Joe Nichols – “The Shape I’m In”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | August 19th, 2010

Joe NicholsSongwriters: Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip

In the opening seconds of Joe Nichols’ new single “The Shape I’m In,” a short, pensive harmonica riff cuts through the haze of a drunken morning coming down. The instrument, so often representative of that hopeful overlap found at the end of lonesome reflection and the start of new beginnings, shortly passes off its emotive responsibilities to the singer’s nuanced performance.

Nichols’ voice has never needed much decoration, and the sleepy production on this single is accordingly spare. Still, interesting additions such as the soft patter of a bongo drum backing the song’s chorus bring a touch of sonic airiness to a tune that approaches lost love in similar fashion.

“The Shape I’m In” is delivered by a narrator coming to terms with the consequences of “a number on a napkin, a pounding in [his] head.” While the pain is still palpable and marked by lyrical gems such as “I lost a hell of a woman/Freedom caught me on the chin,” the narrator has managed to reach an all-important milestone of not crying at the visage of his ex-lover.

It’s an obstacle also tackled by Brooks and Dunn in the similar–albeit much darker–“It’s Getting Better All the Time,” but Nichols finds relief here in a few good doses of humor. Unlike so many honky-tonkers before him, Nichols takes a glass half-full approach to this transition, a nice thematic reflection of the turning seasons: As radio listeners recover from summer song burnout, there is a pleasing connection to the coming months that bring with them changes in temperatures and priorities.

In “The Shape I’m In,” it’s the little things that add up–the same of which can be said for the singer himself, who has quietly carried a fifteen-year recording career dotted with three number one songs. While this tune has the momentum of chart-topper “Gimme That Girl” behind it, the loads of self-deprecating charm are all its own.

Thumbs Up

  1. Waynoe
    August 19, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Joe is the real deal and this song fits his voice perfectly. Don’t know that I agree wIth the comment, “and the sleepy production on this single is accordingly spare.” It’s not all that spare in my opinion. But a good effort by him.

    I also missed the harmonica at the beginning. Is it there? I did hear it at the end.

    While listenign to this I can hear, on this type of song, similarities between Joe and Daryl Worley.

  2. Jay
    August 19, 2010 at 9:29 am

    I see myself as a fan of all kinds of country music, even some many wouldn’t really consider country, but Joe always seems to surprise me as a standout.

    I was a big fan of Gimme That Girl but it only took one :30 clip of the chorsu of this song to make me by the album and I wasn’t disapointed. There’s just something about this song that really stands out for me and makes me enjoy it as much as relate to it even though I’ve never been in his position before. Love it!

  3. lee
    August 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Doesn’t BR549 have a tune “Alright for the Shape I’m In.”

  4. Mike Parker
    August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I don’t know about this one. Just okay for me, I guess. I think my problem is that the hook doesn’t hook me. I do love the harmonica part.

  5. Bobby P.
    August 19, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Why does his voice sound so tinny on this? It sounds like he sang it a semitone flat and then auto-tuned it up into the right key. He sounded really tinny on “Gimmie That Girl” too.

  6. Kyle
    August 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    I love Joe’s voice and like this song well enough, but I’m getting a little tired of the lightweight Akins/Davidson/Hayslip numbers. To their credit, they’ve clearly worked out a formula that radio loves – concise/to-the-point lyrics with a lot of wordplay, catchy, production driven beats, simple chorus melody, and an somewhat interesting but not too edgy hook that gets drilled into your head. I have no doubt this will go at least top 10/top 5 when it’s all said and done.

    I think the “tinniness” people have been hearing is partly due to production but also partly due the fact that “Shape” and “Gimme” are sung almost entirely in the upper part of his vocal range, where his voice does tend to get a little tinny. IMO, Nichols is better suited to songs with more complex melodies that also showcase the lower part of his range – I love “It’s Me I’m Worried About” off of his current CD – and hopefully he uses this his current wave of radio success to take a few more risks.

  7. luckyoldsun
    August 19, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    I never understood why Joe Nichols is a major league country star. I have nothing in particular against him–I just think of him as the generic major-label bland male country singer.

    This record fits him perfectly: bland, inoffensive and boring.

    I’ll take any of the ’90s singers–Travis, Black, Chesnutt, Kershaw, Diffie, Tritt, Tippin, Parnell…take your pick–over this, any day.

  8. Rick
    August 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    This is a nice, pleasant song and at least it doesn’t make me want to poke pencils into my ears like most Top 40 AirHead Country singles these days. Its slick and formulaic but its also listenable and competent.

    I’m with the folks who don’t consider Joe a major league talent, but I do appreciate the fact he loves traditional country music! My favorite tracks of his have been “Broken Heartsville” and “What’s A Guy Gotta Do” as both were neo-traditionalism at its modern day best. Then he comes along with dreck like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and I lose interest…

  9. Leeann Ward
    August 19, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I like his recording of Tom T. Hall’s “Life Don’t Have to Mean Nothin’ At All” the most out of all of his songs. I actually like a few songs from his first album and Real Things. This song is pretty decent as well.

  10. Leeann Ward
    August 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I do think that his songs rarely equal his terriffic voice, much like Chris Young.

  11. Stormy
    August 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I’m just happy this isn’t a Band cover.

  12. Waynoe
    August 19, 2010 at 8:13 pm


    Actually that is a prety good list of 90’s singers. All with their own distinctive style. Now wouldn’t that be a novel idea for today’s music mush!

  13. Cheryl
    February 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I think Joe Nichols has always had an amazing vocal range and over the years it has only gotten better. One listen to “This Bed’s Too Big” off of his last album should be enough to convince you if you aren’t already.

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