Sammy Kershaw – “Better Than I Used To Be”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 4th, 2010

sammy-kershawSongwriters: Ashley Gorley and Brian Simpson

Flipping through Sammy Kershaw’s extensive song catalog is deliciously indulgent: From “Cadillac Style” and “Vidalia” to “National Working Woman’s Holiday” and “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” the singer had a special knack for taking a country song–no matter how silly its premise–and turning it into a nineties country standard.

That knack may have something to do with a distinctively rich voice that earned the singer the cover of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” on 2006 George Jones tribute album God’s Country. Taking another cue from the Possum, Kershaw’s new single “Better Than I Used to Be” looks back on the coulda, woulda, shouldas of his life in a “Choices”-esque review of his battles with addiction, drop from the country charts and divorce from Lorrie Morgan.

The tune is a nice reminder of what made Kershaw one of the poster children of the 1990s, when his debut album Don’t Go Near the Water produced four hit singles and reached platinum status. Its lyrics, while simple and familiar, ring universally true: “I know how to hold a grudge/I can send a bridge up in smoke/And I can’t count the people I’ve let down or the hearts I’ve broke/You ain’t gotta dig too deep if you wanna find some dirt on me/But I’m learnin’ who you’ve been ain’t who you’ve gotta be.”

The chorus of “Better Than I Used to Be” is a catchy play off the tried-and-true angel/devil analogy, which he pulls off with a nuanced, weary assurance. Although cliché lyrics such as “diamonds under all this dust” do nothing but clog up the song, Kershaw puts in an honest performance that only a seasoned professional could pull off, backed by subtle strains of steel.

However, like the tune’s chorus infers, Kershaw may be making strides to a career comeback, but he’s not there yet: The singer has been on three different labels since 2003, including Audium Entertainment, Category 5 and his current Boomerville/Big Hit deal, and “Better Than I Used to Be” lacks the spunk of his earlier hits that made him a star.

Still, as the title track of his upcoming album, which was produced by long-time collaborator Buddy Cannon and features a Jamey Johnson duet on “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” “Better Than I Used to Be” is a straight-up look back on the career of a country music staple. On the heels of new music from Kershaw’s fellow neo-traditionalist David Ball, nostalgic country fans can party–or at least listen to music–like it’s 1999.

Thumbs Up

  1. Dave W.
    February 4, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Love it! Solid heartfelt Country song. Sammy’s voice is one of the best. Very refreshing to hear this kind of Country song again.

  2. Joe
    February 4, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Great song. Classic Sammy Kershaw. Is it me, or does his voice sound a little different?

  3. Drew
    February 4, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I’ve been listening to this alot lately, I really like it.

  4. J.R. Journey
    February 4, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I like it a lot too. As a long-time Kershaw fan, it’s great to hear new music from him, especially a worthy ballad like this one instead of another novel dittie. Here’s hoping the rest of the album lives up to this standard.

  5. Steve M.
    February 4, 2010 at 11:06 am

    It is a good song, but I suspect its too “country” for country radio.

  6. Kelly
    February 4, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I am also glad to have some new Kershaw. The hits that you mentioned were all great tunes.

  7. Thomas
    February 4, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    …had i been looking for some new sammy kershaw music and found this song – i would have shouted out a big: yes,yes,yes! but best of all, you can forget about the conditional II. terrific song.

  8. Rick
    February 4, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I’m glad when these talented, tradition oriented artists who haven’t charted singles in years bring out new quality music. Their chance of getting airplay on Top 40 Contemporary Country Radio is remote but at least their long term fans can enjoy the new music. Whether its Hank Jr., Larry Gatlin, Gene Watson, David Ball, or Sammy Hershaw God bless ‘em for not throwing in the towel! I can’t wait to hear the duet with Jamey Johnson on their cover of the 70’s rock hit “Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show. I have the original on a 45 RPM record and its never lost its charm.

    It’s just a shame there aren’t an organized bunch of traditional country oriented radio stations out there (apart from WSM) that would actually welcome these types of songs to their current playlist. Oh well…

  9. Mayor JoBob
    February 4, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    David Ball’s back and now Kershaw! What a great week!

