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.
This edition of ‘Quick Draw Single Reviews’ features thoughts on new singles from Randall King, Hot Country Knights, John Anderson and Tyler Farr.
Randall King – “She Gone” (written by Chris Stevens and Randall King)
Hey, if mainstream country music is looking to add more fuel for its ‘90s country resurgence, it might as well bring in some heavyweights from Texas to do the job. Of course, artists like Cody Johnson and Aaron Watson, sadly, haven’t made much of an impact on the country airplay charts thus far with their major record label deals, but the fact that they were able to bypass the traditional system to get to that point speaks volumes of where the genre currently sits. No, these aren’t the first examples of that happening (think Pat Green or Jack Ingram), but they’re the first where the artists infiltrate the system on their own terms (Johnson currently maintains creative control over his music, for instance). And now we can add Randall King to that list, who singed with Warner Music Nashville late last year and is now shipping “She Gone” to radio. It’s not a super deep single, and the bad grammar evident in the hook is slightly annoying, but it’s a great lead single that, stylistically, would have fit right in on King’s 2018 self-titled album. The mix is one of the punchiest ones I’ve heard in awhile, as there’s a real kick and drive to the electric guitar axes, drums and percussion lines. Lyrically, nothing about this breakup track is particularly novel, but King maintains a solid flow while also singing this with the wry self-awareness that he deserves everything coming to him here; a close comparison is Riley Green’s “In Love By Now.” Good song, and a solid introduction to the mainstream country world for King. (Light 7/10)
Hot Country Knights – “Pick Her Up (feat. Travis Tritt)” (written by Brett Beavers, Jim Beavers and Dierks Bentley)
Oh, where to begin with this one …
No, really; there’s more to say about what this all means than there is about the actual single in question. What started as Dierks Bentley’s ‘90s country side project has now blossomed into something real, with the group officially signed to Universal Music Nashville after being known as a fun staple at Bentley’s live shows over the years. It’s still unknown where this will all go, but with the first single “Pick Her Up” now at radio … look, if this were a proper Bentley single, it’d be subpar. As a goofy single from a parody band, however, “Pick Her Up” works for what it is. On paper, the song is no lyrical masterpiece and would likely be torn to shreds by critics, especially given that this would have been a very serious song in, say, 2013, when bro-country was dominant. But considering that trend faltered more for its attitude and its approach, that’s exactly why “Pick Her Up” works well. The instrumental mix is a high-octane blend of steel guitar, a punchy electric axe and jaunty piano that all sound like they were ripped straight from the ‘90s. If anything, this is a Brooks & Dunn B-side that never happened. I will say, however, that even as a fan of Bentley’s work, Travis Tritt outclasses him here, vocally, both in terms of flow and charisma; though it’s odd that Tritt is here at all, outside of the nod to the “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” solo near the end. But that also contributes to the intentionally overblown corniness of the track and its lyrical content. Again, I’m not sure how far this song or “act” will actually go, but this is pretty lighthearted fun, and that’s all it’s meant to be. (Light 7/10)
John Anderson – “Years” (written by John Anderson, Dan Auerbach, Pat McLaughlin and David Ferguson)
After just discussing two songs (and acts) pulling from distinct ‘90s tones, let’s take the metaphorical time machine back to the ‘80s … by discussing an artist from that time period now looking toward the future. In truth, John Anderson’s comeback isn’t meant to be celebrated in the same way his ‘90s revival was. Unspecified health concerns are the inspiration for Anderson’s upcoming project, Years, released through Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label. With the title track being the first taste of new Anderson music in five years, it’s a tricky song to discuss. Truthfully, older artists grappling with their mortality isn’t exactly novel, and when it comes to “Years,” it never really rises above cliché. The song feels a bit rushed overall, and the actual story is vague and nondescript. With that said, Anderson himself saves the track, and considering he meant to “do this like it might be his last,” one never doubts his conviction. Even just from a pure vocal standpoint, Anderson hasn’t sounded this clear and rich in years. Auerbach’s signature production style is also on full display here, which is both good and bad in this particular instance. On one hand, the mix mostly works to sell Anderson’s sentiment, with somber, haunting piano and string flourishes adding an emotional punch to this record. But it also carries an off-putting, horrible guitar solo that, not only comes unexpected after that first chorus, but completely detracts from the otherwise somber, sobering atmosphere the song is aiming to achieve. It’s good to have Anderson back, and he hasn’t lost any vocal power over the years, but this song just doesn’t quite connect as much as it should. (Decent 6/10)
Tyler Farr – “Only Truck In Town” (written by Ben Hayslip, Deric Ruttan and Josh Thompson)
When it comes to most bro-country casualties, it’s best to just forget and move on (even if they keep annoyingly hanging around). I’m not going to argue that Tyler Farr is necessarily an exception to that rule, but there was actual potential there (no, really), and his biggest downfall came from label restructuring and an unfortunate single choice – not the downfall of that aforementioned trend. Truthfully, Farr showed measurable improvement on his sophomore album, Suffer In Peace, in part from choosing material that skewed toward moodier tendencies, and from using his raspy growl for material that actually suited him. That was then, however, and now that he’s signed to Broken Bow Records, the same record label housing Jason Aldean, … well, it makes too much sense, unfortunately. “Only Truck In Town” isn’t Farr’s first attempt at a comeback single, but it’s likely the one with the biggest chance of success. With that said, there’s nothing interesting about this song at all. The instrumental mix features a driving, uninteresting guitar lead, fake percussion and slight atmospheric tones that don’t contribute much of anything to the mix; in other words, again, I’m not surprised Farr is now on Aldean’s record label. This isn’t Farr’s worst vocal performance, but he’s only a great singer when coupled with the right material (and, to be blunt, is otherwise terrible). In this case, he has neither the power nor the charisma to make this work. As for what he’s trying to make work, though, “Only Truck In Town” is the same old “get in my truck, girl, and let’s go stare at a corn field” track that went of style years ago. If you already gussed mentions of beer, a Friday night, muddy tires and shotgun seats made their way in, you’d win the Nashville Mad Libs songwriting contest. I don’t know, I just find it hard to believe that this is going to be the song to launch Farr forward in 2020 when he’s stuck in 2014. (Light 5/10)