Review – Sam Hunt’s “Downtown’s Dead”

Change is hard for everyone to accept. In country music there are two artists right now who can claim superstar status (transcend beyond the genre): Chris Stapleton and Sam Hunt. They’re both fusion country artists. Now I’ve been on record as a Stapleton fan for a while, but it’s kind of been the opposite with Hunt. It’s what happens when you’re blinded by traditionalist hate, even though Stapleton certainly doesn’t fall into the category of tradition. Yet Hunt gets all of the hate. All the while he’s proving to everyone that change in country music can be accepted by a lot of people. He isn’t your standard pop country artist.

This came to me when he released “Body Like a Backroad” last year. It was the only song he released last year, but it was one of the biggest hits of the year in all genres. Most artists would have gladly capitalized on this and released an album. But not Hunt. He’s not interested in fame and fortune, contrary to the image traditionalists and pop country fans want to portray. He doesn’t really use social media much and it’s been four years since his debut album. Hunt is taking the exact opposite approach of today’s average artist. He’s actually taking his time releasing music and it’s quite a refreshing approach.

That leads us to his brand new single “Downtown’s Dead.” The echoes of a dobro guitar introduce the song before feeding into a blend of country, R&B and pop influences. The song is about the loneliness of a crowded bar. Much like Maren Morris’ “I Could Use a Love Song,” this single centers around the millennial angst of dating and socializing in today’s world. It’s the realization of chasing after the highs of the bar and clubs scenes only leads to emptiness and unhappiness. True satisfaction can’t be found at the bottom of a glass or end of a bar. Hunt perfectly frames this message around the scenes of a club on Tuesday and Friday nights. At the end of it all, he realizes he needs to go back to the woman he loves. It’s a short and effective story that conveys its message well. While I don’t expect Hunt’s new album anytime soon, he delivered another song that is bound to be played all summer in “Downtown’s Dead.”

Grade: Really Good Lamentation of Modern Socialization

Songwriters: Sam Hunt, Josh Osborne, Shane McAnally & Zach Crowell 

7 thoughts on “Review – Sam Hunt’s “Downtown’s Dead”

  1. Zackary Kephart May 16, 2018 / 6:28 pm

    Ironically, I’ve also been planning on a post on Sam Hunt that’s quite similar to this. I still don’t like Montevallo all that much for what it is, and Body Like A Backroad is still not my cup of tea, but yeah, I’ve been hard on the guy too. I never reviewed Montevallo, but I remember breezing through it because it wasn’t “real country” and not actually listening to much of it.

    My piece has a lot to do with the “refreshing approach” you were referring to. It’s the same route that artists like Carrie Underwood and Eric Church take – quality and opinions aside, all three artists know how to make fans wait for new music. In a way you could also slot Stapleton into that category. Sure, he put out two albums last year, but those were comprised of older songs nobody had heard before. Who knows when we’ll get a new album that’s actually comprised of all new songs.

    But yeah, after reading Hunt’s recent interview where he admits his heart isn’t in music right now, I kind of related to him in a weird way. If the passion isn’t there, he’s not going to force it, and I can respect that.

    I haven’t heard this yet, but I just wanted to throw those thoughts out there, especially in lieu of our recent Twitter conversations on music being fast food.

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    • Josh May 16, 2018 / 6:57 pm

      I revisited Montevallo and I found myself liking half and being bored with the other. Just like you said, I didn’t really take it seriously before either because of the “real country” thing.

      Yes, I appreciate when artists take their time to get it right. The most important thing is getting their truth out there and I feel like Hunt, whether someone likes his music or not, should see he does care about what he puts out. Good point on Stapleton. It was a really smart move on his part to do two albums last year because he not only knew he would be taking a lot of this year off due to the birth of his twin boys, but it also allowed him to get some music out he was probably itching to record for years. He waited so long to start his solo career I can’t imagine how many songs he’s held in reserve.

      And this definitely pertains to our conversation. If artists and listeners could both show more patience, it would benefit all involved. Unfortunately too many are chasing quick hits and dollar signs.

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  2. Derek Hudgin May 17, 2018 / 8:04 am

    I appreciate the fact that Sam & co. wrote a song that isn’t all that trashy. “Body Like a Backroad” was so cringe worthy to me. I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of Sam Hunt, but as it’s been stated ahead of me, his approach to music is to be respected.

    Even on Montevallo, I thought there were still some songs that were thoughtful in their approach…thoughtful in a way where there was some care & self awareness in songs that make them a bit more believable. Sure “Take Your Time” was just another bro-y hook up song, but Sam’s approach and the scene laid out in the song was way more realistic, I think, than any FGL or Bryan tailgate hookup anthem. And I still enjoy “Cop Car” as a song.