  10. AtlantaFan
    February 5, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Like it, but it’s a little sad.

  11. luckyoldsun
    February 5, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Oh, please.

    It’s one friggin’ song, not a whole album.
    Is it a good,”catchy” “nuanced,” “thumbs-up” recording–Or is it “cliched” and “lacking spunk”?
    Make up your mind for chrisakes.

  12. Stephen H.
    February 5, 2010 at 1:20 am

    So reviews should only reflect either entirely positive or entirely negative aspects, without addressing a variety of each?

  13. Wade
    February 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Awesome!! Glad hes back!

  14. Noeller
    February 10, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    ahhhhhhh – I LOVE 90s COUNTRY!!!!!! :) :) :)

  15. Noeller
    February 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    upon listening, I like the track but don’t love it. It definitely has too much “Nashville Slick” polish on it, but his voice is as cool as ever. It sounds like it was written by John Rich, but I do still like it.

  16. Lanibug
    February 16, 2010 at 8:26 am

    I heard this last week on my XM and had to turn the radio up and just listen, nothing is better than a good Sammy Kershaw song on the radio and while yes his voice sounds different, it still sounds great – and I love hearing the voices from when I started listening to country. Agree that cannot wait to hear the duet with Jamey Johnson.

  17. Bobby Ingram
    March 8, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Great Song, Glad he’s back. Can’t wait the hear more of Sammy.

  18. Clint
    March 16, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Very good song. Great, distinctive approach. I’ve never seen anything like it. Makes me wish all over again that radio had paid attention to “Metropolis,” one of the greatest songs never played on the radio.

  19. Josh
    March 26, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Heard Trent Tomlinson play this live. Believe he was the writer. Trent blows this version out of the water

  20. Josh
    March 26, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I take that back, trent wasn’t the writer. Sounds alot like his stuff though

  21. john scott
    April 13, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Sammy Kershaw can render a song and this is a good song. I hope this will be implemented in today’s mix of country music radio along with all the cookie cutter wannabees that have been shoved down our throats!

    April 14, 2010 at 10:48 am


  23. Guy
    April 19, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    With all the shaky male artists they are running up the flagpole these days, Sammy Kershaw at least deserves one more run up there to see how it flies.

  24. luckyoldsun
    April 21, 2010 at 12:05 am

    This is definitely better than he was the last time he tried to launch a comeback–with some dopey spelling-bee song.

  25. Christi Chastain
    May 13, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    I am a big fan of Sammy’s Better Than I Used to Be will be his next #1!!!! I’m so glad that radio is playing his music!!!

  26. JC Mac Intosh
    June 5, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I was a Nashville wannabe back when Sammy and all the greats like Vern, Clint, Randy, Joe, Tracy Lawernce and Tracy bird, Earl Thomas, Brooks and Dunn, Garth, Keith Whitley, Jerry Reed, John Conley etc… I went to music city a couple of times trying to sell my worthless existence and become a country music artist, and now, looking back, I know that only the cream rises to the top and Sammy is one hell of an example!

  27. Steve
    April 22, 2011 at 11:51 am

    My wife and I own a small market FM radio station in Southwest Middle Tennessee. Heard this play on our station as I was driving to check out a channel lost….heard it again for the first time. Knew I liked the song in the back of my mind, but just then listened to the words. Wow. I, too, am a traditionalist but love most genres. Tune in our live show, I sing sometimes, Saturdays 10am to 11:30am Central time,at David Ball was on the show last year…still got his number in my cell…good guy. Also love Gene Watson and Vern Gosden. Interviewed both.
    Sorry for the length of this. Music Man.

  28. sharon crumrine
    May 11, 2012 at 12:16 am

    well, i’ve been a fan of sammy’s since he first came out in 1991 and i was widowed 3 years ago and since he’s divorced again and older and wiser, i’ll marry him! I’ve thought we were a good match for years! We’re about the same age, have same color hair and eyes and have exes and lots of children and love country music and singing so if he’s nterested, im game!!

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