The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 26 (2021): (Mike and the Moonpies, Toby Keith, Elle King and Miranda Lambert)

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 is something of a lighter week, folks. Most of the new single releases are from acts I’ve already covered through here and with albums on the way I plan to discuss in full. For now, let’s knock out what was released within the past week:

Anything else? If not, let’s get to this week’s reviews.

Mike and the Moonpies, “Paycheck to Paycheck” (written by Adam Odor and Michael Harmeier)

You know, there’s something refreshing about Mike and the Moonpies keeping quiet and tight-lipped on new releases until the very last minute in this modern era, especially when the surprise is usually worth it. They may have started as a typical road band with those early releases, but between 2019’s Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold and the Gary Stewart tribute project from last year, this band is on a creative hot streak right now. As for whether this new single furthers that, well … yeah! It’s certainly a return to their earlier sound, but you can tell the years of experience and refinement have worked in their favor. I’ve long said those early releases could lack the same punch as their live shows did, but that’s not the case here. The band gets some needed space to breathe with a few excellently layered solos, and the faster tempo complements the sharper electric axes and steel that both have a ton of punch and muscle to them only bolstered by the equally sharp low-end saloon piano. And while this song is exactly about what you think it’d be about from the title and is over before you know it, it’s playful enough to lean into that self-awareness and focus more on shit-kicking attitude with a blue-collar flair that comes across as deliriously joyful. No question about it – it’s this week’s Boom.

I wanted to review more, but unfortunately this was a busy week for me. So let’s move ahead and discuss this week’s new chart entries, starting with …

No. 25 – Toby Keith, “Old School” (written by Matt McGinn, Brett Tyler, Maren Morris, and Ryan Hurd)

I didn’t have “Toby Keith recycles old Maren Morris-penned reject from around 2014 or so” on my 2021 bingo card, but then again, I didn’t have a lot of things on my bingo card for this year. In all seriousness … who asked for this? “This,” being both this single and Toby Keith’s return in general, an artist who isn’t nearly as terrible as he’s made out to be within a larger historical context but has released some utterly terrible material for the past half decade or so. Why this is garnering so much buzz is beyond me, but for a song called “Old School,” this is surprisingly pedestrian for 2021 country radio. The percussion is way too loud in the mix – because of course it is – and stilts the groove – because this is mainstream country music 101 these days. And while it’s certainly choppy in a trendy way, it doesn’t do any favors for Keith himself, who may not sound as blitzed out here as he does on a certain recent single that shall not be named again, but sounds very much out of his comfort range. The only real “old school” thing about this single is the content, which is your typical laundry-list clichés and odes to small town living that relies on the usual tropes to sell it and is way too clunky to even be fun. In other words, it’s a song that sounds like it came from 2014, and the only “old school” I want to hear is some ‘90s-era Keith. That was good stuff. This is garbage. Bust.

No. 39 – Elle King featuring Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Want to Go Home)” (written by Elle King and Martin Johnson)

OK, even though I very well should have, I didn’t see this coming as a country radio release. I actually reviewed this way back when for Country Universe, and the only thing I’ll add is that it’s slightly grown on me. I’m not thrilled to see it get pushed to country radio, though. Then again, I don’t want to see a lot of what gets pushed to country radio stay there, so … whatever. It’s an OK song.

It’s our final week covering throwback material from 1989, so as always, next week will begin a new year and month. If you have any suggestions, let me know! For now, let’s discuss the No. 5 single from this week in time:

Ronnie Milsap, “Houston Solution” (written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz)

I’ve really never had a chance to discuss Ronnie Milsap outside of my contributions to the Sirius list feature over at Country Universe, but my quick opinion is that, even if his material was always a little too polished for my personal liking, the man was a legitimately underrated force within country music. Fitting to discuss him in this context for this year, given that he was as big as ever and battling with Conway Twitty and Charley Pride for the distinction of having the most No. 1 hits. And though this was only a top five single surrounded by several No. 1 hits, “Houston Solution” is quietly one of my favorites from Milsap. Yes, it leans closer to traditional country song structure and wins me over on how warm the production is alone – especially in the lingering fiddle and piano textures. But given how wonderfully expressive and how huge of a presence Milsap is as a technical singer and performer, it’s a welcome fit for him, especially when this is pure sad-sack country music at its finest. While it isn’t overly dark, I like that the main character’s retreat from society to mend a broken heart comes with the self-awareness that it alone isn’t going to help with any actual healing. Sometimes getting away to find clarity is the first step, though. Legitimately great stuff.

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