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).
I’ll be honest – real life got in the way of this holiday week, so this will likely be this week’s only post. And for it, I’m going a bit outside of the box for this week’s feature track. Anyway, onward!
Sierra Ferrell, “Years” (written by Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson, John Anderson, and Patrick James McLaughlin)
I’m absolutely ecstatic about the John Anderson tribute album coming next month. Since I don’t really write about cover albums, however, I think it’s time to spotlight one of the feature tracks from it, even if it is one of Anderson’s most recent compositions. And even though “Years” stemmed from one of my favorite albums of 2020, I think I might like Sierra Ferrell’s take on it even better! Sure, it loses the intensity in tone of the original – both in the booming, haunting echo that really anchored it and Anderson’s delivery that hit close to home – but I don’t think any of the emotional impact got sacrificed along the way. If anything, I prefer the stripped-back, roots-driven approach here a bit more, as it feels a bit more weathered and lived-in and doesn’t really carry any of the bombast that could hamper the original at points, especially when Ferrell is a terrific vocalist that can even make a full life story like this feel believable. It’s still a tough song to cover of Anderson’s, and maybe one could argue this is the type of track that should have been left alone … but I’m glad we have it anyway. Boom.
And now, our newest entries to this week’s top 40:
No. 21 – Luke Bryan, “Country On” (written by David Frasier, Mark Nesler, Mitch Oglesby, and Styles Haury)
Luke Bryan is one of those artists that’s just going to ride his relevancy into the ground until there’s nothing left, as while there were some surprisingly good album cuts on his last project, you wouldn’t have known it from the single choices. And with the surprising failure of “Up,” I’m not shocked we’re receiving a new lead single with a title like “Country On,” because … yep, this sure is a Luke Bryan song, and not a really good one, at that.
Granted, part of me is a little pleased to hear him take notes from country music’s other Luke and pivot more toward his late 2000s country sound, even if it feels like the guitars here sound muted and lack any actual distinctive flair or punch. Weirdly enough, I actually didn’t mind the outro, because there’s some welcome fiddle that gets to shine, and somehow Sarah Buxton gets barely anything to do here as a backing vocalist and still outshines Bryan. By then, though, it just feels like too little, too late, because there isn’t really much to this song other than being a giant masturbatory pander-fest, where the general conceit is to use the hook as an inspirational rally cry for everyone from the farmers to the troops and the rest of the United States. I mean, it’s a nice enough sentiment, but neither Bryan nor has anyone on his team have ever really been great storytellers, which means these feel like gross character portraits over anything else. It’s not terrible, but like most of Bryan’s singles as of late it’s just very forgettable.
No. 40 – Bailey Zimmerman, “Fall in Love” (written by Austin Shawn, Bailey Zimmerman, and Gavin Lucas)
Wow, someone sure wants to be Morgan Wallen when they grow up, huh?
Jokes aside, Bailey Zimmerman is an artist who’s received more exposure from TikTok virality than anything remotely tied to the country music industry, hence why this song from earlier this year is just now catching on at radio. And I have to say, considering I have no patience for the obvious aforementioned influence overshadowing Zimmerman’s sound and prefer this to pretty much anything else in his discography anyway, I dig this way more than I should. Sure, it’s hard to dance around that influence in the dour, whiskey-soaked delivery sold from the tone of a post-break-up that probably gets a little melodramatic for its own good in the general conceit. But at least Zimmerman’s production is a fair bit better – there’s some actual warmth to the guitars and smoky bass groove that can actually cultivate a pretty compelling and bitter slow-burn. And considering this is meant to soak in all of that misery, at least that hook has a fair bit of rollick to it. Even still, I’m torn on this, if only because I wouldn’t call this the most distinctive introduction to Zimmerman (again, due to that overshadowing influence). With that aside, this is surprisingly really good. Boom.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Vince Gill, “When I Call Your Name” (written by Tim DuBois and Vince Gill)
I’m not sure what surprises me most every time I revisit Vince Gill’s discography: the fact that despite being known for a sound that walked the line between country and smoother adult-contemporary, his background places him more in distinctly rock and bluegrass territory; the fact that he only had five No. 1 singles, which feels downright criminal; or the fact that one of his signature songs was his big breakthrough hit. Because while there isn’t much to “When I Call Your Name” on a compositional level – firm acoustics, lonely barroom piano in the distance and, later, some hints of pedal steel here and there – it just (rightly) offers more of a focus on Gill’s huge delivery and allows a bigger space for the song to breathe … especially when pure empty space is partly the point of this post-breakup track. He’ll call her name all he wants, but it’s just going to continuously echo to no one and nowhere, and he knows it but can’t help but keep doing it anyway. It’s just one of those tried-and-true country heartbreak tracks that reminds me why I love the genre in the first place. BOOM.