Makin’ Tracks: Parker McCollum Gets a ‘Handle’ on His George Strait Influences

Makin’ Tracks: Parker McCollum Gets a ‘Handle’ on His George Strait Influences thumbnail

Given that Parker McCollum emerged from the Texas bar circuit and signed with MCA Nashville behind music heavily informed by classic country, the singer-songwriter has received a fair amount of comparison to one of his biggest influences, George Strait.

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His voice sounds different — McCollum has a distinct angst while Strait delivers with a quiet confidence. But there is enough similarity to warrant the correlation. It makes McCollum feel a little uncomfortable.

” I love all the comparisons I’ve been getting to him recently, but that’s not my identity,” McCollum said. He was nominated for the CMA Awards new artist of year award on Wednesday, Sept. 7. His music and records have influenced me greatly. He is the benchmark for me and country music. But I would like to do my own thing, and I want people know that Parker McCollum is the only George. There is only one George .”

McCollum’s latest single, “Handle on You,” will likely increase those comparisons as it’s the same song that Strait released across the airwaves repeatedly. It has a lyrical twist that is obvious but doesn’t make the listener feel beaten over the head. It has a catchy chorus, which lifts a bit higher than the verses but retains a range compact sufficient that almost anyone can sing it. It reveals the sensitive side of its protagonist without compromising their masculinity.

” “It’s right up to my alley, and the kind of music that I grew up loving and listening to,” he said. “I want songs like that .”

McCollum penned it on July 1, 2020, with Monty Criswell (“I Saw God Today,” “Five More Minutes”) at a Midtown condominium in Nashville in a mashup of starter ideas from each writer. McCollum provided the melancholy melody and Criswell contributed a title, “Handle on You,” which he derived from visits to his daughter at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. Criswell was initially drawn to Jack Daniel’s by the billboards that lined the route. The liquor industry is the only one that uses the term “handle”. 75-liter bottles are large enough that originally they required a loop to make them easy to carry — and the term’s semi-obscurity is a contemporary bonus.

” In days past, it was very important in a writer’s room that you didn’t go beyond what was known. Criswell says that they took time years ago to ensure that we were doing something that was well-known. People will pull out their phones and find out if there is something they don’t know or are partially aware of. The discovery aspect adds shine to the experience .”

Over the years Criswell’s “handle at Jack Daniel’s” became “handle on YOU”.

Interestingly, Criswell understood “handle” better that the wordplay. He called McCollum the next day to tell him that he had just noticed how clever the “back and forth” and “fifth line were.

McCollum opened the verse with the line “I went and purchased the biggest bottle they got’cause they’re gone,” which emphasized the “handle” and was repeated at the end. They dropped a Merle Hagard mention, and strengthened it in verse 2 by inserting one his classic titles, “I think I’ll just stay here and drink .”

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” That was actually accidental,” McCollum says, though Criswell suggests it’s not entirely true. He says, “It was something that I was thinking that was not articulated.”

But, it was McCollum, who anchored the story with an alcohol line that is both humorous and insightful. It’s so good, they even repeated it at the end. McCollum says, “I knew the song wasn’t good when I just kinda spit it out.”

They created a simple tape and then moved on to other writing sessions. McCollum began to review material towards the end of the year and realized that “Handle On You” was important. On Jan. 26, 2021, the two worked on a demo with engineer-producer Julian King (Tyler Farr, Tracy Lawrence) that traded on the ’90s sound. McCollum recorded the final version shortly after at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio, along with producer Jon Randall Miranda Lambert Dierks Bent ),, who intentionally made it less Strait-laced.

” That demo’s really Country, which there’s nothing wrong,” Randall states, “other than going that throwback, you know, like super throwback, was just not going to Work .”

Randall, the musicians, and the performers contemporized it without losing its emotional core. They sped up the pace, dropped fiddle, gave steel guitarist Dan Dugmore more power, and had pianist Jimmy Wallace set the mood with atmospheric bass notes. Dugmore and electric guitarist Rob McNelley traded solos. Acoustic guitarist Bryan Sutton interwoven parts created an insistent eighth-note beat.

“When they are broken down, they don’t actually stack on top of each other like it sounds, but it all kinda blends together,” Randall says. “I love the way this guy’s brain works .”

Randall also padding the chorus’ tail end so that the “finally got control” part occurs twice, which delays the resolution of the chord progression by just two seconds. McCollum was able to sing the parts well, making it sound effortless. Randall notes that McCollum was a singer I know who is a natural talent. “Everybody I know will call up and be obsessed with his vocals,” Randall says.

Originally MCA had planned to release “Hurricane” as its next single, but McCollum called Mike Dungan , Universal Music Group Nashville chairman/CEO to let him know that he felt “Handle should be the Nod.” It’s currently at Number. 40 on the Country Airplay chart dated Sept. 10, putting McCollum’s smoothly sarcastic resonance atop the toned-down Strait arrangement. He doesn’t seem to be putting too much stock in this comparison.

“There is only one king,” He says, pausing for a half-beat before he focuses on his ambition. “Maybe one of these days, there’ll just be a prince in country music .”

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