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 singles, and a throwback tune.
This was definitely a lighter week, but not at the expense of pure quality, thankfully. Anyway, onward!
Triston Marez, “Where the Neon Lies” (feat. Ronnie Dunn) (written by Triston Marez, Chris DuBois, and Lynn Hutton)
I’ve been quietly keeping my eye on Triston Marez for some time now, mostly because he’s the type of artist with real groundswell support who was slated to break out last year … until things went sideways, that is. And it doesn’t look like those standalone singles released last year are going to be anything beyond that, sadly. He’s finally releasing a full-length debut album in April that’s on my radar, especially when its lead single features Ronnie Dunn, of all people. And look, while this is the sort of tear-in-your-beer, neotraditional country song that isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel stylistically or lyrically, I loved it right away nonetheless. Choosing to let the atmosphere linger for a bit off the organ, gentle acoustics, smoky rattled bass, piano and pedal steel to introduce the song was absolutely the right call here, given how gorgeous and warm these tones are for this brand of country music. It’s definitely tipping its hat toward the ‘90s in the melody line, which is fitting, given the featured artist here. I’m not sure this really works as a duet, but Dunn certainly doesn’t get in the way, and I really don’t mind hearing a close cousin of “Neon Moon.” He does naturally overshadow Marez a bit here, though, and I wouldn’t have minded hearing some greater camaraderie between them – commiserate together where the neon lies, you know? As it is, it’s still incredibly solid. A close second for this week’s Boom.
This week’s new additions to the Billboard Country Airplay are strange, mostly because I’ve technically talked about one song here already and am just disgusted to see the other one.
No. 24 – Lady A, “Like a Lady” (written by Hillary Scott, Dave Barnes, Michelle Buzz, Martin Johnson, and Brandon Paddock)
“Like a Lady”? Like, Anita White, you mean? Like, the original Lady A?
I wish that was just a joke, too, but considering how badly this band handled changing their name in the wake of the George Floyd protests last year, watching them promote a new single that plays directly off that name isn’t exactly a good look! But, OK, tone-deaf as it all is and as shocking as it is to see this debut so high for a band that peaked over a decade ago, is this any good? Sure, if you wanted a version of “Downtown,” “You Look Good” or “Bartender” that doesn’t quite suck. If I’m being perfectly honest, there’s a surprising amount of organic punch in the brighter fiddle and mandolin tones playing off the prominent drums and banjo in the low-end to give this song a decent groove. If nothing else, it’s playing in the same lane as the tracks I liked off of Ocean and less off “Champagne Night.” But if we’re circling back to those comparisons of their other songs, it only reinforces how aggressively “uncool” this band has always been, and I’ve never considered Hillary Scott a terribly distinctive or expressive presence, especially when she’s going for faux female empowerment here. Which is to say that the content is a bit of a mess when judged in that aforementioned context of doing whatever you want because of who you are – a bit too on the nose, there. Judging it outside of that context like I’m supposed to, though, it’s passable for what it is, if, again, not terribly convincing from this band. A decent, if forgettable song, but a Bust in more ways than one.
No. 33 – Lainey Wilson, “Things A Man Oughta Know” (written by Jonathan Singleton, Lainey Wilson, and Jason Nix)
I actually considered covering this ahead of Lainey Wilson’s debut album release, mostly because things weren’t looking good for it prior to that release, and I was afraid this would be another Caylee Hammack situation of a promising female talent getting lost in the mix far too soon. Granted, I didn’t end up loving the album as much as I wanted, and I’m not exactly happy to see iHeart’s On the Verge shenanigans being the catalyst for this song’s sudden surge, given how that program has helped certain artists have more hits than they deserve (looking right at you, Dustin Lynch). But when the groundswell support is already there and established and it’s just a matter of country radio getting its head out of its ass to recognize that, well, I find it hard to complain.
Now, I pretty much explained why I liked this in my review of the album, but to reiterate: The generally quieter minor chords balance excellently against the mandolin and bass to give this a generally warm rollick in its hopeful optimism and confidence to support the wry hook, but also emphasize the bitterness that comes with how those lessons learned came to be – which is also a note on Wilson’s wonderfully understated delivery. And while this does start from some fairly simple clichés of things “country boys” are supposed to know how to do, like hunt and fish, I like that this builds a storyline through those lessons and eventually pivots toward something more mature – even if a significant other doesn’t know what love means in the moment, they’re supposed to learn along the way, at the very least. Boom – Fantastic song; I’ll be glad to see it become a hit.
We’ve still got a few more weeks to explore some early ‘90s chart hits, and since last week’s selection of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” by Pam Tillis is on its way down on this chart, let’s rewind and start back at No. 1, with Clint Black’s “Loving Blind.”
Clint Black, “Loving Blind” (written by Clint Black)
If you want the best of Clint Black, his earliest albums are the way to go, and while this isn’t quite in the same league as, say, “Better Man” or “Killin’ Time,” it’s still pretty solid. It’s certainly one of his outright darkest cuts, and I appreciate the subtle, lingering space each instrumental tone gets here to stretch out that haunting, minor touch. Indeed, it’s a song that’s not so much built on interplay as it is a trade-off between the drawn-out pedal steel and fiddle breaks. Actually, considering how languid it can get at points, I wish it aimed even darker, especially when the actual content is sort of pedestrian and overwrought without that backdrop. Still, for those early years in the decade, it rarely got better than Black. Solid stuff – it was worth the revisit.