The short version: Tenille Townes delivers a much stronger followup to her debut single with “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking).”
- Writers: Gordie Sampson, Tenille Townes, Tina Parol
- Rating: 8/10
The long version: While it’s fair to question whether country radio matters in 2019 (spoilers: it does), it’s even more fair to question some of its … systems, for lack of a better term.
iHeart Radio’s “On The Verge” program has proved more to be nonsensical than anything else, thus far. Established in 2014 as a way to
inflate bolster hits from young, rising artists, like, say, the numerous televised singing competitions in the vein of American Idol or The Voice, it’s proven mostly ineffective in launching new acts as consistent hitmakers. Past beneficiaries, for example, have included Devin Dawson, Morgan Evans and Mitchell Tenpenny, all of whom haven’t been able to launch a second successful single (and these are just a few examples). Even in the cases of, say, Sam Hunt, Luke Combs, and Maren Morris all having their debut singles boosted by this program, they were on their way to future superstardom anyway.
It’s not a bad idea in theory, however. While the execution hasn’t gotten better over the course of five years, it is, fundamentally, a way to give newer artists a starting chance. Take, for example, Tenille Townes, an Alberta native who came to Nashville for success in the U.S. market before signing with Columbia Nashville in April 2018. While I wasn’t a fan of her debut single, “Somebody’s Daughter,” personally, it certainly wasn’t a bad pick for the aforementioned program given that she had some credible groundswell support behind her. Yet that song ended up doing better in her native land than it did here.
And whether or not Townes and her team have decided to throw caution to the wind is up to speculation; however, while her new single, “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking),” is certainly not radio-friendly by any means, it’s a much better showcase of her talent than her debut single.
Yet when it comes to her new single, it’s hard not to directly compare it to “Somebody’s Daughter” – both songs tackle very serious topics that mainstream country has seemingly abandoned lately, Townes’s voice is a central piece of the song (and also its most polarizing element given her cadence and tone), and both songs feature different production mixes that help them to stand out on mainstream country radio. The difference is that, ultimately, “Jersey On The Wall” sticks the landing far better than that single.
The production is greatly improved this time around and brings an interesting point of note to this song; aside from some lighter, elegant, skittering piano lines, darker acoustic guitar, very faint organ and shuffling percussion that only gains more momentum as the track rolls along, this is a fantastic example of “less is more.” The mix really shouldn’t work as well it does, especially when overbearing percussion lines plague so much of modern country music. Yet as mentioned before, it manages to add a driving momentum to the track that never outright overtakes it, where that light brush of it at the beginning turns into a pounding march by the song’s end. It’s an understated mix that brings out more power than first expected, and while it’s an odd sound for a country single, it’s a refreshing one.
As also previously mentioned, Townes’s gravelly vocal tone is another usual point of contention when it comes to one’s opinion of her material. While “Jersey On The Wall” by no means tests her range as a singer, the echoed effects in the production allow her to play things downbeat and convey real empathy for the victim in this song. There’s a faint quiver to her delivery that helps her sell that feeling of being lost and searching desperately for answers without acting out of bitter remorse. The writing can feel a tad scattershot at points, but the questions she asks to God in the wake of a classmate’s death feel genuinely moving and honest, particularly in the second verse.
As for the content itself, while Townes is a gifted writer who’s not afraid to approach serious subjects, she has a tendency to skirt around the main point. On “Somebody’s Daughter,” for instance, she focused on the fantasy of what this homeless person could have been like rather than just going up to talk to her and get the real story. Here, lines about asking God how he makes snowflakes and earthquakes seems to undercut the main point of actual despair and why we choose to believe in spite of it. Basically, there’s a deep conversation to be had with Townes’s songs, but the execution can be a tad scattershot.
Still, I can’t say there isn’t an honesty to the framing here as Townes visits an old high school gym to reflect on a classmate’s tragic demise. At least in this instance, there’s just enough detail given to understand what happened to the classmate without letting their story be the primary narrative. Instead, the focus here is simply trying to understand faith and whatever our relationship is with it, if we even have one at all. The second verse is particularly compelling, where Townes fleshes out the picture of a yearbook with a missing picture and a quote that says “in loving memory,” followed by the image of a mother who does lose that faith because she doesn’t understand why things had to happen the way they did. It tackles religion without attacking anyone’s personal viewpoint, instead just showing Townes trying to understand it all herself, and it achieves its goal quite effectively.
But if there’s a song that captures all of the hype Townes has received from critics and fans alike so far, it’s this one. The production is muted, yet effortlessly brings so much life to the song itself. And the writing, while inconsistent in some places, makes up for that with a powerful message. Considering radio was lukewarm to her debut single, I have my doubts about this doing any better, but it’d be a shame if it didn’t receive the widespread attention it deserves.