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.
Because I have a healthy backlog of potential singles to review, and because there were no new debuts to this week’s top 40 on the airplay chart, I’m going to review two new songs from upcoming releases that interest me, rather than the usual one. Also, if you’re looking for even more single reviews from me, my Country Universe colleagues and I have started a new bi-weekly single review roundup. Check it out here. Anyway, onward!
Caitlyn Smith, “High” (written by Caitlyn Smith, Jennifer Erin Decilveo, and Miley Cyrus)
It’s hard to carry many expectations when approaching new music from Caitlyn Smith, even if the vocal talent is self-evident. She’s straddled the line between country, Americana, and pop with her first two releases, and while 2020’s Supernova felt more like a lateral move that didn’t quite play to her strengths, I have high hopes for a return to form after hearing her newest single. There’s no word yet on an album announcement, but “High” feels like it straddles the balance between restraint and power-country-pop bombast much better than anything on the aforementioned Supernova. For one, the more noticeable country elements in the thick acoustic strumming on the first verse and touches of fiddle throughout really help flesh out the melody well, and they can go step-for-step with the rougher electrc guitar snarls that give this song some surprising potency and heft, especially on that hook; this has some welcome kick to it! Granted, pure passion has never been lacking in Smith’s songs, and while this is your typical heartbreak track about being haunted by an old flame even in spite of one’s very best intentions to move on, this has the pure, stomping power to justify its bombast and intensity. Boom.
The Wilder Blue, “Ghost of Lincoln” (written by Zane Williams)
There’s a part of me that just sees this band’s name and thinks, “yes, something comforting and easy on the ears … and easy to discuss.” Zane Williams has struck gold ever since starting his Wilder Blue outfit (formerly known as Hill Country) two years ago, and with a self-titled album slated for release in March, there’s plenty of reasons to get excited after 2022’s slow start. Admittedly, I wasn’t initially sold on this new single after the first minute or so … and then it turned into the sort of jam frenzy you’d expect from Alabama’s best songs – with a Brad Paisley-esque end solo, to boot – and I was hooked for plenty more listens. And that’s before mentioning how some of the more atmospheric touches in the banjo plucking on the verses reminded me of the Infamous Stringdusters, where I’m just left thinking that this band has finally perfected its melting pot of country, southern-rock, and bluegrass, pulling from obvious influences while turning it into something all their own.
Of course, I called this song a “frenzy” earlier, and that’s probably the best way to describe the lyrics, which are basically meant to feed the song’s cosmic touches and sense of mystery about some greater unknown truth in life. I’m not sure they make a coherent point, to be honest, but there’s just an amazing rush and sense of adventure to this song’s progression, that I kind of get it, all the same. In other words, considering this is actually the fourth single from this upcoming project (I reviewed “Feelin’ the Miles” all the way back in January 2021), I’d say this could be another album to compete with the best of 2022. Boom.
And now, continuing on with our exploration of No. 1 singles of the ‘90s, here’s this week’s throwback review:
Ricky Van Shelton, “Statue of a Fool” (written by Jan Crutchfield)
I don’t believe I’ve written about Ricky Van Shelton in any form on this blog before. For context, he’s commonly lumped in with the rest of the ‘90s country class but actually rose to star status in the ‘80s with a mixture of classic recordings and contemporary material. His style and presentation has always tended to be a bit too smooth for my liking, but in carrying on a time-honored tradition of making the old feel new again, I have to respect his knowledge of classic country history and how he updated it for a modern audience. That’s basically where I’m at with his cover of Jack Green’s “Statue of a Fool.” It doesn’t supersede the original, and there’s a layer of polish to the delivery that dilutes the emotional impact and nuance of the sentiment here. But it’s still just cool to hear this have another life as one of the first No. 1 singles of the ‘90s. Ironically enough, it’ll be the last Shelton cover we examine for this particular feature, but as it is, good stuff. Not great, but pretty good and definitely welcome.