Quick Draw Single Reviews: Vol. 18 (Jade Bird, Randall King, Thomas Rhett)

Quick Draw Single Reviews is a recurring feature where I cover multiple new country airplay singles and standalone songs in a gauntlet style format.

Jade Bird, “Headstart” (written by Jade Bird)

These days, it’s hard to know what to make of new music releases. I certainly didn’t expect a new single from Jade Bird just one year after her debut album release, especially, you know, now, but as a self-described way to “give a bit of joy to the end of the year,” new single “Headstart” is pretty solid. Now, it’s very much playing in the same lane as that debut, which I don’t mind. I like the punchy, rollicking, melodic interplay between the drums and guitars and the slight uptick in energy on the chorus, especially when that’s where Bird shines. Which is to say, though, that the verses feel oddly hushed, and not in a way that’s trying to utilize a soft-loud dynamic effectively. The production drowns her out a bit on the chorus, though I do think she’s got the personality and charisma to shine above it. And I get the scattered whiplash to an extent, what with the focus on the frustrations that come with a guy who can’t take the hint that she likes him. Now, playing to that debut album, sonically, is a bit of a cheat code for my enjoyment, and I wouldn’t say it’s quite as great as the best songs from that album. But as a next step, it certainly aimed its mark for me. (7/10)

Randall King, “Hey Moon” (written by Randall King and Mark Nesler)

Randall King is set to release a new EP in December, dedicated to his late sister, Leanna, and while there’s been a lot of standalone releases from him over the past year and a half, you can tell this new project will likely (and understandably) be something heavier altogether. I’ve discussed a few scattered singles from him this year, and this may be one of his best songs yet. Yes, it’s a bit plaintive and cliché in the framing of a man having an imaginary conversation to null his pain, but for one, King actually acknowledges that, and the entire affair rings as a desperate plea to not wish for someone back so much as wish them the best wherever they are. And that’s the twist, in that it’s a song from a father dedicated to a daughter, where the broader framing works well to sell the sentiment and feels earnest. Sure, it’s another obvious ‘90s throwback with the softer acoustics and interweaving of pedal steel and fiddle, but when King pulls off the sound this well, it’s hard to complain, especially when the general conceit leads the listener to believe, at first, that it’s just a useless, desperate, yet comfortable plea for stability. Simple, sure, but effective, too. Great stuff. (Light 8/10)

Thomas Rhett, “What’s Your Country Song” (written by Thomas Rhett, Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure, Parker Welling and Rhett Akins)

I’m starting to think I gave Thomas Rhett way too much credit for “Marry Me” from a few years ago, which is one of those songs that, to be fair, makes you question every past opinion you’ve ever had on an artist. But while he’s long moved past his obnoxious bro-country days, when the alternative is just boring boyfriend-country, it’s debatable whether “more tolerable, but less interesting” is an actual improvement. In other words, I can’t deny I didn’t do a double take when I saw that his new single was titled “What’s Your Country Song,” but again, it’s not so much bad as it is terribly uninteresting. More than that, it reads like a song where the songwriters have, at best, a rudimentary knowledge of the genre and just Googled its best songs. There’s certainly no continuity to the references made or any attempt at a story – just a way to force a connection through checklist songwriting. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment – I’ve always been of the mind that there’s no objective way to analyze music and that certain songs will hit us differently than they will for others, if only for our own personal reasons. But between the loud, synthetic production and fake percussion, Rhett and his team didn’t even bother to make it sound, you know, like a country song. The attempt feels earnest, but I’ll forget this in record time. (Light 5/10)

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