There’s something about the way Lainey Wilson sings that brings to mind the great, weepy country queens of yore. In particular, there’s a trace of Tammy Wynette, whose intimate and wounded delivery could depict a steely façade hiding an unsatisfied interior life or say it all out loud for complete runny mascara, crying-in-public devastation.
Where Wynette famously exhorted women to “Stand by Your Man,” Wilson inverts that narrative by singing about a man who should have been standing by her in “Things a Man Oughta Know,” which is currently the Number One song on country radio. It’s one of those rare and welcome breaks from hit party songs by dudes, and it succeeds in part because Wilson’s bruised timbre and Louisiana drawl make it feel lived-in, as if she’s experienced that specific flavor of disappointment too many times to count.
Written by Wilson with Jason Nix and Jonathan Singleton, it begins with a bit of misdirection, like we’re in for a lengthy set of boasts about her country bona fides. “I can hook a trailer on a two-inch hitch/I can shoot a shotgun, I can catch a fish,” Wilson sings. “I can change a tire on the side of the road/Yeah, I know a few things a man oughta know.”
When the chorus hits, Wilson’s list shifts from the realm of practical knowledge to matters of the heart: “How to know when it’s love/How to stay when it’s tough/How to know you’re messing up a good thing/And how to fix it ‘fore it’s too late.” If your parents taught you how to fish and hunt, she seems to be saying, then they also should’ve taught you how to be a better, more supportive partner.
Also crucial to the song’s power is the cinematic production from Jay Joyce, who’s recorded top country acts like Eric Church and Brothers Osborne. Centered on a cascading mandolin riff that turns around on itself, “Things a Man Oughta Know” sticks with a spacious-but-restrained approach. The verses are underpinned by a keyboard that softly twinkles like distant city lights; the drums start and drop out abruptly; and a slightly distorted electric guitar sighs through a melancholy solo in the middle section. It all complements the unresolved frustration in Wilson’s lyrics.
Wilson’s major-label debut, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, was released back in February, following a decade-plus of independent releases and trying to survive in the hyper-competitive, hyper-fickle country music industry. With “Things a Man Oughta Know,” Wilson has announced her arrival as an artist with something to say and the emotional intelligence to say it in a way that will stick with you.