    So yeah, I respect and appreciate Hunt for writing, for the most part, more insightful songs about relationships in comparison to his peers. Still, not my cup of tea.

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  3. Dooley May 19, 2018 / 7:01 am

    I was very impressed, when I discovered Sam Hunt in 2014 through his “Between the Pines” Mixtape, which was a rawer initial version of “Montevallo”. At least I had not heard that style in music before. It sounded authentic and not forced. That made it creativ to me, as I expect an artist to create and definitely not copy. I may be in deep water here, but when Elvis started out, he also brought different styles together to create a new one – and was kicked out of Nashville for it.

    I had never seen Sam Hunt as a person off-stage. So it was very interesting to watch him on the Bobby Bones Morning Show from Friday and how he presented himself. To me he comes across as very humble guy, almost kinda-shy. He earns my respect, when he says he feels not as well educated (“Man, I don’t know anything”) as he would like to be. He seems like a thoughtful guy who thinks about life and is interested in other views. After all, how many music superstars would you expect to read Nietsche?

    And he still sounds a little embarrassed by “Body Like A Backroad” becoming such a huge hit. I remember one of the first statements of his, when the record came out, was that it was just meant to be something light with not much substance to it. And he still sticks to that by saying he does not feel like doing another one like it. He said, that “Downtown’s Dead” was actually started some 2 years ago and came out of the notion, that he needed some substance in his life, other than party and high-life. Obviuosly he added the relationship twist in at the end of the song creation process.

    I do like “Downtown’s Dead” a lot better than BLAB because it brings a deeper emotion in. Even though some of the instrumentation seems to belie that, because it sounds happy at times. But when you think about the song setup – Downtown is meant to be happy and bustling. In the end it brings across to me, that the perception of a situation is always up to the individual person and their circumstances. Which again brings it full circle: music can almost never be judged by universal criteria, but everyone uses their own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh May 19, 2018 / 12:40 pm

      Well said Dooley and some great points. I think a lot of people don’t see Hunt’s humility and paint him as just another fame hungry artist looking for his next hit and paycheck. But as he proves once again in his radio interview, he truly cares and spends a lot more time thinking than most of his peers. It brings me to mind of how both him and Sturgill Simpson came up at the same time and both got hit with the phrase, “I don’t like country music usually, but I like you.” And like Hunt, Sturgill is also a pretty shy guy too. Yet both are viewed on the opposite ends of the spectrum in country despite both bucking conventional sounds.

      After I started to view BLAB as more breezy and light, that’s when I found myself enjoying it more. As Hunt says he never meant for it be a serious song and it perfectly fits the summer mood. And he certainly isn’t the first artist to be embarrassed by a less serious song gaining a ton of popularity. People seem to forget that the listeners determine the hits, not the artists. And I agree on the instrumentation, as it seems to help point out the duality of the situation of the song.

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  4. Dooley May 20, 2018 / 7:02 am

    Yes – I have to admit though, that I am having a hard time digesting Sturgill Simpson. I do own his “Metamodern” album, but admit, that I mostly purchased it, because his voice reminded me so much of Waylon, that listening to the album sounded like a lost Waylon album from the early 70’s to me. And at that time it did really sound refreshing, because that style had been off the radio for so long.

    But when he started to slam everybody in Nashville and said to Nashville Scene: “In 10 years I’ll be the biggest country star on this planet, I guaran-fuckin’-tee it. And there’s nothing they can do to stop that.”, I took a step back. That didn’t sound too humble to me and I would suggest to let the audience make that judgement in the end.
    https://www.nashvillescene.com/music/cover-story/article/20838678/how-sturgill-simpson-conquered-nashville-without-music-row

    And “Sailor” did nothing for me. So currently he is not on my radar anymore.

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    • Josh May 20, 2018 / 12:19 pm

      It should be noted though that quote was said out of anger. Sturgill takes a lot of exception with the major labels since most of them told him he wasn’t good enough and he’s had a chip on his shoulder to prove them wrong, which he’s done. Not to mention he’s got several music friends like Margo Price who went through similar things. It’s not a shot at other artists or to brag. He’s just very anti-establishment and distrustful of institutions in Nashville. He also took the ACM to task for their half-assed tributes to passing legends and media members for trying to bait him into say mean things about pop country (see the Washington Post article trying to paint him as hating Luke Bryan when he actually likes Bryan). He’s also now getting hate from the traditionalists because he wasn’t the “savior” they desire. I know based on that quote it’s very easy to see him as arrogant and he definitely lets it shine through at times, so I can understand how that turns people off. Outside of a few passionate outbursts towards the labels and media, I haven’t heard any stories of him being arrogant or angry towards others artists and fans.

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