Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

Jul 10, 2024

Every #1 Country Song of the 2000s: 2000

By Bobby Peacock


January 1: "Breathe" by Faith Hill

I'm not as hard on this song as I used to be. That doesn't mean I love it; I just don't think it does anything wrong. I think at the time I was already burnt out on lush pop ballads thanks to my mom spinning Céline Dion so much. I still have an allergic reaction to the Diane Warren formula. But thankfully, where this one succeeds is by being considerably less cliché than its cohorts. "I can feel you breathe" is actually a pretty solid image that's easy to understand in the context of a grandiose love ballad. The vocals aren't nearly as histrionic as Faith would get on "There You'll Be" or "Where Are You, Christmas?" That said, every time I hear this song, my brain still automatically switches over to Cledus T. Judd's absolutely hilarious parody, "Breath." So yeah, nothing awful, just a merely okay pop ballad. B-

February 5: "Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Chicks

I'm a sucker for a good wanderlust song. It starts off strong with the lyric "I wanna touch the earth, I wanna break it in my hands / I wanna grow something wild and unruly" which is just such a sharp, distinct image. And it doesn't let up throughout the song, with pillows of blue bonnets, being out in the wild with no city buildings in sight, and all kinds of cowboy/western imagery. Each one makes sense and builds on the narrative, which is always a hallmark of this kind of song. It's hard to overstate just how damn good almost every Chicks song is, thanks to Natalie's bold voice and the crisp production and arrangements. The only reason this review seems so lackluster is because the high standards of their discography mean this song is only "great" in a sea full of amazing. A

February 26: "My Best Friend" by Tim McGraw

Sometimes it's hard to write much about a song that's just... there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. It's pleasant, it has a solid sentiment behind the lyrics, Tim sings it well, but this song leaves little impact after I'm done listening to it. I had to look it up just to remember a single lyric from it. This feels like one that got to #1 entirely off the momentum of the huge hit before it, yet left no impact of its own. And sometimes that just... happens. Such is life on Music Row. B-

March 11: "Smile" by Lonestar

Sometimes it's hard to write much about a song that's just... there. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this song. It's pleasant, it has a solid sentiment behind the lyrics, Richie sings it well, but this song leaves little impact after I'm done listening to it. I had to look it up just to remember a single lyric from it. This feels like one that got to #1 entirely off the momentum of the huge hit before it, yet left no impact of its own. And sometimes that just... happens. Such is life on Music Row. B-

March 18: "How Do You Like Me Now?!" by Toby Keith

A lot of people even at the time painted this song as misogynistic and immature, but I never saw it. The guy is bragging about how much his life has improved for the better now that he's famous and his high school crush isn't. It's a narrative I can see a lot of people relating with, and on a meta level, it's a narrative Toby probably related with. This was a song his previous label had rejected, and his then-current label DreamWorks was hesitant to put it out after the predecessor ("When Love Fades") bombed. But it seems his instincts were for the best, as this was his first big crossover and the start of a new leg in his career. It's bold and cocky, but it's tempered with a playfulness that keeps it from feeling mean-spirited (such as the way the organ actually plays the "nyah nyah nyah" riff at the end). I think this song is just fun and those who dislike it either need to lighten up, or are letting his later more problematic material cast a shadow over this song. A

April 22: "The Best Day" by George Strait

One of the first times I heard this song, I was in the passenger seat of my dad's 18-wheeler somewhere in western Michigan. My parents divorced when I was 4, and over the years, his moving across the state meant I spent less and less time with him before his death. So the lyrics of memories shared with a father certainly resonate with me. Even if the final verse taking place at a wedding is predictable, the song's sentiment never feels mushy. It's helped by George Strait's calm read and the understated production; in particular, I like the tension created by the augmented chord in the opening riff. If I ranked all of George Strait's #1 hits, even counting only the Billboard ones, this would still be pretty high up there. And considering how stacked a deck that is, that's really saying something. A

