A whopping five tracks to discuss for this week, and I still somehow got this out on time. Anyway, onward!
Vandoliers, “Howlin’” (written by Joshua Fleming and Vandoliers)
Well, it’s about time I got to something from this group, given that they’re releasing a new album next week and I’ve always had a pretty favorable view toward their output – and they certainly deserve the boost, given that they’re another casualty of the unfortunate Bloodshot Records fallout. Yes, Joshua Fleming’s lead vocals have always been … let’s go with “interesting,” but in melding that very brash, forward tone with an old-school alt-country-meets-punk melting pot of sound, this is a band that’s always had a knack for crafting stacked melodic hooks. And from that opening blast of fiddle and harmonica that gives way to that big sweeping waltz-like shuffle, that remains true with “Howlin’.” It’s not quite as brash or fast-paced as their other material, but it’s just as anthemic in that slow-building rollick, if a bit oversold and broadly sketched, in its simple “I miss you” conceit. In other words, it’s really not that far removed from this band’s wheelhouse after all, but it’s just an overall well-balanced, simple song that probably makes for my favorite of their pre-release tracks thus far. Great stuff. Boom.
And now, our three new entries to this week’s country airplay top 40:
No. 36 – Jason Aldean, “That’s What Tequila Does” (written by John Morgan, John Edwards, Tully Kennedy, and Kurt Allison)
Wait, didn’t I just review this exact same Jason Aldean song earlier this year?
In all seriousness, despite my overall reaction to his output bordering more on “meh” than anything outright scathing, it’s been a real chore to review Aldean’s music for way too long now, if only because his output has been so aggressively dull.
The public wants to reward him for that, however, so we’re back with another dour heartbreak track that doesn’t have the muscle in either the production or the writing to leave much of an impact on me. I can see we’re back to having the snap percussion overtake the mix and leaving any guitar passages here offer more tone than outright texture, leaving this song feeling as flavorless as pretty much everything else in his discography. And then there’s the writing, which oddly switches between first and second person framing but doesn’t really do anything interesting with it, other than offer another broadly sketched heartbreak track without any distinctive bite or character for this already familiar trope of drowning misery with alcoholism. And it’s not like Aldean the performer is ever going to save a track like this; he actually sounds uncomfortably out of his range on the chorus. I’ll end things off by saying what I’ve said about his last however many releases: not bad, but I’ll forget this in record time.
No. 38 – Dierks Bentley, “Gold” (written by Dierks Bentley, Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman, and Luke Dick)
Moving on to something more interesting, apparently this is the lead single to Dierks Bentley’s next album. It’s long overdue, but I also find it fascinating that they’re leaving “Gone” and “Beers On Me” as standalone singles. I mean, I think they’re terrible, but they’re decent sized hits, and Bentley – being the pragmatic performer that he’s always been – was due for a more commercially viable album after two passion projects in The Mountain and the Hot Country Knights side project.
Unfortunately, while I do think “Gold” is a bit better than those two aforementioned singles, I’m still pretty underwhelmed by this as a whole. Maybe it’s because it’s a broadly sketched motivational track that reminds me way too much of a lesser “I Hold On,” just without the driving intensity and passionate lyrics that made that track connect so well. This feels oddly anonymous as a whole, not helped by some muddy vocal blending on the chorus or the fact that Bentley himself sounds distanced as a whole on a track with a fairly choppy groove. It’s overall harmless, but I’ve heard Bentley strike actual gold plenty of times before, and this ain’t it.
No. 39 – Nate Smith, “Whiskey On You” (written by Nate Smith, Lindsay Rimes, and Russell Sutton)
Friend and frequent collaborator Kyle Akers recently made the observation that, with the recent increase in anger-fueled tracks on the charts right now, we’ve exited the boyfriend country era and entered the ex-boyfriend one: a claim made all the more noticeable by recent tracks from Mitchell Tenpenny, Morgan Wallen, and Bailey Zimmerman climbing the charts right now. With the exception of Zimmerman (and that’s only because I don’t mind “Fall in Love”), I don’t find it an appealing crew, but thankfully it seems to be a much smaller trend right now (there’s a very fine line between how well anger can come across and how it can lead to tracks like, say, “Redneck Crazy”). And with newcomer Nate Smith entering that same fray with an anger-fueled debut single … eh, it’s surprisingly harmless, if only for being aggressively dull over, well, actually aggressive.
It might actually be a good thing the writing is pretty nondescript as a whole, where he refuses to waste good whiskey drowning out his heartache because his partner moved on quicker than he did. It’s pretty underwritten as a whole, reliant on only two verses – and even that second verse feels more like a weak bridge above all else – and not a lot of detail as to why this relationship failed or why we should care about it anyway. Again, though, that might be for the better, given that this avoids being as toxic as the hard-charged tone and Smith’s angry, gravelly tone could have easily made it. Really, for a track opting for revenge-fueled heft, it’s surprisingly limp overall in production and tone. Nothing new for the majority of the male newcomers I review through this feature, but this is one instance where I’m glad this is forgettable.
And now, (finally!) this week’s throwback review:
Clint Black, “Nothing’s News” (written by Clint Black)
Ah, the final single from Clint Black’s iconic debut album. I’m almost sad to see it here, but this is a pretty fitting final single for it anyway – a quaint, reflective, melancholic ode to what was and what isn’t coming back around. It’s not as immediate as the classic singles that came before it, I admit, but that’s part of the point. It’s more of a subtle nod to growing older and realizing you don’t really fit in with your old haunts and that your glory days are behind you – even if you’re always free to reminiscence on them, and even if those final few lines seem to suggest that who you are now probably isn’t as bad as – maybe possibly even better than – the person you were before. It’s a bit underwritten in the surrounding details and doesn’t feel like everything comes together quite as well by its end, but for something more relaxed and reliant on its quaint atmosphere, it works well enough.