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When people ask me why I love country music, I usually come back to one quality: resilience. When you strip away the sonic elements, the reason I return to this genre again and again is because of a steely, quiet resolve, a self-reliance that won’t be shaken come hell or high water. That resilience feels wedded to the American spirit — a callback to the grit and determination that built the best parts of our nation. That’s the spirit of resolve that courses through Ryan Beaver’s rich baritone on “Dark,” the lead single off his new album Rx. I can say without a hint of doubt that this is the strongest country song I’ve heard this year.
While the rest of the country is still parsing through the etymology of bro-country and whether or not Sam Hunt is destroying or preserving the genre, Beaver was holed up writing heart-lurching, defiant story-songs like “Dark.” It builds slowly, with a hint of the avalanche to come, lamenting the storms of fear and doubt that rage around us before bursting into an enormous chorus about facing down your demons with guns blazing. Beaver deploys opposites here with the precision of a master songwriter; the subject matter ostensibly deals with darkness while the bright, raging chorus is as full of light as music can possibly be. And if the chorus sounds like it burst forth spontaneously, it practically did. Beaver says below that they ended up keeping his first-ever vocal take of the track because nothing else captured the essence.
There’s an element of Springsteen here — in the impassioned delivery, in the heartland imagery — but Beaver isn’t a secondhand artist by any means. For one, his Texan accent is unmissable even on the most aching moments of the chorus. For another, even when this song leans toward rock it is still decidedly country. Weeping steel guitars give way to hints of banjo, and there’s bluegrass and zydeco creeping into that soaring rock chorus. But at the heart of it, it’s the song’s resilience that slots it neatly into that genre. This is country music: backbone of rebellion, spirit fueled by hope. Listen.
Beaver provided some context as to what the song means to him:
“Dark” is the anchor for my new record Rx. It’s the song that made me say ok, it’s time to make a new record. I wrote it on a cold fall morning with a few friends of mine — Ryan Tyndell & Matt Nolen. I was going through a really hard period in my life when we wrote this song. Struggling with accepting the sudden loss of both my grandfather and close friend. I remember thinking that the world didn’t make much sense to me. I just walked around feeling like this big storm had moved in and wouldn’t leave. I wasn’t handling it well and lost my faith, lost a relationship but once I turned to music, this song, the healing process began. This record would go on to be my prescription and the music, the medicine. When I sang the vocal on “Dark,” I didn’t know I had it in me until it was done. We ended up keeping our first vocal for the final mix because we all knew it captured the essence of the message. It felt like lightning in a bottle. I love everything about this song — the feel, the honesty it has and how simple and child-like the hook is: “I ain’t afraid of the dark.” I think I needed to hear the words more than anyone and I knew if anyone was feeling like I was, people could relate.