The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 20 (2021): (Summer Dean and Colter Wall, Flatland Cavalry, Connie Smith, Kelsea Ballerini and Kenny Chesney)

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.

Well, the floodgates certainly opened this week. That means it’s another week of discovery for this feature. Onward!

Summer Dean featuring Colter Wall, “You’re Lucky She’s Lonely” (written by Summer Dean and Colter Wall)

So, aside from a really bad “Cover Me Up” video going around, this has been the surprise release to dominate discussions within the general country music community this past week. Now, if you see the featured artist attached to it, it’s easy to see why, even though I will admit I haven’t been that wild about Colter Wall’s output post-Imaginary Appalachia. But let’s turn the attention on Summer Dean herself, a Texas-based artist who’s been a local favorite for several years. She’s gearing up to release a proper debut album in August, which, between contributions from Brennen Leigh, Whitney Rose, Bonnie Montgomery, and Robert Ellis, among others, already features a murderer’s row of talent, this single included. It’s a surprising move for Wall, though, too, who co-wrote the song and gets a deserved spotlight to boot.

Now, aside from the fact that this doesn’t make sense or work as a duet – even if I like their voices together – this is really damn great. It’s straightforward country music, for sure, but the pedal steel shines at the forefront against the soft, swaying brushes of acoustic and bass and complements that lonesome barroom setting. It’s cutthroat intimacy of the best variety. I do wish they took the idea further – maybe frame it from the first-person perspective to let the bite of that hook hit with a little more venom or examine the lingering personal pain deeper – but for a slice of hard-country, this goes down easy. I’m looking forward to more. Boom.

Flatland Cavalry, “Some Things Never Change” (written by Cleto Cordero and Ava Suppelsa)

Of course, on the note of promising Texas acts, we have a new album on the way from Flatland Cavalry. If you’ve been paying attention to the band over the past few years, you know this one could likely be a breakthrough moment for them. Lead singer Cleto Cordero has, after all, moved to Nashville, and between collaborations with Hailey Whitters, Luke Combs, and Lainey Wilson, this could be one to watch soon. Now, from a pure compositional standpoint, this has always been an easy band to like, thanks to some well-chosen, easygoing melodies and prominent fiddle work to support their work – they certainly live up to their “easy on the ears, heavy on the heart” tagline.

As for the lead single to their upcoming Countryland album, it fits within their wheelhouse and is pretty solid as a starting song. The electric guitars are heavier but also balanced out by some excellent fiddle, banjo, and steel guitar to match the stomping groove. It’s polished, for sure, but with enough rollicking punch in the presentation to make up for it. There’s something off about Cordero’s voice in the mix, though, like it’s behind the beat and doesn’t always match up with everything else. On that note, while he’s always been a likable presence, Cordero has never been overly expressive, and his overall flow sounds off at times. For an on-again, off-again relationship track, though, it’s fairly good, if only for being a tad more playful in its execution and acknowledgment that two people can always come back to each other while growing separately, too. Certainly nothing groundbreaking for the band or style, but it’s a fun single heading into the summer months.

Connie Smith, “Look Out Heart” (written by Marty Stuart and Harry Stinson)

See, now, this? This is definitely worth getting excited for: Connie Smith’s first album release in a decade, led by a first single that’s far more fun than it has any right to be. Granted, nothing here is really reinventing the wheel, but I can certainly hear husband and producer Marty Stuart’s influence in the jumpier groove matched against the pedal steel accents, and while Smith herself has picked up a few rougher edges over the years, she’s still excellent in terms of pure tone, phrasing, and power. For a straightforward heartbreak track, keeping things slyly playful in the execution was probably the right call, too. Fun start to the album. I’m tying it with Summer Dean for this week’s Boom.

We had one new chart entry this week, and I’m actually somewhat glad I have a chance to revisit this single:

No. 40 – Kelsea Ballerini featuring Kenny Chesney, “half of my hometown” (written by Kelsea Ballerini, Ross Copperman, Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally, and Jimmy Robbins)

For as harsh as I sometimes think I was to Kelsea Ballerini’s kelsea album last year, I’m not sure there was a bigger indictment against it than a much more competently produced follow-up released later that year in ballerini. Seriously, why aren’t they using that for the radio single versions? At any rate, I get why they’re going with the regular version of this new single for country radio. “hole in a bottle” helped to restore some of Ballerini’s momentum at radio, and a Kenny Chesney collaboration is sure to help that go further. Now, he’s basically just here for the shared connection to Knoxville, Tennessee, because while he’s fairly subdued in the mix (for the better, honestly), the chemistry just isn’t there between them.

I’ve always liked Ballerini’s take on pop-country and respect what she’s going for here – a ballad full of mixed emotions cast toward the pressures of both staying in and leaving a small town when there’s a history there. I wish the details pushed darker beyond that unfinished first verse, but I do respect the general mixed feelings she expresses toward watching her peers trap themselves into a predictable lifestyle they thought they’d get away from, all while she’s encouraged by her family to leave and see the world … even if the pressure to remember and possibly glorify those roots is there, too. Yeah, it’s not your average look at small town life in country music, and while I wish this had more flavor to it beyond its bland atmospheric tones, I will admit I overlooked this in that initial review. Solid stuff.

We’re in a bit of a weird spot for our throwback review for this week. Last week’s No. 2 selection of Alabama’s “Sad Lookin’ Moon” is now at No. 3, thanks to George Strait’s monster hit in “One Night At a Time.” So let’s split it down the middle by discussing this week’s No. 2 selection, Tracy Lawrence’s “Better Man, Better Off.”

Tracy Lawrence, “Better Man, Better Off” (written by Stan Paul Davis and Brett Jones)

… This is a Clint Black song. And honestly, finding much else to say beyond that is a little difficult. I recently discussed Tracy Lawrence within the context of his ‘90s run and think that his latest effort has gone criminally overlooked, but if I’m looking for Lawrence singles to highlight specifically from 1997, I’m going with the excellent “How a Cowgirl Says Goodbye” over this. Granted, it’s not bad. I prefer Black’s more reserved take on this subject that lets the bitter acceptance shine as subtext and in the delivery, but I also appreciate ramping up the major keys and raucous fiddle pickups here to highlight the optimism of moving on from a past relationship and the potential of starting over. Even ‘90s fodder was always pretty likable, and given that I think Lawrence is an equally likable presence here … it’s good. I’ll take it.

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