When listening to any kind of music, I can pretty much tell you after a few listens what I think of the song or album. It’s kind of important as a reviewer of music. For example, the first time I listened to The Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me” I knew this was a good song. Just like the first time I heard Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” I knew it was terrible. While it can be described in words, feeling is a big part of the listener experience. Very rarely do I listen to a song and not have any idea how to feel about it. Well one of those rare moments arose when I listened to newcomer Ruthie Collins’ new single “Ramblin’ Man.” And the reason I have this feeling of confusion is there’s so much going on with this song.
For those who don’t recognize it, this song was originally done by Hank Williams. Yes, on her debut single Collins chose to cover the legendary Hank Williams. Talk about ballsy! Oh but that’s not it. She samples the icon’s voice in the song. Okay, but there’s even more. She incorporates drum loops into the song, aka inserts EDM influences into it. So to recap: this is Ruthie Collins debut single, it’s a Hank song, an icon is sampled and EDM is mixed with country music. See what I meant when I said this song has a lot going on? It’s a lot to take in.
The instrumentation in the song used outside of the drum loops and dance beats are bluegrass instruments. Collins voice for the most part is unaltered and is actually quite good. You can’t say she doesn’t have a great voice. The song itself of course is about a rambling man who has a thirst for the open road. Collins though flips the song and sings it from the female perspective, so it’s about how she watches her man continue to leave her for the open road. By the end of the song, the rambling man’s lifestyle catches up with him. As Collins sings, God called home the rambling man.
After giving the song several listens, I wanted to see if Collins had any further information about the making of this song. Luckily, there’s a video on her YouTube page that explains who she is and the making of this song. You can see the video below. The part though that caught my interest is when she talks about “Ramblin’ Man.” She starts to talk about it at the 2:40 mark, although I recommend watching the whole thing because she’s actually quite a charming person and is very candid about the country industry.
Right after talking about how producers push her to a more “poppy” sound, despite her saying that her voice isn’t meant for that, here’s what she says regarding “Ramblin’ Man”:
“But I wanted to be modern sounding at the same time. So the way that we kind of brought that element in is through these really interesting like drum programming. So you really get that cool modern energy, but you’re still basing the sound around these really, organic old-fashioned instruments.
“Ramblin’ Man” was sort of an idea that came out of a writing session. I was like, ‘Man has anyone sampled an old country song?’ And instantly I was like, ‘I know how to do this! We have to do this now.’ You know this is such a cool idea. I just Googled the lyrics on my iPhone and started singing and the melody just came out of nowhere. I don’t know where it came from, but I sang it down the first time and we have never changed the melody since. It was really one of those just…okay it was really meant to happen. We just started working on the track and I took it into Curb and everybody flipped out and it just kind of changed everything for me lately.
To me this was just such a cool thing to bring these old elements of this beautiful, classic country song, but give it a modern twist and bring it to 2014.”
Before I tell you what my ultimate thoughts are on this song, I have to put into context where I’m coming from as a listener because I found myself re-examining my experience of listening to country music. Before I became a “born-again country music fan,” I tried my hardest to accept “the evolution of country music.”, aka the Florida Georgia Line type songs. I tried to reason that rap country and bro-country were reasonable music. In the end I realized I was lying to myself and that this was garbage of course. My heart was never truly into this music, only my brain trying to make the hurdles so to speak. But the one thing I kept from this brief moment of time as a music listener was an open mind. That’s something I still try to keep with me until this day because there’s always an opportunity to introduce a new sound, while still keeping the integrity of the genre.
With all of this being said, I think “Ramblin’ Man” is a song that is completely unnecessary. I applaud the tenacity and attempted creativity by Collins to try to reinvent an old song with her own twist. Ultimately though this isn’t really creative at all. An artist shouldn’t have to rely on a past song to make their own creative song. They should be able to create something of their own, completely by themselves. A Hank Williams song should never be reinvented, let alone have EDM introduced with it. Not to mention that isn’t a long-lasting, sustainable sound. As coined by Trigger at Saving Country Music, this “metro-politan” music in country right now is just a fad (by the way if you haven’t read that piece by Trigger, go do this). It will not be remembered decades from now.
A true form of art comes from the heart, not a drum machine. A true artist catches people’s ears with their storytelling and songwriting. Ruthie Collins has the talent and skills to capture people’s attention with her dynamic voice and storytelling. Relying on a drum machine to do this is quite frankly beneath her and as much as she seems to be behind the idea, I don’t buy it. Those producers who push her to sound more “poppy” sound like the culprits behind it more than anything. As notable country critic Grady Smith has said though, this will be a smash hit on radio. It will also be one of the most polarizing country songs of the year. If you like this song, I don’t blame you. It’s quite catchy and easy to dance to. It’s not a offensively bad song, but it would be wrong to call it good too. I judge “Ramblin’ Man” based on what it’s labeled. It’s labeled country when it clearly is not, therefore on principal I dismiss it. This is a fad and fads are what is killing mainstream country music.