Back when mainstream country music was the only realm of country music I knew about, I always kept an eye out for under-the-radar artists. The kind of artists who put out good music on major labels, but didn’t get a lot of radio play. One of these artists that caught my eye was Greg Bates. It was his debut single “Did It For The Girl” that specifically caught my attention. It was actually iTunes Free Single of the Week (which might actually be killed off by iTunes starting this year) and thought hey I’ll give it a listen for free. While the song was a little campy, I liked Bates’ voice and the traditional sound of the song. It ended up reaching #5 on the U.S. Country Airplay chart in 2012. The follow-up single, “Fill in the Blank,” which I thought was an even better song only reached #45 on the Country Airplay chart.
Bates then drifted off the mainstream radar and quietly parted ways with the Republic Nashville label (an imprint of Big Machine Records) at the end of 2013. To me it sounded like another artist getting ate up and spit back out by the Nashville machine because he didn’t conform to their standards. Maybe that was true. I’m not sure. He is now an independent artist on his own and just released his new single, “Sand.” In fact him and his producer Frank Rogers funded this completely out of their own pockets, which I admit is quite an admirable endeavor.
The song begins with a pop/adult contemporary beat and Bates’ voice being put through a machine to give it an “echo effect.” Yep that damn technique has reared its ugly head once again. And then you get these lyrics on top of it:
“We couldn’t wait to get down on that beach
We had a football and some fake IDs/A place to crash a hundred feet from the sand
A Maaco cooler and a radio/A Natty Light and a pack of smokes/Yeah we were on a roll”
The beach? Check. Reference a sport? Check. Name an alcohol brand? Check. We got ourselves a checklist, party, pop country song. But there’s more! It’s a nostalgic song that reflects on the memories of hanging out with a girl on the beach. It’s a party love song. How original! Bates sings that time passed that summer like “grains through an hour-glass.” Groan. I thought Florida Georgia Line only chose laughably terrible cliché lyrics in the chorus of their songs. Although it’s not quite as bad as Florida Georgia Line’s “Angel.”
This song is bland and has been done so many times in the last five years that I can’t take it seriously. What is the threshold country music has to reach for vanilla, pop country songs before they stop making them? Then again mainstream country fans keep buying it, so they’re going to keep cranking them out. The labels love this type of song too because it’s commercial and sponsor friendly. I will say when Bates’ voice isn’t put through the machine, it sounds good. The lyrics are bad, but not the worst in the world. That’s about all the nice things I can say about this song.
I’m sure “Sand” will do quite well on the charts and radio if it’s given a chance, especially during the warmer months coming up. It’s a summer song in the same vein as Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” There’s no word yet on when Bates is releasing an album. I hope it’s much better than this song, but I’m not hopeful. I’m afraid he’s going to do exactly what Joe Nichols’ did this past year and make music that appeals to the popular sound. It would be a shame because Bates is a talented artist capable of much more. I recommend avoiding “Sand.”
To hear Greg Bates’ “Sand,” click here.
[Correction & Update: Originally I stated in my review that Greg Bates was still signed with Big Machine Records. This was a careless mistake on my part and I apologize for it. I always strive to be accurate in my posts and unfortunately I slipped up. Therefore it was inaccurate saying Bates sold out to Nashville when he’s in fact an independent artist. I still stand by my review though and find the song to be a disappointment.]