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.
And just as my backlog dwindles here comes a bunch of new album release announcements. I’ll be busy for these next few weeks. Anyway, onward!
Whiskey Myers, “John Wayne” (written by Cody Cannon, Jamey Gleaves, and Tony Kent)
I really wish I loved that last Whiskey Myers album, but even I can’t help but feel bad at how the band established a lot of momentum for themselves leading up to its release … which came in late 2019, and which didn’t exactly provide a lot of follow-up opportunities to build upon it the year after. So, I can certainly understand the delay with their newest release, and given that their upcoming Tornillo project will once again be self-produced, I’m glad to hear they ironed out some of the kinks with lead single “John Wayne,” because it’s pretty great! This is a band that’s always played it fairly straightforward when it comes to southern-rock – for better and worse – so to hear them bring in stabs at funk with that swampy bass lead, oily guitar, and horns and harmonica all driven by that killer groove is a huge plus.
I’m a bit more torn on the lyrical content, though. On one hand, this is yet another song to vaguely comment on the “craziness” of today and get damn-near apocalyptic with it. But while it’s beyond played out by now, I can’t deny that there isn’t something playfully sinister about how it’s all presented that works in its favor; mood can sometimes carry a song, after all, and if this is meant to be a freight train bound for Hell, it kind of works? I think my bigger issue is the muddy vocal mixing, which buries Cody Cannon’s usually expressive howl and doesn’t give the track as much presence nearly as much as it should, which is a real shame. Still, it’s good to be in this band’s corner again. Boom.
And now, our lone new entry to this week’s top 40:
No. 32 – Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” (written by Dylan Marlowe, Jimi Bell, and Joe Fox)
Hey, speaking of long-awaited returns, we have this new single from Jon Pardi to tide us over until an album release. I admit, he’s been hit-or-miss with me with his single choices going all the way back to California Sunrise, and as for where this settles … well, it’s kind of somewhere in-between. The consistent positive with Pardi’s music is his embrace of neotraditional tones, which comes less from the perspective of a disgruntled “real country” fan as it does someone who just loves to hear a good fiddle pick-up support the melodic flow. And considering what I mostly review in this particular section of this feature, it’s refreshing to actually hear live drums, crisp guitars with actual texture to them, and pedal steel accent a mostly solid song. But that’s also somewhat subtly complimenting a song on what it doesn’t do, too, which is what critics tend to default to when describing this brand of neotraditional country. As for what it offers as an individual song … well, it’s certainly passable. But the consistent negative with Pardi’s music is Pardi himself, whose nasal tone just never lends itself well to tracks reliant on easy charisma or charm like this bar hook-up track, especially when subtlety has never been his strong suit and the premise of planning forever in a night sounds forced as a result. Still, it’s likable enough, and it’s certainly a needed bright spot at radio right now. Boom.
And now, our throwback review, carrying on with our discussion of No. 1 country singles of the ‘90s:
Oak Ridge Boys, “No Matter How High” (written by Joey Scarbury and Even Stevens)
The decade really started with final bows from certain acts, didn’t it? Granted, untangling this one is a little trickier, mostly because this is a vocal group that originally started in gospel but is mostly known for its country work in the ‘70s and ‘80s, particularly for hits like “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and “Elvira,” which are far better songs than the novelty aspect would imply. And yet, the version of this band we’re spotlighting today isn’t the same as the initial version or the one still active today. This is the era in which Steve Sanders replaced long-running lead singer William Golden (who would later rejoin in 1995), and which gave way to their final No. 1 single at country radio. Sadly, I can’t say this is much of a homerun swing for the band, mostly because the novelty aspect is there but presented with much more schmaltz over humor like before. I mean, for corny fluff it’s certainly likable, especially when you get to the terrific-as-ever harmonies on the chorus and can tell they’re trying to be a bit over-the-top with it. But considering the one fair criticism of this decade is how aggressively corny it could be, this certainly didn’t help in getting the ball rolling for that.