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 thoughts on new singles from Eric Church, Lucero, Shenandoah with Ashley McBryde, and Kalie Shorr, plus a quick link to a review on Dierks Bentley’s newest subpar single, “Gone,” for Country Universe.
Eric Church, “Hell of a View” (written by Eric Church, Casey Beathard and Monty Criswell)
I know that artists have had to get creative with their release schedules this year, but I have to say, I’m a bit surprised Eric Church, of all artists, is following the pretty standard modern formula of releasing a few scattered singles – with no confirmed album yet, I might add. So far, though, they’ve been mostly solid! Yes, “Bad Mother Trucker” is fairly corny, but “Stick That In Your Country Song” and “Crazyland” have been excellent, even if it’s obvious why country radio was afraid to push the former track any higher than it did.
So, in typical Church fashion, here’s a second radio single that sounds a bit more friendly in the vein of, say, “Springsteen” or “Some of It” … and I mean that as a compliment, given how much I like those songs and how much I like this more than I was initially expecting to. Yes, it’s a pretty standard tale of devotion that’s caught plenty of attention in the boyfriend-country era, but there’s a deeper production balance offered in the guitars and keys that give the track a surprising amount of ragged punch and convey the simultaneous joy and anguish of “making it” thus far. Yes, it’s framed through somewhat of an outsider’s lens, but it’s less concerned with any posturing and focuses more, instead, on how they’re equals that compliment each other in their own weird, idiosyncratic ways. In other words, I dig this, and even if, again, there’s nothing confirmed on the horizon just yet (though it’s worth noting that Church is definitely a “surprise album” kind of artist), this is shaping up to be a good era for Church. (Light 8/10)
Lucero, “Outrun the Moon” (written by Ben Nichols)
Personally, a new Lucero album to kick off 2021 sounds like a good way to kick this year to the curb. I’ll admit I haven’t loved a complete album from the band in a while, though they still have their moments, and I stand by tracks from Among the Ghosts as being some of the best of 2018. Plus, given that I liked the overall shift back toward their earlier sound on that last album, the thought of keeping producer Matt Ross-Spang on board sounded enticing.
Judging by the first single off the upcoming project, it still is, though there is a noticeable shift toward a hazier, atmospheric rock edge with a bit of an ‘80s flair without overindulging in that time period’s worst tendencies. That’s a good thing, too, as while I would say the bass can feel a bit flat in the mix at points, the choice to keep the overall balance dark lends itself nicely to the brooding feeling evident in the lyrical content, which finds a young woman running away from an abusive home after it’s suggested that she killed her stepfather. Sure, it focuses a bit more on the anger and angst captured within that specific moment rather than fleshing out the deeper details, but not without sacrificing the heart-pounding momentum that gives the track its mystique. I won’t say Ben Nichols is the right vocalist to stretch that hook, but that’s a minor nitpick for a pretty great song. I’m looking forward to hearing more. (Light 8/10)
Shenandoah with Ashley McBryde, “If Only” (written by Lori McKenna, Phil Barton and Jaron Boyer)
I say this with respect to Shenandoah, but the buzz surrounding this new single seems to have more to do with Ashley McBryde than them, given that they’ve released a few other pre-release tracks off their newest album with the Zac Brown Band and Lady A – two acts that only seem to garner negative attention these days.
The upcoming collaborative effort seems like a sweet endeavor, though; I’m just questioning how the group that gave us “The Church on Cumberland Road” and “Another Sunday in the South” gave us this new single. Right away, the bright, bland synthetic production just doesn’t sound good for this band and scans as a desperate ploy for relevancy. It gets a bit more tolerable as the track progresses and the guitar and slight pedal steel licks come in, but the overall mix is way too saccharine.
Which, on that note, brings us to the lyrical content, and yet another example of a nostalgia song yearning for the “good ol’ days” by listing off a bunch of laundry list tropes of a perfect world that never existed in the first place. I’ve never cared much for these tracks, mostly because of how preachy they get and how much they utterly miss the point. “Forgetting the bad” won’t erase any problems, y’all; it’ll just create more of them. Nice try with the Hallmark sentiment and all, but this isn’t particularly good, and not even McBryde saves it, sadly. (Light 4/10)
Kalie Shorr, “My Voice” (written by Kalie Shorr, Skip Black, Simon Reid and Fred Wilhelm)
I’m happy for this. I may not have personally loved Kalie Shorr’s Open Book from last year, but like others who heard it, I was intrigued by its potential and her strikingly blunt, honest songwriting perspective.
Let’s get real, though; country radio wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, so here’s yet another case of a female country artist being forced to work around the system, signing with the New York City-based Tmwrk Records earlier this year. As for her major label debut single … man, I really wish I liked this more than I do. Granted, overproduction was my big nitpick with Open Book, and what with this song being recorded right around the same time as the making of that album, it very easily could have been on it.
Here’s the thing, too, Shorr can be this headstrong in her subject matter while still offering nuance in ripping away the darker veneer of the industry around her. This reminds me more of tracks like “Gatsby” or “F U Forever,” where the lyrical flow feels clunky and sort of immature in its daggers thrown. And for a track called “My Voice,” you’d think it’d be the one element to shine. Granted, she is a bit thin and nasal, but that doesn’t mean she has to be buried in the mix on the chorus and fight over the production. And by teasing the audience by framing it around the criticisms of her limitations and purposefully stretching out certain lines, it’s not bad, but it’s not a great first step, either. A better one would have been “Alice in Wonderland.” (Strong 5/10)