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 week is equally as loaded as last week with singles to review … which is both good and bad. At any rate, onward!
Yola, “Diamond Studded Shoes” (written by Natalie Hemby, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Yola, and Dan Auerbach)
I remember Yola’s 2019 Walk Through Fire album being one of the most immediately likable listens of that year, so you can bet I’m excited for the follow-up in July, even if the pivot toward something more socially conscious might make for a sharp left turn compared to that debut’s lighter material. Granted, half of the appeal with Yola’s music is Yola herself, and while this is sharper and more focused than her previous material, it’s as infectious and likable as anything else in her catalog. Content-wise, it’s the sort of protest song that reminds me oddly of both Eric Church’s “The Snake” and American Aquarium’s “Lamentations” in framing the higher powers as the ones in the wrong and looking for a call of unity from the common people … which I like, even if I’d say this is less detailed than the latter track and only a little more so than the former. Of course, it’s a hell of a lot catchier than either song, mostly because it’s framed as a call to action and eschews the usual burned-out sentiments these sort of tracks default to in the approach. And while I’ve become burned-out on Dan Auerbach’s sleepier Countrypolitan approach with nearly every act he’s produced, I have no qualms with a shift toward a ‘70s soul-meets-country-pop approach here. With the strong, jangly, bouncy guitar groove and subtle hints of bass and organ supporting the low-end, this is a single with some real muscle behind it, and while I’m more interested in hearing how it supports the project as a whole, this is great on its own. Boom.
Graycie York, “Drag Me Down” (written by Graycie York)
OK, let’s try this again. I took a stab at Graycie York’s music a few weeks ago, and while I knew I was walking into a cover of “Texas Rain,” it was a really damn good one. What I didn’t realize until afterward was that I was around three months behind in covering it, so let’s try again with something original and new, even if there’s no announced project on the horizon yet. As it is, I like this. It’s fairly standard for a breakup track, all things considered, but I like York as a singer, and she’s doing a lot of heavy lifting in conveying the tired, frustrated expressions of the aftermath, especially knowing that her significant other’s cheating speaks to deeper lingering issues that have likely existed for a while between them. I also enjoy that there’s a deeper blend in the guitar mixing to amplify that tension – of the Texas artists I’ve heard adopt this sound lately, I like York’s take on it better than most – even if gets a little too heavy at points and fights against her at times. Still, it’s a solid pivot for her overall. I’m looking forward to hearing more.
We had three new chart entries this week, and I’ve already forgotten what they sound like.
No. 37 – Brett Young, “Not Yet” (written by Brett Young, Kelly Archer, and Justin Ebach)
One could make a case that Brett Young is emblematic of part of what’s wrong with mainstream country music right now. He makes the sort of generic, faceless, inoffensive music meant to take up space on radio playlists and do little more, and while the chart history would have one think he’s a legitimate superstar, in truth, he hasn’t made any real waves since “In Case You Didn’t Know” in 2017. He’s just another male country singer, and this new single doesn’t change that. Yes, the tones are a little breezier and brighter than average and carry a slight amount of energy in the electric guitars, but there’s no rollicking groove or strong hook to support any of it, and it’s all so watered down anyway that it hardly matters. It doesn’t help that it’s another mainstream country song that can’t blend the percussion lines or decent piano work right … or Young, for that matter. He’s a likable presence, but he’s never been a great singer, and he’s really stretching himself on the chorus and getting washed out in the cluttered mix for all his trouble. Granted, it’s not like there’s much to support in the actual content, the sort of late night romp that’s been the focus of too many country songs over the past decade – without any distinguishing flavor here. And while Young tries to plea with his significant other that they’ve still got some time together before the sun comes up, the irony is that it’s all just a waste of it anyway.
No. 38 – Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris, “Chasing After You” (written by Brinley Addington and Jerry Flowers)
I was really hoping I could skip this one, the sort of critic-bait single that receives undeserved hype simply for the artists involved, and, unsurprisingly, already has from your usual sources. Not that I’d exactly say Ryan Hurd is blazing his own trail without Maren Morris, but given that this is apparently his single featuring her, I’m not surprised that it’s about as generic and faceless as anything else on country radio right now. Granted, the choice to sing about an on-again, off-again relationship is a bit strange for these two to sing as it is, and while I’d like to say there’s enough lyrical detail to subvert expectations and lead to something interesting … yeah, that doesn’t happen. There’s no exploration of the deeper issues behind stringing things along or why they choose to do it, and this theme is too played-out to leave it open-ended and vague. And considering Morris only sings a short verse before returning to contributing harmony vocals, there’s no chemistry in this duet when there should be. Couple that with your usual Nashville blend of reverb-soaked electric guitar pickups and blocky, overmixed, low-end synthetic elements, and you have an absolutely boring song. Dishonorable mention for this week’s Bust.
No. 40 – Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like” (written by Sam Mackenzie Ellis, Derrick Adam Southerland, and Ingrid Andress)
Am I happy to see Ingrid Andress slightly rebound from “The Stranger”? Sure. But I’m not happy to see her do it with arguably the worst song off of her otherwise solid debut album. This is her playing directly into Maren Morris territory and doing it about as well as she does. But I don’t buy a hell-raising sentiment coming from Andress, who thus far has carved out a unique niche in mainstream country music with her blend of country with lusher pop flourishes that damn-near lean into baroque pop. And that’s true here, where even if the liquid piano is really well-blended against the faint brushes of pedal steel and banjo, it doesn’t fit the sentiment whatsoever. It’s the sort of self-gratuitous track that I never usually buy from an artist, where the details are purely there for a shock value that never materializes and never actually help frame an actual character. I hate to say it, especially when I dig her other material, but this is a Bust.
This is our last week exploring 1975 singles for our throwback section, meaning I’ll be exploring a new year for May. It looks like we’re ending with another song I’ve covered through my Pop Goes the Country series, the No. 4 single from this week in 1975.
B.J. Thomas – (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song (written by Larry Butler and Chips Moman)
Those who know this name likely know him for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” but in truth, B.J. Thomas was an act that straddled the line between mainstream pop and country throughout his career. He broke through with a cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and while mainstream pop success eventually came, it also led to years of addiction and divorce that led to this single with a fitting and very long title. As for the tune itself, it’s one of those songs about songs that’s not as fine-tuned as the best country songs in this regard, and I’ve always felt the production lacked greater teeth behind it. There’s also a wonkiness to the vocal that feels a bit forced at times. Still, I generally like these sadsack songs about resorting to music to ease a heartache. It’s just never been a personal favorite of mine.