Quick Draw Single Reviews Vol. 8

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.

Jessi Alexander – “Mama Drank” (written by Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall)

Considering the track record left behind from acts like Lori McKenna, Caitlyn Smith, Travis Meadows and more, when a well-known songwriter in country music steps out into the solo spotlight, it’s best to pay attention. Well, truthfully, this isn’t the first time Jessi Alexander has stepped out into the spotlight, though it does come after a successful run of co-writes for other artists. So, with a new album on the way dedicated to “the folks that love sad songs, beer joints, pedal steel, and country music,” those sound like good reasons to pay attention. And lead single “Mama Drank” fits pretty squarely into that category – a steel-guitar-soaked track with a nice, swampy bite to the electric guitar. Alexander has the weathered cracks in her voice to sell this with enough lived-in sincerity, and even if the character here isn’t on the literal, darker edges of exhaustion, …. heck, she’s earned a break. But the track is caught in a weird state of trying to be both dark and humorous, and I wish they had just gone all-in on one or the other, as it’s a bit of an odd mix otherwise. Still, it’s a solid first step for Decatur County Red. (Light 7/10)

HARDY – “One Beer (feat. Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson)” (written by Michael Hardy, Hillary Lindsey and Jake Mitchell)

I’ll admit to being a bit shocked by this single choice, especially when HARDY’s introduction to the country music world was telling everyone how he “pisses where he wants to.” But alright, I’ll also admit that “One Beer” is a nice step in the right direction for HARDY, even if I’m not completely won over by it; it’s pretty sad when a spacious acoustic groove and a drum machine in the back of the mix equates to a “serious” atmosphere, after all. But I do like how the title subverts expectations of its meaning, showing how this one beer is the start of a chain of events leading to an accidental pregnancy. And all vocalists involved are singing with a frankness that doesn’t try to make light of or condemn the situation. But considering Devin Dawson is doing next-to-nothing here and Lauren Alaina isn’t at least playing the opposite role in this scenario, what exactly are they doing here? And while the rapid flow from all three vocalists may be intentional to show how something like this “just happens” sometimes, it does mean that the song comes and goes fairly quickly without reflecting much on the story; “Two Pink Lines” and “There Goes My Life” this most certainly is not. Still, this is actually fairly decent. Color me shocked. (Light 6/10)

Caitlyn Smith – “Long Time Coming” (written by Caitlyn Smith, Jennifer Decilveo and Christian “Leggy” Landon)

It’s a bit strange that “Long Time Coming” is the designated tadio single from Caitlyn Smith’s upcoming Supernova project, especially when a few other songs from that project have already been released. Sadly, though, I can also see why it is at the same time, and it’s reinforcing a fear I have thus far for Supernova. The most appealing element of Smith’s sound, thus far, is that it’s a combination of pop and country that skirts around drum machines and garish synths in favor of thick, organic, groove-driven warmth that cultivates atmosphere. Thus far, the singles from Supernova find Smith pushing toward a more generic pop sound, where the mix is heavy on reverb and synthetic elements for a sound that’s less interesting and unique, especially when Smith has already carved out a unique niche with this sound. And that’s the case with “Long Time Coming” – the synthetic elements in the chorus are playing to minor sounds for a more serious atmosphere, yet they plod with too much lethargic murkiness; and it doesn’t help that the piano driving the melody is pushed mostly to the back of the mix. The writing is decent, though this theme of empowerment in the wake of a breakup has been done better; and it’s a borderline crime to place heavy reverb on the vocal production in a Caitlyn Smith song, especially when her naturally powerful performance and sincerity is what likely saves this from falling into blander territory. (Light 6/10)

Blake Shelton – “Nobody But You (feat. Gwen Stefani)” (written by Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Tommy Lee James)

In most cases, not being able to get a read on an artist is a good thing (the point of art, after all, is its mystique and how we interpret it); for Blake Shelton … I don’t really know what it means. If “God’s Country” saw him moving toward a legitimately unique sound, “Hell Right” squandered any of that goodwill left. As for his new single, “Nobody But You,” Shelton is back to cultivating the blandest, most formless odes to nothing imaginable, so now it’s as if nothing ever really changed. Shelton’s natural charisma does add a grounded sense of maturity and earnestness to a tale of devotion like this, and having Gwen Stefani at least makes it a bit more personable, even if she contributes next-to-nothing here. But really, if one were to pair any two singers here, nothing much would change. The writing aims for big, broad, cheesy sentiments that are terribly uninteresting, and the mix of bland synthetic elements and watered-down, spacious electric guitars for “atmosphere” creates a big, bland wall of noise. It’ll be a huge hit that goes in one ear and out the other one. YouTuber Grady Smith said it best when he (essentially) called this a lighter version of Shelton’s own “Nobody But Me.” (Light 5/10)

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