May 13: "Buy Me a Rose" by Kenny Rogers feat. Alison Krauss and Billy Dean

After spending most of the '90s as nearly a non-entity, Kenny Rogers came back for a brief period with one of his best. This song's central theme of misguided attention toward a lover is already a cut above, but then you get to the twist, where he says "this is a story of you and me" and the song becomes ten times better. It's not just a story; by this point, it's an introspection -- an example of male vulnerability that I find so rare yet so compelling every time I come across it. Of course, Kenny's gravelly gravitas is in full force here, sounding tender and vulnerable against a calm, minimalistic production style with some very fine choices for vocal harmony. I always love it when veteran artists get one last rally with a great single, and this is truly one of his best on all fronts. A well-deserved comeback. A+

May 20: "The Way You Love Me" by Faith Hill

This one stumbles right out of the gate with the dodgy as hell grammar that even 13-year-old me could spot right away: "If I could grant you one wish / I wish you could see the way you kiss." It's not helped by the bland yet padded "Ooh, I love watching you, ooh, baby / When you're driving me, ooh, crazy," which just drives home the utter lack of effort on the lyrical front. It's like she wanted to capture the effervescent nature of "This Kiss" (as evidenced by that song also having the lyric "the way you love me") but just couldn't capture that lightning in a bottle. This is just forced and empty. Literally the only thing saving it from being an abject failure is the genuinely interesting double key change on the chorus. And hey, at least the country mix doesn't have those creepy Auto-Tuned backing vocals. But otherwise, this is like if someone tried to make a cake but left out most of the ingredients -- it's just a floppy, doughy mess with no flavor. D-

June 17: "Yes!" by Chad Brock

How Chad Brock ever got a record deal, I'll never know. I once compared his robotic singing voice to the title character of Free Guy. I had a "virtual singer" program on my Mac as a teen, and even it provided more nuanced vocal tracks. Which is a shame, because the underlying lyric could have worked. Even if the setup is contrived (he meets her because she moves into his old apartment and has mail in his name; they fall in love and marry), a more likable vocalist could've made it work by nailing the hook. I would've loved to hear someone more capable of a loose funny delivery, such as Toby Keith, take on this one. It's not at all hard to see why Chad Brock faded away so hard that I legit cannot find recordings of some of his later singles anywhere online. (To say nothing of his militant conservatism on social media.) Between Chad's personality-free vocal and the canned production (seriously, what's with that gurgly synth bass in the beginning that never shows up again?), all I can say is "No!" (And be thankful that at least this isn't the Y2K version of "A Country Boy Can Survive.") C-

July 8: "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack feat. Sons of the Desert

Even at the time, I knew this was as out-of-character for Lee Ann as Alan Jackson covering Lil Wayne. A singer known for twangy, traditional, timeless fare like "A Little Past Little Rock" turns in a cold, sterile, pop ballad with no semblance of country whatsoever -- maybe it could have worked if she sounded like she wanted to be there, or if the lyrics had anything to say. This is a style of songwriting I just never liked, the way it just strings a bunch of random positive phrases together with no through line or narrative (which really set off "sellout" alarms in my head even at the time). It's like someone just cracked open a bunch of fortune cookies and just picked out the ones that rhymed. I've never understood why this is pitched as a mother-to-daughter song, when lines like "I hope you never lose your sense of wonder / Get your fill to eat, but always feel that hunger" are so broad-stroke as to instantly cover the entire canvas in beige. This played well to the Chicken Soup for the Soul crowd, but to me, it's so flavorless it makes Campbell's condensed seem like a gourmet meal in comparison. Literally the only interesting facet is Sons of the Desert's counterpoint on the chorus, but even that was scrubbed from the pop edit. D-

August 12: "What About Now" by Lonestar

This song starts off with a damn good line: "The sign in the window said for sale or trade / On the last remaining dinosaur that Detroit made / $700 was a heck of a deal / For a 400 horsepower jukebox on wheels." It's so full of vivid imagery of hitting the road and blasting some tunes with the one you love. Richie McDonald sounds like he's having fun, and the production is on point. However, there's one thing holding this back: it has a very weak melody. Nearly all of the verse is just this repeated so-mi-so-mi-so-mi-so pattern with no variation, and it doesn't get much more varied at the chorus. It's a shame the melody drags this down, because otherwise this would be one of the best post-"Amazed" cuts from a band that would spend much of this decade embarrassing themselves. B

