By Bobby Peacock
20. "Come Back as a Country Boy" by Blake Shelton
Blake has been on autopilot so long that I'm afraid he's about to crash into a mountain. And given how many singles in a row he's had that bricked on the charts, I think he's on his way off radio playlists. Although it doesn't help his case any that he's been so phoned in that he should be charged for a data plan. That's a lot of silly ways of saying that this is exactly the same stock country-boy tropes you've heard a billion times with no narrative and no personality. It's exactly what you think it is and nothing more; the only even mildly interesting thing is that it's in Dorian mode, but that didn't save "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" either, now did it? It's not even his worst song -- I doubt he'll ever sink as low as "Nobody but You" -- but it's a sad, cynical reminder of how far he's fallen creatively since "Austin."
19. "Strange" by Miranda Lambert
I think I finally get what Miranda has been doing the last couple albums. She seems to have ditched lyrical concreteness in favor of this more poetic troubadour style. And the fact that "Troubadour" is just about the only George Strait song that actually pisses me off should tell you why this isn't vibing with me at all. There's literally zero through line with these images. coyotes, Maytag dryers, a tired "country ain't country" argument (seriously -- people have made that argument ever since Buck Owens strapped on an electric. Knock it off.), and zero indication as to what "times like these" are supposed to be, or why they make her feel strange. I've rarely been more confused trying to figure out what a song is even about, and it makes me feel strange.
18. "Summer State of Mind" by Lady Antebellum
I'm not gonna lie: I legitimately hate listening to Lady Antebellum anymore. Their worst radio single "You Look Good" already made it clear that they're worse at conveying "fun" than a youth pastor wearing a backwards ball cap and ending every sentence in "yo." Charles Kelley is too mannered, and Hillary Scott too pitchy, for another tired name-drop of Yeti coolers, Ray-Bans, and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" (which is so tired that I now see it on the shirts of residents in assisted living facilities). It's bad optics for Charles to be singing about alcohol when the band had to cancel a tour just so he could go into rehab. The production feels like Diet Florida Georgia Line what with the overly synthesized drumbeats and processed vocals (although the guitar tone is actually pretty good). That this song didn't chart shows that these guys are clearly in the past tense now; that and my hopes that Charles beats his demons for good are the only reasons this song isn't higher.
17. "Take My Name" by Parmalee
I tweeted "you can't spell 'Parmalee' without 'lame'" and the band liked the tweet. Take of that what you will. I don't know how these guys mounted a comeback; I thought for sure "Hotdamalama" would have torpedoed them. But a painfully boring wedding ballad with a Z-list trap artist somehow got them back on track. So what do they do next? Release practically the same damn song, just with less Blanco Brown. This has exactly the same cadence as its predecessor, and just like everything else, there's no sense of "band," just Matt Thomas' vanilla-ass voice and a backing track that sounds like it came off a Christian pop karaoke CD. There's no personality to the lyrics either; just the same sweet little nothings of holding hands, the first time, part of my world, baby baby baby (seriously, why do love songs overuse "baby" so much?). This is so boring that I'm just going to stop here and move on to the next review.
16. "Tell 'Em Why" by Redferrin
I didn't know who or what this was until I saw it on Trailer's list, and it was a single so it qualifies for mine. He's released several singles on Warner but I haven't seen any promotion for him whatsoever. No ads in the Billboard country update, no reviews, no streaming figures, nothing. And if this song is any indication, my theory is that Warner's embarrassed. Redferrin's raspy drawl sounds like if you had an AI mash up Tyler Hubbard, Jason Aldean, Chase Rice, and three or four other assorted bros. And the premise is douchey too. He's basically saying "yeah, we broke up, but tell 'em it's all your fault" -- and the only reason that doesn't seem worse is because other than "I always gave my best" he doesn't really give any reasons why he thinks he's right and she's wrong. But that's just made worse when we get to "now ya up in my IG' creepin' / Trnya hit my new girl in the DM" which kinda makes me think... hey, his ex seems a little douchey too. How do you make a breakup song where you can't root for anyone? Redferrin found a way.
