The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox is a weekly series where I cover new entries to the top 40 of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, standalone oddities, and a throwback tune.
Another light week, but not because of old reviews catching up with me, for once. Anyway, onward!
Chapel Hart, “I Will Follow” (written by Savannah Keyes, Jennifer Hanson, and Nick Brophy)
I’m branding 2021 as a year for new discoveries, and I owe this one to my Country Universe colleague, Jonathan Keefe. So meet Chapel Hart, a family trio made up of sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and cousin Trea Swindle, who released an album in 2019 and a few scattered singles last year that didn’t gain much traction because of being, well, 2020. But they received a well-earned spot in CMT’s Next Women of Country class for this year and have had some interesting cameos in their music videos, all of which have been pretty clever and entertaining thus far. And while I hate being late to the party – especially when they’ve already released a new single this year in “You Can Have Him Jolene” that’s pretty damn great – let me just say this from digging through their backlog: Chapel Hart is awesome. Honestly, I’m not even sure “I Will Follow” is the best starting point, and it’s great, too. It’s playing very much to a familiar folk-pop/country fusion in the melodic composition, but driven by some great, stomping handclap percussion, sunny acoustics, warm bass for a moodier foundation, and those stellar harmonies matched against a rollicking groove. And I like that the production emphasizes that simultaneous drive and hesitation of the content. It’s not so much paradoxical as it is leaning into the feeling of pushing onward in spite of adversity, which can make for a very cloying, oversold message … only, there’s an honesty in acknowledging how that could lead to a dead end, and the emphasis, then, shifts towards having the confidence to push on despite that and try as many times as it takes. Sure, it’s a bit broadly sketched, but when it’s got this much sweeping firepower behind it, it’s hard to care. Boom, easily for this week.
I’ll end with this: If the country music industry wants to make good on their promise to be more inclusive, especially in the wake of last week, this is something that could fit on modern radio playlists and doesn’t suck. That’s a huge plus on so many levels. Speaking of songs blatantly meant for modern country radio, though …
No. 33 – Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist” (written by Dan Smyers, Shay Mooney, Ryan Lewis, Jordan Reynolds, and Tayla Parx)
Look, I didn’t initially mind Dan + Shay. They made very cutesy, breezy pop-country that had its target audience that I was well not within. And when they took chances with their melodic or lyrical compositions, we’d get material that could transcend that caveat, like, say, “How Not To.” And then “Tequila” happened, and they’ve been resorting to the same well of material ever since, at least for their singles. To an extent, I get it. If anything, both members have always had an honest sincerity to their delivery, cribbing from the love-stuck, boy band-esque formula of acts before them, for sure, but with some surprisingly decent harmonies and without the traces of debauchery that could potentially weigh them down. But there’s also a point where it’s so sincere in an effort to keep that momentum going, it sounds ridiculous and overblown, and that’s where I’ve been with the bulk of their material as of late. But “Glad You Exist” isn’t one of their worst cuts, especially compared to that last awful single. There’s an acoustic foundation that takes prominence … at the beginning, that is, until the lightweight synthetic elements creep in and make the song feel chintzy, because mainstream country music can’t ever seem to get that blend right. And it’s not like the mix is doing much other than to support the content, and let’s be honest, this is the same, formulaic cut you’ve heard from this duo before, amplified by the boyfriend-country era. Even Shay Mooney can’t muster up the charm needed to pull this off again, turning in a surprisingly limp performance that doesn’t bolster the brightness of the arrangement or the content, which is equally as bad with that hook. I mean, “I’m glad you exist,” really? Didn’t want to go all Dierks Bentley and say, “she’s got a body, and she’s naughty” or just thank her for being a human being? If anything, it only reinforces the diminished role these women actually play in these types of songs, and I’ve already said way more than I need to for this song. Bust, easily.
As I said last week, we’re resetting the clock on our throwback reviews, this time starting with the No. 1 single on this day in 1961, and gradually making our way to more current songs before starting the process over again.
Ferlin Husky, “Wings of a Dove” (written by Bob Ferguson)
This is one of those songs where there’s more to say about its formation and influence than there is to say about the song itself. For context: It’s a Christian song that’s been recorded numerous times, with certain versions adding and subtracting certain verses that, ultimately, references several passages from the Bible, made most popular by Ferlin Husky, becoming his third and final No. 1 hit. Listening to it, I get why. Husky’s clear, huge tone is an asset, and while this is a blatant example of what the “Nashville Sound” of the time sounded like with the backing vocalists echoing that hook and the rollicking banjo in the low-end, it’s also an example of why trends themselves aren’t bad – rather, just the pure oversaturation of them over time. Now, whether the ultimate message of God being there for us in times of strife elevates or diminishes its impact is completely subjective, and honestly, when weighing in the timing and context and the genre’s historical ties to spirituality, I don’t mind it for what it is, I guess.