September 9: "It Must Be Love" by Alan Jackson

I'm sorry, what was that about murder on Music Row again? Wedged between what is widely considered a high point for country music and this, a freaking Don Williams cover? AJ covering the Gentle Giant is such a no-brainer, as they both thrive on laid-back meat and potatoes fare like this. The production is the same twang you'd expect from him, not far removed from the Everything I Love album yet somehow just a tiny bit more energetic than Don's original. And it's such a simple lyric about the power of love, another theme both artists in question are quite familiar with. This one goes down so smoothly without ever feeling inconsequential, and I think it's easily a draw as to which version of this song is better -- AJ didn't change much because he didn't have to. It's just good. A

September 16: "That's the Way" by Jo Dee Messina

I've never been a fan of Jo Dee Messina's style. She never seemed to have the sass of Shania, the pipes of Faith or Martina, or the brains of Trisha -- most of her songs just felt "there" to me. However, this one works for me. It has a pretty neat opening riff full of acoustic guitar and chimes, even finding a few places to fit in a güiro. The melody is full of clever modulations, and Jo Dee sounds a lot less plastic than she usually does by finding a way to sing the chorus slightly differently each time. And honestly, it's one of the better lyrics she's picked, too. "I know from experience nothing's ever gonna make perfect sense" is a really head-turning lyric in all the right ways. I'm still not much of a fan of hers, but revisiting this after a long hiatus, I'm amazed that this one -- despite being her longest-tenured #1 and highest Hot 100 entry -- never had the staying power of "Bye Bye" or "I'm Alright," because I actually think it's slightly better than those. A- 

October 14: "Kiss This" by Aaron Tippin

2000 was apparently the year of the comeback. I always found it strange that despite his blue-collar image, two of Aaron Tippin's three #1 hits were novelty songs. And as someone who derives their usual Internet handle from one of Aaron Tippin's novelty songs, I don't object to that -- he has the goofy energy to pull a lot of this off. Case in point: a clever way of phrasing the insult "kiss my ass." It's a standard revenge narrative with a few cheeky lines (no pun intended), but the delivery is where it shines. He drops into a lower register than usual, then twangs it back up on the chorus accompanied by a crowd of female vocals (one of whom is his own wife). Simple as the lyrics are, this is a song that, like most humor, hinges on the delivery. And on that front, it succeeds. B+

October 28: "The Little Girl" by John Michael Montgomery

You know you messed up when your "motivational" Jesus song has holes in it that even a 13-year-old can see. Even at the time, I knew how massively contrived this was: a kid watches her parents die in a murder-suicide, and then is taken in by religious foster parents. She sees a picture of Jesus and says "that's the man who was by my side when my parents died." (No doubt it was one of the stock images of Jesus as a white man -- again, something I knew even at 13 was not the case.) There's no implication of trauma, and no other emotion from the girl. It's the same sort of manipulative schlock that Snopes termed "glurge" -- attempts to be motivational that are so over-the-top that you can't help but wonder how anyone believes them. Even before social media, this sort of glop was circulated via chain e-mails (in fact, that's literally how this song came to be; writer Harley Allen saw it in an e-mail). While JMM's read is remarkably free of bombast, that means nothing when something this crass and manipulative is even committed to a recording studio, never mind sent out as a single. Do yourself a favor and listen to "Friends," "No Man's Land," or any of the other great JMM songs that fell into that void of forgotten post-"Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)" gems in his catalog and skip this entirely. (And skip whatever the hell "Nothing Catches Jesus by Surprise" was, too.) F

