I feel like speak-singing has gotten a little bit of a bad rap recently because many country fans are not in love with the pop and rap influences on radio country.
Songs like “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean and almost anything by Sam Hunt (though I will defend his music as having more substance than he gets credit for) are examples of the less . . . country speak-singing songs.
Heck, even I can admit that I turn my nose up at some these when I hear them on the radio.
But this trend isn’t new, and it isn’t only happening on country radio.
As I was looking for some new music to listen to the other day, I stumbled across the song “Vanlife” by Willi Carlisle.
It took me a while and a couple listens to figure out why this song felt so familiar to me based on the way he sang the song alone.
Then, it hit me.. this song reminds of “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” by Ray Stevens and “Uneasy Rider” by The Charlie Daniels Band.
Now, I’ll admit that none of these songs are alike beyond the speak-singing with an easy-to-follow melody.
But I’ve been trying to figure out why these songs feel country while others don’t. Maybe it’s the twang or prominent instruments like guitar and fiddle.
Maybe it’s the content. What’s more country than a squirrel getting loose in church?
Honestly, I think it’s just the journeys that these three songs take us on. Country music is all about specific details and storytelling, and I believe these songs embody those aspects more than a lot of other speak-singing songs.
Willi Carlisle, in particular, has a master’s degree in poetry, which is shown in his songwriting in “Vanlife” as he takes us through his journey of leaving his minimum wage job and traveling across the USA.
The song is wild from start to finish with the singer meticulously describing his new life, so we feel like we’re with him.
I mean, how many country songs do you know that mention Waffle House, Nietzsche, and Elon Musk?
It’s those specificities that place us exactly in the time and location that the singer wants us to be.
In the end, the speak-singing in this song as well as Ray Stevens’s and The Charlie Daniels Band’s songs add to the storytelling aspect of the song rather than acting as just a gimmick to make the song seem more interesting than it is.