We’ve got an interesting first edition to reignite this series, mostly because there isn’t a lot that’s interesting me in the first quarter of 2022 thus far, meaning that I’ve actually had to do some digging to find something to spotlight. Just to re-establish the ground rules, each week I’ll try to review one single from an upcoming album that interests me, along with anything new to Billboard’s Country Airplay top 40, as well as a throwback review. And for that last category, I’m going to follow in Country Universe’s footsteps and review every No. 1 country single of the 1990s, just for fun. As always, there’s only two ratings: Boom, for the good stuff, and Bust, for the bad stuff. Let’s get rolling!
Tony Logue, “Calloway County” (written by Tony Logue)
First up, an independent talent out of Kentucky, which has slowly become a quietly underrated spot for fresh talent within the genre next to Nashville and Texas as a whole for the past decade or so. But in trying to follow the footsteps of, say, Tyler Childers or Sturgill Simpson, we’ve had a bit too much overflow and less outright gems in newcomers like, say, Cole Chaney. I’ll reserve further judgment until I hear Tony Logue’s newest album this Friday, but if “Calloway County” is the first taste … well, there won’t be anything to worry about, because this is really good! The immediate positive is the earthy tones courtesy of the well-tempered production, especially the gentle, rollicking mandolin and the Celtic flair to that fiddle melody that helps add a quaint tension. I wouldn’t call Logue a great singer, but his rough, lived-in delivery helps sketch out a harrowing picture of coming to blows with his father after a lifetime of abuse. It’s the distinctly rural, small town setting that adds weight to it, mostly because there’s always that subtext of obligation to the land in which one inhabits, either out of choice for its man-made beauty or familial ties. So in trying to break the chain, he’s able to free himself from one prison and embrace the better parts of who he can be without following in anyone’s footsteps but his own, and that’s a powerful way to end the song. I can’t wait to hear more. Boom.
Due to the fallout of the holiday rush, we don’t have any new entries to the top 40 this week, but I am behind on single reviews across the board, so for a slight pivot, I’m going to do a lightning round of single reviews of certain songs on the chart I haven’t covered that will help even things out for the weeks to come.
- No. 15 – Sam Hunt, “23” (written by Shane McAnally, Chris La Corte, Josh Osborne, and Sam Hunt): I’ve never been a Sam Hunt fan, and this single doesn’t really change that, even if it’s far from his worst and actually boasts some nice atmospheric textures in the production. It’s just that it’s balanced out by overmixed synthetic percussion and an overdone reflection of a long long summer romance that, yes, may be more detailed than your average stab at this type of song, but still isn’t really that interesting. I think what surprises me more is how nondescript this sounds for Hunt and the complete lack of buzz for this, and if this is an indication of where his career is heading, maybe I won’t have to care much longer anyway.
- No. 20 – Cody Johnson, “Til You Can’t” (written by Ben Stennis and Matt Rogers): This along, with two other selections here, is a song I’ve technically covered by way of an album review, but one I want to highlight anyway. This was always one of my favorites on Cody Johnson’s album last year, sporting a really solid, driving, and anthemic groove off of the richer piano and acoustics. But what I love most is the urgency Johnson displays here as a performer. He didn’t write this song, but he sings it like he did, and though I’ve heard this theme of urging others to make the most out of the time left plenty before – especially in these last few years – this is anthemic enough where I actually believe it. Really excellent song – I’m excited to see it become a hit. Boom.
- No. 28 – Luke Bryan, “Up” (written by Bobby Pinson, Jeremy Bussey, and Taylor Phillips): He seriously sat on “For a Boat” and “Little Less Broken” to peddle out the worst songs from his last album, and now he’s moved on to this, featured on a deluxe edition of said album that no one asked for, and … eh? It’s the same rural pride pandering we’ve come to expect from him, just mixed in with a little dose of “oh, hi, Jesus!” I guess he sounds sincere enough, mawkish as it is, but I’m going to forget this in record time.
- No. 30 – Walker Hayes, “AA” (written by Shane McAnally, Luke Laird, Walker Hayes): I’d rather just listen to a few much, much better songwriters that actually have been to AA, Walker Hayes, like Jason Isbell or BJ Barham. We enabled “Fancy Like”; we don’t have to give him another hit. And if there was any evidence that he lacks the talent on any front to sell anything outside of a novelty hit, here you go. Bust.
- No. 34 – Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” (written by Cole Taylor, Derek George, Monty Criswell, and Taylor Phillips): Ugh, that title. Gee, I wonder where I’ve heard this badly blended fusion of choppy acoustics with synthetic production … aside from, like, most other songs in the top 40 currently. This shouldn’t have even made it this far on the chart. Bust.
- No. 35 – Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” (written by Jim Collins and Trent Tomlinson): This was my favorite cut on Scotty McCreery’s last album next to “The Waiter,” and that may scan as hypocritical. After all, it’s another song to join the trend of basing its premise around references to older country artists and/or songs. And yet, this isn’t aiming for false credibility – it’s a breakup song where George Strait is just there to remind McCreery’s character of his faded romance. The thing is, the references to Strait’s songs are well-executed, and I believe it more coming from an artist like McCreery than I would from other artists reviewed here, especially when there’s some really solid steel guitar carrying the lower half of the mix. Another song I’m happy to see take off at radio! Boom.
- No. 37 – Brothers Osborne, “I’m Not For Everyone” (written by Luke Dick, Natalie Hemby, Josh Osborne, and TJ Osborne) Rather than end this off by talking about the newest singles from Dan + Shay, Toby Keith, or Dylan Scott – because, wow, this has been more draining than I thought it’d be and nothing I could say about their singles would surprise you – I’ll close by discussing a single I wish was climbing the charts rather than spinning its wheels. Granted, the Brothers Osborne have never exactly been radio darlings, and it took me until 2020’s Skeletons to warm up to them myself, but let’s not pretend that TJ Osborne’s coming out probably isn’t stifling their momentum at this point – which is a damn shame. Between a fantastically roiling electric guitar groove bolstered by the welcome accordion, of all things, along with lyrics that play things playful and tongue-in-cheek in its main hook, this should be ruling the airwaves! As it is, still a great song regardless, but it deserves better. Boom.
Whew, that was a lot. Let’s exhale and get to this week’s throwback review, the first No. 1 single of the 1990s:
Highway 101, “Who’s Lonely Now” (written by Kix Brooks and Don Cook)
Well, the first No. 1 single of the 1990s, and the last one for Highway 101. And sadly, while I do like this group quite a bit, I kind of understand why this was their final chart topper. For context, this was a band that found its breakthrough in the 1980s thanks mostly to lead singer Paulette Carson’s distinctive, husky vocals and a California-inspired edge in their sound; my favorite cut of theirs is likely “Whiskey, If You Were A Woman.” As the ‘90s came roaring, though, well … for as much as I’d like to think the restrained simmer of this revenge tune is intentional and better for it, between it and Carson’s underwhelming performance, what could have an explosive kiss-off just sounds like a band spinning its wheels, instead. The writing is still solid, though, especially seeing as how the main character gets the last laugh in the end. But I was hoping for something a little bigger and better to kick off this decade.