Like many records, Jason Michael Carroll’s Waitin’ in the Country features a blockbuster single that might not embody the collection’s true spirit. You’re put in mind of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and “Sloop John B.,” a song whose inclusion has always bugged some fans. On Waitin’, it’s “Alyssa Lies,” a modified folk-rock song with a trick ending. It entered the country charts five months ago, and has gone on to be a remarkably successful single.
But it’s “Anywhere USA” that takes Waitin’ into pop utopia. In its processed-cheese way, this song repays the kind of obsessive textual analysis that fans have lavished on The Beach Boys or Pavement. An assemblage of parts whose effect lies in its ability to evoke other recordings while seeming fresh and immediate, “Anywhere USA” is all hook, its elegantly cast borrowings played for atmosphere and its superb guitar solos locked into the mechanics of the song.
Unlike “Alyssa Lies,” which is a creepy performance about child abuse and a parent’s inability to change the fate of his daughter’s classmate, “Anywhere USA” doesn’t address any burning issues—it’s a classic album track, which means it isn’t as insubstantial as it first appears.
Starting out with what sounds like mandolin, joined by a metal riff and a shiver of violin, “Anywhere USA” uses an ancient, chromatic pop motif pioneered by The Beatles 41 years ago on “You Won’t See Me” and tensely recast in 1972 as the beginning of Big Star’s “Feel.” “Anywhere USA” settles into a fat, mid-tempo lope, lazily Stones-like, and Carroll’s voice dips between a rich baritone register and stylized low notes as he describes what happens in his town and around the country. “Half a dozen cars at the parking lot strip mall / Sitting on the hood, yeah, getting on their yee-haw,” Carroll sings. It’s a car song, and a city song, in the vein of Brian Wilson’s “Amusement Parks U.S.A.”
As does “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” another Waitin’ track, “Anywhere USA” uses the conventions of a classic pop song in the service of a country-music subject. Call it the exurban blues—Carroll and his producer, Don Gehman, pack in a lot of juicy musical and verbal detail, from subtle tambourine to stabs of organ. Too, “Anywhere” displays a fine feel for everyday people and their aspirations to glamour, as when Carroll sings about a “powder-blue Subaru,” or references a “Chevy magnifico.”
Already, the song has managed to fuse old-time rock with new-style country rapping. And it employs a venerable pop trick by allowing an initially indecipherable lyric into the mix. Although it turns out that Carroll is singing, “City street, rural route,” at first listen it sounds something like, “Titty sweet or rule out,” which isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, since the song references a “teen queen” with “painted-on blue jeans.”
But what puts over “Anywhere USA” is the chorus. The motorik bass line recalls mid-’70s Bowie, while the backing vocals suggest anonymous Europop. While “Alyssa Lies” comes across as generic, if heartfelt, songwriting, “Anywhere” revels in its specificity. The chant of “Hey! Anywhere USA” is made poignant, or at least strange, by the cities chosen to cite: “Boston, Austin, Chattanooga, L.A.” But this list suits a song of universal ambition that’s powered by command of the basics and the telling detail. The sociology of lines like, “Debutante, farm boy, city slicker, makin’ noise / 20-inch spinners on a shiny toy, shiny toy” might put Carroll’s record at some distance from the fantasias of Brian Wilson, but the impulses are quite similar. —Edd Hurt
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