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.
How fitting that my throwback reviews are centered around the ‘90s right now, because we’ll be spending quite a bit of time there this week, it seems. Anyway, onward!
Joshua Hedley, “Neon Blue” (written by Carson Chamberlain, Joshua Hedley, and Wyatt McCubbin)
I’m a hypocrite; I just often don’t enjoy it when artists adopt flagrantly retro sounds of yesterday, in part because I can always just go the source when I want the real thing, and also because it never feels like they’re adding something different or better. And yet, call it the product of timing and personal nostalgia, but artists that try to recreate that distinctly ‘90s country sound just usually work for me, even as someone who grew up more with 2000s-era country. So while I wasn’t crazy about Broadway veteran Joshua Hedley’s Mr. Jukebox album from 2018, there’s a part of me that’s excited for his upcoming project, Neon Blue, if only for jumping ahead to the ‘90s in tone and presentation and featuring both Kyle Lehning (responsible for all of those great Randy Travis records) and his son, Jordan, in its creation.
Still, even if I’m primed to like something on a base level, it has to offer a little more to rise above the pack. And while Neon Blue’s title track is a lot of fun and is something I quite like, it’s not quite something I love. The faster pace and jaunty presentation definitely calls to mind, say, Garth Brooks or Joe Diffie, but Hedley doesn’t quite possess the same level of charisma as either artist to really make this feel as smooth or vivacious as it should. I can forgive it for being a bit by-the-numbers in theme and lyrical content when the electric guitar pick-ups have an easy rollick to them and blend well with the jaunty keys and pedal steel, and there’s a limit to how hard I can be on this kind of song. For now, good, but I’ll reserve further judgment until I hear the full album.
And now, our newest entries to the Country Airplay top 40:
No. 39 – Chris Young and Mitchell Tenpenny, “At the End of a Bar” (written by Chris DeStefano, Chris Young, and Mitchell Tenpenny)
I’ve been disappointed in Chris Young’s musical direction for nearly a decade now, but it’s pretty sad when his duet with Mitchell Tenpenny is one of the better tracks from his last album. Granted, this is still just “OK,” at best, half because this isn’t written as a duet and Tenpenny gets completely outclassed by Young here, and half because this feels terribly underwritten for a song celebrating one of the most tried-and-true themes in country music. I know Young knows his history, too, even if he’s forgotten some of it along the way, so while I enjoy some of the more atmospheric touches in the guitar pick-ups and pedal steel, this has a little too much bombast in its presentation to work well with the “tear in my beer” theme. And if this has to be yet another song to reference older songs to fill in the blanks, can we go for something that actually fits? I like “Brand New Man” and “Time Marches On” as much as the next person, but if you’re going for painful reflection, you need “Neon Moon” and “Alibis” a little more, I think. With that said, this is probably the most I’ve liked a Chris Young single in some time … but it doesn’t come close to competing with his best, or even the subpar material of his earliest days.
No. 40 – Justin Moore, “With a Woman You Love” (written by Chase McGill, Jeremy Stover, Justin Moore, and Paul DiGiovanni)
The weird part about country radio in the modern day is that, even if artists have a slew of No. 1 credentials to their names, it doesn’t mean they’re at the top of their game. Surprisingly enough, I’ve liked most of Moore’s recent singles over the past few years, but they’ve taken forever to climb the charts, and it’s not like his albums have presented a lot of staying power either, as of late. “With a Woman You Love” is probably my least favorite single from him in quite a while, but for a by-the-numbers love song it’s pretty decent. I’d credit it most to the production actually sporting a fair bit of rollick and swagger in groove and the electric guitar tones. The backing vocals feel a bit sloppily mixed, though, and when it comes down to the actual lyrics, for a song about emphasizing that forever feeling of loving someone, this feels oddly lacking in actual power. I think it’s that the writing just feels like it’s too reliant on stock imagery and the cliché “bad boy meets woman who saves him” framing device to hit with deeper impact. Decent radio filler, but not much more beyond that.
And now, just as Joshua Hedley did, let’s jump toward the ‘90s for this week’s throwback review:
Eddie Rabbitt, “On Second Thought” (written by Eddie Rabbitt)
There’s a post I need to write (among many) on the misunderstood greatness of Eddie Rabbitt’s discography. He was mostly known for his Urban Cowboy-era sound and his pop-crossover hits, but anyone who thinks classic country wasn’t a fitting sound for him never heard his earliest records. He never fit the archetypal mold of a country singer in looks, background, or sound, but he’s one of my favorite acts to straddle both sides of the age-old divide effectively. “On Second Thought” was his final No. 1 hit and one to play more toward the growing neotraditional movement. And it’s a song I’ve always been torn a bit on as a whole. Rabbitt’s usual charisma just doesn’t quite shine like it does on his best tracks and his performance falls a bit flat; it’s like he’s trying to keep up with the times and feels out of his element. Considering, too, how cutesy the lyrics get in extending the on-again, off-again relationship theme present, it’s a song that needed a more playful delivery to come across more effectively. Still, he was just a great singer on a base level, that there’s still an easy smoothness to this song that still makes it pretty good. Maybe not the final big bang he and everyone else had expected, but a good one nonetheless.