Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 22

Jett Holden is way ahead of the pack this week. 

“Backwood Proclamation”

Jett Holden feat. Charlie Worsham and John Osborne

Written by Roger Dale and Jett Holden

Jonathan Keefe: Holden was one of the artists on stage when I saw The Black Opry Revue a couple of years ago. He was every bit as impressive as his peers on a stage that threatened to collapse under the weight of their collective talents, and the songs he performed all represented a progressive brand of Americana. 

What a surprise it is, then, that “Backwood Proclamation” sounds like a radio hit. The guitar-work from collaborators Charlie Worsham and John Osborne absolutely smokes, and the overall country-rock aesthetic to the production is an ideal fit for Holden’s raspy vocals. He sounds fully at-ease in this setting, and that allows him to bring a real sense of confidence to his performance on a song that demands some swagger.

What remains here from Holden’s previous work is a mastery of language: There’s an internal rhyme in the first verse (the words “asunder” and “wonder”) that nearly made me drive off the road. A gifted, idiosyncratic writer, Holden brings a unique POV to the country space, and this record is catchy and accessible enough that it ought to break him to a bigger audience. A

Kevin John Coyne: My God, what a voice.

There are some singers where every note sounds like a cathartic emotional release of something that’s been held in for too long. The way Holden expresses such intense feeling in his signing reminds me of the first time I heard Patty Griffin’s “Moses,” the opening track to her debut album. 

In lesser hands, calling any statement of values as a proclamation would be a sign of pretentiousness. But this man is preaching all over this track, and this is the kind of proclamation that could get me sitting in a backwood church on a Sunday morning. Provided Holden is going to be singing there.  A


“Everything is Changing”

Billy Currington

Written by Cary Barlowe, Billy Currington, ROMANS, and Will Weatherly 

KJC: This idea has been done so much better in the past. Two nineties gems – John & Audrey Wiggins’ “Has Anybody Seen Amy” and Lonestar’s “Everything’s Changed” – already brightened up country radio with their “My Town Has Moved Away” take. (In case that last one doesn’t ring a bell, check out the link and then go read the Pam Tillis Ranked feature to discover more hidden gems.)

Currington’s contribution to this theme is clunky, loud, and painfully unsubtle. There are no recognizable human emotions here, as they’re all drowned out by Currington’s tuneless performance.

So much of what’s wrong with country music today is the distance between what it’s saying and what it sounds like. So we’ve got country pride anthems from suburban brats and nostalgic anthems from guys who act half their age.  D

JK: The production on this lands somewhere between One Republic and the records that killed Kip Moore’s radio career: It scans as a particularly toothless kind of modern rock, and Currington lacks Moore’s presence on record to rough things up enough to make his work still sound interesting.

As Kevin notes, this theme is one that’s been done better countless times over: Go on and say good bye to our town, to our town, and all that. This iteration comes across as more reactionary than most, since it’s less effective in capturing a sense of personal loss than it is at documenting changes in the physical landscape. There’s quality songwriting to be mined from the loss of America’s small-town downtown scenes in favor of Dollar General and Wal-Mart, to be sure, but this song is more of a broadside against vague notions of “progress.”

I’m on record as believing Currington’s only ever had one truly great single– “Love Done Gone,” which is a forever banger and one of the best singles of the previous decade– and this doesn’t double that count. C



Justin Townes Earle

Written by Stevie Nicks

JK: I didn’t realize when I selected this single for our feature this week that it was a Fleetwood Mac cover. Instead, I’d hoped it was a previously unreleased original by the late, truly great Justin Townes Earle.

I still wish that were the case.

“Dreams” is a tremendous song, of course, and a cover that’s more or less faithful to the tone and arrangement of the original version is going to be fine enough. Earle’s vocal is less polished than what he typically committed to his studio recordings: It sounds like his scratch vocal was used here, honestly, and there are issues with pitch and enunciation here that probably would have been resolved with a few more takes.

This doesn’t dampen the excitement around the upcoming release of JTE’s vault recordings, on the assumption that “Dreams” was tagged as the proper single based upon its familiarity, not because it’s the best quality track on the set. That’s the hope, at least. C

KJC: So here’s the thing about “Dreams” in particular and Stevie Nicks in general.

It all comes down to the groove and the melody, because the lyrics are nonsensical. You’ve got to lean into the feelings lurking under the bizarre words, like Natalie Maines did on the Chicks’ cover of “Landslide.”

Justin Townes Earle was a great singer who put his lyrics front and center, but that approach works against his cover of “Dreams” because we can’t get away from the odd turns of phrase and tortured metaphors. It pierces the illusions Nicks created with her original performance. It’s a bit like looking behind the curtain and seeing the way a magician is pulling off her tricks.

I really hope there are better things in the vault, because this could’ve stayed in there.  C


The Hill

Caylee Hammack

Written by Caylee Hammack, Tenille Townes, and Logan Wall

KJC:  Thank you for the fiddle. Thank you for the twang. Thank you for the anguished vocal.

It’s good to know that there’s some country music still being made out there. 

I just wish “The Hill” had the full courage of its convictions instead of devolving into a theatrical stadium anthem, obscuring the lyrical payoff of the chorus with overwrought arena drums. 

There’s a great record here, and you can hear it during the verses and the closing moments. Stop putting all this slop on top of a solid meat and potatoes meal, please. B

JK: God, I hate the production on this.

The verse sounds like Alabama’s “Song of the South” recorded using modern equipment, and that’s pretty fantastic. But then the chorus inexplicably, abruptly pivots into what sounds like one of the screaming about Jesus tracks on Carrie Underwood’s first few albums, and it doesn’t work at all with Hammack’s voice, the preceding verse, or the content of the song itself.

And the song is fantastic. “Who really cares who’s right or wrong / If this is the hill we’re dying on” is a spectacular line of its own accord and a heady concept around which to build a song. Hammack is as good as anyone in the modern country space at writing lines like that, and she is a dynamic and versatile singer. She should’ve been a major star many times over by now, and that’s a hill I’ll die on.

Just not for this single. B-

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