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 features reviews for new singles from Brett Eldredge, Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley and Lee Brice.
Brett Eldredge – “Gabrielle” (written by Brett Eldredge, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian)
For as much as Brett Eldredge initially scanned as little more than a trend-hopper in mainstream country music (“Raymond” aside), I always thought his artistic instincts were a tad sharper than some of his contemporaries. His self-titled album from 2017 was decent because it followed through on those instincts, even though the single choices weren’t the best. In fact, his last single release was from 2018 with “Love Someone,” and considering it took over a year to peak, it was definitely time to move on to something new.
Judging from the press surrounding his newest album slated for release later this year, I’m excited for its potential, though lead single “Gabrielle” falls somewhere in the middle for me. On one hand, Eldredge is following through on those good artistic instincts by recruiting the same team of writers and producers who made Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, and the actual pivot sounds like something out of Charlie Rich’s playbook (there’s a comparison I didn’t think I’d make for a modern country singer). The basic fundamentals are solid, working off an old-school, ‘70s piano-pop style that compliments Eldredge’s tone well, though without the lack of a real hook or memorable melody to drive it all home, it’s a bit boring and dry as a whole. Granted, atmospheric blending in mixes is getting a tad played out for independent country right now, but I’m almost left wishing they just committed to that for something with a little more bite to it.
Of course, even if they did adopt that style, the writing isn’t really memorable or distinct enough to stand out anyway. I understand that’s largely the point – Eldredge didn’t get the chance to go farther with this woman he liked, and there is room for that sort of sad, fleeting wistfulness; but there’s not enough here to make listeners care about the titular character. She could be “Gabrielle,” “Annabelle” or “Pam, daughter of Mel” and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. The details used to flesh out her character are snapshots describing her by her looks than anything really distinctive about her, which, to be honest, makes it hard to care by the time the song is finished. It’s not bad; I like where Eldredge is pivoting overall, but I’m not getting much out of this. (Light 6/10)
Luke Bryan – “One Margarita” (written by Michael Carter, Matt Dragstrem and Josh Thompson)
If you’re wondering about the added bit in the headline, here it goes: as a music fan who enjoys covering new releases, I wish artists would halt them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Luke Bryan just pushed back his Born Here, Live Here, Die Here album release date to four months from now; meanwhile, acts like Ashley McBryde, Ingrid Andress, Logan Ledger and Maddie and Tae are trying to build momentum with their releases right now. Given that song and album releases are one piece of a larger puzzle of marketing the music to fans (the other pieces including radio tours and general tours, among other things), I don’t want new music now if it means artists won’t be financially able to make new music later, especially when those aforementioned artists are all relatively new and/or trying to rebuild momentum. There will be a music industry after this is all over; the real scary question is, “how much will we need to sacrifice to get there?”
So, yes, instead of writing about Bryan’s new album, I’m now writing about his latest single, “One Margarita” … and it’s OK, I guess? It’s lightweight, breezy, escapist beach fodder that sounds horribly out of place right now (which, to be fair, isn’t Bryan’s fault), but it’s probably the most likable piece of music he’s offered so far from his new album. There’s a pleasantly organic foundation to the mix, which suits what this track is aiming for; but Bryan’s voice sounds near-robotic on the chorus, with the vocal production not doing him any favors and making him sound much stiffer than likely intended. Granted, that’s also because he’s forcing his charisma here, and beyond the names he references here, even contemporaries like Billy Currington or Jake Owen could have handled this better without overdoing it.
Lyrically … well, the hook is “one margarita, two margarita, three margarita shots,” which is relatively weak for this sort of track (in other words, it’s not the boot-stomping romper than is Luke Combs’ “1, 2 Many”). Aside from that, again, it’s shallow beach music meant for escapism that only kinda-sorta hits its mark, which is nice to imagine right now, but certainly isn’t going to compete with songs from the names Bryan references in this song. All in all, it’s listenable, and if it’s the adrenaline rush you need right now, by all means go for it. (Light 5/10)
Brad Paisley – “No I In Beer” (written by Brad Paisley and Kelley Lovelace)
Look, I understand that everyone finds solace in their own ways, and if songs referencing our current situation are helping you get through it, I don’t want to begrudge that. I do, however, want to begrudge lazy songwriting and pandering when I hear it (in other words, here comes the other rant).
At this point, Brad Paisley’s chance of attaining another top 20 hit is very slim (more of a fact than an opinion, sadly), and though I thought “Bucked Off” would be the surefire hit he’d need to reclaim his status, it wasn’t; and followup single “My Miracle” didn’t ignite any passion at radio either, given that it was a boring rewrite of “She’s Everything,” “The World” and “Then” all in one. Now, Paisley is back with a song he says is a “fun & lighthearted song relatable to our current situation,” and though the intentions are admirable, “No I In Beer” is not the message we need right now.
First of all, while country music does love its alcohol, it’s usually what causes harmful situations – not solves them. In other words, getting together to get drunk and stupid will not help the first responders, farmers, truck drivers or any of the other essential workers Paisley gives a half-assed shoutout to toward the end (I’m pretty sure they need masks and some rest before, you know, booze).
Of course, the song was actually written in 2018, so a criticism toward an infuriating message turns into a criticism toward an absolutely lazy one instead. Paisley loves his corny jokes, yes, but the concept behind the hook feels way too rudimentary for his skill level. Even his worst attempts at humor are at least memorable. But this? Look, it’s tough to make assumptions right now, but it’s telling that Paisley is releasing this right now to recapture some of that old momentum. Even the production mix feels oddly overstuffed here, featuring Paisley’s signature guitar-driven sound but also turning both it and the drums way too loud in the mix, enough to where it overtakes the remaining instruments and doesn’t generate the intended energy. There’s a nod to the “Alcohol” guitar lick toward the end, but I’m just left reminded of a better, more creative song. Again, I’m sure Paisley’s heart was in the right place, but if you want an actual fun song right now, Paisley has plenty of better ones in his discography. (Strong 4/10)
Lee Brice – “One Of Them Girls” (written by Lee Brice, Ashley Gorley, Dallas Davidson and Ben Johnson)
This is an untimely single release, and not for the obvious reason.
Though it’s hard to call Lee Brice one of country music’s leading artists right now, he has managed to garner a consistent discography of hits so far (albeit at a snail’s pace). From it, there’s been two sides to Brice: the thoughtful, introspective family man with a fantastic emotive presence capable of greatness on “I Drive Your Truck” and “Boy”; with the other half consisting of overly macho, meatheaded, irksome sentiments in “Parking Lot Party,” “That Don’t Sound Like You” and now, sadly, “One Of Them Girls.”
It shouldn’t have to be said, but a song where the male character persistently chases after a woman clearly not interested in him thinking it’s part of a game she’s playing is cringeworthy on sentiment alone. And Brice is completely unlikable here, refusing to take the hint and just accept “no” for an answer against production that’s hollow and oddly darker than it really should be. The synthetic elements are meant more to establish atmosphere, but the slick electric guitar is trying (and failing) to make the sentiments here sound romantic. I thought it couldn’t get worse than Sam Hunt’s disturbing accounts of trying to win an old flame back on Southside, but then Brice said the woman in his song has “got a wall I got to knock down.”
Just, no. Hopefully the poor woman packed pepper spray. (3/10)