(Editor’s note: I’m publishing this song review roundup here, because, quite frankly, Country Universe deserves better coverage than this batch of songs ultimately provides!)
This edition features reviews for new singles from Brantley Gilbert, Zac Brown Band, Kane Brown and Cole Swindell.
Written by Brantley Gilbert, Brock Berryhill, Jay Brunswick, Jimi Bell and Logan Wall
What, you’re telling me a song called “Fire’t Up” didn’t resonate with the general public?
In all seriousness, the sooner Brantley Gilbert moved on from the Fire & Brimstone era, the better. His brand of macho country-rock feels about five or six years past its expiration date, but he’s also shown he can pen a good song when he feels like it. And given that new single “Hard Days” was reportedly a more serious offering from him … well, I was of two minds. For one, while I desperately want to see more country artists step up to the plate and offer more substance, I don’t want it to feel like the artist is just pandering and profiting off of actual “hard days” right now (looking at you, Garth Brooks).
This, however, feels like a genuine offering from Gilbert, though I wouldn’t call it great. For one, while I agree with the song’s sentiment that hard times lead to better days ahead, it’s a bit of a tone-deaf message for this specific moment in time. Granted, I realize I need to judge the song outside of that context, but even the writing feels a bit sloppy, ultimately coming across as preachy, checklist-like, and forced with the “you” framing. The intent is good; the execution isn’t. It hits on a good point, but barely scratches the surface with it. Still, it’s nice to hear a Gilbert song where the electric guitar is pushed to the back of the mix for once, letting the warmer acoustics sit at the forefront. I gave up on ways to say “Brantley Gilbert can’t sing” years ago (as did every critic, it seems like), and I can’t say he offers much in the way of subtlety here, but he is trying to make an effort. Ultimately, it’s surprisingly decent, but isn’t quite the shot of inspiration I’m still hoping for from the mainstream.
“The Man Who Loves You The Most”
Zac Brown Band
Written by Zac Brown, Benjamin James Simonetti and James Adam Nergenah
What, you’re telling me the Zac Brown Band’s genre-bending nightmare didn’t resonate with the general public?
I’m not sure I’ve seen a harsher backlash to a band’s creative direction than I did with Zac Brown Band and The Owl, and that’s before the additional flack lead singer Brown received for his solo work – even from critics who wouldn’t otherwise dare be, you know, critical. And one could see this coming from a mile away – a tacky attempt for the band to ease back into good graces by offering something “for these troubled times” with a middling father-daughter wedding song, which, I might add, isn’t even the better one of the two they have!
They’ve done this before, of course, but even a lackluster Dave Cobb-produced project won’t save them this time. I’m not even sure how much of a wedding song this really is. It’s more of a weird turnaround to make a hook work, when it’s really just an overwrought touring song about how much Brown misses his daughter. I’m not sure the production could be any more slapdash, either – with the way the acoustics and vocals are pushed all the way to the front of the mix, it sounds like a bad demo rather than something one expects from a major band kinda-sorta within country music at this point. There’s no pulse whatsoever to Jimmy De Martini’s fiddle work, especially if, again, I’m left comparing it to “I’ll Be Your Man,” and the harmonies sound oddly hollow in the mix. Which only serves to highlight how this band continues to sound less like a band and more like “Zac Brown and those other guys.”
So, no, I wouldn’t say this band is back; I’d say they’re just aiming to pander for a bit before they release their next “experiment.”
Written by Kane Brown, Shy Carter, Ryan Hurd and Jordan Schmidt
I’d like to start by saying this is much better than “Cool Again” and that it’s admirable how all proceeds from this song will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of America.
But criticproof this song is not, and I get why Kane Brown didn’t release it last year. It’s really undercooked in the composition and the production feels chintzy and slapdash – a song about unity and togetherness gets ruined when it leads with the chipmunk vocal effect and ends with predictable gospel flourishes and the accompanying choir.
And not to get on too much of a tangent here, but if we’re trying to solve gender and racial hatred all in one fell swoop, perhaps it’s best not to bring religion into it with the whole, “we’re all united under one God” sentiment? Maybe? Again, I don’t want to bring too much wrath upon a charity single, but there’s some serious problems with this as a whole.
“Single Saturday Night”
Written by Michael Hardy, Ashley Gorley and Mark Holman
Believe it or not, Cole Swindell made some positive steps forward with his past few single choices. He’s not a particularly great singer or showcases any unique personality, but I do think his earnest charisma supports most of his performances.
But if Swindell took a few steps forward then, he falls ass backwards with “Single Saturday Night.” The problem with synthetic production in mainstream country music is that it’s always so oddly hollow, and when there’s not much to this other than that, fake, skeletal percussion and a gutless guitar foundation … well, it’s not one of the worst production jobs in recent memory, but it’s certainly one of the more lazier ones. Anyone taking notes from Mitchell Tenpenny’s brand of overly dark, formless music automatically fails. It confuses “serious” with “empty.”
That’s not even what irks me most, though. If the entire point is for Swindell to acknowledge how he’s moving past his frat boy lifestyle to settle down, why does he sound oddly unhappy about it? Granted, he’s not painting much of a scene here – “guy sees girl ‘shaking it’ at a bar and that’s that” isn’t a terribly interesting or original love story, especially for mainstream country music in recent memory. But he seems so fixated on recreating that one particular last night of “freedom” in his mind, and to hear to him tell it, you’d think he’s now trapped in a prison rather than in a happy relationship.
Also, a White Claw reference? Really?