Quick Draw Single Reviews is a recurring feature where I cover multiple new country airplay singles and standalone songs in a gauntlet style format, in order from best to worst.
Because there’s so much new music to catch up on, there will actually be two editions of this feature coming your way. In this edition we’ll look at new singles from Brandy Clark, Ashley McBryde, the Panhandlers and Tim McGraw; the next one will feature reviews for new singles from Jessi Alexander, Caitlyn Smith, HARDY and Blake Shelton.
Brandy Clark – “Who You Thought I Was” (written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon and Jonathan Singleton)
We may have had to wait four years for it, but it’ll be nice to have a new Brandy Clark album come March. As for “Who You Thought I Was,” the lead single from Your Life Is A Record, it’s a fairly nice introduction to what will reportedly be a more personal album for Clark. Jay Joyce is surprisingly still a good fit for her as a producer, though the production does get more than a tad busy in spots here. Still, the light acoustics and gentle touches of percussion are nice additions, bridging a nice sonic gap between her previous two albums. Lyrically, while I do wish the song had aimed for deeper stakes over clever wordplay, the simplicity of the message is also the song’s best element. And I can always appreciate a great lyrical progression, finding Clark listing her childhood dreams in the first chorus to detailing how those dreams morphed into how she became the carefree spirit she is in the song. Plus, it all comes back around to the twist of how someone saw her as better than someone destined to wander aimlessly, once again morphing her dreams into simply being a better person. Nice song, and even if I wouldn’t necessarily say this has the teeth to it to be labeled “personal,” it’s a cleverly written song; and a nice reminder of why the country music community has missed Clark over the years. (Strong 7/10)
Ashley McBryde – “Martha Divine” (written by Ashley McBryde and Jeremy Spillman)
Even if country radio still won’t buy into Ashley McBryde (for whatever reason), it’s nice to see her taking the Kacey Musgraves approach of finding ways to garner industry attention without it. She’s poised to aim even higher in 2020, and as she comes out swinging with new song “Martha Divine,” it’s not a song aiming for radio playlists anyway. It’s actually somewhat surprising McBryde hasn’t gone this route with her material thus far – a murder ballad (or, rather, a “bury you alive” ballad) about a daughter going after the titular character who cheated with her father, which McBryde sells with as much seething anger as one could hope for (if there’s a sequel to this, I don’t think dear old dad is getting off easy, either). For a theme as played out as this, though, I’m not sure the framing alone necessarily elevates it to a unique status, but McBryde is a fantastic personality for this kind of track. But if Jay Joyce is at least kinda-sorta getting the production right for Brandy Clark, he’s not really hitting the mark for McBryde, where the production blemishes carry over from “One Night Standards.” The canned drums carrying the verses sound horrible, especially when they drop out during the chorus; and even then, the electric guitars sound way too polished to carry the meaty swagger they’d need for a track like this. It’s great otherwise, however. (Strong 7/10)
The Panhandlers – “No Handle”
A supergroup of some of the heaviest hitters currently working in the Texas country scene is something I can certainly get behind, even if this particular pairing feels a bit random. But here they are – Josh Abbott, John Baumann, Cleto Cordero (of Flatland Cavalry) and William Clark Green – all teamed up as the Panhandlers to release an album through the Next Waltz project. And judging from first single “No Handle,” there’s certainly some potential here. The lyrical trademarks of each artist’s style are on display in their respective verses, such as Cordero’s knack for clever wordplay (“the rodents are all out on parade”) or Green’s blunt humor (you know what line I’m referring to). And considering that old cliché of singing about how awesome Texas is lingers over this particular subgenre, there’s something humorous about hearing them complain about the land and put things in a lighter perspective. But if we’re being honest, all artists involved are better writers than they are singers; and beyond the technical limitations, I wish we had gotten a bit more camaraderie from the members, especially when the song isn’t aiming to be taken too seriously. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity, but beyond the instrumentation feeling a bit buried at times in the mix (the fiddle in that first chorus, for instance), the sound is what you’d expect: a rollicking mix of banjo, rich pedal steel and fiddle that provides the light balance this track needs. An overall fun track, but I’m hoping we get something better on the eventual album. (Light to decent 6/10)
Tim McGraw – “Way Down (feat. Shy Carter) (written by Craig Wiseman, Shy Carter and Tommy Cecil)
Hey, Tim McGraw, I know that “Neon Church” and “Thought About You” didn’t give you the commercial rebound you needed, but well … what exactly are you doing here?
At his best, McGraw in the 2010s has been a shining example how to age gracefully with one’s material, resulting in some stellar late-career singles like “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” or “Humble and Kind.” At his worst, he’s recorded songs like “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl,” which never should have happened. “Way Down,” as you might have already guessed, falls squarely into the latter category – an embarrassing song trying desperately to leapfrog off of any “Old Town Road” momentum left and failing hard at it. I suppose the electric guitars have enough muscle to accomplish whatever weird blend of southern rock and funk McGraw and his team were aiming for, but they’re wasted on a checklist song about … things in the south? I guess? I’m not sure if this is trying to aim for macho rural pride pandering or if it’s trying to be fun, but the mix is too dour and limp to accomplish that second goal anyway; and what Shy Carter is contributing here, other than mentions of yeehaw and grandmas, is beyond me. I hate to take the easy way out, but there’s not much else to say other than, well, this is bad.
As already mentioned, McGraw’s atrocities are of a special variety (in this case, football fans certainly agree), enough to where country radio hasn’t even awarded him for them. Let’s hope that, on the charts, this song’s peak position is “way down.” (Light 3/10)