I’ve definitely seen this film before: Mainstream country singer sees their mainstream success dwindle and tries to hang on for dear life, only for it to fail. They usually end up going independent, and it’s there where they either record the material they’ve wanted to all along, or … try to hang on once again for dear life.
Joe Nichols is kind of the odd, rare exception, in that while his material has slowly shifted more toward the warmer neotraditional tones he started with in his career, it’s also felt compromised on his past few albums by stabs at modern trend-chasing – which have ranged from harmless to outright horrendous. In other words, I was hoping a shift away from Red Bow Records would finally result in a consistent effort from Nichols. To his credit, Good Day For Living is probably both his most solid and consistent project in over a decade, but there’s still that compromise present that holds it back from being better. It’s likable and serviceable, but really just “OK.”
Really, that oddly disjointed feeling shows right away on the opener, “Heartbroke,” which basically laments how no one is heartbroke anymore in country music and wants to just go party. So, OK, it’s basically a bro-country protest song that’s nearly a decade late to the party … and a William Michael Morgan cover from 2018. Still dated even for then, but it also doesn’t make as much sense now coming from the artist who benefited from the bro-country era with a song like “Yeah.”
Even if I was giving Nichols the benefit of the doubt and confining the song to its context on this particular album, there’s not a lot of heartbreak present here, at least with any real heft or drama to it. It’s all presented much more maturely, though, and beyond being a good country singer, Nichols has always possessed an easy rollick that’s lended a natural charm to his material. He even teams up with Blake Shelton on “I’ve Got Friends That Do,” and they both possess the chemistry to make it a decently fun time. There’s no obvious duds this time around, outside of the clunky attempt at funk with a stiff groove on “Screened In” maybe, although him making excuses for his problems in the vein of “God forgave me, so my woman should” on “Why Can’t She” probably irked me more.
I think the real problem is that Nichols has always been more known for his singing than his writing, so a lot of the material here feels lacking in deeper dramatic stakes to really stick, or just feels out of place for him to sing. I mean, there’s a Chris Janson cover of “Hawaii On Me” (this album really is just an obscure covers project, huh?), and while it’s generally breezy and heartfelt, you can tell it was written specifically for Janson’s family. With Nichols it just feels colder and more distanced. And that’s where I’d also place songs like the needed come down of “Home Run” or “That’s How I Grew Up” – songs with nice sentiments that just lack the lyrical heft to be all that memorable, even if Nichols sounds sincere in his delivery of them. It’s telling that there’s a Mark Chesnutt cover of “She Was” to close off the project, which is probably the one track to feel really lived-in and more reliant on its storytelling to work; it’s a fantastic cover.
Of course, if we’re talking about material devoid of deeper drama, it doesn’t help that this is some of the most polished production I’ve heard for neotraditional tones in quite some time, and where I can tell Nichols is still possibly holding out hope for one last hit. And it’s not even that “Home Run” or “Reckon” feature a bit more of a synthetic presentation; they’re fine. It’s that outside of the gentle, warm, defiantly neotraditional rollick of “One Two Step Closer” or “She Was,” a lot of the production and instrumentation incorporates a lot of polish that makes this album sound fairly homogeneous as a whole. In short, Good Day For Living is generally breezy, likable and certainly worth a listen, but at this point in his career, I admit I hope for more from Nichols.
- Favorite tracks: “One Two Step Closer,” “She Was,” “Good Day For Living,” “I’ve Got Friends That Do” (feat. Blake Shelton)
- Least favorite track: “Why Can’t She”