The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 22 (2021): (Sierra Ferrell, Callista Clark, Dustin Lynch and MacKenzie Porter)

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 four songs on the docket for today, just like last week. Will they stack up, though? Let’s find out! Onward.

Sierra Ferrell, “The Sea” (written by Sierra Ferrell)

I’ve been waiting for a chance to properly discuss Sierra Ferrell, and with her recent signing to Rounder Records (a label that has been on its own hot streak lately) and a new album set for release in August, now is as good of a time as any. She’s attracted a considerable amount of buzz for her Appalachian-meets-jazz-and-ragtime old-time style – mostly from social media, too, ironically enough. This is the third and newest single from that project, and while it’s likely my least favorite of the three, it’s still pretty great.

What I’ve enjoyed about Ferrell’s style thus far is that, while it’s obviously pulling from an older template, it’s never made to sound like a throwback or gimmick, as is typically the unfortunate case with many independent acts in this musical realm. I know it’s wrong to praise music for what it doesn’t do, but it is refreshing to hear a clear recording style over an intentionally lo-fi one, especially when Ferrell’s gorgeous voice is half of the appeal of her material. She’s got charisma and personality to burn, and she can handle the balance between theatrical personality and self-aware reality fairly well, even if I wish her delivery had a little more bitterness here. This plays mysteriously well to both sides in the overall ghostly, atmospheric swell, liquid acoustics, jumpy bass that adds tension when needed, and fiddle that snakes in at the right moments and can be afford to be playful without going overboard. Everything just has the space to breathe here and it’s refreshing. No question about it – it’s this week’s Boom.

Sadly, this wasn’t a week of discovery. Instead, we’re already moving on to our new chart entries for the week, and this is one of those times where I feel like I’m just taking out the trash. *Sigh.*

No. 37 – Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am” (written by Callista Clark, Cameron Jaymes, and Laura Veltz)

This has gained a shocking amount of ground at radio in recent weeks, and while it’s good to see hype surrounding a new female artist in mainstream country music, there’s not much to say about Callista Clark just yet. She’s a multi-instrumentalist who signed to Big Machine Records at the age of fifteen. Sadly, the only thing evident on her debut single is that the label is desperately searching for a Taylor Swift clone 15 years after her own debut (feel old yet?). This isn’t even reaching the heights of those earliest recordings, though. It’s more like Maren Morris’ material, because while there’s a way to spin bratty and immature in a positive light when writing from a younger perspective, this is just undeserved chest-pumping and bravado in the wake of a breakup without any real payoff. And Clark is too much too out of her element to play things “cool” with the forced inflections, especially when the production caters to the same flaccid mix we’ve all heard time and time again in mainstream country music that sacrifices edginess for something watered-down and generic. In other words, I really don’t like this. Bust.

No. 40 – Dustin Lynch featuring MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You” (written by Andy Albert, Dustin Lynch, Hunter Phelps, and Will Weatherly)

You know, it says something that I reviewed Dustin Lynch’s Tullahoma album just last year and completely forgot every note of this song, mostly because Lynch is yet another interchangeable male artist taking up space in Nashville from more deserving artists. What’s sadder is that I apparently called this one of the album’s only decent tracks, because “decent” is pretty much the ceiling here. I guess I’m thankful that it’s a real duet, even if I prefer Lauren Alaina’s vocals on the original version to MacKenzie Porter’s annoyingly overexaggerated twang here. Like most Lynch tracks, though, it all feels for naught when the writing is too non-descriptive to make listeners care about a chance encounter with an old flame, especially when you’re left wondering why these two broke up in the first place if all they can think of are the good times. And … now it’s just a different way of tackling boyfriend country and I’ve stopped caring. It’s good to hear some steel guitar and dobro in the mix, but not when they’re both buried behind the percussion and electric guitars and still lead to the same generally slick, boring mix that Nashville has grown far too accustomed with – and especially not when those tones are making a comeback in bigger ways elsewhere in country music. “It doesn’t suck” is a pretty big hurdle that Lynch clears here, given his track record. But there’s better ways to spend your time.

We’re exploring a new year for our throwback reviews this month, and to celebrate the recent launch of my book project, let’s throw things back to 1989, starting with the No. 1 single from this week in time.

Clint Black, “A Better Man” (written by Clint Black and Hayden Nicholas)

Ironically enough, this is my second time discussing Clint Black through this specific section of this feature. But if you’re going to talk about Black’s music, it’s best to start where it all began, especially when his star initially burned the brightest out of the coveted “class of ‘89.” Now, from a marketing perspective, it’s easy to see why. Black had the charm, charisma, and looks to suit the music video age. But the music held up, too, especially when his debut album drew comparisons to Merle Haggard – and rightfully so! And since I also compared this to a certain throwback Tracy Lawrence tune not that long ago, let’s examine what this does much better. For one, I’ve always appreciated Black’s tone in approaching the end of a relationship with a resigned bitterness, suggesting that even though he’s taking away something good in the lessons learned and the remaining memories, he’s also moving on because he has to. The whole song is a coping mechanism that equates to the perfect mix of maturity and honesty, especially with the sneakily dark piano riff and driving percussion to echo how time marches on regardless of the circumstances. Excellent song, and easily Black’s best, at that.

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