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 Gary Allan, Ward Davis, Justin Moore, Meghan Patrick, plus some quick links to reviews I wrote at Country Universe for new singles from Cody Johnson and Gretchen Peters. Also, I should mention that this is likely how I’m going to handle single reviews on this website henceforth, with songs that I feel merit a full review receiving full coverage over at CU, and the rest reviewed here. I’m also (finally) expanding my single coverage to songs released beyond country radio, so hopefully it leads to a more diverse selection of tunes whenever I do these.
Gary Allan, “Waste of a Whiskey Drink” (written by Josh Kear, Michael Hardy and Mark Holman)
I know, I’m extremely late to covering this; again, I’m still trying to sort out my reviews between here and Country Universe. And I know that its chart run is already pretty much over – I’m not surprised, given that Gary Allan has never been a huge radio darling or has had much success since 2012’s “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain).”
Answering why that was in the 2010s, though, leads to a bit of a different story. I already talked about this over at Kyle’s Korner last year, but Allan’s material post-Set You Free sounded oddly trendy and misshapen, which is surprising, given that Allan always seemed to operate independently outside of trends. It was refreshing, then, to hear his latest single was inspired by the ‘90s sonic resurgence spearheaded by acts like Luke Combs and Jon Pardi.
From that standpoint, I can certainly hear the influence in the pivot back to a more distinct country sound in the guitar tuning and slight echoes of steel guitar in the low-end. It sounds all right, if lacking a tighter punch, but there’s two major problems otherwise. For one, the melody – or, rather, the attempt at a melody – on the chorus is incredibly choppy, not helped by Allan’s voice sounding more haggard and fried than it really should at this point. There’s also the lyrical content, where I’ll throw out the quick disclaimer that I’ve always gravitated toward Allan’s moodier side and like the idea behind this song. But there’s a difference between moody and petty, and this song, sadly, comes across as the latter. Granted, I could be reading too much into the subtext, but for all the warnings that this guy gives to another guy not to approach his old flame so that he doesn’t suffer the way he did, it’s telling that he’s still hanging around in the same bar she is, and though she certainly sounds like someone to stay away from, the whole song sounds just sort of toxic in its framing and execution. Not bad, but I know Allan is capable of so much more, and I’m tired of having to keep saying that. (Decent 6/10)
Ward Davis, “Black Cats and Crows” (written by Ward Davis, Cody Jinks and Tennessee Jet)
So, if you just read the list of songwriters next to the song title, you’ll know that Ward Davis is a frequent collaborator of artists like Cody Jinks and Kendell Marvel and songwriter for others behind the scenes, with this being the first single from his long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s 15 Years in a 10 Year Town album. Now, if we’re being blunt, we’ve already got quite a few bearded, rough-edged dudes working within independent country music right now … which is why I’d still place Davis a step above average in comparison with his peers. For one, he’s already got the songwriting chops, but what’s also been notable is his reliance on piano to compliment his low, rich voice. He plays to his strengths well, and the results have mostly been sound thus far.
For the most part, the title track to Davis’ upcoming album falls very much in line with what one might expect from him, and the atmospheric production gives him the necessary space needed to compliment the tune, even if that guitar solo at the end feels out of place. Yes, the Travis Tritt-meets-Chris Stapleton influence is right there, but he’s not opting for pure power. Instead, he’s got a much firmer grasp on subtlety that gives his performance some actual weight to it. Which helps, given that I’m not quite sold on the song overall. It’s fine, but it’s a fairly basic song about a man down on his luck that, again, is fairly common in this lane of country music. There’s a huge emotional heft in the presentation, for sure, but not a lot of details as to what actually went down here. Granted, it may sound better in the album context to help flesh out a bigger story, but I don’t love this like I think I should just yet. (Strong 7/10)
Justin Moore, “We Didn’t Have Much” (written by Jeremy Stover, Randy Montana and Paul DiGiovanni)
I may not have personally loved Justin Moore’s return-to-form in 2019’s Late Nights and Longnecks, but I respected the intent behind it the way I did, say, Randy Houser and Magnolia, or Brett Eldredge and Sunday Drive as a way of finding himself again, artistically.
Now, the obvious pivot in that discussion is complaining about how a more traditional-leaning project fared poorly at radio and that Moore is now moving on quickly from it … only that’s not the case, and I’m just confused instead. Sure, neither single from that project skyrocketed up the charts, but there was still potential left in that last album. Oh well, for now, we have a new single playing very much in the same lane as his recent singles, with a focus on a richer, more organic presentation. Indeed, I like how the song leans into more of a spacious sound to let the groove ride and the warm mixture of guitars, pedal steel and firm percussion settle nicely.
It’s just that the song, ultimately, is a nostalgia song that I’ve heard done better this year alone, with the gold standard thus far coming from Runaway June. Granted, there’s a lot of earnestness in Moore’s delivery that’s a welcome reprieve from his more obnoxious, country pride-leaning side; he’s improving. But the images used feel just like that – stock images that don’t really connect for a distinctive story or anything all that memorable in the end. It’s pretty good, but I’d like to hear more. I like where he’s going sonically, though. (Strong 6/10)
Meghan Patrick, “My First Car” (written by Meghan Patrick, Joey Hyde and Adam Craig)
Oh, I’m happy to see Meghan Patrick receive a push toward U.S. country radio. She’s been cranking out some fairly solid music in Canada for quite some time, including the fairly underrated Country Music Made Me Do It from 2018.
This first single over here, however, is an unfortunate step back in just about every way. Patrick still a strong vocalist that fits somewhere between Terri Clark and Pam Tillis with the strong twang in her delivery, and I like the distinct 2000s country edge in the production. The problem is that it’s channeling the worst of Gretchen Wilson, where the guitars are cranked, the banjo inclusion feels like a token effort, and the drums feel way too loud and contribute to what can only be described as a cluttered mess. Why modern country songs feel they need to stilt their groove sections is beyond me.
As for the lyrical content, we have another nostalgia song, only I greatly prefer what Justin Moore was going for in his effort as opposed to this, where the ultimate point is her finding acceptance from country people by doing country things in the country. It’s a laundry list of 2010s country tropes and clichés that are long past their expiration date, including a really ill-timed Joe Diffie reference. Again, most Canadian crossovers aren’t here the for long haul anyway, but if is the first taste of new music we’re getting from Patrick, I’m afraid that visit may be cut even shorter. And that’s a shame, because she’s way better than this. (Light 5/10)