For plenty of artists, the third time’s the charm. This isn’t the case for Old Dominion, whose second album, Happy Endings, was a true embodiment of its unique and often comical sound. On the band’s second album, quick, witty lines fly through songs at the blink of an eye—and if you don’t listen closely, you’ll probably miss them all. Songwriting powerhouse Shane McAnally is usually behind these amazingly detailed lyrics, and while he’s back at it on the group’s self-titled third album, the clever one-liners fans came to know and love are nowhere to be found.
It’s easy to miss the witty turnarounds found in Old Dominion’s older hits like “Written in the Sand” and “Hotel Key,” but the group’s recently-released album presents a new type of writing, one with intense detail. The new record doesn’t have the funny, quirky elements that defined Old Dominion’s first two, but it tells its own story.
Songs like “One Man Band,” a single off the record, are deeply personal and give a different spin on lead vocalist Matthew Ramsey’s vocal abilities. It is the first indicator on the record of the band’s “settling down,” so to speak. Happy Endings, along with the group’s debut album Meat and Candy, both reflected a wilder, more mischievous stage of the group’s identity. Songs about casual relationships, parties, and late nights were abound, and they pulled it off in a way that was somehow more charming than annoying.
This time around, Old Dominion prioritizes unprecedented themes of romance and introspection. Slow and steady, “My Heart Is a Bar” signals the band’s desire to change its ways, as Ramsey uses the metaphor of a worn-down bar to describe his history with relationships. The rhythm is calming, smooth, and cyclical—as it revolves, it goes back to the same few lines over and over throughout without ever sounding too repetitive.
The standout song is one of the album’s few examples of McAnally’s older style of writing. He effortlessly throws in a small yet surprising twist at the end of the second verse: “Well, I’m sick of all the noise / So kill the lights and pay the boys / Fire the band and take the poison off the shelf / C’est la vie, farewell.” Quick turnarounds like this are the perfect details to give the group an air of individuality. Old Dominion isn’t here to release another country record with the typical template of beer, trucks, and girls—they put their own spin on things, and they do so in a sleek and effortless manner.
“Smooth Sailing” is another example of fantastic lyrics that far exceed anything else being released in country music today. The song is dripping in detail from the get-go, overflowing with references and idioms that keep the listener engaged. The writers masterfully played with different types of rhymes throughout the piece, using both end and internal rhymes, often at the same time.
Intricately crafted lines such as “The flowers are dying / My woman is crying herself to sleep every night / And people try to be nice and they give me advice / But they ain’t got a dog in this fight” really illustrate the unique songwriting that Old Dominion and Shane McAnally bring to the table.
“American Style” is another song with intensely-detailed lyrics and, despite being maybe the group’s simplest track to date, it packs in tons of imagery and nostalgia. The song is fast-paced and fun—in some ways, it’s a senseless stream of consciousness. It’s unabashedly cheerful for a group of five guys. Lyrics like “It ain’t the shoes, it’s how you walk in ’em / Spring in your step and a hole in your denim / Cheap pair of shades and your own kind of rhythm” are reminiscent of the pure optimism exuded in the group’s previous hit singles “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Make it Sweet.”
Of all the songs on the album, “Paint the Grass Green” might be the most emblematic of Old Dominion. The song is rose-colored and upbeat, and consists of lyrics that are easy on the ears. The entire album is auspicious as ever and rightfully so—as long as Old Dominion continues to pair original writing to a great beat, they will continue their rise to the top.
The formula is delightfully simple and works every time, but few other country artists have caught on and mastered it as deftly as Old Dominion. And for the third time in a row, they’ve made it look easy.
Featured Image by RCA Nashville