Justin Moore – “Small Town USA”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 4th, 2009

Justin Moore - Small Town USASongwriters: Dean Maher, Justin Moore and Jeremy Stover.

“Small Town USA” is a frustrating song.

Thanks to Justin Moore’s delivery, it’s easy to see him as the type of guy who lives and breaths small town country life. I can picture him in dirt-streaked coveralls, juggling his 7-Eleven spit cup while changing his truck’s sticky gears down a dusty backwoods road long ignored by the city’s transportation department.

The problem is, all the details I can see so clearly in my head show up nowhere in the song. With opening chords that closely resemble Kenny Chesney’s “Back Where I Come From,” another declaration of homegrown pride, the self-penned tune has potential to become an anthem for an audience with similar roots as Moore.

However, its glaring weakness is the (admittedly catchy) chorus, which does nothing to service the hometown he is so proud of. Save for an “old dirt road,” it contains nothing remotely indicative of a rural setting.

Even in New York City, a guy can hang out with his girlfriend, down a six pack of beer while listening to [insert country legend of choice here], or attend church on Sunday morning.

More than anything, “Small Town USA” finds Moore a much stronger singer than a songwriter. He would have done well to learn from Alan Jackson’s strong narrative arc in “Small Town Southern Man,” humor in “Where I Come From” and detail in “Home.”

But while he lacks in songwriting skills, he shines with his performance. Moore’s nuanced musical twang, a cross between Ronnie Dunn and Jason Aldean, performs interestingly organic vocal tricks without emptily sexing up or selling out his hometown.

Credit should probably be shared with Moore’s hometown of Poyen, Arkansas (population: 272), for lending a much-needed authenticity to its longtime resident’s delivery. When he sings “’Cause everybody knows me and I know them/And I believe that’s the way we were supposed to live/…Here in small town USA,” it’s easy to imagine Moore is still part of this lifestyle.

Luckily for Moore, his genuineness keeps this simple song about a simple place from falling into a nondescript stereotype.

If his fans are lucky this single won’t be his last on country radio—or his best.

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3 Pings

  1. [...] about hearing a song coming through car speakers, shades on and windows rolled down, so despite my less than favorable review of the song, I was looking forward to giving it a second [...]
  2. [...] Justin Moore’s “Small Town USA” hit the top of both the Billboard and USA Today/ Country Aircheck Country Singles charts this week, making him the first solo artist to have a song from his/her debut album go to #1 since Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” in December 2007, according to a press release from Big Machine Records. (Read Karlie’s review of “Small Town USA.”) [...]
  3. [...] certain songs are fantastic while others are just overwrought cliches of the Nashville machine. The article that changed my perspective is Karlie Justus’s single review of Justin Moore’s [...]
  1. Michael
    February 4, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Another day, another generic, unmemorable single. Sigh.

  2. Sam G.
    February 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    You know, the Farce The Music country song checklist was meant to be sarcastic, not an actual guide of how to construct a country song. These paint-by-numbers small-town odes all sound the same, and none of them are any good. Have we officially run out of country song material?

  3. Leeann Ward
    February 4, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I just can’t help but shake the feeling that Moore has real potential. I just haven’t quite heard it yet.

  4. Rick
    February 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Starting his radio single carer with “Back That Thing Up” may have been a mixed blessing for Justin. A double entendre novelty song like that could easily get him pigeonholed as a junior version of Trace Adkins. It will be interesting to see how this single does in comparison as its more conventional and sounds like a lot of other recent Top 40 songs.

  5. Jason
    February 4, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Great song!! This song is on its way to the top ten!

  6. Bobby
    February 9, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Ahem. “Back Where I Come From” was by Mac McAnally first. Don’t ignore the Mac.

  7. Michael Perry
    March 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    This is a great song and they dnt play it on the radio enough.

