The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox: Week 19 (2021): (Gary Allan, The Flatlanders)

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.

Another light week, folks. We only one had new chart entry this week, but I already covered Parker McCollum’s “To Be Loved By You” in the first edition of this series, and I wish I liked his mainstream output better than I do. Anyway, onward!

Gary Allan, “Temptation” (written by Nicolle Galyon, Chase McGill, and Jon Nite)

If you’re wondering why I’m reviewing this now instead of waiting to see if it cracks the airplay top 40 … let’s get real. For as much as I list Gary Allan as among my favorite artists ever, I desperately wish I liked his recent output better, which has tried to go for radio-ready appeal and largely hasn’t worked. It baffles me, given that Allan’s attitude toward the music business in general has always been one of causal disinterest – he named his fifth album See If I Care, for crying out loud – so to hear some of his slickest-produced material ever over these most recent years leaves me confused as to where he’s heading next. Some have speculated it’s his way of falling back into country radio’s good graces following his infamous comments about Carrie Underwood and the general state of country music in 2013, but again, if you look at the history, it just doesn’t add up.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still excited for the album, but new single “Temptation” is basically emblematic of what I haven’t liked about Allan’s work since “Hangover Tonight.” The clunky drums overtake the mix and nearly clip it, and not in a way that contributes to any defined groove. And the strings certainly aren’t contributing any sense of warmth for what sounds like an amped-up song anyway. No, if anything it all forces Allan to deliver a choppy flow that gets buried in the mix anyway. They just threw tonal consistency out of the window with this one, honestly. And that all means that the general theme of an on-again, off-again relationship is not only one I’ve heard sound better dozens of other times – including by Allan himself – but one I’ve heard explored with more complex, lingering detail, too, and with an actual payoff to the hook, at that. It’s too generally inoffensive to dislike, but Allan is capable of so much more.

The Flatlanders, “Sittin’ On Top Of the World” (written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon)

Speaking of on-again, off-again relationships, though, we have the long-awaited reunion from Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Joe Ely as the Flatlanders, a Texas-based band primarily known for its ‘70s work that fused country, folk, blues, and rock right around the time that fusion was finally accepted. All members are known more for their respective solo works today, and indeed, tracing a straight line for this band’s history is somewhat tricky. But the band is back together, and this new single is an absolute blast. Like most regional collaborations in this vein, it’s not so much a world-beater as it is a rollicking, loose, and generally fun time, especially with the generally breezy, groove-heavy electric axes that play off well against the dobro accents. The harmonica solo is welcome and loose guitar solos toward the end are nice touches, too. I’ve yet to mention that this is an old 1930s Mississippi Shieks song that’s been covered numerous times over the years, but honestly it all fits the band so well anyway, especially when they can sell the wryly self-deprecating humor with a shit-kicking self-awareness that suits the general style. It’s not the sort of song where one seeks a definitive version, but it’s a fun time that serves as a good introduction to the eventual album.

We’re still exploring 1997 for our throwback reviews, and since last week’s selection of George Strait’s “One Night At A Time” is still hanging strong at No. 1, let’s examine the No. 2 chart selection from this week in history.

Alabama, “Sad Lookin’ Moon” (written by Greg Fowler, Teddy Gentry, and Randy Owen)

Those who follow Country Universe’s Sirius countdown feature likely know that I’ve got mixed opinions on Alabama as a band. I know, I know – they’re arguably the biggest band in country music and got there by being a mostly self-contained outfit that handled their own instrumentals and vocals. And they basically did it all within a decade. Objectively speaking, they may even be underrated. Of course, that’s also all sort of the point, in that a band with a huge discography like theirs is bound to be scattershot at points, and while I’ve generally enjoyed their up-tempo anthems like “Song of the South” and “Born Country,” I can’t stand the majority of their ballads.

“Sad Lookin’ Moon” is somewhere in between, a late-career effort among many that gets generally forgotten when approaching conversations surrounding this band, and for as straightforward as it is in its subject matter, I like it. This band has always had a knack for huge melodies and hooks, and while the latter isn’t as distinctive as their most well-known songs, the melody is killer. It definitely contains that ‘90s polish in the overall production and especially in the slicker electric guitars, but as a general sucker for the sound, I don’t mind it, even if it also tells me that this band might not have had the same level of success had they entered the fold a bit later than they did. Again, though, it’s solid and likable, and that’s always made for the band’s better cuts.

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