Trent Tomlinson – “That’s How It Still Oughta Be”
Songwriters: Trent Tomlinson, Jim Collins and Tom Shapiro.
For a song that waxes nostalgic on the good old days of yesteryear to be successful, it should probably be sung by someone who grew up in a decade prior to the 1980’s.
That rule of thumb would disqualify thirty-something Trent Tomlinson from preaching “That’s How It Still Oughta Be,” a song that unsuccessfully harkens back to a golden era of an unspecified time in the past and shares the credibility shortfalls of Bucky Covington’s “A Different World.”
Although Tomlinson clearly has the upper hand vocally, he uses the same songwriting trick du jour of repetitive listing as Covington’s hit, in a bloated chorus that proclaims: “Yeah the world was much safer/You could count on your neighbor/And a stranger was someone you just hadn’t met yet/And we trusted our preachers, our heroes and teachers/And believed every word that they said/There was no credit crunch and gas wasn’t so much/And our jobs hadn’t gone overseas.”
The best country songs tell a story, and this disjointed lists cheats us out of what could be a more accurate and balanced portrayal of a sort of “neo-yesteryear,” a period after television and automobiles but before video games, the Internet and 9/11.
Aside from the fact that Tomlinson and co-writers fall back on the all too common lyrical gimmick that is the list, the guts of this song just miss the mark. Tomlinson repeatedly references “we” in the song, but who is this “we”? Does it refer to the rural South? The United States? The entire world? And would the singer like to return to last month, last year or the last decade?
Without referencing a specific geographic location or timeframe, the song’s lack of detail renders it less credible and less interesting than it could be.
Still, even if this song were better crafted, its theme may not ring true with people who don’t share Tomlinson’s rose colored glasses. Dolly Parton paints a very different, and more realistic picture in her 1969 song “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)”: “No amount of money could buy from me/The memories that I have of then/No amount of money could pay me/To go back and live through it again.”
Musically, “That’s How It Still Oughta Be’s” oddly slow tempo doesn’t show off Tomlinson’s strong voice, and that’s unfortunate, because contrary to his do-rag and pierced ears, the singer could hold his own with many of the neotraditionalist vocalists who rose up in the 90s.
While it may be somewhat forgivable for a new artist hoping to make a splash on country radio to turn to some nostalgic pandering, it’s easy to expect more from a singer/songwriter whose work has appeared on albums from Sara Evans, Emerson Drive and George Strait–and who garnered himself three top 25 singles off his own debut album.
Unfortunately, after Tomlinson’s solid 2006 effort on the single “One Wing in the Fire,” the title “That’s How It Still Oughta Be” may be a more fitting commentary on the artist’s songwriting than a walk down memory lane.
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