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Jan 9, 2024
By Bobby Peacock
15. "Dancin' in the Country" by Tyler Hubbard
Tyler Hubbard's solo efforts have avoided my lists in the past, as I thought the message of "Undivided" resonated with me, and "5 Foot 9", depsite a few faults, had a good hook and considerably more laid-back production. Tyler Hubbard just sounds way more likable without Joey Moi behind the boards. Or so I thought, until I heard this. Loud and muddy production? Check. Stock list lyrics -- neon lights, boots, jeans, Silverado, Alan Jackson, Lucchese? Check. (How the hell are all these people paying $300+ for a pair of boots?) This reminds me less of Florida Georgia Line Minus Florida and more of the stale dregs of bro-country still somehow floating to the top of the charts in Canada (e.g., Dallas Smith). At least it's still less cringe than "This Is How We Roll"...
14. "Jack and Diet Coke" by Redferrin
I said it last time, but I think Warner is embarrassed to admit they signed Redferrin. I haven't seen any promotion for him, almost nobody seems to have reviewed his singles except for me, and none of his songs have come close to charting. This one is admittedly less aggressively douchey than "Tell 'Em Why", but it's still kind of skeevy to say things like "You won't know the difference when you mix it with some whiskey / It'll still get you buzzed up just right". Sure, maybe that's not the intent, but it's hard not to read it like he's trying to sneakily intoxicate her to have his way with her. While it does have surprisingly organic production, that does little to save the sneering drawl (reminiscent of Morgan Wallen at his worst) or the most obnoxiously repetitive hook since "Imma Be". Also, who the hell uses Diet Coke as a mixer unless they're diabetic? Get yourself some Fentiman's Curiosity Cola, damn it.
13. "God Gave Me a Girl" by Russell Dickerson
I swear, the only two interesting things about Russell Dickerson are the ship in a bottle metaphor in "Yours" and the title of "Blue Tacoma". (Three if you count the Jimmy Neutron hair.) This one isn't as muddy sounding as "She Likes It" (nor does it have the least necessary duet vocal in country music history), but it's still aggressively bland. He goes on and on about how his "girl" is so good that she must be God-given, but never really says why outside some vague lines about how he doesn't deserve her. There's no warmth or romanticism in the lyrics and especially not in the production (can he please, please use some real drums for once?). As much as they overdo it, at least Dan + Shay know what romance sounds like (which is why they're not on the list this year -- their two charted singles this year, while not good per se, were at least slightly less suffocatingly cutesy than usual.) I may not be a romantic sort, but I do know bland and insincere when I hear it.
12. "Tennessee Orange" by Megan Moroney
I couldn't care less about sports rivalries if I tried. To me, they just seem like arbitrary artificial boundaries that people put way too much thought into for no other reason than to have "my side". And not unlike Kenny Chesney's "The Boys of Fall", this one makes zero attempt to sell the idea to the uninitiated. While Chesney's song fails by being tremendously boring and leaning into the most obvious superficial clichés, this one at least has a coherent narrative; it's just one I can't get behind. "Yeah, this guy's great, but he likes a rival sports team; I hope you're not angry, Mom" is just something my non-sports-liking brain can't wrap itself around, so entirely on principle I have no investment in the results. Beyond that, Moroney has a really rough vocal delivery that's just hard for me to listen to. Her forced raspiness and poor pitch remind me of Gretchen Wilson. To be fair, her song craft is far less contrived than Gretchen ("I'm Not Pretty" is genuinely good in spite of her vocal shortcomings), but she just isn't doing it for me yet.
