The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox is a weekly feature in which we review one single from an upcoming album that interests us, along with anything new to Billboard’s Country Airplay top 40, as well as a throwback review.
Two weeks in, I can already tell I love my new system for this feature much more than I did its original incarnation last year. I’ve got a healthy backlog of songs from upcoming albums to tackle, and yet there’s no pressure to get to anything beyond what I want to cover, nor are there any consequences if something gets missed. Anyway, onward!
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, “No Mistakes” (written by Sarah Shook)
Can you believe it’s been four years since the last Sarah Shook & the Disarmers album? Granted, untangling the reason for the delay behind it is a nightmare I’ll reserve for the eventual album review, but it’s great to finally have something new to look forward to from this band … even if I wish I liked both of their album’s first two singles more. Of the two, I prefer “No Mistakes” a little more, which is a stridently honky-tonk-flavored slow-burn playing to misspent expectations in the aftermath of a relationship, and is also an arc I’ve heard Shook delivered with more personality elsewhere on tracks like “Good As Gold” and “Fuck Up.” I do like the “smile” line quite a bit, but it’s like there’s this weird sense of complacency with both songs, where instead of roaring back after a long hiatus, we’re being treated to pretty good album cuts going through the motions … and not great lead singles. I’m still holding out hope for the album and looking forward to it, though.
And now, our lone new entry on the chart this week:
No. 25 – Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” (written by Jimmy Robbins, Julia Michaels, Maren Morris, and Ryan Hurd)
I was actually cautiously optimistic for Maren Morris’ next move, speaking as someone who isn’t a fan of her first two albums. Her work with the Highwomen really put on her on a new level, and even her 2021 duet with husband Ryan Hurd managed to grow on me a little. And with an inevitable change in production due to busbee’s passing, I maintained that optimism … until I heard the overly compressed synthetic elements about five seconds in and realized I was just listening to a leftover from either of those first two albums. Which is to state the obvious: Greg Kurstin is not an upgrade for production, and neither is having Julia Michaels involved in the writing credits. But, fine, I don’t mind the song content-wise, I guess. I’ve heard far better songs about the aspiring artist within Nashville – and ones produced far better, at that – but I like that this traces Morris’ journey from her start to now and is as much a humility check for her expectations as it is a genuine ode to still trying to feed that hunger even now that she’s made it; that’s always a good look for artists, and I appreciate it. But if I’m thinking of the great songs she’s trying to reference here, there’s a reason I’m always going to think of her Highwomen contributions over her solo material. Not bad, just slightly disappointing and forgettable.
Continuing on with our exploration of No. 1 country singles of the ‘90s, we’ve got another interesting case study:
Keith Whitley, “It Ain’t Nothin’” (written by Tony Haselden)
Country fans in the know will notice that this was Keith Whitley’s final No. 1 hit on the charts, as part of a streak that included five of them that came posthumously. And while I can’t say this stands up to classics like “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” or “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” there’s always just been something so easy and smooth about “It Ain’t Nothin.” It reminds me of a Randy Travis cut in its laidback simplicity, and Whitley is, obviously, just as commanding of a vocalist to sell its charm. A simple love song about, well, the pure joys of love and little else, but one that’s just so playfully joyous instead of campy. It should have just been another chart-topper in a string of more to come as the decade roared, and that it wasn’t is a travesty for which country music will never truly recover from, no matter how many years or decades pass. Boom.