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. There’s only two possible ratings – Boom, for the good stuff, and Bust, for the stuff best avoided.
This was another weird week. There were several new entries to the Billboard Country Airplay top 40 week … but they were all re-entries, and it’s a good reminder of how clogged these charts get and why I care more about reviewing them than following them. As such, this was a week of discovery for me, and we ended up with a pretty loaded batch of material – so much so that I reviewed another single, Candi Carpenter and Brandi Carlile’s “Dirt Around the Tree,” for Country Universe. Anyway, onward!
Chase Bryant, “High, Drunk, and Heartbroke” (written by Chase Bryant, Stephen Wilson Jr., and Dave Pittenger)
Those who read my Sunday Morning Paper feature may recognize this name from a few weeks ago. And the context is of a heavier variety: While Chase Bryant fosters a respectable musical background and released a few decent, but not spectacular, singles in the 2010s, he pretty much disappeared around the middle of the decade, and in 2018 tried to commit suicide. Thankfully, he’s come out on the other side of that, and he’s set to release a debut album later this year. And while I’m not sure this new single is a more unique showcase of his talents compared to his mainstream singles, it’s certainly a better one. It’s fairly basic, familiar heartbreak song, but what impressed me was the approach. Bryant is clearly putting his all into the vocal in ways he didn’t showcase before, and while this is mainly bolstered by its faint acoustics, I appreciate the multiple lengthy blues-inspired solos that creep up every now and then to add some tighter muscle and smolder … even if it also means this track drags on way too long and can feel a bit overblown as a result. As it is, call it a result of performing the basics pretty excellently, but I dig this.
Samantha Crain, “Bloomsday” (written by Samantha Crain)
This was the last track I decided to add for this week, and it ended up providing a great surprise. For context: Samantha Crain is a Choctaw-American folk singer with an EP on the way soon, and this single is the sort of hazy mind-warp that is just gorgeously constructed. Granted, there are lot of easy sonic parallels to other acts in the indie-folk scene to note, and while the reverb-soaked vocals help coax the gentler melodic passage and huge hook, the tone of this song’s swell is a fair bit brighter and ethereal, and the focus is always on the primary melody, especially with the “This Little Light of Mine” interpolation that surprisingly works. And that’s a note on layering, too, from the driving, rollicking acoustics that open the track before adding in a swell of sweeping piano and pedal steel for atmospheric marks. It’s the sort of organic intimacy that supports the best work in this vein. Now, I would say that it’s a sonic delight that I like for that reason alone, and that the writing can feel a bit slight and scattershot in trying to find peace and optimism for a dark time. It’s not a pandemic song, per se, but is strangely dark and damn-near apocalyptic in its framing to support the general euphoria of that hook, and I kept wishing for another verse to tie things together. With that said, this is a beautiful surprise that hasn’t left my head since I heard it. In other words, it’s this week’s Boom.
Jason Eady, “Back to Normal” (written by Jason Eady)
… OK, I’ll be frank, I’m not ready for the wave of upcoming singles looking to address the “new normal,” not even from my favorite artists. With that said, I can’t argue against having new Jason Eady music, and while there’s no news of any upcoming project in the works, “Back to Normal” is one of the better offerings in this vein that we’re going to get. With that said, it is very much a “pandemic” song, and it’s obvious that this was written sometime last year (fall, to be exact). Granted, it’s also the timing that gives this a noticeably darker edge without being overly dramatic or saccharine – that’s not Eady’s style. If anything, the darker yet chipper groove running parallel to the terrific, fast-paced mandolin work reminded me of some of the better driving tunes of 2018’s I Travel On or “Drive.” And I like that it leans into the uncertainty of the future while never acknowledging that we’ll miraculously adjust to what happens next. Sure, that’s starting to become a little more conventional in and of itself, but there’s a darker realism framing the track that’s always supported Eady’s best work. I wouldn’t go that far with this new song, but it’s pretty solid for what it is.
Rory Feek feat. Trisha Yearwood, “Met Him in a Motel Room” (written by Jamie Teachenor and Rory Feek)
If you saw the single title and felt a sense of déjà vu, it’s because it’s a great story song recorded before by both Trisha Yearwood – featured again on this particular take – and Gwen Sebastian, and acts as the lead single to Rory Feek’s first album since the death of his wife and musical partner Joey in 2016. And what is there to say other than it’s a fantastic, beautifully produced country song? Feek’s delivery has always reminded me of a more tempered Garth Brooks, and while this isn’t a true duet, I can’t object to hearing Yearwood provide backing vocals and an actual verse, especially with how well the two blend together. And this really did need that gentler touch, especially when the subject matter delves into depression and a suicide attempt only stopped at the last minute by finding salvation through a motel Bible. Yes, the easy criticism is that the twist is a little forced, and the religious iconography won’t be for everyone. But I like that, for one, it’s not aiming to be preachy or overly cheesy, and that it’s more about finding salvation in some sort of faith in the wake of disaster, which is a bit more universal and relatable in its framing. Oh, and it sounds pretty nice, too, with a rich, well-balanced mix of acoustics, pedal steel and fiddle providing an equally warm balance across the board, especially as the piano creeps in. A tricky subject to pull off well, but done so pretty excellently here.
Tracy Lawrence, “Lonely 101” (written by Tracy Lawrence, Rick Huckaby, and Paul Nelson)
Tracy Lawrence has a lot in the works for this year to celebrate his 30th anniversary in country music, one of which being a 30-song album, released in various spurts throughout the course of the year. The first is coming on April 23, and while several singles have already been released, I’m going with the pretty solid, straightforward “Lonely 101.” Really, Lawrence may have never deviated much from his ‘90s work, but when he’s still doing it this well, that’s not a complaint. This isn’t among his very best cuts, but I like the traces of “As She’s Walking Away” by the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson that creep up in the framing, even if this is a little more familiar and not quite as interesting. It’s still solid, and while the brighter guitar tone against the organ is a little too chipper for my tastes and doesn’t fit for what this track is aiming for, even if it supports the great fiddle work, it’s not bad. Speaking of ‘90s acts, though, let’s get to this week’s throwback review.
This is our last week for throwback reviews from 1991, and while we’re not ending on the absolute best note, it’s still fun to revisit the music of yesterday. With that said, as we transition into a new month, if there’s a specific year you’d like me to examine for April, let me know. I’m open to suggestions.
Alabama, “Down Home” (written by Rick Bowles and Josh Leo)
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Alabama fan, if only because their catalog is versatile to the point of being scattershot and inconsistent. With that said, I respect the barriers they broke down in helping to pave the way for more country bands to enter the genre. This single is basically part of their hot streak of hits that lasted until around the mid-’90s, and while this isn’t one of their better ones – mostly because it’s a shameless rewrite of “Song of the South” and would get overshadowed by the more immediate “Born Country” later on – I do like the earnestness in the delivery. Yes, it’s a simple country pride song and little more, but one sold with a chipper rollick in the jauntier fiddle and banjo accompaniment that aims for more of a celebratory, bar-band feel rather than delve into typical “us versus them” territory. Again, sincerity matters when trying to sell that, and while I’d never label it essential, it is pretty fun.