The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox is a weekly feature in which we review one single – either a standalone entity or one from an upcoming album that interests us – as well as anything new to Billboard’s Country Airplay top 40, and a throwback single (currently exploring No. 1 country singles of the ‘90s). Also, be sure to follow our playlist of favorite new country songs, updated frequently!
I apologize for the slight delay with this feature this week; this is definitely our most jam-packed edition yet. Anyway, onward!
Lyle Lovett, “12th of June” (written by Lyle Lovett)
It looks like last year was the best possible time for me to explore Lyle Lovett’s work, given that he’s about to release his first post-Curb Records album in a decade, 12th of June, come May 13. His soft-spoken cuts tend to connect with me more than his big band-influenced ones, and the upcoming album’s title track is a stunner – a gorgeous, warm ode to the pure joys of parenthood that is mostly happily confined to the moment when his character’s partner births two children, but also touches on feelings of hopefully living up to the potential of parenthood and leaving something behind after death that can sustain his family.
Honestly, though, between the broad framing and the intimate interplay of the acoustics against the warm fiddle and touches of pedal steel and an absolutely gorgeous piano solo, it’s one of those tracks that’s able to mine its exuberance through mood and atmosphere. And what he’s lacked in technical ability, Lovett has always made up for in his emotional range, and the same can be said here, especially when there’s that odd mix of happiness and slight melancholy over hopefully being ready for that next chapter. In other words, this is fantastic, and though it has taken Lovett a long time to release new music, he’s made sure it was worth the wait. Boom.
And now, our whopping three new entries to this week’s top 40:
No. 31 – Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin’” (written by Luke Dick and Jackson Dean)
Full disclosure: I’m saving my slightly lengthier preamble on Jackson Dean for when I talk about his debut album, Greenbroke (which, along with other projects I need to review, has been sitting in my backlog for too long), but I’ve actually heard some positive buzz for him and mostly like his general rough-edged, country-rock aesthetic so far. Imagine an artist trying to aim for Eric Church in sound and somewhere between Chris Stapleton and Ward Davis for the vocal, and you have a general idea of what you’re getting into here.
And I make the Church comparison because, in essence, this sounds exactly like a Jay Joyce-produced single, from the swampy acoustics and chunky riffs, the prominent kickdrum, and rougher vocal mixing (though it was, for the record, produced by Luke Dick). And there’s positive and negative elements to that comparison. On one hand, there’s certainly a fair amount of bite and edge to this compared to basically everything else on the radio right now, but I can also say it sounds really blown out at points – particularly the chorus – and sort of stifles the groove in the process, which is a shame, given that one can tell this is going for head-banging, chest-pumping bravado and only slightly gets there. Granted, that doesn’t show itself much in the writing (thankfully), which is mostly Dean’s attempt to blow off steam and escape to the country for some solitude. It helps that this is a country pride song that doesn’t adopt all of the negative aspects of that trope, though it is mostly a checklist rundown of both things he wants to escape from and embrace. Still, this is fairly decent, and I certainly wouldn’t mind it turning into a hit.
No. 38 – Jelly Roll, “Son of a Sinner” (written by David Ray Stevens, Ernest Keith Smith, Jason DeFord)
Look, I’ll be honest. My initial thoughts walking into this were somewhere between, “Oh God, what has TikTok done now,” and “I’m getting too old to be discussing new music from a dude named Jelly Roll.” So … what do we actually have here, then? Well, Jelly Roll is a country-rap artist who signed to Broken Bow Records last year
(home to fellow country-rap artist Jason Aldean), and is just now gaining traction with an album released last year.
And while I had some low expectations, “Son of a Sinner” is surprisingly decent. I think what surprises me is how Jelly Roll’s voice is a bit too smooth for either of his preferred genres, but what surprises me more is that this is a surprisingly tempered country song carried by firm acoustics and very light percussion. For a track aiming for serious intimacy and confessional vulnerability in its execution, it’s certainly got the bones to stick the landing. But the writing is mostly surface level in its exploration of his character’s past vices, even if I do like that the bigger focus is on moving away from destructive tendencies and trying to build something sustainable for himself. It reminds me a bit of the Jackson Dean song from earlier, in that it’s very much trying to pull from some vestige of outlaw country – just from different perspectives – but I don’t know, I just don’t think the writing cuts as deep as it could for something like this. It’s still surprisingly solid, though.
No. 40 – Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” (written by Gabby Barrett, Jon Nite, and Ross Copperman)
I liked “I Hope,” but everything about Gabby Barrett and her music has rubbed me the wrong way ever since, and given that “Footprints on the Moon” flamed out hard, I can’t see the reason in releasing yet another single from 2020’s Goldmine, even if it is from the deluxe version released last year. I did have hopes for “Pick Me Up” after I heard the first few seconds of steel guitar, but that quickly gets shoved aside for a mix that just sounds like more of the same from Nashville: bland atmospherics that don’t contribute much of anything interesting to the tone coupled with your token banjo to try and add warmth to this, when it all it feels like it is murky and tepid, instead. It’s not so bad content-wise, I guess. Part of me wants to call this bro-country from the female perspective, but while all of the buzzwords and tropes are right there, it’s more about a married couple escaping away to find time for themselves, which makes it a bit better. But I’d only label it as decent radio fodder, at best.
And now, finally, this week’s throwback review:
Alan Jackson, “Here in the Real World” (written by Alan Jackson and Mark Irwin)
I’ve written a bit more objectively about this song before (whatever that means), and that’s good, because now I can say that if you’ve read this website before, you know I’m an easy sell for Alan Jackson. And given that this is the first single that started it all for him, it holds a special place in my heart. His voice is a shade deeper on his modern recordings, but even in his earliest ones, there was a mature, lived-in confidence and easy candor to his delivery that made him sound wise beyond his years. For a track about accepting reality and facing the truth that not all stories have a happy ending – particularly this one about a tried-and-true heartbreak – that tone works heavily in this song’s favor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a country classic from a performer with almost too many to his name. Boom.