Though not quite tasked with carrying the full load of the harmony on its own, there’s really no understating the importance of John Dartnell’s six-string in the new single “Here’s to the Road” this October. It should be said that for Dartnell, a prolifically talented country singer, frills are always optional when he gets into the studio; he knows how to cultivate a compositional presence that transcends the limitations of the studio, usually through rather humble means like tone and texture alone. He’s a thoughtful player and one who isn’t holding back from giving us everything he’s got in this latest single.
The rhythm behind the instrumentation in “Here’s to the Road” has quite the wonderfully easy sensibility, and while it might not be as aggressive in shape as the melodic elements in the mix are, this minor contrast is just enough to give the entire track a homespun energy that is hard to find in the Nashville mainstream nowadays. I think it’s more than a little obvious that Dartnell is a detail-oriented artist, but all the same, he isn’t one who is about to rub intricacy in our faces just for the sake of sounding like a sophisticated, post-millennium country songwriter.
“Here’s to the Road” is as far away from hook-centricity as this style of composing can get without slipping into the conventionalities of pop music, and it does this by maintaining a steady flow of catharsis from the lyrics that spills into the music, rather than the other way around. I get the feeling that the verses and the harmonies framing them in this performance were born around the same time as opposed to one coming before the other, and as much as this might seem mundane to the unfamiliar, critics know that this feature is becoming harder and harder to come by in 2021.
I’d really like to hear Dartnell collaborate with a similarly talented artist in the country or folk genres in the near future, mostly just to see what it could draw out of his skillset beyond what we’ve heard him do here. There’s so much to be explored within the balladic contexts of a piece like this, and if put in the right hands – and with a slightly more experimental tempo – a collaborative remix of “Here’s to the Road” might wind up bringing this man some of the mainstream attention he more than deserves at this stage of the game.
I definitely think there’s a lot more for John Dartnell to explore within his sound, but right now, I think that anyone who listens to this present incarnation of “Here’s to the Road” is going to walk away feeling satisfied with the country sway he’s dishing out liberally in this latest release. At just over four minutes in total length, this single is on the longer side among its contemporaries, but for what it shares about its creator, it’s a remarkably sleek effort (and one that I hope to hear more of as time goes by).
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