11. "Watermelon Moonshine" by Lainey Wilson
Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine" is one of the most beloved country songs of the '90s (rightly so, in my opinion), so it's no surprise some songs have taken cues from its wistful summertime love narrative. Trisha Yearwood's "Georgia Rain", Sarah Buxton's "Innocence", and others at least had the decency to put their own spin on it -- the different vocal deliveries, the former's more cinematic scope, the latter's wordplay. But I don't think I've heard a song so slavishly derivative since Keith Anderson's "I Still Miss You" (where he at least had the decency to rip himself off). Between this and the casual misandry of "Things a Man Oughta Know", it's getting harder and harder for me to even see what the fuss is with Lainey. I find her voice completely colorless and her artistic vision unclear to the point of opacity. It really says something when the only songs of hers I've liked have been her duets with HARDY and Jelly Roll of all people.
10. "Rich Men North of Richmond" by Oliver Anthony Music
The first lines are not terrible, and if he'd stuck to the "hate the rich" premise, he might have had something. But the way the second verse wanders into completely off-topic rants against Jeffrey Epstein, welfare queens, and fat shaming gives the song an air of "guy who spends way too much time on Facebook" (not at all helped by how most of the song is literally him screaming in your ear). If people are using welfare to buy Fudge Rounds instead of healthy food, then maybe they live in a food desert and the only option is a Dollar General. Or maybe they just want to have a treat, which everyone should be allowed to do. And maybe they're "obese" because of unfair body standards, something which -- like junk food and Epstein -- has nothing to do with rich men. To his credit, the title is genuinely good wordplay, and his other songs mostly feel like he wants to make music and didn't just cynically crank out the musical equivalent of clickbait. What's more, he feels like he's at least trying to distance himself from the more problematic ends of the political spectrum; even if that itself is calculated, it's at least something. So while this isn't nearly as hate-filled as, say, Guy Drake's "Welfare Cadillac", it's still ignorant and misguided.
9. "Last Night" by Morgan Wallen
Speaking of people who are ignorant and misguided, I'm starting to lighten my view of Morgan Wallen. A lot of his behavior is still as inexcusable as ever, but number one, he's at least had the presence of mind to (mostly) avoid digging himself any deeper, and number two, screaming about him on the Internet doesn't help things any. I've even managed to begrudgingly admit more of his songs aren't as bad as I originally thought. (Remember the vitriolic review I gave "More Than My Hometown"? Disregard all of that; that's now my favorite song of his.) This one, however, not so much. It reads like an AI-generated song about breakups: alcohol, "we said it all", "this ain't over", "taillights in the dust", etc. The excessively nasal delivery, melodically rushed chorus, and snap beats make it sound like a Maroon 5 song with a drawl. (All it's missing is the "brag about how much sex I'm still having" narrative.) But what really gets under my skin is that a song this underwhelming and uninspired was so inescapable as to become one of the biggest crossover country hits of all time. Sure, it's not lyrically infurating like "You Proof", but being boring and pointless can be bothersome in its own way too.
8. "Girl in Mine" by Parmalee
I swear, Parmalee has just released the same song three times in a row now. We seriously couldn't have let these guys quietly fade away after the dumpster fire that was "Hotdamalama"? Just like their previous two singles, they jack the cadence of the Chainsmokers' "Closer", the sweet nothings of your average Russell Dickerson song, the strident fake-gravelly vocal delivery of your average CCM singer, and snap beats-and-Auto-Tune production only slightly less brick-walled than anything Joey Moi touches. In short, Parmalee is as devoid of artistic identity as ever. I never cared for Parmalee due to the plainness of Matt Thomas' voice and utter lack of interplay of the other band members, but at least "Carolina" knew what a hook is. I'm also not a fan of the flattery present in naming an album For You, which seems like a swipe at Dan + Shay's "Glad You Exist". Hell, at this point I'd actually take a re-release of "Hotdamalama", which was at least interestingly awful and not just infuriatingly dull.
