If you want to appeal to both sides of the cultural divide that runs like a grizzly quadruple bypass scar straight down the middle of the chest of country music, you sometimes can hit a grand slam like we saw with Chris Stapleton, or you can take a big whiff like we’ve seen from many others. This Mason Ramsey Famous EP falls more towards the latter category. It combines the two most divisive elements under the country music umbrella into one ill-advised half effort. You have the old school fuddy-duddy yodels and moans of a younger version of Hank Williams that make pop country fans writhe in pain or laugh out loud, coupled with cast off and deprecated Bro Country leavings that define the antithesis of what true fans of country music believe the genre is supposed to be.
The Mason Ramsey EP is three classic Hank Williams songs done in tasty renditions that are respectful to the original compositions and Ramsey’s original appeal, with three non sequitur Bro Country orphans rescued from a Music Row dumpster by a night janitor and included under the misguided notion of creating commercial appeal. Ultimately this EP does build a consensus across the culture war, but it’s from both sides asking, “What the hell?”
Of course we don’t need new versions of old Hank Williams songs, but that’s never the point with a prodigy musician. What we most certainly don’t need are songs like “Famous,” which makes so little sense from a 11-year-old perspective or anyone elses, even the mush mouthed Florida Georgia Line who wrote the song didn’t feel it was worthy to record. “Yo Da Lady Who” is basically a sex song, which makes for really strange listening coming from an adolescent.
“Put the slick in my step, put the sway in my body. Put the boom, boom, boom… in my body,” says “Yo Da Lady Who,” which was only picked for Mason Ramsey because someone saw the title and thought it would work good for the ‘Yodel Boy.’ Oh but I guess the song’s sins are absolved because they chase it with a version of the old Gospel tune “I Saw the Light.” Listening to this EP is like viewing pornography with your grandparents.
The methodology for crafting this EP is so transparent, and ultimately ineffective. “Oh, if we have him do Hank Williams covers in between the Bro Country stuff, it will keep the wolves at bay!” Yeah, not so much. Even the pop country fans who may have enjoyed “Famous” don’t need to be subjected to a version of “Jambalaya” that will sound like the ultimate exercise in audio cheese to them.
If you want to include some more contemporary songs in Mason Ramsey’s repertoire, that’s fine. But pick some good ones, or have some songwriters write something specifically for Ramsey instead of grabbing for what’s readily at hand on the Bro Country slush pile just because you’re looking to capitalize off the kid’s viral arc before it fizzles. The dubious decision making and poor song selection is dousing Ramsey’s viral flames more than anything.
Everyone wants to think of Mason Ramsey as a meme or a viral star, when he should be approached is as a musical prodigy. Prodigy musicians are governed by their own sets of rules and guidelines, both in how they should be managed and presented, and how the public should regard them. Mason Ramsey was never going to become some arena superstar with radio hits, so why impinge on his natural development by trying to make him into one? He won’t even sound the same as he does today when he’s 17, which is good because even after the six songs of this EP, listening to his voice becomes quite tedious regardless of what he’s singing. But don’t blame Mason Ramsey for anything going on here. He’s 11-years-old. His currency is still Oreos and iPad time.
So what should they do with Mason Ramsey? That’s a good question. What intrigues us about prodigy musicians is they’re like molds of clay, and the mystery and potential of what they could develop into is what makes them enjoyable to follow. Most prodigies don’t develop into anything. They are talented for their age, but ultimately not talented or original enough to make a career of it in the adult world. Like family bands, many prodigies have a finite shelf life, and that’s okay. So it’s best to enjoy them for what they are, and in their time and place.
What is sacrilege with young musicians is to noodle with their sounds and influence so much that you risk irreparable damage to what they could develop into as artists, or people. Better to let nature run its course. Let the kid get his heart broken. Let him get pushed around by life where he can sing his own “Lovesick Blues.” Then and only then will we know if Mason Ramsey is worthy of our attention beyond a viral moment.
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The Very Bad: