Old Dominion are a band whose name has been bandied about for the past year or so. They’ve released a handful of singles to country radio (‘Dirt On A Road’, ‘Shut Me Up’ and ‘Break Up With Him’), which just about peaked in the top 60 (the latter, in all fairness, has only recently been released), while a few other tracks have been floating around the internet, joining their live shows in building their fan base. Their self-titled debut EP hit stores last October, only reaching #33 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and selling 6,800 copies, but it’s not bad for a band on a tiny label (ReeSmack Records) with virtually no promotion. Co-produced by famed country songwriter Shane McAnally (who part-owns the label), the band met him while writing songs for other people.
And when I say writing songs for other people, I mean hit songs. Lead singer Matt Ramsey co-wrote The Band Perry’s ‘Chainsaw’, while he collaborated with rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Trevor Rosen on Dierks Bentley’s ‘Say You Do’ and Craig Morgan’s ‘Wake Up Lovin’ You’. Trevor has in turn co-writing credits on Chris Young’s ‘Neon’, and The Band Perry’s ‘Better Dig Two’, while lead guitarist Brad Tursi had a hand in writing Tyler Farr’s ‘A Guy Walks Into A Bar’, as well as several songs for Kenny Chesney, The Randy Rogers Band and the TV show Nashville. The group also collectively have cuts with Jake Owen, Keith Urban, and Luke Bryan. Not bad for a band most haven’t even heard of.
So, you’re thinking. Where can I hear my next favorite band? Well, not so fast. Old Dominion are curious as an entity precisely because the songs they write for other artists don’t reflect the music they make together. All of the above songs have strayed from the typical beer-girl-truck-party formula that makes bro-country so polarizing, and in some cases these are downright great, modern country songs with a lot of depth and heart. So how do they differ from ‘Dirt On A Road’, ‘Shut Me Up’, and ‘Break Up With Him’? Well, for starters, much of their lyrics dig right into the beer-girl-truck-party trend that is lazy and offensive songwriting at its finest. And then there’s their sound, with runs somewhere between modern country, pop, R&B, rock and hip hop – to the point where in the same song you can hear one of those R&B drum loops underneath a rap that directly echoes Sam Hunt (it should be noted, Shane McAnally has a producing credit on the albums of both), before a chorus that replicates the generic faux-rock, radio-friendly country songs that dominate these days.
So in short, Old Dominion sound like a cross between Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt. It’s true, they are a little more “country” than Sam, but what of their music is country is not necessarily great. Sure, ‘Shut Me Up’, with its quick-paced electric guitar strumming, rawer rock sound, and catchy rhythmic delivery, is an enjoyable listen but is unfortunately burdened with lyrics that represent a cheesy pick-up line. And while it could definitely be worse, I don’t want to let this track off the hook just because it isn’t the most ridiculously offensive thing I’ve ever heard. Because really, if these guys are capable of so much better, why are they going down this unoriginal and poorly-written route?
I should say that bridging the gap between mainstream country and Sam Hunt is something that is very lucrative, and I’m sure as they settle into their stride they’ll make some more headway on radio and start getting interest from the major labels. And new single ‘Break Up With Him’ builds on the sudden interest in that kind of hip hop delivery that Sam Hunt’s ‘Take Your Time’ has really kicked into high gear. So, with the right promotion, it could be at least a top 40 hit, and if it were released on a major label I’m sure it’d get to a good top 20 spot. There’s no denying these guys are commercial but smart enough to add a new flavor. It’s just that I’m sat here listening to the lyrics, which implore a girl to break up with her boyfriend in order to date the narrator, and they remind me of the idea that guys in bars don’t care that you’re in a relationship. If I had a dime for the amount of times a guy has said “so? He’s not here”, when I’ve removed his arm from around my waist, stating that I am not interested and I am taken, I would be freaking rich. So many drunk guys (and weirdos on the internet) assume that girls will happily cheat on their significant others just because they’ve asked them to. It’s presumptuous, rude, and overstepping so many lines.
And while the track is not asking the girl to cheat on her boyfriend but just break up with him, it does irritatingly assume that she is unhappy, by telling her she’s not feeling the relationship. How about actually asking her first? The lyric is predatory, annoying, and reeks of CGS (Creepy Guy Syndrome). I don’t want that kind of crap on my radio.
So the verdict on Old Dominion? Eh. Not good. Stick to writing songs for other people.