The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 8 (2021): (Amythyst Kiah, Ashley Monroe, Jon Pardi, etc.)

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.

In terms of style and sound, this week is all over the place. That’s not so much bad as it is … interesting. Anyway, onward!

Amythyst Kiah, “Black Myself” (written by Amythyst Kiah)

I think not reviewing the debut album from Our Native Daughters in 2019 is one of my bigger blogging regrets. I mean, I remember why. A concept album that explored a history of slavery, rape and supression of Black America – Black women, especially – felt beyond me to properly review. Granted, two years later, I understand now that it’s better to try and amplify those stories, even if my interpretations fall short. So it looks like I have a second chance with Amythyst Kiah’s new single, which originally appeared as the opening song to that album and serves as the first single from her to-be-released solo Rounder Records project, and it’s even better this time around. The major difference comes through in the swaggering electric guitar riff and muddy drums that add not only a fantastic, stomping groove, but also a dark tension and driving urgency to a queer Black woman’s suppression. And that’s reflected even better in Kiah’s updated performance, which is notably angrier and, not to indulge too much in hyperbole, righteous. And if there ever was a time for a Black woman to take those stereotypes and insults thrown at her and diminish and squelch them for an anthem of pride and self-worth … yeah, it’s now. This rocks. Boom.

Ashley Monroe, “Drive” (written by Ashley Monroe, Niko Moon, and Mikey Reaves)

If I’m being honest, outside of her work with the Pistol Annies, I’ve struggled to connect with Ashley Monroe’s work since Like a Rose. And with her new album reportedly pushing outside of country music, well, I’m actually somewhat intrigued. She’s already been expanding her sound into lusher pop territory for a good while now, and a lot of it is beautiful in that regard, if a bit one-dimensional when taken as a whole. I was not, however, expecting this new single to feature a writing credit from Niko Moon (yuck) and sound one step removed from modern Lana Del Rey in the reverb-drenched atmosphere, willowy vocal effects and murky electric guitar. Granted, I don’t mean that as a bad thing, and I just might like this more than I should. I appreciate that this is aiming for something noticeably darker in the smoldered bass groove compared to her past work and not quite as soft, especially with how sensual the content gets. I mean, for what it’s aiming for, it’s got that danger embedded within to succeed. Again, I’m not sure how it will translate to the album as a whole, but given that she’s a more natural fit for this particularly style than most others who have tried it, I don’t mind this. I’d just, again, caution those who’ve enjoyed her past solo work to know what they’re getting into with this, but it grew on me.

And now, this week’s new arrivals to Billboard’s Country Airplay top 40 chart:

No. 36 – Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time” (written by Jon Pardi, Rhett Akins and Luke Laird)

Even if I haven’t been wowed since his debut album, I’m happy for Jon Pardi’s success in country music, especially off his last album that’s catapulted the better and genuinely country tracks to radio and, surprisingly, has actually further catapulted them near the top of the charts. As for “Tequila Little Time,” I get why it’s being released. It may not sound great right now in the freezing cold of winter, but he and his team are obviously aiming for a song that will pick up steam for spring and summer – Pardi’s attained the success and momentum to make defiantly neotraditional country music, but it doesn’t mean he’s rocketing up the charts with it. But for as charismatic as Jon Pardi is as a vocalist, he’s not exactly subtle or warm, and when he tries to step into island territory that’s only one step removed from Kenny Chesney, it’s an awkward fit. Granted, I do enjoy the blending of the horns and the fiddle for the main melody line and don’t mind this for what it is, but I’ve always groaned at that hook and think Pardi is really overselling things here. Again, not bad, but I already miss when he was channeling George Strait on “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” and had left his Chesney interpretation here as an album cut.

No. 40 – Scotty McCreery, “You Time” (written by Scotty McCreery, Frank Rogers and Aaron Eshuis)

I don’t feel so bad saying this will be relegated to a short blurb when I’ve already reviewed three singles today, which is to say that I’ve already reviewed this particular single before. I hate to say it, given that Scotty McCreery’s success story is one of my favorites of the past few years, but this song just ain’t it, folks. Bust.

After collecting some helpful feedback on Twitter, I’m happy to say I’m retooling my throwback review section for this feature. Instead of hopping through different chart positions from different decades, I’m aiming to explore a different year for every month of this year. For example, until the end of this March, I will take a look at different top five or ten singles from 1991, after which I will pick a different year to explore (and feel free to request one!). I think this will help to better maintain some consistency and not make this all feel so random. I hope you enjoy the change. So with this new rule in place, we’re taking a look at the No. 3 single from this date in 1991, Mark Chesnutt’s “Brother Jukebox.”

Mark Chesnutt, “Brother Jukebox” (written by Paul Craft)

Ah, Mark Chesnutt’s sophomore single and first No. 1 hit. Perfect, especially when this could very well be a nice sequel to “Too Cold at Home.” His significant other is long gone, and he’s back to the bar to drown his sorrows … and I know that sets up the easy cliché for the backbone of most country songs. Granted, this isn’t reinventing the wheel by any stretch. But aside from a strong melody, I like the slightly darker, minor touches characterizing it, especially with the subtle implications that this slight detour to the honky-tonk may result in him establishing his new permanent abode. And I’m always a sucker for songs with characters that drown their sorrows with music, too, and don’t mind getting a little darker and lonelier than most in this vein. There’s a reason why Chesnutt was on a hot streak from the beginning, and while he’s not the most immediately recognizable name from this era, it’s tracks like this that prove why he should be.

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