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!
At this point, with the flood of new albums release announcements last week, we might be due for another week in which I double up on song reviews, because there’s plenty I want to cover. As for what I chose this week … well, onward!
American Aquarium – “All I Needed” (written by BJ Barham and Carl Anderson)
My relationship with American Aquarium’s music has always been a weird one, in that this is a band I initially didn’t brand as a favorite or even really like much, only to really come around on projects like 2018’s Things Change and especially 2020’s Lamentations, along with lead singer BJ Barham’s 2016 solo project, Rockingham. And in the years since, all of those early projects that didn’t quite grab me are ones I’m now hearing in a completely different light, even if tracing this band’s history beyond Barham may seem like an exercise in futility; it does certainly make me question what I was missing before, though.
Considering, too, that Lamentations is one of the few projects here that’s received a perfect score from me (for whatever that honor is worth), the band’s follow-up project is likely my next most anticipated release of the year. And, in a word, “All I Needed” is … well, all I needed. Despite Barham’s (and Gretchen Peters’) mantra of “sad songs make me happy” that’s fueled some of his darkest work, there’s always a ray of light within the subtext for those willing to hear it. So it’s nice to just hear a straightforward blast of euphoria that feels like the needed logical next step and serves as a great extender for the band’s ‘90s country covers projects from last year, given that a lot of the guitar tones and melodic progressions seem to pull from that era. But it’s also that playful bar piano and pedal steel interplay along with that loose, easy charm that lends itself well to the material at hand, which is Barham finding salvation in music the way we all do.
Sure, it’s a familiar theme, and the band certainly aims for broad universality in the framing to get the point across. But when you have a haggard vocalist like Barham framing it as a personal escape from demons well documented for this band, along with a huge chorus and hook to sell the pure catharsis of what the power of a song can do – seriously, “it was a savior in three quarter time” hits at just the best moment – you kind of get what he’s feeling here. And I wouldn’t expect any less – GREAT start to Chicamacomico. Boom.
And now, our lone new entry to this week’s top 40:
No. 37 – Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah” (written by Corey Crowder, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet, and Tyler Hubbard)
I was one of, like, 15 people who really liked that last Little Big Town album, but given that the group of people that liked “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” seemed to be an even smaller minority (and didn’t include me), I’m not surprised to hear this band rebound with a song that basically seems like its goal is to initiate damage control and little else. Even with that said, leading with Phillip Sweet over Karen Fairchild this time around at least provides a different perspective for a band that’s basically built around her voice over the past half decade or so, and given that Sweet is an impressive vocalist in his own right, I’m certainly for it … except, instead of lending his power to a sweeping ballad like “Forever And A Night,” he’s forced to be on autopilot here for a song I’d best describe as painfully tepid.
The thing is, there’s a decent conceit here overall, even if the play on words with the hook really isn’t really as creative as it should be (or even better than the more straightforward Montgomery Gentry song of the same name – all this does is add an unneeded “yeah” to the end of the phrase). Our protagonist tries to be the life of the party in order to mask his deeper pain of a breakup, but even despite the modern gold standard for that kind of song still being Jake Owen’s “Life of the Party,” between the chipper whistles, stick and snap percussion, and generally slick instrumentation, this feels less like an attempt to keep in upbeat spirits and more just way too entirely disconnected and relaxed to care at all. If it’s bland and forgettable enough to do well at radio, so be it – I just hope it means the band gains back some leverage to release something better.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Lorrie Morgan, “Five Minutes” (written by Beth Neilson Chapman)
Thus far in this section of this feature, we’ve mostly examined ‘70s and ‘80s veterans that nabbed their final No. 1 hit before they ushered in a new class of performers. Lorrie Morgan is something of an exception, in that she wasn’t an established veteran … but she also wasn’t exactly new to the scene, either. The daughter of fellow country music legend George Morgan, Lorrie certainly got a headstart on her contemporaries when she made her Grand Ole Opry debut at age 13, but she had a much longer, steeper climb to actual success on the charts. In fact, the final set of demo tapes she made in the late ‘80s came with the resolution that if she wasn’t successful with them, she would try no more to be a country music singer.
Luckily, RCA heard potential, and given that “Five Minutes” was Morgan’s first No. 1 single, I can hear why, even if this is the sort of familiar, straightforward song that doesn’t give me much to say about it. This was the decade in which women in country music were allowed to have their own agency and success with it, so while this isn’t the kiss-off to end all kiss-offs – especially seeing as how I don’t think Morgan really nails the assertiveness needed for that hook to really make it connect – it is pretty solid, all the same. The key is mostly in the writing, where even despite her giving her partner five minutes to beg her why she should stay, the point is that she’s playing coy and leaving anyway, because it’s actions and not words she needs from this partner who can’t and won’t deliver. All in all, an enjoyable listen, even after all these years.