For the last two years, critics in both country and Americana music have been talking about an age of hybridity taking hold over the narrative for the two genres, and in new singles like the new cut from Chris Chitsey, “Last Time I Saw You,” it’s hard to argue against the legitimacy of the buzz. “Last Time I Saw You” starts with a heady but slow groove and only gets more melodically soothing as it chugs forward, but its bucolic sensibilities are never far from the reach of the verses, the velvety harmonies that frame them, and the very production style that pushes all of the music from the speakers into the air around us. This is duality at its most cohesive, and to me, it’s as good a single as any artist could hope to release in 2023.
The lyrics in this song are devoid of the mundane metaphors that have long-plagued other crossovers and their composers as halfhearted campaigns for international acceptance quickly devolved into indie flavors of the month, and in tandem with the smooth instrumental backdrop, they verify the authenticity of our singer’s sentiments right off the bat. There’s never a moment that feels marred with artificialities, sonic or otherwise, in “Last Time I Saw You,” but instead a string of small passionate eruptions that together form the patchwork of a promising young career. This is only his first release, but already Chris Chitsey seems to have a handle on his identity and what he wants to do with it.
From an instrumental perspective, how “Last Time I Saw You” was mixed compensates for some of the more black-and-white attributes of the arrangement, but I wouldn’t say that there’s anything deceptive about the elements comprising the heart and soul of this single. Rather than trying to overwhelm us with a lot of literal instrumentation in the track, we’re getting a layered harmony that doesn’t need reverb to sound full-bodied and warm – it’s essentially like putting a firmer layer on top of a smart foundation that never needed help in the first place. Some might describe it as a cocky move towards decadence some players wouldn’t even dream of making themselves, but even in this light, I fail to see where that kind of a statement does Chitsey’s music any disservices (particularly among the fans who already have him on their radar this August).
“Last Time I Saw You” concludes with as simple a finish as it commences with, and although it isn’t the longest country single you’re likely to hear before the year 2023 has come to an end, it makes up for its short-running time with a wealth of melodic substance that I just haven’t been able to locate in a lot of the mainstream content I’ve reviewed in this genre. The underground once again proves itself to be the only circuit capable of competing with the mainstream country scene here, and in time I think we’ll see Chris Chitsey find success in both markets with ease.