The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 15 (2021): (Lauren Jenkins, Luke Bryan)

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.

I tried, folks, but this is one of those lighter weeks that favors perspective and discussion over cool new discoveries. It happens. We were blessed with some heavier weeks recently anyway. So, onward!

Lauren Jenkins, “Like You Found Me” (written by Lauren Jenkins and Blake Chaffin)

I remember having a lot of questions when I reviewed Lauren Jenkins’ 2019 No Saint album – still one of the best of that year, by the way – ones regarding her direction and place in mainstream country music on Big Machine Records. As it turns out, she was unexpectedly dropped by them early last year, right before the pandemic, and so my questions of why she wasn’t promoted harder were kinda-sorta answered. A damn shame, and while she’s released a few scattered singles since, I’ve somehow missed the chance to cover them. Let’s make up for that, then, with this new single, “Like You Found Me.” I’m not wild about the spacier elements that open the track, if only because they don’t blend as well with the rougher guitars and prominent organ that drive this track and give it its lazy, rollicking pulse. I also wish there was a bit more actual muscle to this production, but it’s a standard mix that serves its purpose, and I appreciate the brighter punch to support the content. Besides, the main appeal with Jenkins is her voice, where her smoky, husky tone not only has the allure to carry her darker material, but also gives her upbeat, brighter material like this a ragged punch. And that works when taking the content into consideration, which finds her bluntly honest with a possible significant other at a bar that, should they get together, which she’s willing to give a chance, it’s got to be on equal footing, with both of them free to be themselves in the relationship. It carries the sort of wry self-awareness and maturity in the framing that I love about, say, Ashley McBryde’s “One Night Standards” or Ingrid Andress’ “More Hearts Than Mine,” only with a more optimistic outlook. In other words, it’s this week’s Boom, and it’s good to have Jenkins back.

We only had two new entries to the Billboard Country Airplay top 40 this week, one of which I’ve covered already, which doesn’t help on a lighter week like this.

No. 26 – Luke Bryan, “Waves” (written by Zach Crowell, Ryan Hurd, and Chase McGill)

I’m not saying Luke Bryan’s last album is great or even good, but it’s surprisingly passable and might be better received if the singles from it thus far didn’t absolutely blow. And instead of going for obviously better cuts like “Little Less Broken,” “For a Boat,” or “Build Me a Daddy,” him and his team are going with a single off of a deluxe release, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone, really. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s the umpteenth song from Bryan about summer love, because, like Dwight Yoakam, time apparently don’t matter to him. What else is there to say, really? It’s darker and more overly serious and self-indulgent than it needs to be against the blur of synthetic elements and reverb that saturates the mix more than it contributes to any sort of compelling atmosphere. I hear organ, but it’s so buried in the mix that it doesn’t matter. And I can’t possibly buy this sentiment anymore from Bryan and haven’t been able to for a long time anyway, even if I can respect a genuine effort here. Of course, I get the reliance on atmosphere and the vocal performance when there’s just nothing to the writing here. There’s no trucks or dirt roads, but if you wanted to hear a beach-themed bro-country song without any compelling details other than the romp-romp that even Kenny Chesney wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, well, I guess you’re in luck here. Even then, you’d probably want something that doesn’t sound so dour for the incoming summer months. Which is to say that, at this point, Bryan is far past his commercial prime, and this badly shows it. Bust – let’s just move on.

No. 40 – Michael Ray, “Whiskey and Rain” (written by Jesse Frasure and Josh Thompson)

Well, I thought we were finally past making these little awkward blurbs for singles I’ve covered already, but I guess not!

We’re still exploring 1975 for our throwback reviews and will continue to do so through April, and since Merle Haggard is still hanging on at No. 1 with “Always Wanting You,” let’s check out the No. 2 entry from this week in time.

Billie Jo Spears, “Blanket on the Ground” (written by Roger Bowling)

Like last week, this is another chart entry that carries an interesting backstory. For those who don’t know, Billie Jo Spears was a child icon in the vein of Brenda Lee and Tanya Tucker who didn’t find actual chart success until much later in life, and even then with some wildly inconsistent results, not helped by several bumps in her career along the way, even if her highs were pretty high. This was her biggest hit and only No. 1 country single as well as a pop crossover hit, and actually helped her gather a stronger following in England than in her own home country, enough to where she was dubbed “The Queen Mother of Country Music” over there. Oh, right, my thoughts on this single … well, the nod to the melody of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” is fairly obvious, but this goes in a completely different direction, a song for married couples looking to keep their love and relationship fresh. It’s more about that re-connection and implied fading ember than it is anything else, and considering the biggest draw to Spears was her forceful delivery, there’s an urgency to making that spark happen again that greatly benefits the sentiment. Plus, I’m a sucker for that chugging, jaunty bass groove and generally rollicking presentation in the driving acoustics and bob-and-weaving pedal steel licks. It’s an underrated cut by an underrated artist.

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