Sammy Kershaw – “Better Than I Used To Be”
Songwriters: 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.
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