  8. John
    March 20, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Radio stations need to play this song more.

  9. walker
    April 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    the word “generic” is used way too much on this website… what exactly are people getting at when they complain of generic-ness? If it’s simply catchy and is played on the radio everyone on here labels it as “generic”. I think it’s an O-K song.

  10. stormy
    April 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    We are complaining that is sounds like every other sound-a-like song on the radio now. When I turn on my Americana station, I know from the first note if a song is a Tift Merritt song or a Neko Case song or a Kasey Chambers song. You don’t get that from mainstream radio.

  11. Jon
    April 14, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Well… A lot of times “sound-a-like”ness is as much or more a function of the listener’s familiarity as it is of the music itself. Stormy can tell the difference from the first note (and I’ll take that as a little hyperbolic) between Americana artists because, I’ll bet, she listens to a lot of Americana, and has a harder time immediately distinguishing mainstream country records and artists because she listens to them a lot less. I mostly listen to bluegrass, and I’ll betcha anything I can tell who’s made a given record a lot faster than Stormy (or, probably, most anyone here) can, but when it comes to Americana, it usually takes me a while – and guess what? A lot of it tends to sound the same to me in the same way that a lot of bluegrass tends to sound the same to folks who don’t listen much. The fact is that there are plenty of mainstream country listeners who can easily distinguish between artists and records that others like Stormy have a hard time with, and the same is true with every other genre. When someone says “that all sounds the same to me,” it’s at least as much a statement about them as about the ostensible subject, even if the “to me” isn’t actually said.

    All that being said, there’s another aspect where there’s maybe something a little meatier or more objective going on, and that relates to song topics, the way they’re treated, the way they’re constructed and arranged, and so on – though again, I’d argue that this is something that’s not necessarily to be found more often in one genre or style than another. But there are a couple of song forms that have been really predominant in mainstream country for a while (for instance: verse, verse, chorus, another verse, another chorus, bridge and then chorus, with maybe a turnaround or other little semi-solo between the first chorus and third verse and/or second chorus and bridge) that, regardless of songs’ other merits, tend to make them seem to run together after a while. And in that sense, there are some observable generic tendencies.

  12. walker
    April 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Wow, maybe i have entered a realm that i can’t sympathize with. I guess i just am a “surface listener” or whatever it should be called…. I think this site is great, however, I may stick to just listening, deciding if i like it, and listening some more… I don’t really think that I could ever listen to every song without thinking of the arrangement/composition and what not. A music critic’s life seems very unenjoyable to me.

  13. Hollerin' Ben
    April 14, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    I’ll actually agree with Jon on this one and think his point about “it all sounds the same to me” says more about the speaker than the form of music.

    However, I think it’s a fair criticism to assert that a particular song has the elements that are common to it’s particular genre – in this case annoying guitars, huge choruses, lists of things the audience is supposed to imagine themselves identifying with – but doesn’t have anything that necessarily distinguishes itself from the pack. In a case like that, I think criticizing a song as generic is both fair and descriptive.

    I’ll also bring Stormy’s wrath on me by saying that Americana is certainly not a genre that is immune to genericism.

    I’m not sure any genre is, but I KNOW that one isn’t.

  14. Matt B
    April 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Ben, you’re right. There isn’t a genre out there that is immune to genericism.

  15. stormy
    April 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    For example: When I first heard Kasey Chambers’ Sign on the Door I did not know what the song was, but I did know who it was because Kasey is the only person who sounds like that. I stopped listening to mainstream radio when I could no longer do that.

  16. Razor X
    April 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I’m with Stormy on this one. While I won’t go so far as to say that everything on mainstream country radio sounds the same, most of it has become so bland that you often have to be several seconds into a song before you can identify whose it is. Connie Smith once said that when she first went to Nashville, there was room for a million, but one of each. Nowadays artists are afraid to be too quirky or too unique because radio has set such narrow parameters for what it will and will not accept.

  17. Hollerin' Ben
    April 15, 2009 at 1:11 am

    but even in Connie Smith’s days Nashville arrangments were fairly standard, and I think its completely reasonable for someone who isn’t familiar with the nuances of the genre to assert that classic country “all sounds the same”.

    the probably with contemporary country isn’t that it’s too uniform – there is plenty of variation between Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Toby Keith, George Strait, and Keith Urban records – it’s that it’s uniformly bland and uninteresting; musically, lyrically, and conceptually.

  18. Razor X
    April 15, 2009 at 6:06 am

    For people who aren’t familiar with the genre, I agree. I was just talking about the lack of originality in general. Put on an old Buck Owens record and by the second note you know whose song it is. It’s not as easy to do that with today’s music.

  19. Jon
    April 15, 2009 at 9:57 am

    It wasn’t that easy to do it with a lot of artists back then, either.

  20. walker
    April 15, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    hmm… if you are a big Buck Owens fan then you know by the second beat. BUT, if you are a radio listener like me… you have no choice. I can recognize most of the mainstream (radio) country songs very quickly. It is all about what you listen to and how often.

  21. jessica
    May 19, 2009 at 9:54 am

    this song gives me chills… reminds me of growin up.

  22. Bethaney
    May 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Justin Moore’s new song rocks!!! As a country music fan I love it. I would love to hear more rockin songs from him. Bein from a small town people really love to play his song. I only wish it was played MORE!!!! I really liked his first single, but it wasn’t played much. Justin could be big if they would play his songs more. Plus schools out for the summer today and small town folk rock out to country music all summer long!!!

  23. Steve
    June 4, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    You dumbass. Mac McAnally wrote and sang “Back Where I Come From.” Kenny Chesney simply covered it

  24. Karlie
    June 4, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Yikes, Steve. I didn’t say Chesney wrote “Back Where I Come From.” I can see how this sentence might can be read that way, but this is what I wrote:

    With opening chords that closely resemble Kenny Chesney’s “Back Where I Come From,” another declaration of homegrown pride, the self-penned tune has potential to become an anthem for an audience with similar roots as Moore.

    When I referred to “Back Where I Come From” in the review, I was referencing Chesney’s musical arrangement of the tune and comparing the opening notes and sounds to Moore’s. When I say “self-penned,” that’s referring to “Small Town USA,” which Justin Moore wrote, not “Back Where I Come From.”

    Perhaps it would have made more sense for me to say it this way:

    With opening chords that closely resemble Kenny Chesney’s version of “Back Where I Come From,” another declaration of homegrown pride, Moore’s self-penned tune has potential to become an anthem for an audience with similar roots as Moore.

  25. Steve
    June 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Kenny Chesney’s version had a piano opening, Mac McAnally’s orginally version had a guitar introduction that more closely resembled the song you were reviewing. And it’s the vocals in the beginning that are most similar to “Back Where I Come From.” How are you in any position to review this song when you clearly don’t know who Mac McAnally is, and when you are only familiar with Kenny Chesney’s version of “Back Where I Come From”? Mac McAnally’s version was released as a single and was a Top 15 hit in 1990. Kenny Chesney’s version was never released as a single. Are you deliberately trying to confuse the readers and put out misinformation? Because with all due respect, and I do apologize for calling you a dumbass, but this lack of knowledge is disturbing.

  26. Brady Vercher
    June 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Uhh, where exactly is this misinformation you speak of, Steve? Did Kenny Chesney cover the song, or didn’t he?

    And where did Karlie clearly indicate that she didn’t know who Mac McAnally was?

    The fact is that Karlie wasn’t reviewing the song you’re getting so incensed over, but only brought it up as a point of comparison. A reviewer need not be familiar with every version of every song slightly related to a topic in order to review a different song related to that topic. At this point, you’re merely attempting to project your own shortcoming onto Karlie and it’s not working out so well. You can go back to reading and editing Wikipedia and pretending you know everything now.

