Friday, October 1, 2010

Gary Allan, "Kiss Me When I'm Down"/ Jerrod Niemann, "What Do You Want"

In these new songs by Gary Allan and Jerrod Niemann, two characters face similar situations, and give entirely different reactions.  It's a scenario not unheard of in country music.  Relationship ends.  Lover leaves.  Estranged lover keeps returning with no intention of staying, thus only inflicting further hurt.  While Jerrod is tired of being taken advantage of by his ex, Gary misses his woman so much that he's willing to let her use him.

Both songs have strong lyrics that tell their stories effectively.  "Kiss Me When I'm Down" utilizes forceful lines to pack a powerful punch ("Waste my candles, Waste my time... Kick me to the ground/ Kiss me when I'm down").  While the simpler lyrics of "What Do You Want" do not have the same poetic flair, they do convey honesty and emotion, while eliciting listener sympathy at the same time.  Lines like "You know what it does to me to see your number on the phone" and "When we hang up it's like I'm losing you again" make it hard not to feel the man's pain.

There are a few major differences between these two offerings.  Most notably, they are on total opposite ends of the production spectrum.  Here again, Jerrod opts for simplicity, settling for a primarily acoustic arrangement backed by soft keyboard notes and a subtle pulsing beat.  In contrast, Gary amps it up with a heavy rock power ballad arrangement, featuring electric guitar riffs and string sections along with some genre-pandering steel guitar fills.  The strings were probably overkill, and it is a slightly overwhelming listen.

Both vocalists earn high marks for performance.  Gary pours every ounce of soul into his delivery of "Kiss Me When I'm Down," and he flat-out sells it.  Jerrod's take on "What Do You Want" is soft and low-key, but equally believable.  He sounds run-down and tired from being repeatedly hurt so many times.  Differing production styles and vocal interpretations make these two songs sounds as different as night and day, but a major asset for both is that each vocalist sounds fully connected with the song's lyrics.

It's interesting to note how two artists can take a similar concept, and run in entirely different directions with it.  But thanks to the strong performances, both attempts are more than successful.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)