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Makin’ Tracks: Russell Dickerson Casts Earthly Love as a Spiritual Journey in ‘God Gave Me a Girl’

todayDecember 6, 2022

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Absence, it is said, makes the heart grow fonder, and touring musicians ought to know.


The travel, the time spent waiting and prepping in the dressing room and the let-down moments after the show is over are all windows of time ripe for gnawing self-reflection and what-ifs. Time apart can indeed change a heart, and Russell Dickerson figured that out roughly a decade ago, when a breakup with Kailey Seymour forced him to confront a gaping hole as he traversed the club circuit as a newly single man.

“We had just broken up, and I was looking for anybody,” he remembers. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be out here on the road. Might as well see if I can find a wife out here.’ It didn’t work. But at the time, we were just playing crappy bar after crappy bar. I’m giving it my all, nobody’s showing up, I’m lonely, I just left my future wife back in Nashville.”

A lot turned around on that particular tour. Dickerson’s mindset changed; they reunited and married in May 2013. Kailey was the inspiration — and the videographer — for his first hit, the 2017 single “Yours,” and she’s again a looming figure in the plot of “God Gave Me a Girl,” penned during several days of focused songwriting last spring at the Middle Tennessee home of songwriter Ashley Gorley (“She Had Me at Heads Carolina,” “Take My Name”). 

On the second or third day of the retreat, after they had written several songs and emotional walls were down, Zach Crowell (“Body Like a Back Road,” “Waves”) suggested a solid potential title, “God Gave Me a Hometown,” that the quartet started playing with and reshaping. In the process, Dickerson turned it into “God Gave Me a Girl,” a title that checked at least two boxes for him.

“I love alliteration,” he says, “and my reputation precedes myself as the love song guy.”

Chase McGill (“5 Foot 9,” “Never Say Never”), working with an electric guitar borrowed from Crowell, started playing with a random tone — a little glassy, a little dirty — and created a melancholy riff that rises slowly before tumbling back to its starting point. Gorley toyed with the word “gave” — “God gave me a girl, girl gave me a kiss/Kiss gave me a feelin’ that I still get” — and halfway through the chorus, they knew they were on to something with a worthwhile lyrical bent and a melody that fits, climbing as it progresses through the initial lines of the chorus.

“The key to melodies is where it’s repetitive, but changes,” says Gorley. “I know that sounds crazy, but it has a little bit of rise where it’s repeating the rhythm, but then the melody changes and has tension and release.

“I want you to almost be able to sing along during the first chorus,” he continues, “like where you can kind of join in when you’re singing a song and you don’t really know it.”

As they kept building the lyric around shades of the word “give,” it changed tense and reversed roles between the couple: “She gave me her hand, I gave her a ring.” And finally at the end, the singer credits the Almighty for shifting his viewpoint: “I knew what I wanted but He knew better/ God gave me a girl.”

“I almost wanted God to come out of nowhere, because that’s kind of how it happens for me,” McGill says. “You’re going along, you’re doing your thing, and then God interjects. Then from that point on, it’s a progression of the changes in your life.”

The song’s progression is a familiar one to many adult men. The protagonist spends part of verse one trolling at night — “I gave my all to those empty bars” is a direct reference to Dickerson’s touring when he and Kailey had broken up — and by verse two, after the divine intervention, his friends adjust slowly to his shifting priorities. By the bridge, he pledges to “give her the world” after recognizing some sort of destiny brought the couple together.

“I feel like it was God who changed my mind, that convinced me that this was my wife,” says Dickerson, further connecting the song to his actual life. “As soon as I broke up with her in college, all the peace left my body. And that’s just a spiritual thing, like I was being convinced that she’s my wife, this is happening, we’re doing it.”

At the end of the March 30 writing session, Crowell produced a demo built around Dickerson’s vocal and McGill’s guitar work. At some juncture over the next few months, the vocal was mistakenly erased, and Dickerson recorded another version.

But that also meant he had more repetition before the tracking session at Nashville’s Sound Stage on June 22. Crowell and Dickerson co-produced the date, fashioning an arrangement that gradually unfolds from the original demo’s sound — the glassy guitar and programmed percussion — to a full band. The musical elements all help to keep it from becoming overly mushy.

“That probably goes back to that guitar riff and that guitar tone,” Crowell says. “It’s not so pretty, light and fluffy, and the other production stuff I did hopefully all ties into it. If it’s a pretty poem as a lyric, it’s nice that the track may have a little bit of a slight edge to it that makes it a good Russell Dickerson song.”

The other production elements included some cloudy, atmospheric sounds and a slide guitar that lend a slightly mysterious aura.

“The mystery is definitely a good thing,” says Crowell. “There’s a little tension in it, but it’s not a bunch of dark, eerie chords or anything. It’s all still hopeful.”

Ultimately, “God Gave Me a Girl” embraces the natural femininity of a love song, offset with a touch of grit. “It doesn’t feel like a ballad,” Gorley says. “I’m a piano guy, so every day, I fight the temptation of writing a ballad. To just write a love song on piano, super slow, every day would be great, but I’ve worked that out of my system. And so I’m always looking for some way for it to feel fun or celebratory or something like that. This one pulls that off.”

The writers weren’t the only fans. “Our real test for songs is always playing them for our girls,” says McGill. “My four-year-old and three-year-old are old enough where they can sing along with Daddy’s songs and whatnot. Me and my wife can always tell if they request it in the car. When they did that, I was like, ‘Maybe we got a little hit here.’ ”

Triple Tigers released “God Gave Me a Girl” to country radio on Nov. 18. Dickerson felt they had a commercial winner on their hands even before they finished writing it, and its release suggests his assessment that day still holds true: “I think we’re headed to hitty city with this one.” 

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todayDecember 6, 2022

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