November 18: "Best of Intentions" by Travis Tritt

I don't know what happened, but after 1996's The Restless Kind, Travis Tritt seemed to entirely lose his spark. Nothing else he put out afterward had anywhere near the emotional investment of his earlier ballads like "Anymore" or "Drift Off to Dream," nor the swagger of "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)" or "T-R-O-U-B-L-E." He just became... boring. Admittedly, this is one of his better cuts in that timespan. This is a man asking for forgiveness for not pulling his weight in the relationship, telling his apparently soon-to-be-ex that he tried his best and is disappointed that he couldn't satisfy her. I think the song structure is interesting too, with two verses, the chorus twice, then a third verse. I think the only thing holding it back is that it lacks the power of his earlier ballads. If he'd cut this in 1993, the song would just soar by that second chorus. I don't know who's to blame here -- either Billy Joe Walker Jr.'s production style was too muted, or Travis just couldn't recapture the energy of his early days. Either way, it's a damn good lyric, and I'm sure he had the best of intentions delivering it, but it really is missing that special something. B

November 25: "Just Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Vassar

Phil Vassar started his career writing slightly left-of-center slice-of-life songs. His early material includes such gems as chasing after one's ex in her Isuzu; being ghosted by someone staying at a Ramada in Birmingham; and picking up a chatty hitchhiker with her own story to tell. That same energy carried into his first album, where after reuniting with a high school flame in "Carlene," we now see the ups and downs of domestic life. Children are fighting, the milk's gone bad, and the romantic candlelight dinner is Domino's, but that's okay, because you're still with the one you love. It's so utterly charming, eccentric, and sunny that it's impossible not to love. Phil gives a bright delivery against a nicely jaunty melody. It's actually kind of a shame he used up so much of his good material so quickly. A

December 2: "We Danced" by Brad Paisley

Another artist whose early career was also full of interesting slice-of-life songs got his second #1 just afterward. "We Danced" has an interesting narrative about meeting someone who left her purse behind at a bar after hours, then dancing with her and starting up a conversation. It sounds like something that could have actually happened, and never feels contrived. I think Brad generally came off more charismatic earlier in his career, and this song is proof. It's gentle and mellow, yet never soporific. Low-stakes songs like this can be boring if they aim too low (see the "My Best Friend"/"Smile" reviews above), but this one hits the sweet spot. A-

December 16: "My Next Thirty Years" by Tim McGraw

I haven't confirmed this, but I've been told that Tim has never sung this song in concert because he doesn't like it. And I don't know why. He should have more shame toward "Indian Outlaw" or "Truck Yeah" than this. Songs about taking stock of advancing age can come off as navel-gazing or preachy, but this one doesn't overshoot. I think it helps that it's another early Phil Vassar lyric. And as someone whose family has a long history of alcoholism, the line "Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers" gets a thumbs-up from me. Maybe it's because I'm in my 30s now too, but this song has aged amazingly well, and I feel just about anyone could get something out of its inspiring message. (And then once you're done, listen to Rodney Crowell's "Earthbound" and Trout Fishing in America's "Who Knows What We Might Do.") A-

May 25, 2023

The Current Poop of Mainstream Country Radio: May '23

A poop emoji is negative, a strike thru is positive, an asterisk
denotes a song where the good attributes and the bad are dead even.

The current Poop Rating of the Mediabase Top 20 is (-6) overall which is a 9 point drop from March (the previous time we did this chart). The best song is Cody Johnson's "Human." The worst is Parmalee's "Girl in Mine" which is somehow worse than Dan + Shay and Tyler Hubbard's current offerings. It's pretty precipitous drop in quality from last time, but we're heading into summer so that's to be expected. It's nice to see Joe Nichols back in the top 20!

Chart info from Mediabase/Country Aircheck.

May 9, 2023

Jameson and PBR, the usual pair of handcuffs: A Review of Robert Dean's New Book

“Jameson and PBR, the usual pair of handcuffs.”
Existential Thirst Trap, Robert Dean

Big Laugh Comedy

Official pub dat May 8th

By Evan Rodriguez


If you, or one of your friends, has ever been caught pants down pissing on a cop car, or trying to melt as much ice as possible in a men’s room trough, you might have a kindred spirit in Robert Dean and his book of essays, Existential Thirst Trap. The lowbrow potty shenanigans at the outset might dupe you into thinking that Dean’s musings and meditations are primarily Horatian, set in dive bars and filthy bathrooms. More often than not though, Dean is pointing out his own flaws rather than society’s. 


