The short version: Jimmie Allen is a decent melodic composer, and coming off ‘Best Shot’ I was interested in hearing more of his music. His debut album plays things way too safe though and is anything except the direction he should be taking with his music.
Despite mainstream country music churning out one factory-made male artist after another, I still believe in the concept of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Now, Jimmie Allen has been lumped into that category, and perhaps fairly to some extent, but on the other hand, “Best Shot” did everything it really needed to do. It introduced Allen to an audience, demonstrated his ability as a vocalist and lyricist and gave a solid case as to why his song deserved a shot at the charts. The heavier melodic focus was a nice change compared to similar artists, and as such, considering “Best Shot” is an actual hit and Allen looks to be sticking around the genre for awhile, it was time to see whether his debut album Mercury Lane would support or refute that aforementioned claim.
This album unfortunately falls more into the latter camp than the former one. If I had to sum up Mercury Lane in one word, it would be “safe,” which is a shame because “Best Shot” seemed to connect for being more than just a bland, overproduced song about nothing.
Aside from a few decent cuts hiding way in the back, Mercury Lane offers up few positive elements to commend. Allen is a competent vocalist who’s got a good amount of power in him, and some of the hooks and melodies aren’t so bad, but they’re all either clouded by bad production or even worse writing.
The production is often clunky and lifeless, bringing in drum machines, snap tracks, fake percussion and other obnoxious elements that contribute to a wall of sound more than anything remotely interesting. Sometimes the production is a little hazier to give off more of a serious atmosphere, but it’s often wasted on songs that really don’t deserve the big pump in energy that they get. “21” is an example of this, with a darker guitar lick ultimately unfurling into a song about … wishing he was a badass 21-year-old again chilling with the boys and going after country girls and pretty much checking off every other box from the bro-country handbook.
And there’s no beating around the bush here. The songwriting is mostly terrible, with Allen painting very broad sketches of scenes or incidents around him or, on the other hand, skipping the scene altogether to just devolve into a checklist song. “21” is a good example of the broad writing trope, as it lacks the nuance to detail how nobody really peaks at “21” if they live that kind of life. “American Heartbreaker” is just a cheesy love song stuffed with references to ‘Merica (like you never could have guessed), and “Underdogs” is just a tribute to a list of random things these people do. “The come back kids, the fence swingers and the half-full cuppers” are just a few examples, because hey, forget trying to tell an actual story. It’s easier to just throw a bunch of terms together as if they have any meaning.
With America, youth, and the underdogs all checked off the list, you may notice we’re missing a song about small towns, but don’t worry, “High Life” has us covered in the same lazy fashion as those other songs. It’s got a water tower, football and other clichés you’ve heard in these overdone songs all through this decade. Even the tribute to his mother on “Warrior” falls into the same trap “Underdogs” did by just throwing a bunch of terms at the wall and seeing what sticks. On smaller notes, we get a song like “County Lines” which sneaks in a “oh gigity” reference and a cover of Keith Urban’s “Boy Gets A Truck” which remains an awkward song where the cadence just feels rushed against the groove.
The worst song however by far is “Back Of Your Mind.” This continues the other growing trend in country music where narrators lust after a woman who’s already with someone and try to manipulate her into breaking up with him just so the narrator can sneak in. It was disgusting when Old Dominion did it with “Break Up With Him,” it was disgusting when Jordan Davis did it with “Singles You Up” and it’s disgusting here too. This time around however, the narrator has already been with this woman, showing how he’s just bitter about their breakup and takes the immature route of thinking there’s no way she could be happy with someone else. It’s an ugly track all around.
It’s not like Allen doesn’t at least get a few things right at times. “Wait For It” is an incredibly sappy, overblown motivational track, but the mix is at least reminiscent of why “Best Shot” worked well. The dobro mixed with piano creates a warmer atmosphere, and while it deserved to back a better song, when Allen ditches the clunky production for something smoother, the results are better.
Unfortunately we really only get that on that track and “Best Shot.” While the hooks of songs like “Deserve To Be” and “How To Be Single” are decent enough, they’re bogged down by the aforementioned production and lyrical elements. Of course, if Mercury Lane is going to copy every trend in mainstream country music, it might as well adopt one more by saving the best song by a mile as the last track.
“All Tractors Ain’t Green” is an excellent song, and it highlights everything right about Allen’s style. There’s real emotion in his vocal performance, the production features a good mix of piano and spacier steel guitar (even if it comes with a damn snap track), and lyrics that actually center around something. It’s also a daring song for going against the grain by debunking the typical country model and how the location really has no hold on who’s “country” or who’s allowed to listen or make the music. Allen’s performance is particular powerful during the chorus and really highlights what could have been with this album.
I like Allen and hope he sticks around considering “Best Shot” is an actual hit instead of just a radio hit, but Mercury Lane plays things way too safe overall. The songs are rarely exciting, and at 15 tracks, this album runs on way longer than it needs to. Still, Allen is a decent enough melodic composer, and if he can get his lyrical content and production to match those gentler tones, he might just stick around awhile longer. Mercury Lane just offers very little worth praising overall though.
- Favorite tracks: “All Tractors Ain’t Green,” “Best Shot”
- Least favorite track: “Back Of Your Mind”