  27. Steve
    June 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    You can take what I wrote as it is or you can misrepresent it. The reviewer ought to know what they are talking about, and on here they clearly do not. Kenny Chesney did cover the song but Mac McAnally wrote it and recorded the most well-known version of it. To not state this when making a comparison to the song is irresponsible as a reviewer. And I still see no evidence that the reviewer knows who Mac McAnally is. I would wish that somebody reviewing country music, would know a little bit about its history. The comparison of this song to Kenny Chesney’s version of “Back Where I Come From” is not apt, and instead is disrespectful to Mac McAnally, whose version is closer to the song being reviewed per all the points I stated in my last post.

  28. Andrew Lacy
    June 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I disagree. First of all, I think Chesney’s version is more well-known. Secondly I don’t think it’s irresponsible to reference Chesney’s version without calling it a cover. An example I’ll draw is the song “Right or Wrong.” It was a huge hit for George Strait and to a lot of people it’s a Strait song. So is it irresponsible to mention Strait’s version without pointing out that it’s a cover of a much older Bob Wills song? I don’t think so.

  29. Jon
    June 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    The reviewer is mostly talking about the Justin Moore record, not “Back Where I Come From,” so while referring to Chesney’s cover rather than McAnally’s original is regrettable (and arguably symptomatic of some degree of ignorance with respect to country music history), it’s a fundamentally minor point that doesn’t in any way rise to the level of irresponsibility. There’s a lot more irresponsible stuff here every day ;-).

  30. Steve
    June 4, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Kenny Chesney’s version is more well-known? Is that a joke? That song was never ever played on the radio and that’s where most people listen to country music.

    And irresponsible probably wasn’t the best choice of words. I’m not familiar with this site, so I didn’t know these weren’t professional reviews. I was a bit too critical. But I think the writer should do a little more homework the next time she does a review, and that would make it better. Also, the article would benefit from some copy-editing.

  31. Andrew Lacy
    June 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    McAnally had radio airplay, but don’t discount the fact that Chesney sold 4.5+ million CDs that include the song.

  32. Jane Doe
    July 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I totally disagree with your little “Article” here. He may be a new and young singer in the country world but honestly, he writes some pretty good songs. His voice is amazing and just because you disagree, doesn’t mean you should go slamming him in your opinion so everybody can see. That’s just rude.

  33. Steve Harvey
    November 29, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    just because you disagree, doesn’t mean you should go slamming him in your opinion so everybody can see.
    Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s her job.

  34. lyndsey sullivan
    December 17, 2009 at 10:38 am

    i love you justin u are my rollmotel and i am ur biggest fan. o and i went to your consert awhile ago and u did a great job and i love that pic that u took with me!!!!!!!!!!! your consert was at the malverin football feild. and that pic that u took with me its in my loker and everyone saies that im luck cuz i got to take a pic with u, and i told them that i know that im lucky that i got to meat u i person. o and will u please have another consert at the malvern football feild because i really want to see u perform agin well i got to go!!!!!! please email me at lyndseysullivan2015@yahoo.com and tell me if your going to perform agin at the malvern football feild. k love alwats your # 1 fan……..

  35. Shona
    February 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I can’t stand this song. He sounds like the typical country singer who comes out of the gate sounding too twangy so he can show everyone he is a “country singer”. The 1st words in the song annoy the hell out of me, every time I hear it I have to turn the channel. It sounds like he’s trying to imitate what he thinks a person who sings country sounds like. “A lot of Peeeepole”
    Singers with thick British accents most of the time can’t be picked up in a song, so how does a country singer have this TWANG unless he wants it too? I love Country music and I’m all for a southern accent, but not a fake accent. Jason Aldene has a real southern accent. Justin Moor’s It’s way too overdone.

  36. Courtney
    October 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    This song is about my home town. Justin Moore is from the same town I am and this song is awesome. :)

  37. Courtney
    October 15, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Oh and BTW Jason Aldean is FAKe country!

  38. sherry
    July 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Justin’s accent is not fake. He has a typical Arkansas accent nothing fake about it.

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