The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – Week 27 (2021): (Randall King, HARDY)

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.

It’s another lighter week, folks, this time by design. Before we get to today’s reviews, however, let’s take a look at what singles were released over this past week:

Anything else? If not, let’s get to today’s reviews!

Randall King, “Record High” (written by Drake Milligan, John Pierce, and Rodney Clawson)

Look, for as much as I like Randall King and have reviewed plenty of his material over the past year and a half favorably to prove it, I must admit I wish these standalone single releases actually led to something more. Again, they’ve been mostly solid, but I sense an odd lack of direction from King and his team. We’ll see where things lead, but as for new single “Record High,” it’s another solid entry, if a bit less immediate than I was hoping for from King. He’s got an easygoing, natural charisma that’s always elevated his material for me, and sonically this is about as solid as you’d expect for King at this point, with plenty of jaunty acoustic and electric axes, punchy fiddle and pedal steel to accentuate the neotraditional mix. But for a song aiming for shit-kicking grins in an attempt at a rebound from a breakup, King doesn’t sell it all that effectively, and it’s a good reminder of why I’ve always preferred his more tempered material a fair bit more. This is fine, even if it finds King out of his lane to an extent and doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it should. Either way, I just hope it finally leads to a new album – and throw “Hey Cowgirl” on there while you’re at it, King. Please?

We only had one new chart entry for this week, and look, it’s a familiar face and voice …

No. 38 – HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (written by Ashley Gorley, Ben Johnson, Hunter Phelps, and Michael Hardy)

When it comes to HARDY, my opinions on his work are pretty well-known, and if there’s an artist who fits my unholy trifecta of acts whose material I just can’t stand (the other two being Sam Hunt and Walker Hayes, and no, I’m not reviewing “Fancy Like” unless I have to), it’s him. But when he goes and releases the best song off of his otherwise terrible album from last year … well, I have to drop my guard a little – if only a little. I still think his artistic persona feels contrived as hell and that the production here is oddly thin beyond its spare synthetic elements in its attempt to be “serious” … but damn it, I actually buy this tribute to a departed friend. Yes, it’s told through the same dude-bro perspective that’s the hallmark of HARDY’s entire career, but it – along with the religious elements – feels secondary here in its attempt to frame two genuine friends and their mutual interests. If anything, it actually gives the song some actual connection and weight when the goodbye really happens. And for as obnoxious as HARDY is as a vocalist on a technical level, he actually puts in the work here to give his performance real passion and urgency. A rare case where hell-raising, fist-pumping energy actually fits the mood well. Far from the best song on loss, but this is a far better look and sound for HARDY than anything else he’s released thus far. Genuinely good stuff.

We’re entering a new year for our throwback review sections, and since I’ve been thinking lately about how different country radio was even just a decade ago, I think I’ll examine country singles from 2011 for the month of July, starting with the No. 1 single from this week in time.

Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee” (written by Ben Hayslip and Rhett Akins)

Well, I had something different in mind with my first throwback review for this year, mostly because Blake Shelton is the same uninteresting presence in country music he is today that he was around a decade or so ago. And his superstar run all started with this huge hit, which is honestly pleasant and charming, even if it baffles me to this day how it became a career record for him. To his credit, Shelton has always been one of the most charismatic presences in country music, and his affable charm elevates what is a solidly breezy tune here. It sounds exactly what you think 2011 country radio would sound like, where the country elements were still there but being pushed further and further down into the mix. But between the brighter electric axes and prominent organ that gives this song some needed punch, it’s fine. At the end of the day, though, it’s a corny song with a checklist chorus only saved by Shelton’s performance and genuinely cute and likable references. This could have been cringe-worthy in lesser hands, but it’s delightful filler material in Shelton’s hands. Take that as you will.

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