Welcome to The Singles Bar, a review series focused on new single and song releases.
If there is one artist who is most tragically undervalued, it’d be Mickey Guyton. She’s got the blistering vocal chords (how “Better Than You Left Me” failed to become a hit is beyond comprehension) and the dazzling style worthy of a New York socialite. She’s precisely what the next generation of country music should be. But, you know, we can’t have nice things…or whatever. Following “Heartbreak Song,” which, as addicting as that hook is, never lived up to her breathtaking talent, she returns with the organic, rootsy “Nice Things.” A lamentation about an ex-lover who always took her for granted, the airy ballad fits rather nicely in Guyton’s wheelhouse; her emotions pour forth cleanly and powerfully. “I am priceless, don’t you know? / But you broke me even so / Oh, shiny, golden diamond rings / Your momma always said, ‘you can’t have nice things,'” she sings as delicately as drawing up a tattered but comforting homemade quilt around your neck on a bitter winter eve. It’s not without it’s chilling undercurrent, as she upbraids the foolish miscreant who tossed her aside without a second glance.
“Held me tightly as you dared / And when I cried out, you did not care / You stole my heart and bent my wings / Your momma always said, ‘you can’t have nice things,'” she later brandishes, her blunt honesty beginning to seep increasingly as the story moves from subtle cues to outright exhortations. The bluegrass arrangement keeps Guyton grounded, too, as she unravels threads of their relationship. Instead of offering up a resentful vocal, it’s emphatic with a stinging edge. Later, she unpacks the meat of the song with one full swoop: “Oh, little boy with all your toys out in the yard / I gave you the moon, but you had to have the stars / Took ’em from the sky and you left them in the dark / ‘Til they rusted right through.”
Guyton co-wrote the little ditty with industry stalwarts Liz Rose (Taylor Swift, Little Big Town, Jewel) and Stephanie Chapman (Bonnie Raitt, Lady Antebellum, Eric Church) and gives 2017 the much-deserved sucker punch it so desperately needed. Sam Hunt might be destroying the mainstream brick-by-brick with the biggest hit single of the entire year, but Guyton demonstrates how you can still have country in country music and be just as widely appealing. “Nice Things” is a lovely blend of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Griffin, assisting in refocusing attention to pure storytelling and vocal power. “Precious memories gone like that / You can’t ever buy them back / No you cannot afford these dreams,” she reflects. “Like momma always said, ‘you can’t have nice things,'” which leads into the song’s ace lyric: “You can’t keep me a lock and key / Just to satisfy your needs Oh, don’t you know why the caged bird sings?”
There is such magic in simplicity and really gutting into life’s messier, darker moments. Guyton is a blessing, one of the best vocalists of her generation. With such songs like “Why Baby Why,” “Better Than You Left Me” and now “Nice Things” to her credit, she is unmistakably firing on all creative cylinders. Radio, what’s good? I sincerely hope “you can’t have nice things” is a playful jab at the dumpster fire that is, in fact, terrestrial radio. Because really, the gods have forbade us from having nice things…ever. again.
Now, where’s that album?
Grade: 4.5 out of 5
Spin “Nice Things” below: