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 releases, and a throwback tune.
Irony: I delayed this post by one day because of Billboard’s holiday delay, and it turns out there were no new entries to the Country Airplay top 40 anyway (Priscilla Block’s single is a re-entry, and one I’ve already reviewed). Double irony: This is the longest edition of this feature yet since our inaugural one. Anyway, onward!
Kaitlin Butts, “How Lucky Am I” (written by Kaitlin Butts)
I desperately wish we’d get more new music from Kaitlin Butts. She’s not incredibly prolific, especially with the increased appearances with Flatland Cavalry over the years, but she’s pretty much aimed the mark whenever she has released something new (the last example being 2019’s “White River”). And though this newest single is only a Valentine’s Day-inspired song for Cleto Cordero, she’s also been recording in the studio lately – you never know. But you also likely know what to expect with this single – it’s a love song filled with a reference to Flatland Cavalry’s “Honeywine” that’s generally pretty sweet all the way through. Oddly enough, though, it reminds me of Eric Church’s “Hell of a View”: It’s not aiming for schmaltz in the presentation and there’s a weathered edge to the slightly darker, bouncy, rollicking groove that manages to keep this grounded and sincere. And I like the honesty that comes in admitting she didn’t initially want to give in to love only to come around in her own way. Nice song with a nice touch.
Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi, “Calling Me Home” (written by Alice Gerrard)
Rhiannon Giddens is an artist who transcends the traditional role as an “artist” – she’s been such a strong champion of classics in the American songbook and black history that her works are as historically important as they are excellent to listen through. She’s got a new album coming out in April, once again with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, and her take on the classic Alice Gerrard song “They’re Calling Me Home” is excellent. But it’s also hard to review this individual cover outside of the album context, and with this new project slated to explore both her and Turrisi’s heritage and a sense of home inspired by the pandemic, it’s fitting that its first single is about leaving that home for a great beyond. Now, if the question is whether it can excel and transcend itself off of Giddens’ absolutely stellar, riveting yet tempered performance and Turrisi’s sparse violin accompaniment … well, yeah, absolutely, especially when Giddens stretches out the tension of not being quite ready to leave just yet and ending it on an abrupt note – that end is going to come either way, after all. Absolutely this week’s Boom – looking forward to more.
Katie Jo, “I Don’t Know Where Your Heart’s Been” (written by Katie Jo)
I’ve said before that with the generally slower release schedule this year as well as keeping on top of things for my Sunday Morning Paper feature that I’m aiming to discover more artists that might otherwise slip by my radar this year. So when I hear of a traditional country artist who, like Dwight Yoakam, came up playing in punk clubs and boxing gyms and reportedly has a debut album coming in April … well, OK, I’m definitely listening. And judging from her newest single, I like what I hear. Granted, it’s a clear throwback in the vein of something you would have heard in the ‘50s or early ‘60s, and there’s certainly no shortage of this type of retro material. Now, I’m often just inclined to listen to songs from that era if I want that fix, and I do think the Patsy Cline inflection and odd phrasing to fit the older style feels forced at points. But the production nails the weathered edges in the bass and lingering pedal steel to fantastic degrees, and I always appreciate it when heartbreak songs sound like they’re coming from some run-down honky-tonk, after all. And it all fits the theme, which, sure, is pretty basic in its framing, but I like how it draws out the lingering feeling of knowing a relationship is over and not knowing quite how to approach it when you never stopped loving that other person but have to accept that they don’t feel the same way anymore There’s sadness in facing reality, but joy in the healing that can come afterwards, too. Solid stuff, give it a listen.
Lanco, “Near Mrs.” (written by Brandon Lancaster, Shane McAnally, and Jeremy Spillman)
I remember when Lanco entered the scene around three years ago with a pretty agreeable country-folk-meets-country-rock sound and could compose some decent hooks and melodies. The group never crafted a distinct identity, but as a force in mainstream country music, I didn’t mind these guys. But they’ve flown off the rails since, first with the awful “Rival” from 2019 and now this new single, which tries to throw every sound they’ve tried so far into a big melting pot and doesn’t stick the landing that well. First off, it’s obvious they’re abusing a live vocal pickup with Brandon Lancaster, and all it does is make him sound oddly hollow and chintzy in the mix, not helped by the fact that he’s never been a terribly distinctive vocalist. Likable, yes, but not much more than that. I do appreciate the fairly organic presentation in the piano and smoldered electric guitar pickups, but I wouldn’t say the production is doing much to add muscle to these tones. And look, if they’re going to write a song about being thankful they dodged other women to finally end up with “the one,” it would help if they wrote about her in detail more than those other women. As it is, it’s fine and is certainly better than their last few singles, but I’m not won back over yet.
The Shootouts, “Rattlesnake Whiskey” (written by Ryan Humbert)
Well, this was a fun surprise – an Ohio-based band looking to release its sophomore album in April with a Western flair to it and production credit from former BR5-49 lead singer Chuck Mead. Safe to say, I had expectations, and this mostly meets them. Granted, I’m not wild about lead singer Ryan Humbert’s polished delivery as a singer and interpreter, but I love Emily Bates’ ghostly harmony vocal that adds real tension toward the end. And for a sinister song about Ohio lore, it nails the atmosphere in the galloping groove and smoldered touches of bass and pedal steel wrapped around an urban legend that tells of bootleggers making whiskey for locals to defend against rattlesnakes … which, suffice it to say, means this comes with an interesting backstory that’s fleshed out well here, even if you kind of expect the ending for this type of song. Dark yet fun stuff – it’s right up my alley.
We’re skipping right to our throwback review for the week, this time taking a look at the No. 2 single from this week in 1971, David Houston’s “A Woman Always Knows.”
David Houston, “A Woman Always Knows” (written by Billy Sherrill)
I must admit, David Houston wasn’t so much a new name to me prior to listening to this single as he was an unfamiliar one. For context, he had several hits in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, including a few duets with both Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell, and was known for his expressive vocal style. But I’ll be honest, it’s the sort of wide-ranging style that was a bit too “showy” and thin for my personal tastes here, not helped by an oddly twee performance. And look, I love a good cheating song, but not when it’s glorified or forgiven or just is left on an oddly unfinished note of “well, he’s just a man.” I can’t even give it the benefit of the time period it stemmed from – it’s just a poorly written song that I didn’t like at all.