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).
Kelsey Waldon, “Sweet Little Girl” (written by Kelsey Waldon)
If you’re making a list of great independent country or country-adjacent acts to emerge from Kentucky over the past decade and Kelsey Waldon’s name isn’t on it, you’re doing it wrong – and trust me, for as weirdly specific as that list may sound in theory, you could (and should) absolutely create it. And it looks like Waldon is stacking the deck ahead of her upcoming No Regular Dog album, bringing in Shooter Jennings on production – who, as an aside, has been quietly killing it in that lane over the past few years. And really, matching her very old-school timbre and already established traditional sound with his smoked-out textures that can call to mind an older era without necessarily feeling beholden to it feels almost too natural of a fit.
It helps that Jennings’ own production is getting warmer and richer with every act he produces, and that there’s a healthy emphasis on that cutting fiddle line to match Waldon’s more haggard delivery here. She’s got the firepower and subtle swagger to make this song feel bigger than what the text may show at first – a broadly sketched yet still familiar picture of a small-town raised woman who takes to writing songs and singing country and bluegrass music as well as indulging in some hard living when there isn’t much else to do in town, especially with the further implications of a bad childhood feeding into that soul-searching. I do wish this song had a bridge or maybe a final verse to better flesh out the story a bit more, but as it is, this is an excellent first step for what’s ahead. Boom.
And now, our lone new entry to this week’s top 40:
No. 40 – Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (written by Lexie Hayden, Priscilla Block, and Stone Aielli)
Priscilla Block broke out last year with “Just About Over You,” a surprisingly well-realized song about encountering an old flame in a bar … and her newest single is part two of that. Really, most of the remainder of her debut album was part two of that, and without that aforementioned track’s more vulnerable details that made it more convincing in capturing the shock and awe of the moment as she let old feelings overcome her, “My Bar” just falls flat. For one, it flips the script to be more attitude-filled, and Block isn’t a convincing enough presence to sell it well. And the production certainly doesn’t have the muscle or swell to make up the difference. All in all, it’s certainly not bad – it’s just not that interesting.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Ricky Van Shelton, “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You” (written by Tony King and Chris Waters)
It’s hard to really gauge how my last experience with Ricky Van Shelton went in this feature, given that his first No. 1 country single of the ‘90s was a cover that, while not really great, was still very much appreciated. And though we’re dealing with an original song this time around, I’m largely in the same boat with “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You.” It’s the sort of purposefully straightforward, unapologetically traditional country song that’s more tried and true in its presentation than emblematic of what the decade would later sound like. Basically, like with “Statue of a Fool,” I don’t think this is a great song – mostly because the writing feels mainly nondescript (he was hurting and now he’s not – done and done) and Shelton’s performance feels somewhat forced – but I’m also happy a song like this could still find success in the early part of the decade; you need those links to the past.