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.
This is where things get tricky. New upcoming album releases mean I now have more material to choose from and, coincidentally, a growing backlog of singles to review. The next few weeks will be interesting. Anyway, onward!
Ian Noe, “Pine Grove (Madhouse)” (written by Ian Noe)
To be frank, 2022 has been off to a dry start thus far – as far as exciting new releases on the horizon are concerned, that is. Fitting, then, that just as soon as I say that, there’s a new Ian Noe album on the way that could change everything and give me the first project of the year to really blow me away (River Fools & Mountain Saints on March 25, by the way). For quick context, Noe released an excellent debut album in 2019 that was among my favorites of that year and among my favorites of the decade in general, and I plan to expand on that context in my eventual review of his newest album. For now, Noe has stated that this next project is slated to be far more upbeat than its predecessor, and, right off of that excellent, slow-rolling, well-defined groove driven by the bass and pedal steel and further bolstered by the barroom piano and organ, if this is his idea of that, I’m all onboard thus far. Now, content-wise, I don’t want to say this is yet another song to draw inspiration from events of recent years, but when I hear a song about isolating one’s self on the mountains with a few close friends and family away from civilization … I mean, I have to wonder. I will say it’s a song that will likely work better in context as the album opener above all else, but it also helps that this doesn’t take itself that seriously. It’s playful, self-aware and even a little humorous overall in its approach, and coming off that aforementioned debut, I’m actually surprised he pulled it off this well! In other words, this is excellent, and as I said before, if this is just the first taste, I can’t wait to dive in further with this madhouse. Boom.
And now, our newest entries to the top 40:
No. 25 – Jason Aldean, “Trouble With a Heartbreak” (written by Brett Beavers, John Morgan, Kurt Allison, and Tully Kennedy)
… Can I go back to the Ian Noe song?
At this point, covering Jason Aldean and his work feels like an exercise in futility, especially when there’s the part of me that sees how his personal life has revealed him to be an unlikable character and just wants to end the conversation before it even begins. I may give Blake Shelton his fair share of flack for this, but I’m not sure there’s an artist who’s become more successful with pure retreads of his previous material than Jason Aldean – and at least Shelton can stumble upon a “God’s Country” every now and then! And what saddens me is that, in essence, off of his recent hits Aldean is arguably bigger than ever. Whether the streak continues or not with this new single remains to be determined, but it’s certainly an Aldean song, for better and worse. The synthetic elements are present but feel surprisingly better blended than usual – at least after that clunky opening and first verse – and they’ve surprisingly got more of an atmospheric swell than I expected that lends itself well to the sentiment. Of course, like with just about every Aldean song these days, any attempt at deeper dynamics gets fumbled by cranking everything to the front of the mix. And I’m not sure that makes much sense for a song about retreating inward to examine the aftermath of a heartbreak, even if it is presented more as a way of examining how everyone copes with it in different manners and is less about Aldean himself. After all, that requires a deeper nuance to nail that neither Aldean nor the writing can manage, and I’m not sure this song has that no matter how it’s viewed. Fine enough, but it’s also something I’ll forget very soon.
No. 38 – Parmalee, “Take My Name” (written by Ashley Gorley, Ben Johnson, David Fanning, and Matt Thomas)
Speaking of acts that have hung around way longer than needed … I mean, at least I can understand the appeal of Jason Aldean going with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach for his audience. Parmalee, on the other hand, is a mediocre rock band that, naturally, came up through the bro-country era, faded away and swung back around with their biggest hit to date with a placid wedding song called “Just the Way,” teaming up with the artist who failed to make “Old Town Road Pt. 2” a thing along the way. At least Sam Hunt and Walker Hayes make consistent crap; Parmalee is a band that’s only ever succeeded by hopping on the latest trend, and that may offend me more. From the overly chintzy synthetic elements that dominates this sanitized dreck, too, this is just part two of that aforementioned hit, and without the big hook that at least gave that song some appeal. I’m not even sure what to say beyond that – it’s a bargain barrel Dan + Shay song, and that’s the most damning indictment of the complete lack of talent in these somehow two-hit wonders, I think. Bust.
Continuing on with our exploration of ‘90s No. 1 country singles, let’s throw things back to close out this week:
Clint Black, “Nobody’s Home” (written by Clint Black)
By the time Clint Black released “Nobody’s Home,” he already had two No. 1 singles under his belt, plus a then soon-to-be platinum-certified debut album that drew comparisons to Merle Haggard – ones that didn’t come lightly, mind you. This won’t be the first Black single we examine in our throwback section, but like with the Keith Whitley selection last week, I can’t say this stands up to what came before it, even if it is damn fine on its own. Another miserable, tear-in-my-beer song alongside its predecessors, “Nobody’s Home” is more about going through the motions in that immediate aftermath of the end than anything else. He’s not quite ready to acknowledge that he’s walking away from all of this a better man, and he’s no longer reveling in killing time – though he is still very much killing time, and with a pretty killer hook, to boot. On a fundamental level, this is the sort of comfortable, familiar country song that’s always bound to work for me, and it’s emblematic of why all those early No. 1 hits were well-deserved. Boom.