,” lyrically it’s two parts “Stick Season.” It thematically recalls Tanya Tucker’s “Soon” and Sugarland’s “Stay.”

Plus the vocal is fine enough, so all of the pieces are there for an excellent record. Yet somehow it’s all less than the sum of its parts to my ears, perhaps because so many of the parts are borrowed.

But all time great careers were launched with hits less catchy and more derivative than this one, so I’m curious to hear more, especially when Dasha’s own POV is articulated more clearly. B

JK: There’s something instructive in the way Dasha’s viral success translated into early conversions at country radio before she even had a team to jump through all of the hoops about “official adds dates” and “servicing” platforms. It’s no great mystery why her when, to pick just two examples completely at random, Beyonce and Shaboozey had to make sure they followed every arbitrary rule to get played on the radio.

That’s not Dasha’s fault in any way, and I am always appreciative of someone’s ability to circumvent the Music Row systems. And “Austin (Boots Stop Workin’)” is certainly an earworm: It’s not a surprise that this took off via streaming and TikTok.

As Kevin noted, there’s not really anything here to account for who Dasha is as an artist. The lyrics are a patchwork of familiar tropes, and her voice stands out only for its base competence in an era when that is rare. As a debut single, it’s certainly enough to garner positive attention, though, and I’m not mad that it’s turning into an outright hit. B+

“Teenage Kicks”

Lone Justice

Written by J.J. O’Neill

JK: I’m thrilled that Lone Justice have reunited: Their influence has spanned generations in the country and Americana spaces, and they are long overdue for a major boost in name recognition. And Maria McKee’s inimitable voice has lost none of its power or clarity over the years.

But wow, was this not the record I expected. The band has always had a strong punk bent, and that’s part of their appeal, but they tempered that with their country and folk inflections. That’s what made their sound so distinctive.

This cover of “Teenage Kicks” sounds like an outtake from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever to Tell era. Which, to be clear, that’s a band and a record I love. But their persona and their strengths are not the same as those of Lone Justice, and this “Teenage Kicks” plays against most all of the things that alone Justice does well.

Two weeks in the span of a month, I’m inclined to cite the Steve Buscemi “fellow youths” meme. D

KJC:  What in the Monkey’s Paw is this?

Lone Justice reunites. Yay!

With a screeching cover of an Undertones punk classic. Boo!

Y’all, this song had a melody. It wasn’t just a primal scream. All of the nuance from the classic record is completely lost here. 

This sounds like middle aged rockers trying to recapture teen angst after they’ve long forgotten the fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities that teens cover up with forced bravado.

What a mess. D



Hang Tight Honey

Lainey Wilson

Written by Jason Nicks, Paul Sikes, Driver Williams, and Lainey Wilson

KJC: Lainey Wilson is coming off to me like a Dollywood theme park performer burlesquing as a country music singer.

“Hang Tight Honey” is all fluff and no grit, turning the loneliness and isolation of working on the road into the kind of Disney Channel bop that made Miley Cyrus wince under her Hannah Montana wig.

This has been done so many times before and so much better. I’ll take the homesickness of Ashley McBryde’s “Sparrow” or even the glossed over melancholy of ABBA’s “Super Trooper” over this paper thin slice of sentiment any day. C

JK: I see Wilson is entering that phase many successful artists go through when they stop writing the relatable material that connected with their audiences and are very sure that songs about being a successful musician will resonate. Thinking of a recent example, “Circles Around This Town” didn’t work for Maren Morris, and “Hang Tight Honey” doesn’t work for Wilson.

This has all of the heft of Sawyer Brown’s cover of “Six Days on the Road.” The mere fact that the arrangement is uptempo can’t create a sense of urgency that the lyrics don’t actually warrant. I’ve only ever been marginally on the Wilson train, but there are rumblings of a backlash setting in, and a single like this is the last thing that will convert any non-believers. D

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  1. ..all that lainey wilson needs to fire up the third rocket boost and catapult her to absolute country superstardom and giving morgan wallen not only a run for his money at award handouts is a huge no. 1 hit. this clearly ain’t it yet. neither will it be her unbelievably beautiul collaboration with ernest on “would if i could” most likely. she’s so good and has got tons of what it takes left, right and center. yet, her singles still lack that little bit that makes them irresistable – so far.

    the rand mcnally girl – has anybody more songs with geographical references in them than caitlyn smith? – hits this one out of the park. very nice indeed.

    dasha, the song, the beats, the lot is a match made in line dance heaven. try not to move a little bit to that one.

    my favorite out of this batch, however, is the punky “teenage kicks”. just hits my juvenile sweet tooth like “teenage rampage” of the sweet or “children of the revolution” by t. rex did in days gone by quite some time when glam rock ruled and punk was already lurking around the corner. on top of everything, it sounds kinda familiar somehow. sometimes i wish my mind was a little more ai than si – s for standard or simple.

    • …just to point out that i have not gone completely daft (yet), i always write down my two cents before reading the editorial opinions in order to avoid any bias. learning from the guys here that the original of “teenage kicks” is an undertones classic is much appreciated. interestingly, i am enjoying this new version more. maybe morgan wade cares for 2-4-6-8 motorway (tom robinson band) one of these days.

  2. How funny! “Hang Tight Honey” is the a rare single of Wilson’s I actually kind of like. So many of the songs she’s released up till now have been thematically repetitive, I appreciate that she’s venturing in some different territory.(My favorite songs of hers so far have been “WWDD” and “New Friends,” so I guess her radio bids just don’t do too much for me.)

  3. Re. Lone Justice–no, this isn’t exactly the greatest thing they ever did by any stretch of the imagination. Still, they are among the most underappreciated (hell, unappreciated) bands in any genre over the last fifty years (IMHO).

    And it’s interesting to hear from their lead singer Maria McKee about how they were discovered (as it were). The band was playing at a dive bar in the San Fernando Valley in early 1983; and during a break, Maria had to use the ladies’ room. While she was in there, she ran into (and I swear, I’m not making this stuff up) Linda Ronstadt, who had seen and heard Maria and her band. Maria was a bit stunned that Linda, who had long since become a household name in the music industry and was one of Maria’s heroes, was doing out in this dive. Two days after that, the band was signed to Geffen Records by David Geffen himself, on the basis of what Linda (whom he had signed to his former label Asylum in 1972) had told him.

    • I think the “unappreciated” is a fair assessment, for sure. I am hopeful that their new record sparks a serious discussion around both the quality of their work and their generations-spanning influence. Still think this single’s a wreck, though.

      I’d heard that story about Ronstadt and McKee before, and it’s a good example of Ronstadt’s capacity for sussing out and then supporting raw talent.

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