Backtrack: Steel Magnolia, “Keep On Lovin’ You”

Review originally published at the late, great The 9513 in September 2009. The couple has since split up and parted ways creatively, but its female half – Meghan Linsey – is included in the batch of new, undiscovered (cough) talent competing on the current season of NBC’s The Voice. Never mind that Linsey was previously Taylor Swift’s labelmate and Blake Shelton’s opening act.

steelmagnoliaAs past Nashville Star and American Idol contestants can attest, winning a television singing competition isn’t the same as winning a slot on ever-shrinking radio playlists, much less achieving a long-term career in music.

In fact, the very quality that often makes acts stand out on such shows – sounding polished and professional, like something you could easily imagine on the radio – can, ironically, hurt an act’s prospects when it comes to winning actual radio play.

All of the sudden, these contest winners are launched into a new game where everything sounds as good as what’s on the radio (because it is on the radio), but there’s only enough space for a fraction of it to get major play. Having proven their ability to fit into the commercial scene, these acts are charged with the new task of differentiating themselves within that scene.

That’s basically the challenge Can You Duet winners Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones, a real-life couple whose musical partnership comes tagged with the rather uninspired Steel Magnolia moniker, face with their debut single. Coupled with that, there’s the additional oddness of letting audiences hear for the first time what they’ve only seen on a TV show. Steel Magnolia gives standout live performances – a fact that helped it win the competition – but live performances and studio recordings are altogether different beasts. Will the magic translate, or will viewers find that stage presence blinded them to underlying musical deficiencies?

The duo’s debut single for Big Machine Records is “Keep On Lovin’ You,” a song penned by Chris Stapleton and Trent Willmon. Jones and Linsey’s sultry dynamic actually does translate pretty well to record, and the interplay between their voices on this track is legitimately enjoyable. The song sounds like a standard-issue rocking love song – and indeed it was issued to them by head cheese Scott Borchetta – but they pull it off with apparent ease and conviction. This could be a release by a major, genre-leading act. It doesn’t have much of that second-rate reality show stink about it.

Given that it’s not much better or much worse than any other songs vying for radio slots, this single will ultimately live or die by Big Machine’s ability to mobilize Steel Magnolia’s existing fanbase. The inherent difficulties of launching acts from reality shows being what they are, I’ll give “Keep On Lovin’ You” a qualified thumbs-up, based on the fact that it does it exactly what it sets out to do: it’s a likable performance that gives the duo a real shot at commercial relevance. If this proves enough to get their career started on the right foot, I might be a little more inclined to nitpick next time.

“Keep On Lovin’ You” on Amazon

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