Quick Draw is a recurring feature where I cover multiple new country airplay singles in a gauntlet style format, in order from best to worst.
In this edition of ‘Quick Draw Single Reviews,’ we take a look at new singles from Easton Corbin, Hootie & the Blowfish (?), and Luke Bryan, in that order!
Easton Corbin – “Raising Humans” (written by Michael White)
As the decade closes out, it’s hard not to look at Easton Corbin as a victim of country music trends in the 2010s. Simply put, while he didn’t emerge at the worst time, his stabs at bro-country provided diminishing returns, enough to where he was dropped from Mercury Nashville … after scoring his first top 10 hit in years. If there’s any bittersweet benefits, though, it does give Corbin the freedom to do what he wants as an independent artist. His latest single, “Raising Humans,” stems from his appearance on the Hallmark Channel’s “Love Of Dogs” benefit concert, and isn’t radio-friendly at all; it’s also Corbin’s best song in years.
Unlike his rebound single, “Somebody’s Gotta Be Country,” the production is much more consistent, featuring a crisp acoustic guitar to carry the melody, backed by firm dobro, soft percussion and pedal steel for accent marks. On one hand, the song’s tempo moves at a snail’s pace, but on the other hand, the instrumental mix is simplistic enough to evoke warmth and sincerity.
Considering the subject matter, it’s the kind of sound one would expect for this kind of song, but the key is in its simplicity. Lyrically, one shouldn’t be surprised to hear a song stemming from the Hallmark Channel to lean into clichés, at least on a foundational level. “Raising Humans” flips the script, however, by telling this story from the dog’s perspective, detailing the moment him and his owner meet, all the way through to when – spoiler alert – the dog passes away (as they do in all of these songs). Despite the unusual perspective, the setup is fairly predictable, and the details of the story are a bit vague. Regarding that last point, however, this is an example of a song being effectively vague, as the first verse makes the listener think the human is telling this story. And after the subtle revelation, the song is framed around the dog trying to understand its new owner, offering as much of a curiosity about his behavior as we normally have for pets. And I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Corbin is effective in his role as a dog, with enough warm, earnest charisma to keep the song grounded. Even if the setup sounds hokey, it’s anything but that, and even if that ending is predictable, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t bring a tear to the eye of this cat-loving critic. (Strong 8/10)
Hootie & the Blowfish – “Hold On” (written by Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers)
… Wait, what?
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this band’s foray into country music. On one hand, aging rock artists looking to enter country music is nothing new, but it’s also a sign of how discombobulated both formats have become. Granted, Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker is no stranger to country music, but as far as labeling this band as a country act goes, I’m not about to do that. Still, “Hold On” from their upcoming Imperfect Circle album is out at country radio, and while it doesn’t differ much from what one would hear on a country radio station in 2019, the song itself is merely alright.
To the band’s credit, they know how to liven up their songs, which is why all of those old ‘90s hits excelled on atmosphere over stunning lyrical content. The same is true for “Hold On,” which features a bright, rollicking electric guitar lead that sounds catchy and energetic, with an organ and equally bright drums supporting the mix. Plus, Rucker’s usual charisma is on display; in fact, this may be the most upbeat and jubilant he’s sounded in years, showcasing an energy that, ironically, was always captured more in those ’90s singles than anything in his solo country career. If the band wanted to convey something upbeat and catchy, “Hold On” is a fairly good example of this, which brings us to the lyrical content. Again, the focus is more on the energetic spirit of the track, but “Hold On” is an example of a song we’ve heard too much in 2019 – a call to ignore everything else going on in the world and just be happy. Granted, the band tries their hardest to make that work, but when the lyrical content is as vague, shallow and generic as this, it leads to a song that’s only interesting in the moment, rather than one that’s incredibly memorable or will linger on afterward. Not bad, but not great. (Strong 5/10)
Luke Bryan – “What She Wants Tonight” (written by Luke Bryan, Ross Copperman, Hillary Lindsey and Jon Nite)
You know, for as mediocre as “Knockin’ Boots” was, at least it was a nice change of pace for Luke Bryan, sonically. With “What She Wants Tonight,” though, this sounds like pretty much every other Bryan single released this decade. Actually, with the murkier drum machine and polished electric guitar trying to emulate stadium rock, this sounds like a close cousin to “Home Alone Tonight,” and in both cases, I’m left questioning why they try to go for darker atmospheres. In this instance, all it does is make this club hookup feel much creepier than it should be, with this lonely woman in the
bar club setting her sights on Bryan for … well, some reason, though it certainly isn’t for his mind-melting charisma. Actually, with Bryan playing to the darker tones for a more serious performance, it makes him sound uncomfortable and unappealing; he sounds more scared than excited, in other words. And when the woman in question has no personality whatsoever other than the vague descriptions Bryan and his writers offer – no, this isn’t an empowerment anthem, it’s just a dour hookup track with no flavor to it outside of a mildly catchy hook. (Decent 4/10)