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 (currently exploring No. 1 country singles of the ‘90s).
I’m thankful for a week to catch up with something in my backlog, and we’ve got a lot to cover, so … onward!
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, “Crooked Tree” (written by Melody Walker and Molly Tuttle)
It’s been some time since I dove back into bluegrass, and considering this is also bluegrass virtuous Molly Tuttle’s return to the format in some time as well, this is the perfect time to get ahead of the curve – especially seeing as how her upcoming Crooked Tree project features a murderer’s row of guest performers from Billy Strings to Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sierra Hull, Dan Tyminski … OK, God, I’m listening. I’m a bit late to discussing the album’s title track, but it’s probably my favorite pre-release track from the project thus far, leaning into the metaphorical framing that characterizes quite a bit of bluegrass songwriting to relay a message of how everyone grows at their own pace. Sure, it’s a bit overly sweet and corny in spots, but there’s also some truth in how those free to explore their passions without the worries or pressures of societal expectations will find their way in time, even despite some stumbles or foundational imperfections – and will likely find more inner happiness than those following a set, determined path. It may not, unfortunately, reflect the reality of how people choose to live their lives or get to carry it out, but damn if it isn’t nice to think about and dream, especially against a chipper backdrop of rollicking dobro. Nice stuff.
And now, our newest entries to the top 40:
No. 37 – Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” (written by Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman, and Shane McAnally)
I’m a bit surprised to hear a fifth single release from an album released all the way back in mid-2020, but if “Knowing You” was a ballad suited for the long haul of last year, perhaps something breezy, lighthearted, and upbeat was the logical next step. And that’s the thing; for as much as “Everyone She Knows” fits almost too comfortably within Kenny Chesney’s wheelhouse and probably should have been set aside for a new lead single release, I actually like this quite a bit. The breezy guitar rollick supports a lightweight groove and builds to something surprisingly solid overall in execution, thanks to production that’s a fair bit more robust and organic as a whole. And while the writing doesn’t necessarily build a storytelling masterpiece by any means, it does set up a fairly common archetype of a person stuck between having to grow up and feeling the societal pressures of going in on every aspect of the process before they’re truly ready. There’s something of a seediness to the overall framing that still rings as mature despite its main theme, and because it doesn’t frame this character as the perfect person who has everything together, it makes the track fairly relatable. Surprisingly solid stuff from Chesney yet again, and while “Knowing You” had to grow on me, I don’t think this will; a more mature outlook on things suits him. Boom.
No. 39 – Lee Brice, “Soul” (written by Kevin Kadish and Tony Perrari)
I’ve always respected Lee Brice’s hustle in nabbing the huge hits despite not necessarily being known as an A-lister; I just wish I liked his latest material way better. Granted, I’ll take either “One of Them Girls” or “Memory I Don’t Mess With” over “Soul,” because, wow, this blows. It reminds me of that weird trend from about five years ago when former bro-country acts tried to play the “nice guy” card and sell their partners as gifts from the Lord almighty (think “H.O.L.Y.”), only this can’t even maintain a consistent premise. She’s “Mozart in the sheets” (and the early contender for “Worst Lyric of a 2022 Country Radio Single” goes to … ), but the oily, stuttered bass line and chintzy synthetic elements – which don’t build to the sex jam groove this song seems to be trying for, mind you – are apparently there to have us believe he wants to know her as a person and values her for more than just her body. Right. Don’t get me wrong, if this just went all in as a sex jam akin to his own “Rumor” from before, I’d have no problems. But the religious iconography coupled with weirdly minor tones and writing that toes the line between overwhelmingly corny and borderline creepy just makes for a damn mess. There’s really nothing soulful about this. Bust.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Restless Heart, “Fast Movin’ Train” (written by Dave Loggins)
Restless Heart is the kind of band that burned bright and burned fairly quickly during its commercial run. The group emerged in the mid-’80s and took time to develop their stature before dolling out a string of No. 1 records that faded by the time the ‘90s rolled around. This was their final chart topper, and if it sounds like I’ve skirted around any distinctive details about this band thus far, it’s because I am, admittedly, not a connoisseur of their discography. With that said, their few ‘90s hits are in my wheelhouse, and while I like “Fast Movin’ Train,” I also get why this band quickly got lost in the shuffle as more acts – particularly new bands – stepped in with more distinctive sounds and personalities. In terms of production, this definitely sounds like it takes more from the former decade than the latter, sporting a lack of edge in the guitars and hazy atmospherics that don’t build to much of anything. And that’s a shame, because while I don’t think the writing is necessarily great in fleshing out the complex nuances and emotions of night of passion between a man tempted by desire and a woman best described as a user, I’ve always appreciated the self-awareness in both characters knowing what they’re getting out of the ordeal and, ultimately, being fine with it. And I’ll be damned if that huge chorus and even bigger hook aren’t doing all the heavy lifting necessary to call this an underrated favorite. Another fitting final chart-topper in a list of No. 1 singles we’ve discussed thus far. Boom.