15. "Soul" by Lee Brice
Brice has had this uncomfortable "fake nice guy" tone to his songs for years now that just makes him seem like a tryhard. "You're Mozart in the sheets" is the kind of pretentiousness you get from a guy who always carries around a copy of Pride and Prejudice but never reads it. And that's not even the worst line in the song, because coming up next is the part where he rhymes "holy mother of Moses" (you mean the woman best known for throwing baby Moses in the river to hide him from the Pharaoh) with "kiss you from your head to your toeses." The hook "I like your soul" is also painfully forced, and has nothing at all to do with the rest of the song. Even Brice's vocal feels forced, with the way he goes from zero to falsetto on the "toeses" line and then still somehow gets lost in the finger snaps and backing vocals. In a discography that includes him ripping off the melody of "Body Like a Back Road," name-dropping Microsoft, and singing about peeing, this is by far his worst.
14. "Easy Tonight" by Niko Moon
His least-bad song to date, but that's not saying much. I don't get his obsession with snap beats. Never mind how his vocal range is so limited that he has to go for a forced talk-sing that makes Walker Hayes sound like Gary Morris in comparison. On paper, I don't entirely hate his "no sad songs" motif: sometimes you just want to spread a little happiness. The problem is, I don't think he has any of that either. All of his songs are the same rehash of "drinking with my buddies" without a clever hook or anything that feels even remotely personal. If he could at least contextualize his eternal happiness -- maybe give a specific scenario, a bad thing in life he's recovered from, anything (seriously, you can't even name what brand of beer you're drinking?) -- then his artistic shortcomings might be mollified at least somewhat. But as it stands, Niko Moon's one-dimensional happy happy happy makes almost too easy of a target.
13. "Rolex® on a Redneck" by Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean
Why is Brantley Gilbert still releasing music? From the beginning he's recalled the worst dregs of the post-grunge scene. You could convince me he's an ex-member of Hinder and I'd believe you. Especially because his songs have the same snarling douchey tone as something like "Lips of an Angel." And this one is the same, just with more snap beats. And with this song, he staples on another forgotten relic of early-noughts music: glam rap. Am I supposed to buy that a country boy who's trying to be a butt-rock bro and hasn't had a hit in ages can afford to bling out his truck? At least "Fancy Like," awful as it was, had a goal that seemed attainable to a good ol' boy. But in a time where this song's target audience is probably saving up just to afford a McDouble, this seems all the more tone-deaf. And that's before we get to Jason Aldean, who's clearly too elite to even care anymore.
12. "Get Down Like That" by Gary LeVox
If you had asked me what Gary LeVox's first post-Rascal Flatts single would be, I would have taken 50 guesses before I got to "jacked up party in the woods anthem #39,487." Rascal Flatts did a lot of songs that just plain did not fit his unusual voice at all, but this is the worst mismatch yet. There's a weird processing on his voice that actually manages to bury his nasal-ness for once, but that just makes him seem even more out of place in a sea of bonfire, beer, boobs clichés. I don't need a 52-year-old man trying to show me how to "get down" when that's not something he's ever been known for doing. And what the hell is that sound around 2:20 in where it sounds like the synthesized horn section just threw up? Was even the music sick of Gary here? A Christian song or a love of family song would have been unoriginal, but at least it would have sounded like a good fit for his voice. This is just "you're not cool, dad."
11. "To Be Loved by You" by Parker McCollum
Ow, my ears. This one is ranked where it is for one reason: it's one of the whiniest songs I've ever heard in my life. Maybe it's just the wheedling way he sings it -- actually, no, I take that back. Even from a lyrical standpoint, this is a brat who won't shut the hell up. Lyrics like "Will it kill you to tell me the truth? / What in the hell does a man have to do to be loved by you?" sound like they're coming from the mouth of an entitled brat. Especially because we get literally zero details about what he's doing that makes him think he even deserves her love. It's just "me me me, pay attention to me me me, look at me, I'm trying soooohard and yet you still won't love me." Maybe if you'd stop bitching and actually put some genuine effort in, you might get somewhere with her. Ever think of that?
10. "Truth About You" by Mitchell Tenpenny
For the most part, the song can't decide what it wants to be: the vocal and musical tones are earnest and anthemic, and lines about meeting in the middle clash with all his angry attempts to figure out who's cheatin' who. But when he gets to the hook "If you quit telling lies about me, I won't tell the truth about you," it becomes uncomfortably threatening and misogynstic. This is not a guy who's bitter about an acrimonious end; this is a guy who's going to dox you unless you tell the story his way. Call the police. Maybe there's subtext I'm reading into this because it's coming from the same guy who gave us "Bitches" (which has eluded my lists only because it was never a single). Or maybe he's just a giant tool entirely on his own merits. I guess when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a tenpenny nail.
9. "Country On" by Luke Bryan
CountryOn, apply directly to the goofball. How did a great writer like Mark Nesler get roped into this? It's a lazy, pandering shout-out to good ol' hard-workin' boys in a fifth- or sixth-level dilution of "40 Hour Week (For a Livin')." That alone would make it hokey and toothless, never mind the tone-deaf pro-cop line and "thoughts and prayers" cliché for the soldiers. Even the chorus is lame with its "hey, hey, USA" chant, mollified only somewhat by "we ain't seen our better days" (a welcome subversion of the sanitized Norman Rockwell "good ol' days" nostalgia that usually makes these songs even worse). But then they just... run out of lyrics halfway through and country on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. It's a little heavier produced than Luke usually goes, but in the end, it's still got his emotion-less, range-less drone of a voice and the right level of pandering to get another #1 hit with zero staying power. (And after "Up" bombed, I actually kind of wanted him to stumble a bit harder to see if that would make him try something different...)
8. "Country'd Look Good on You" by Frank Ray
I found a lot of fascinating info on this guy when creating his Wikipedia article: he's Mexican-American (his real name is Francisco Gomez) and a former police officer. His first single "Streetlights" keeps some of that south-of-the-border flavor with nylon-string guitar, horns, and a few lines sung in Spanish. So what does he actually chart with? Stereotypical country-boy list song #3,999,999. Snap beats, muddled guitar, no bass, and a processed vocal with no phrasing. Back roads, alcohol, full moon, blue eyes, her waking up in his shirt. I knew what this song would sound like before I even heard it over the speakers at work for the first time. It's the kind of song that breaches top 20 and is completely forgotten -- seemingly by even the record label, as I saw zero promotion for this while it was active and have heard no word on a follow-up since. But maybe that's a blessing in disguise. He could easily leave BBR right now and independently release more songs like "Streetlights," and I bet he'd heat up in a way this stale bit of radio fodder didn't.
7. "How It Oughta Be" by Shane Profitt
While I do agree with a couple of his sentiments (take it from the son of a teacher; that profession's underpaid as hell), it immediately drops into cliché after cliché: cold beer, mama's chicken, high gas prices (seriously, people have been bitching about that since the gas station was invented; knock it off already). But there are two lines in particular that irked me: "somethin' good about somebody's all that oughta be told." So... no criticism of anyone? You do know criticism can be a good thing to help someone improve, right? (Like say, a no-name music writer giving a negative review of a song by a guy who seems like he otherwise has potential.) And of course we get to "oughta be off your ass when that anthem gets sung." I thought Take a Knee-l McCoy ran that argument into the ground years ago because people don't know what "peaceful protest" means. He does show promise in terms of delivery and production, but I think if he's going to break through, he needs to get off the soapbox first.
6. "AA" by Walker Hayes
He's just trying to set a good example for his kids; what's wrong with that? Well for one, it's hard to come across as a struggling everyman when you're swimming in money from Applebee's commercials. It's hard to come across as condemning alcohol when your last song name-dropped Natty Lite. And it's hard not to be grossed out about the line "keep my daughters off the pole" when your oldest one is, what, 16? The one genuinely good line ("I married up and she married way, way down in Alabama...") is negated by leading into yet another shoehorned-in college football reference for extra pandering points. Like all his other songs, it has the same awkward fumbly talk-singing and a drum machine that sounds like it was run over by a truck first. He sounds far less like a "real person" and more like the bumbling sitcom dad who was already a tired cliché when I was in kindergarten. But what really pissed me off was finding out that everyone I know who likes this song doesn't even know what AA is. That's a failure in communication right there.
5. "She Likes It" by Russell Dickerson and Jake Scott
The "boyfriend country" trend was clearly fading out this year, and this may very well be its last gasp unless Dan + Shay's "You" manages to pull itself out of the mud. Both men on this song have such wispy vocals that they make Justin Bieber sound like Tom Waits. The production consists entirely of a drum machine and guitar, yet still manages to clip so hard that my radio visibly vibrates when this song comes on. Lyrically it just lists off a bunch of sweet little nothings, and the hook "she likes it when I" doesn't even build to anything. I don't even know why Jake Scott was put on here, as the song makes literally no sense as a duet and there's zero attempt to make the two of them mesh artistically or even give a pretense of even being in the same state when their parts were recorded. Having them bond over their common ways with the opposite sex, or even having them competing for the same girl (or having them direct their love to each other) would at least have made this mildly interesting. I know this kind of romantic fluff isn't for me to begin with, but honestly, between this and "AA," even the wine mom demographic deserves better.
4. "Progress" by John Rich
I know this is another washed-up has-been stringing together conservative buzzwords for an audience he already knows will agree with him. So if it's not for me and it's not relevant, why even give it an entry? Because I feel its faults stand on their own. Blaming every perceived problem on an unquantified "they"? Straw-man non-sequiturs like "they say let go of Jesus and let government save"? Claiming that you, a white straight male, are being victimized and silenced? Check, check, and check. But lest it seem that I'm reviewing the politics and not the song, I will point out that John Rich is honestly not that bad as a producer. This sounds perfectly fine. But as a vocalist, he is way too laid-back to convey the anger he supposedly feels. Aaron Lewis' "Am I the Only One"may have been worse overall (mainly by having one overtly racist lyric), but Lewis at least felt passionate. This just feels like most of Rich's output lately: too lazy and cynical to even get angry at anymore, just enough to make me roll my eyes and wonder how we got from "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" to this.
3. "Dutton Ranch Freestyle" by David Morris
David Morris is lucky that his absolute butchering of "Carrying Your Love with Me" (sorry for bringing up memories of that) wasn't a single or I'd have to declare this a tie. Hick-hop at its worst gives us a lazy beat with token banjo and worse flow than that moldy tub of cottage cheese at the back of the fridge. Honestly, I could have put this on the list for the Morgan Wallen name-drop alone, but that's far from the only awful lyric. Where do I start? "I don't want y'all to get offended / Everybody's just so sensitive?” "I am the excrement"? (At least you admit it.) Name-drops of Yellowstone characters that, because they say nothing about those characters, go over the head of someone who doesn't watch the show? The abrupt switch from bar hookup to bragging about clout you clearly don't have as a Z-list TikTok rapper who probably won't have another single ever? This guy makes Colt Ford look like Merle Haggard in comparison.
2. "You Proof" by Morgan Wallen
To quote Spectrum Pulse, "the disinterest in actually changing feels palpable." And that's a great summary of Wallen here: after several years of drunken antics that normally kill careers, he's still wallowing in boozy self-pity, and not even acting like it's a problem as long as his stans keep him rolling in dough. And I could get angry at that, or how the "no such thing as bad publicity" machine has made this the longest-running #1 in the history of the Country Airplay charts. But entirely on its own, it's just a horrendous song. Joey Moi's tendency to smother every vocal in reverb and Auto-Tune is at its worst to try and bolster an even weaker than usual vocal read. The production is smothered in trap snares and other instruments so processed I can't even tell what they are. Hell, it isn't even in minor key. Lyrically, there is literally zero detail about the woman he's trying to forget -- not a description of who or what she even is, what she did that brought him here, just a litany of empty "trying to forget you" phrases amid all the alcohol name-drops. I need something Morgan Wallen-proof.
1. "Don't California My Texas" by Creed Fisher
Fun fact: the first time I heard this song was at a construction site by my house. The next song they played was by Uncle Kracker. I've mentioned before that "Texas, fuck yeah" is one of my least-favorite country music tropes (my disdain for "If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)" actually led to Trailer calling me a heretic), but that's actually the least of this song's issues. While have the same old guns, beer, wave the flag, "this country's going to hell" right-wing rhetoric (and for some reaspon, potshots at electric cars), what pushed this one to the top of my worst list is not one, but two homophobic lines. If you've read any of my stuff before, you probably know I'm pansexual and try to support the LGBTQIA+ community in any way I can. So to have someone come in and say "don't bitch and moan 'bout all the things that you don't have" -- especially in a year fraught with anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric such as the Club Q shooting -- makes this one of the most insulting pieces of music I've ever heard in my life.
(Dishonorable mentions: "Beers on Me," "Half of Me")