7. "But I Got a Beer in My Hand" by Luke Bryan
Even the worst Luke Bryan songs usually have something I can point out was commendable. "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)", "Huntin', Fishin', and Lovin' Every Day", and "Kick the Dust Up" have compositional tricks that show an above-average knowledge of music theory, while songs like "All My Friends Say", "We Rode in Trucks", and "Most People Are Good" all have genuinely good lyrics. But as his career has gone on, he's dispensed with hooks, decent vocal deliveries, or even solid production. This one layers on the snap beats over top a melody that's robotic on the verses and clunky as hell on the chorus (just listen to how he rushes through the title). Unnecessary vocal processing robs this song of any charisma that usually makes even his worst songs slightly less bad. (I blame this on Jeff Stevens letting his son Jody co-produce. Remember how Jody was one-half of Fast Ryde? I wish I didn't.) Other than a David Lee Murphy name-drop, the lyrics are stock party-hearty tropes he'd already beaten into the ground five albums ago. He can be mature if he wants, as songs like "Most People Are Good" and "Games" show. So his strict adherence to such immature boozy themes is just giving him more "how do you do, fellow kids?" energy with each passing year.
6. "Can't Have Mine (Find You a Girl)" by Dylan Scott
I have no idea how Dylan Scott is keeping the lights on at Curb Records, because for the most part he's just too bland to even cross my mind. But when he misses, he misses hard. Taste of Country actually called this song "warm and inviting", and I'm wondering which version they heard. There's a slight smugness to his vocal delivery only slightly balanced out by some awkwardly placed Auto-Tune and production that... I'm surprised bothered with real drums for once, I'll give it that. He builds entirely on unsolicited relationship advice in the most boring way. She's "wild on the town but still love[s] Jesus" and "likes to do all the things you love to do". This isn't an ideal wife; it's an image of one you generated with an AI program. This makes "God Gave Me a Girl" read like a TMI info-dump in comparison. And all of that alone would be bad enough, but then he ends it with "you just can't have mine". To quote Todd in the Shadows, "You ever see someone do a humble brag and then forget the humble?" I don't think I've had a song's twist piss me off this hard in a long time.
5. "I'm Offended" by John Rich
Rich is not a bad singer or producer, and he is capable of writing a hook -- that chorus might have worked had the tone been ironic or satirical. But there's nothing ironic or satirical about criticizing those who still choose to wear masks -- sure, the pandemic's over, but some people still need those for health reasons. And yes, you probably could "amend the First Amendment"; look at how the 21st Amendment nullified the 18th. I'm not "triggered" by guns; I'm just upset when public shootings occur on a daily basis and too little is done to keep guns out of the wrong hands. As an atheist, I'm not "pissed" at people who pray to God, just at those who warp Christianity into a weapon of judgment and derision. Of course, the video staples on a bunch of obligatory pandering such as a "beta male" drinking "Sissy Beer", an unflatteringly ageist caricature of Biden, and a cameo from Mike Lindell (to be fair, having him as a referee for a pillow fight was genuinely funny). The lyric "in the end, you'll be left and I'll be right" shows he's not interested in even hearing an opinion unlike his own. This one won out over the Tom MacDonald song because this at least feels like, you know, an actual song that had some kind of thought put into it. The problem was, it was just really bad thoughts.
4. "Chevrolet" by Dustin Lynch feat. Jelly Roll
Every time I think bro-country is finally dead, it manages one last rally. "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray is a beloved classic, and it kind of sucks that an entire generation will know it solely as an Uncle Kracker song. But even his trailer-trash karaoke version is respectable in comparison to what we get here. A bog-standard "hot girl in truck" narrative is awkwardly shoehorned into "Drift Away"'s cadence; unlike the genuinely clever if overplayed "She Had Me at Heads Carolina", there's no in-song reason for "Drift Away" to be invoked so it just seems like a non-sequitur. In a way, it reminds me of some of Cledus T. Judd's weaker parodies in how little it has to do with the original. (Not to mention the danger of making the uninitiated think this is the original, reminding me of the time a coworker thought Flo Rida's "Right Round" was the original and "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" was copying him.) While the production is surprisingly stripped-down, it fails to capture the soulful vibe of the original. Not helped at all is how both Dustin Lynch and Jelly Roll -- neither of whom are bad singers by any means -- are so heavily Auto-Tuned they both sound like they're singing underwater. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll so I don't have to listen to this ever again.
