I feel like I’ve neglected mainstream country music thus far this year, so this review roundup will be meant to help me catch up with what’s connecting at radio, what’s connecting with the public, and what’s not connecting at all. Not many of these reviews are timely, but what else is new, right? Onward!
Corey Kent, “Wild As Her” (written by Brett Tyler, Kelly Archer, and Morgan Wallen)
I’m catching this more on the tail end of its run, I know, but upon seeing Corey Kent’s name within the top 10 of the airplay chart, I wanted to dig a little further into the background. When in doubt these days, TikTok usually provides the needed answers and context, and … well, that’s certainly an element of it, but Kent has actually been releasing projects since the mid-2010s coming off of The Voice; good on him for making a better segue off of that than most, then, I guess. I just wish I could say it translated to a better first impression, because while I actually really like the play on a familiar sentiment here – another song about appreciating a girl, only she’s a free-spirit in control of the ride and he’s just hoping to be lucky enough to stick around for it – the oddly dour instrumental tones try to conjure up a danger and mystique that don’t really come together in the content. It also doesn’t help that Kent is too thin of a vocal presence to make up for that lack of heaviness. It’s not bad; for as much as the details don’t really fluctuate, again, I do like the sentiment. I’m just not sure I see Kent sticking around for the long haul yet.
Ashley McBryde, “Light On In The Kitchen” (written by Ashley McBryde, Connie Harrington, and Jessi Alexander)
Given the nature of Ashley McBryde’s Lindeville concept collaboration from last year, I’m not surprised we have this new single working parallel to that project in a more direct bid for radio airplay. And hey, I’ll certainly never complain about new music from her. “Light On In The Kitchen,” then, gets back to the basics in more ways than one. I certainly enjoy the touches of lighter acoustics and mandolin playing off the softer percussion to center the lyrical content better, even if this feels like it’s missing a stronger anchoring point and can start to feel a bit too sleepy and quaint after a while.
Of course, that’s a nice segue into the content itself, where McBryde is enough of a tempered, seasoned performer to sell what is ostensibly a broadly sketched, checklist motherly advice song with actual sincerity, especially when it’s told from the point-of-view of her running back through said advice once offered to her as she figures out her place in the world. It’s subtle, but it’s a nice detail, even if this also maybe feels like a Lori McKenna copycat in some regards and without some of the deeper detail to match. That, however, is far from a bad lane to play toward, so even if it’s not quite among my immediate favorites from her, it’s still a winner.
Tim McGraw, “Standing Room Only” (written by Craig Wiseman, Patrick Murphy, and Tommy Cecil)
For the most part, even this far into his career, Tim McGraw has usually been a reliable name for quality material. His lead singles can be incredibly hit or miss, though, and while I wouldn’t say “Standing Room Only” is part of the latter camp, it is a somewhat weaker offering nonetheless. Granted, huge motivational numbers like these have been a part of his discography since nearly the beginning, and he’s an excellent enough emotive interpreter to typically keep them grounded (for example, with “Live Like You Were Dying”). But between the broadly sketched affirmations here that skew closer to lukewarm platitudes above all else in wanting to live a life that will be inspirational enough to leave the funeral as standing room only, and production that feels equally rooted in washed-out, early 2000s adult-contemporary through how synthetic and plastic it can feel, this doesn’t have a lot of actual power to it – just noise.
Jelly Roll, “Need a Favor” (written by Austin Nivarel, Jason DeFord, Joe Ragosta, and Rob Ragosta)
I didn’t know what to make of Jelly Roll when he first debuted in country music with “Son of a Sinner,” but that song was a surprisingly restrained, powerful, and damn-near confessional moment of vulnerability, even if it was still a bit boilerplate in the actual details. Basically, I still don’t really know what to make of him, and while I found that track more interesting than outright great, I’m a bit more immediately onboard with “Need a Favor.” The production does play to a pretty conventional post-grunge setup off the dour acoustics, and those backing vocals that kick in after a while sound oddly mixed. But with the added bit of fiddle working nicely off of his huskier tone, this is much rawer and more rough-around-the-edges than expected once again. And I’d say the same for the content, especially in country music, where him outright acknowledging he’s only using faith as a crutch for his own personal advantage at his lower points is honestly kind of ballsy and probably more relatable than some would like to admit. An unexpected winner of this bunch, but this is pretty great. Boom.
Ingrid Andress, “Wish You Would” (written by Dave Barnes, Ingrid Andress, and Paul DiGiovanni)
Call this last selection a bonus track, mostly because I don’t tend to cover deluxe releases of older albums too often, and that I’m doing so because I’ve mostly been in Ingrid Andress’ corner over the years. Granted, even despite the sheen of pedal steel that creeps up in the low end groove every so often, this track is definitely one of hers to lean way more heavily in the pop direction – or is just there altogether, really. But I’ve loved it since I first heard it, if only because it nails the basics with a really well-defined, AM groove and melodic hook and goes further with the writing, which finds Andress once again tackling complex relationships with a blunt honesty and added nuance. It’s another case where said relationship has run its course and her character’s partner is trying to let her down easy, only she wants him to come right out with it, because at least his flightier tendencies wouldn’t weigh her down any longer. OK, so it’s a bit more toxic in description than execution, but she straddles the line for what it is and once again doesn’t leave any hard feelings between them – it’s more just the admission that she’s a free-spirited soul looking to hitch a different ride in life than he is, where there doesn’t have to be anything wrong between them for it to just end. I dig it. Boom.
3 thoughts on “The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – #2 (2023): (Ashley McBryde, Tim McGraw, etc.)”
Nice chat there on some interesting songs. My jury is still out on Jelly Roll, I enjoyed that Ashley song though.
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I’ve been on the Corey Kent bandwagon for a while. I discovered him through his 2020 album From the West. It’s a more muted and acoustic album then his current harder rock neo aldean sound. Very reflective and relatable writing. His tone is thin admittedly but because the production wasn’t too intense, it worked. Stark contrast with his current material that to me totally doesn’t land. Short must listen album
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Interesting; I’ll have to check out his earlier stuff!