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).
James and the Shame, “Believe Me” (written by Rhett James McLaughlin)
Well, this is fascinating. I admit I’m not the least bit familiar with Rhett James McLaughlin’s work on YouTube as one half of Rhett & Link for “Good Mythical Morning” (the only Link I know is this one), but with an upcoming country side project from him under the above band name … well, again, I’m at least curious to see what all the fuss is about. Granted, we’ve seen this film before of the converted country star – typically from the rock world and to usually middling effect – but considering his influences range from Merle Haggard to Roy Orbison and George Jones, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
And when it comes to his debut single, “fascinating,” again, is my go-to word, because while I won’t say I’m blown away by this, I am intrigued by the potential. With that said, it’s a song where the context surrounding its recording does the heavy lifting – the story of McLaughlin’s spiritual deconstruction from Christianity that will reportedly inform the concept of his upcoming debut album (and, to be frank, is a really interesting choice for a country project, of all things). And I’m of two minds on this song. On one hand, in terms of sound and tone I like a lot of what I hear – a quaint, slightly retro-leaning slice of ‘60s country-pop with a decent, if underpowered, lead singer behind it all; it’s not that far removed from, say, Orville Peck’s earlier work (and his voice reminds me of a slightly higher Mark Wystrach from Midland). But I’ll also say that, without knowing the context behind this, it can be difficult to truly ascertain what he’s getting at here, mostly due to this feeling a shade underwritten and lacking in greater firepower behind the delivery – an odd tonal match for the content, if you will. In all fairness, though, this is framed more as a defense of his choice to critics and not really meant to be an incendiary statement. And it could be a case where it sounds better in context of the album – time will tell on that one. But all in all, this is surprisingly solid and worth keeping an eye on
, and performed by a better Rhett than Thomas.
And now, this week’s lone debut to the country airplay top 40. Friggin’ joy.
No. 36 – Morgan Wallen, “You Proof” (written by Ashley Gorley, Ernest Keith Smith, Morgan Wallen, Ryan Vojtesak)
I realize it will be a long, long time before we’re rid of this guy, but did his fans really have to propel this trap-country clunker to popularity? I’ll keep this one brief: The song pops about as well as an ass pimple with the cheaply mixed drum machines and choppy guitar passages that contribute no sense of groove. And considering this is, like, his bajillionith breakup song involving alcohol and his own dumbass decisions, I’m not in the mood to commiserate with him. My expectations with him are low in more ways than one, but this sucks. Bust.
And now, something inevitably better – this week’s throwback review:
Shenandoah, “Next to You, Next to Me” (written by Robert Ellis Orrall and Curtis Wright)
I often get my ‘90s country bands mixed up, but with hits like “Sunday in the South,” “Two Dozen Roses,” and “The Church on Cumberland Road” under their belt, I often forget just how jovial and charming Shenandoah can be as a band! There’s definitely a unique identity there that I’ve probably underrated over the years, and with their biggest hit of their career here now that upbeat likability continues.
Granted, “Next to You, Next to Me” is shamelessly corny – like, “Sing it in a cornfield on Hee Haw and be done with it” corny – but it’s so lighthearted that it owns it anyway. It’s a slice of bluegrass-infused country by way of Alabama with a terrific fiddle and dobro interplay anchoring its best moments, where the simple conceit is being so hopelessly in love with your partner that you start planning forever overnight. Boyfriend country wishes it could be even a tenth as good as this, but I think therein lies the appeal – it’s upbeat, doesn’t take itself too seriously or drown itself in its saccharine nature, and, ultimately, is just meant to make listeners smile. And it succeeds with that! Boom.