The collection overall is unironically blue collar Americana in that Carl Sandburg and Studs Terkel vein. Dean is from the South Side of Chicago by way of New Orleans. Firmly planted in the elder end of the millennial generation Dean has straddled two worlds: the analog and the digital, playing in the streets and being dominated by social media, the real world and the simulacra we now swim in, homophobia and inclusivity. This is reflected in his 28 essays as only someone that has actually lived through these past four decades can capture. At his most cutting you’ll find yourself in vulnerable pockets of his psyche as he interprets his hard-edged vantage through a Jameson fever dream or a lucidly hazy morning at the keyboard.


“On days when the world gets heavy and a long, hot shower can’t shake the demons away, there’s always the fantasy of giving it up and bum-rushing the void. That might be nice - realizing you weren’t that good, nothing you said was that special, and you are mediocre despite your best efforts. What do you do when you finally accept things like this? Keep pounding, I guess.” He writes in “Plan B”, an affirming inspirational love letter to himself, as he explores this idea of a professional back up plan most have been told to retain in case plan alpha falls by the wayside. Not to spoil the piece, let’s just say Dean is philosophically and intrinsically opposed to such notions. While this frightens him to no end, he is resolute in his chosen path as a writer.


At his most seemingly earnest Dean still retains a sense of humor. In “Little Bastard” he writes an apology letter to a potentially gay “Kid” he and his friends used to torment in his neighborhood. After a fairly woke reflection regretting the homophobic epithets hurled and the physical harm threatened, Dean writes in the postscript of the essay that he tracked the “Kid” down and he had zero memory of him and his friends' assaults. “Since the publication, the power of the Internet led me to this guy. I apologized. He didn’t remember me,” he writes.


Existential Thirst Trap is peppered with the hard earned humor of not taking yourself too seriously, that only someone who has been told no half of their professional lives can pen sincerely.


There are prevalent recurring themes in Dean’s collection: music of all kinds, loss, writing, Jameson, anxiety, depression, the void, and perseverance. He has clearly spent more than a few moments in self-exploration and on his station in life, which allows him to articulate a certain feeling he has with these 26 letters of ours that is often self-reflective. We live in a confessional and hyper-conscious time and this is essentially Dean’s memoir in three acts: Free State, Rotten Heart, and Good Men and Gators. The work is emo, and as Dean reminds us often, he is a naturally “sad” person, but Existential Thirst Trap is engagingly casual. In some instances I might tire of this atmosphere; instead, the reading experience is like meeting a stranger at a bar and ending up drunk hugging, exchanging contact info as the lights come up.


The most moving and existential essay I found to be “Free State”. It also happens to be one of his most succinct. He begins, “I shared a bottle of cheap wine with a painter. I was down in my hideaway, Galveston Island. We sat in his studio garage swapping war stories, one glass at a time. He told me about pedaling a bike around paradise, making a living by splashing a rainbow of paint against the world.”


I must admit, I’m a sucker for most things Galveston. Dean definitely has taken the time to embrace the castaway island and just gets it on a primordial level. He explores an ineffable emotion in this vignette, cutting to a core I have yet to read any other writer tackling the island. He channels the humble rough and tumble esoteric vibe a certain Galveston exudes, a feeling that can only be conjured by the brackish waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the hurricanes she conjures. 


“We took dark dives into the ether, knowing the folks around us were just pretending when they said the world wasn’t crumbling beneath their feet. It’s a free state. A free fall. The painter and I understood that was the reason the whiskey hit harder. The fear made our bottles seem a little less empty,” Dean writes.


Dean’s affinity for Galveston also figures in the essays “Some Disaster” and “Old Dudes”.


Dean is attempting to make sense of the chaotic zen that is his chosen life as a working writer. His self-reflective loop can be seen as over-used, but this is also part of the charm of his writing. Existential Thirst Trap gives many fucks, along with the undeniably brazen honesty of an acutely aware young man’s journal, distilled through the lens of an old soul who has seen many moons and closed many a bar. But maybe that is Dean’s meta joke after all, grinning at the world that is laughing with him in its cosmic indifference. He clinks glasses with you in a dimly lit hole in the wall as y’all attempt to parse out this human nature thing.


Contributor’s Note

Evan Rodriguez is a freelance journalist living and working in Austin, Texas. He writes for The Austin Chronicle, and has written for Kirkus Reviews, Austin American-Statesman, and Rodriguez writes prose and non-fiction, he is currently piecing together his fourth novella, forthcoming from nowhere (yet).





Robert Dean’s Existential Thirst Trap was released yesterday and is available most places you buy books including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 


Feb 2, 2023

3 Up, 3 Down

3 Up

Zach Bryan - Something in the Orange

I don’t have much to say about this one honestly. It’s a really good song, and it’s awesome to see this actually getting mainstream airplay. It doesn’t fit, and feels like it could be the beginning of a change… or at least the continuation of the “mildly improving country radio” trend. 


Bailey Zimmerman - Rock and a Hard Place

I don’t have much to say about this one either. It’s pretty good. I just think people would be surprised I like it, so I put it here. 


Carley Pearce - What He Didn’t Do

Carly continues her winning streak with this (rightly) vindictive lament of a broken relationship. It’s a country song for adults and old souls, with real emotion, well-crafted lines, an exceptional delivery, and freakin’ dobro and resonator. Damn, that’s nice. I’m a big fan. 


3 Down

Tyler Hubbard - Dancin’ in the Country

Insipid, for one word. Bro lite, for two. This f***ing sucks, for three. Basically, take a Florida-Georgia Line party in a pasture song, add an atmosphere of romance, and dial back the guitars and you have “Dancin’ In the Country.” You already know the storyline from 10000 songs before this, but guy and girl start out in club, guy and girl drive to the country and do cliches. There are Silverado and Luccese name drops, there’s watermelon as an adjective, there’s red dirt. And he even has the temerity to mention Alabama and Alan Jackson. Please stop, I’m tired.


Parmalee - Girl in Mine

One second in and I’m sighing and mad. Straight garbage. These dudes are like if Dan + Shay were on their first cycle of testosterone therapy. Just wimpy ass pop rock not even bothering with any ties to any particular era of actual country music. Recycled melodies, listless vocals, pointless vibe; this song has it all! If you don’t know what people mean when they say “boyfriend country,” this is what they mean. Soft, inoffensive, unmemorable, non-threatening (not that a country song should necessarily threaten you unless Chris Knight is singing it). The lyrics take this one over the top to being possibly the sappiest shit you’ve ever heard. This is the peak (or nadir) of boyfriend country, I hope. 


Kane & Katelyn Brown - Thank God

Look, this ain’t a bad song. It’s a perfectly serviceable pop love song. I have the radio on the pop station when I take my daughter to school in the mornings, and if this came on there, I wouldn’t change the station. Nothing groundbreaking or memorable exactly, but this is a decent tune. Here comes the ‘but’ and if you’ve been around here for a while, I bet you know what it is. (In an extremely cringe boomer voice) “It ain’t country.” We can argue the parameters of that genre forever and nobody would change their mind, so I’m just gonna state my facts. There is no story. There is no country drawl. There is no fiddle. There is no steel guitar. I still think you can have a “country song” without those 4 things, but you also have to pass the sniff test. “Thank God” does not. There is not the tiniest thread in this song tying it to any definition or intuitive knowledge of COUNTRY MUSIC. Is it closer than some mainstream 'country' songs? Sure, it’s mostly acoustic. That’s about it. Ed Sheehan is mostly acoustic and he’s not “up next on MISS 103 where we play only the greatest country.” 

C+ for song     F for genre placement

Jun 22, 2022

3 Up, 3 Down: Jackson Dean, Dustin Lynch, Jelly Roll, etc.

3 Up

Jelly Roll - Son of a Sinner

Yeah, that Jelly Roll. The one we’ve made fun of before when running down stereotypes of hick-hop fans and artists. Mr. Roll, who’s mostly known for his country rapping, has been hiding (from those of us who haven’t actually listened to his music, his fans knew) a true talent: one hell of a soulful voice. He’s also a solid songwriter, co-writing this one with Ernest (of “Flower Shops”) and David Stevens. There isn’t a ton of new ground broken in these lyrics, but they’re moving enough, and real enough to be a definite standout on the country chart. But again, the thing is that Jelly Roll sings the hell out of this song, and it’s impressive. 


Jimmie Allen - Down Home

There are several other songs on the charts I like more than this one that I could have included. It’s squarely in the pocket of the current pop-country sound-scape with its production and some of the cadence. However, it’s well sung, not overly bro-or-boyfriend-country, and I like the direction Jimmie is moving. This is just kind of an atta-boy I’m putting out into the world in hopes he’ll keep going toward a more organic sound. Allen has the talent and authenticity to move the needle. Neither a ‘change the channel’ song nor a guilty pleasure, it’s a song that shows promise and it’s catchy enough to tap your foot along to and not feel like you’re being overly pandered to.


Jackson Dean - Don't Come Lookin'

When this song first came out, I gave it a quick listen and liked it enough to put it on my “Mainstream Country That Doesn’t Suck” playlist. Then I forgot about it. I was sampling the country station a few weeks back and heard a swampy country rock song that sounded so different from what else they were playing I had to Google the lyrics and see who sang it. It was this song (duh, I’m old and forgetful). Anyway, this rocks, in a bluesy redneck kind of way. Sure, it’s a song about getting away from it all out in the country, but there are no bonfires, beers, hotties, or the typical fare of pop-country. Jackson leaves the specifics out for you to fill in yourself. You don’t have to be spoon-fed. 


3 Down

Russell Dickerson ft/Jake Scott - She Likes It

Russell has recently made comments about how he doesn’t like us. You know, us… the ones who want modern country to have some kind of ties to its roots. This song is just a big ole poke in the eye to let us know he was serious. He’s gonna take his music in whatever direction he pleases and call it country, and screw you boomers. Most of Russell’s music prior to this song has been potboiler boyfriend country with no particular personality, and he hasn’t sold many records. So this is what you do to sell records. It’s still boyfriend country; he’s just dialed up the pop influences to 10 to make it sound more hip. Because twang and traditional instruments don’t sell, right Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks? This is flat out terrible and I wouldn’t like it even if it was marketed as pop.


Dustin Lynch - Party Mode

The first time I heard this song, the first verse lulled me into thinking it might be a tolerable song. Then the chorus hit. It’s like the writers said “What if we made the verses kind of a throwback 90s/00s sound that pulls people in, and then throw a big pile of fresh dog shit in their face?” It’s so bad, the relatively decent verses can’t even pull the grade up. If you were driving with the windows down to the first 43 seconds of this song without ever having heard it, and stopped at a light when the chorus hit, you’d strain your shoulder reaching to turn it off or roll the window up before anyone nearby could hear you listening to that insipid, embarrassing dreck. Pretty sure Dustin is just aiming for Tik-Tok virality with this nonsense. You know, just like Hank would’ve done.


Chris Janson - Keys to the Country

This song is far more “country” than the other two selections above, but it’s a sub-genre you may remember with disgust: Bro-country. Yeah, it ain’t completely dead. I read the lyrics a few weeks ago before actually listening, and just rolled my eyes (as much as you can while reading something). Been there done that to infinity and beyond. Hearing it today for the first time was a slightly better experience, but affirmed the “bro country” label. Unlike a lot of the cookie cutter dude-bros, Chris has some real talent. Wish he’d show it off a bit more often, but when you’re trying to clamber up from C-list to B-list, I guess you have to make some concessions. Also “I ain’t got the key to the city, but I got the keys to the country” doesn’t hit as a hook the way they think it does… comes off flatter than Highway 61.  (Note, there are several songs worse than this on the charts… looking at you Walker Hayes… but I wanted some variety on this post)



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