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).
Bri Bagwell, “Free Man” (written by Bri Bagwell)
Even though it feels long overdue, I will say that I wasn’t expecting a new album announcement from Bri Bagwell over this past week – a Texas-based singer/songwriter who’s released a slew of rock-solid projects thus far, including 2018’s In My Defense. But with lead single “Free Man” ahead of Corazón y Cabeza, it looks we’re off a solid start for this next era, too. Granted, given my affinity for courtroom dramas, I will say I love the concept of this kiss-off track – a situation where Bagwell wishes she could have a fair trail indicting her presumably cheating ex-partner for all of his wrongdoing, reportedly inspired by her own jury duty experience. She’s always been a sharp-witted writer that can walk a fine line between coy fun and frustration, the former of which shows in the fantasy-driven narrative and the latter in the acknowledgment that it is, sadly, just a fantasy (it still sounds like a case Crane, Poole, and Schmidt would handle, though). With that said, I do have a few minor nitpicks, most notably in the overall mixing feeling off. The country-rock swagger and heft feels pretty muted overall, as does Bagwell herself. And this is definitely a track that could have used all of that bluster and firepower at the forefront to really clinch it. Still a fun track overall, though. Boom.
And now, this week’s new entries to this week’s top 40:
No. 25 – Sam Hunt, “Water Under the Bridge” (written by Shane McAnally, Chris LaCorte, Josh Osborne, and Sam Hunt)
I was only morbidly curious to see if this was an Adele cover. And the more I think about it, the more I’m glad it wasn’t, because I have no patience for Sam Hunt these days. I know Nashville and the general country community still does, though – even if “23” felt like a pretty non-event single – hence why we’re being treated to this new single, which just answers the question of, “What if Sam Hunt had tried to fit into the bro-country mold a decade ago?”
And suffice it to say, the answer to that question equates to something terrible, because for as much as Hunt could make even the most annoyingly obnoxious songs like “Body Like a Backroad” or “Kinfolks” catchy like gonorrhea, this is just a damn mess in nearly every regard. Sure, there’s some noticeable piano and organ to open this track and offer a slight soulful flair … that is, until that snap percussion kicks in and this song gets drowned in bombast and adopts no sense of greater dynamics or decent flow – or taste. But the weirdly messy soul-meets-southern-rock fusion might actually be the best part about this song, because Hunt sounds terrible here. He ditches his embarrassing attempts at rapping, to be fair, but this song traps him in his upper range pretty much all throughout, which is just nasal and leering in a way that’s always made my skin crawl when it comes to this guy’s music.
Granted, that’s always a comment I reserve more for the actual lyrics and themes, and while this isn’t as creepy or shallow as his worst offerings (now there’s a compliment), I think that’s only because this is your by-the-numbers bro-country track that’s just more dull than anything else. Which is to say that, I have no clue what Hunt is trying to do with this new era
and I don’t really care, but if he’s just looking to blend in with the rest of Nashville’s crowd, I’m not sure he’s got much left to offer anymore. BUST.
No. 40 – Restless Road, “Growing Old With You” (written by Charles Kelley, Jordan Minton, and Jordan Reynolds)
I prefer Restless Heart, thank you very much.
No? I got to stick with these guys? Lame. Anyway, Restless Road is composed of these three Target ad-ready men who mostly found their breakthrough from the X Factor, of all things, and recently released this Dan + Shay knockoff to radio. And for as much as I’d like to just say, “The End,” I will say this isn’t terrible by any means. It’s a tepid wedding ballad that’s clearly aping Parmalee’s “Take My Name” – another band that’s only found success by crafting no unique identity whatsoever – but there’s a better attempts at emotional dynamics in the use of softer strings and pedal steel that at least gives this song a tiny bit of weight and certainly a bit more country flavor. But that’s about where the compliments end, because otherwise this is pretty generic as a whole. The three vocalists blend together far too often and don’t stand out much as pure performers, and this is, again, just a tepid wedding ballad that’s lacking in greater storytelling detail and is pretty saccharine as a whole. It’s more listenable than most other singles by those two aforementioned acts, but I’ll forget this song as soon as I’m done writing this sentence.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Dan Seals, “Good Times” (written by Sam Cooke)
Look, it didn’t pan out well the last time I featured Dan Seals in this feature, and I can’t say I was really expecting this for his second and final entry – a cover of a classic Sam Cooke song … that just gets neutered into the ground here. I don’t even really know what else to add to that, because while this is more in-line with the loose and easy playfulness of “Bop” than “Love On Arrival,” Seals just sounds pretty checked-out here; he can sell a fun time decently well, but he’s not really a soulful performer. I mean, it’s cool that it was a ‘90s country radio single, but this still feels like a cover that didn’t really need to exist.