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).
Zoe Cummins and Gabe Lee, “Common Law” (written by Andrew Scott Wills, Stefanie Joyce, and Zoe Cummins)
Hell yes to this collaboration. Gabe Lee has quickly racked up deserved critical acclaim and status over the past few years, thanks to a duo of excellent projects in farmland and Honky Tonk Hell. Zoe Cummins, on the other hand, is probably the more unknown name, having only released a few scattered singles over the years. But given that this is billed more as her single than Lee’s, hopefully an album is on the way. At any rate both artists call Torrez Music Group home, which has also quickly become a pretty exciting hotbed for independent talent within country music over the past few years.
And in describing this new single … well, think of those old school country duets that featured plenty of banter and excellent chemistry between the performers, only sold with plenty of wry venom and social commentary that probably wouldn’t have flown back then. After all, “Stand By Your Man” this most certainly isn’t, even if both parties stay in the relationship for their own selfish desires. It’s far from a dead relationship, but it’s certainly toxic as hell in the best way possible. And that’s the thing – both Cummins and Lee have the sort of ragged, hangdog charisma needed to sell this with a haggard charm, where they’ve beaten each other down and only stay together because divorce would run them both further into the ground in some way or another. Between sharp-witted writing from Cummins and Lee’s expressive production that turns this into a barn-burning honky-tonk cut that would have fit in well on the aforementioned Honky Tonk Hell, it’s just such a phenomenally well-balanced cut across the board.
Oh, and it’s a riot of a good time, if I didn’t make that clear already. Please check it out! Boom.
And now, this week’s lone new entry to the country airplay top 40:
No. 35 – Keith Urban, “Brown Eyes Baby” (written by Josh Thompson, Morgan Wallen, Rodney Clawson, and Will Bundy)
I admit, “Wild Hearts” really grew on me, if only because it was a slight return to Keith Urban’s earlier sound, which is certainly more agreeable than pretty much anything he’s since done since the Ripcord era. Basically, I’m never sure where to set my expectations with him these days, but with “Brown Eyes Baby” … well, awkward title aside, this actually might be one of his most solid offerings in years! Granted, part of this works for me on the basics alone of a good melody and hook and little else, because while I’m pleased to hear him lean more on organic production with his last two singles, the guitar tones here are surprisingly bland and formless – especially for a Keith Urban single. But I think Urban himself might be what saves this, if only because he’s an endearing performer with enough earnest charisma to sell the role of a partner offering comfort to another (and I certainly believe him more in this role than a certain unfortunate co-writer I see in those credits). Far from a world-beater or even the best of his 2000s heyday, but if Urban wants to trend back toward this general sound, it’d certainly at least be the start of a return to form.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Travis Tritt, “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” (written by Jill Colucci and Stewart Harris)
Well, last week it was Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” and this week it’s “I’m Gonna Be Somebody”; I certainly don’t mind sticking with the classics. And since this is my second time discussing Travis Tritt for this particular feature, I’ll say he’s definitely two-for-two, as while this tale of “making it” as a musician is a bit more broadly sketched than certain other tracks in this vein, I’d argue the strength lies in the performance anyway. It’s one reason why I don’t think it’s absolutely essential that artists write their own songs to make them work, because Tritt has a natural gusto and hunger to his delivery here – particularly on that hook – that complements the role of the starry-eyed dreamer exceptionally well, especially when we get to that third verse and he witnesses some unknown kid in the crowd with the same hunger he once carried (and still does). Plus, with some good storytelling and framing to give it some weight, it’s still easy to empathize with the Bobby character. Boom.