Songwriters: Will Hoge, Eric Paslay
Over the years, there have been countless country songs that have delved into the experiences of an aspiring country music star trying to make it in Nashville, and there’s an endless variety of possible angles from which to approach the theme. There have been songs like Lacy J. Dalton’s “16th Avenue” and Pam Tillis’ “Band In the Window” that have celebrated the spirited determination of those who make the pilgrimage down to Nashville. There have been songs like Trisha Yearwood’s “Wrong Side of Memphis” which channels drive and determination into a fierce and fiery musical experience. But perhaps the best song to compare the new Eli Young Band single to is the Dixie Chicks’ 2001 single “Heartbreak Town,” written by Darrell Scott, in that both songs address the rough and difficult nature of the road to stardom.
“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” lacks the spot-on commentary and vivid attention to detail that helped make the aforementioned Dixie Chicks song such a strong across-the-board winner, but instead makes it mark through pulsing energy and raw emotion, thanks in large part to Mike Eli’s earnest lead vocal. The song begins over quiet acoustic guitar strumming as Young sings “Way back on the radio dial/ The fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child/ Every note just wrapped around his soul/ From steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock and roll.” From there, the song quickly picks up muscle.
The message of “Keep on dreaming” may ring as somewhat trite, but the hook of “…even if it breaks your heart” effectively hones in on the narrator’s determination to reach his goals regardless of the cost. Eli’s delivery is colored with a sincere lived-in emotional quiver, which supplies the greater part of the song’s impact. The production is predictably loud, but the driving arrangement fits well with the song’s theme, while also retaining just enough focus and clarity to avoid coming across as needless noise. Incidentally, the steel guitar player shows up to remind us what radio format we’re listening to.
Though the song stumbles in telling its story – a little more detail with regard to the narrator’s heartbreak would have been helpful – the spirit of the song shines through above all else, which is enough to redeem the group from the misguided condescension of “Crazy Girl.” “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” is a fine display of interpretive ability on Eli’s part, and will likely impart some much-needed emotional punch to the mainstream country radio scene.