3. "Up Yours" by Trey Lewis
Who the hell wanted more of the "Dicked Down in Dallas" guy? Nobody, but he's doing it anyway. Trey Lewis has the same vengeful douche energy as you'd expect from his last song, making me wonder if he was actually a ghost writer on Mitchell Tenpenny's "Truth About You". His nasal sneer really makes lyrics about flipping the bird and squealing tires in front of his ex's house sound all the more immature. As the song progresses, each invocation of the phrase "up yours" sounds more and more and more forced ("tryna keep my phone from callin' up yours"), causing the joke to feel far more painfully drawn-out than its 3:28 play-length calls for. This is the same kind of "tee hee, I said a naughty word, that's funny, right?" energy that made me stop watching Helluva Boss. If nothing else, this is slightly better than his other song simply because there's no slut-shaming; however, just like almost anyone in Helluva Boss, he seems to think going from "vulgar prick" to "slightly less of a vulgar prick" is character growth.
2. "Truck Bed" by HARDY
HARDY is such a strange artist. There are things I want to like about him, and I can unflinchingly respect his better material ("wait in the truck"). Even on his more mid stuff like "ONE BEER" I can find some merit. But when he's bad, he's bad. Getting thrown out of the house for being drunk can be a source of comedy; look at how Eric Heatherly's "Wrong Five O'Clock" has a comedic, apologetic tone and jokes that land to help the line "she opened the door with that pistol cocked" go down easier. Conversely, there's being matter-of-fact about your intoxication (go look up "I Don't Live Here Anymore" by Todd Fritsch; you won't regret it). Nothing in HARDY's song feels like he's even attempting introspection, nor anything that even feels like a joke -- except "that fuckin' bird's about to catch this .45", which is ambiguous enough to read as a threat of violence on his now-ex. Hell, even that could have worked if he'd gone all-in on the "angry asshole" persona (or again, just gone full comedy -- compare the line "gonna blow away the rooster if he wakes up the dead" in the Thompson Brothers Band's "Back on the Farm", if I may shoehorn in another obscure song I like). But his Auto-Tuned raspy drawl and the watery production -- I get he wants to go nu-metal, but you need actual drums and bass for that -- make the song go from merely bad to outright cringe.
1. "Try That in a Small Town" by Jason Aldean
I live in a small town. When I worked at McDonald's, one of my managers was married to a Black man and told me of how a neighbor had a vehicle for sale in their yard, and refused to even answer the door when he went to inquire about it. So it's not hard for me to see the racism behind lines like "see how far ya make it down the road" (hey Aldean, look up the term "sundown town"), which reinforces the stereotype of small towns being full of bigots. And while I have less personal experience on this front, it's also not hard for me to see how downright gross it is to assume protesters (especially Black ones) are just thugs who need a good dose of vigilantism. The song is only exacerbated by the butt-rock production and singing that sound like Puddle of Mudd trying to cover "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down. While separating art and artist has made me begrudgingly more tolerant of Morgan Wallen, Jason Aldean has done nothing but dig himself deeper. Where do I begin? The poor optics of aggressively pro-gun lyrics coming from someone who witnessed the Route 91 shooting firsthand? (I'm terrified of public shootings, and guns in general, because I briefly went to school and church with one of the Columbine shooters.) Or maybe the fact that, based on what he's said in interviews, he doesn't seem to understand why Black people are protesting? (Source) The last few years have been fraught with attacks on minorities of all kinds, and hateful shit like this just makes me angry and afraid.
(Dishonorable mentions: "Thicc as Thieves", "You", "Standing Room Only")