Single Review Roundup: Vol. 3, No. 23

Two genre innovators plus two genre legends equals four great records this week.


“Wild Wild West”


Written by Michael Ferrucci, Clintarius Johnson, and Christoper Valenzuela

Jonathan Keefe: I’m literally decades removed from my bar-hopping days, so there’s an anthropological interest in hearing Rvshvd’s take on what that scene looks like today. It was never pretty, of course, but Rvshvd makes things sound especially brutal. That’s a credit to his choices of imagery and how he uses specific tropes of the proverbial “Wild Wild West” era to make his larger points about how relationship dynamics have become cut-throat.

What’s most fascinating is that, unlike many of the men on Music Row, he doesn’t take this as an opportunity for either empty machismo posturing or for the vilification of women. If anything, he subverts those expectations: The way he sneers, “I ain’t on a John Wayne / I ain’t bout to save a ho,” makes the line sound like he’s taking the piss out of Big & Rich’s most enduring hit record.

It’s not the trad-country triumph that “Shoebox Money” was, but “Wild Wild West” confirms that Rvshvdis one of the most interesting new acts in the mainstream space right now. A-

Kevin John Coyne: I haven’t gotten tired yet of these theatrical Western movie sounds that are all over country tracks these days. “Wild Wild West” might be my favorite entry in this subgenre so far, with its wickedly clever songwriting and Rvshvd’s deep Southern drawl making every line feel like a shootout.

I’ve been a country music fan for over thirty years. I won’t go as far as to say that this is the best the genre has been during that time, but right now is certainly the most innovative and creative period of country music that I’ve lived through. A


“I Know She Hung the Moon”

Clay Walker

Written by Scotty Emerick and Toby Keith

KJC: I knew this song sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until I checked the writing credits that I realized it was a mid-2000’s era Toby Keith cover. He wrote and recorded so many great songs in that era, but radio cycles had gotten very long and he was prolific back in those days. He was lucky to get three singles from an album before he had another one ready to go.

Walker is one of the few Keith contemporaries who has the vocal chops to even attempt a cover, and he does very well on this track. Keith’s big bravado image may have been burnished with signature hits and media appearances in the 2000s, but he never lost his innate nineties country songcraft, and that’s Walker’s wheelhouse as a singer, too.

It’s a lovely song delivered well by a strong singer who never received many accolades, but kept the hits going for longer than most on the sheer strength of his talent and good song sense. This would’ve been a No. 1 hit in the nineties, and is quite a bit better than his actual big moon hit from back in the day. B+

JK: Some of the awards-circuit “tributes” to the late Toby Keith have highlighted how hard it can be to pay him proper respects. Walker is a perfect counterexample here: Always an underrated vocalist, he brings his own recognizable phrasing and timbre to this cover without trying to reinvent what made it a winning album track for Keith.

As Kevin noted, this would’ve been a massive hit for Walker in his radio heyday. Would it have been his best single? No, but that’s a testament to the depth of his own catalog, which our Every #1 Single Of The 90s feature highlighted as one worth a critical re-evaluation. He sounds fantastic on this, and the production largely stays out of his and the song’s way. B+


“Borned in Ya”

Melissa Carper

Written by Melissa Carper

JK: “You can’t sing like that / Unless it’s borned in ya.”

That’s the second line of the new single from Melissa Carper, and I don’t know that there’s a better way to capture what it is, exactly, that makes her such a treasure.

The honky-tonk piano, funky bassline, and skittering brass section make this the catchiest and most confident-sounding single of Carper’s career to date, and I can’t think of anyone else who could so effortlessly and so joyfully name-check both Leadbelly and Hazel Dickens in the span of a single verse, and I am borned again in my faith in this artist. A

KJC:  The songwriting is so damn solid this week, and Carper’s completely unique vocal talents help make this my favorite entry of this batch.

She sounds like the love child of Amy Winehouse and Loretta Lynn, which is appropriate for this song because nobody could be born with both of those sounds in their blood. But if they give themselves over to it, it can be borned in them.

What a clever twist on what it really means to sing with authenticity. “Borned in Ya” is a joyous celebration of the fundamental universality of music.  A


Dead Girl Walking

Lorrie Morgan

Written by Kelly Lang

KJC: Lorrie Morgan was an anomaly among her nineties peers, as she was the last of the big radio stars that carried on the tradition of singing Nashville Sound ballads on record and at the Opry. Richard Landis was especially effective at reviving that style in a way that fit comfortably with the new traditionalist sounds dominating the airwaves at the time, and Morgan had more success with the style commercially than anyone since Patsy Cline.

So it’s sad that there’s such a sense of melancholy and grief hanging over this new Lorrie Morgan album. Landis had done a wonderful job producing Morgan’s covers album with Pam Tillis. Her haunting take of “Saunders Ferry Lane” is the best thing she’s put on record this century. I was excited that he was helming a new Morgan solo project.

But he passed away during the recording, leaving Morgan and his engineer to execute his vision and complete the project. It’s an encouraging sign that “Dead Girl Walking” immediately reminds me of her “Saunders” cover. It was difficult adjusting to her smokier style of singing, but it fits hand in glove with this achingly sad song.

Morgan has never sounded so raw and vulnerable on record, as if she’s processing her grief in real time. The song itself is held back by a second verse that trivializes the desperate emotions in the rest of the song by implying that Morgan’s desperately sad over a schoolyard crush. Strip that verse away and it would be assumed that this was a relationship that ended in divorce or being widowed.

But it’s still one of her best performances in recent memory, and I can get past the second verse well enough to fully enjoy this delightfully depressing record that hurts so good in the way that only an old school Nashville ballad can. B+

JK: I’m on record here as not being much of a fan of Morgan’s: She has taste in material that is, at best, erratic, and her tendency toward musical theater enunciation in her phrasing is a stylistic choice that I typically find grating if not outright campy. To that end, I’ll do Kevin one better and say that “Saunders Ferry Lane” cover is Morgan’s best moment on record, full stop.

So call it a pleasant surprise that I like this single as much as I do. Morgan still leans perhaps a bit too hard into the melodrama of the lyrics, but there’s an interesting conceit here. As Kevin noted, that second verse skews a bit too far toward the juvenile, so Morgan’s weathered voice brings the needed gravitas. I don’t know that the song would carry the same weight if delivered by a singer of less lived experience. Here’s hoping this one isn’t the best Morgan has in store, but it’s still a cause for some optimism. B

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  1. …fun fact regarding “wild wild west”: just the other day the most read article in the country’s leading quality newspaper (“nzz”) was an interview with a polish love broker, who said that her female clients in warsaw are not anymore into (western) men from germany, austria and switzerland. guess, dwight’s “free to go” ain’t going down well with some of the boys ’round here these days. neither might rvshvd’s cool number.

    you just don’t tell a proven meneater (even if she claims exuberantly to be a dead girl walking) in a little recording studio that her rendition sucks, do you? having said that, the chorus is really catchy even butchered that way. what a diva, ms. morgan.

    is there a bad song with “hanging the moon” in it?

  2. Dead Girl Waking has been on my playlist since the day it was released. Love the haunting instrumentation and she sounds better than she has on her last few solo albums. Her choice of enunciation has gotten to me on her material released the last decade as well, it’s to forced. I look forward to this album and have my vinyl arriving Friday, hope it don’t disappoint.

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