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).
Drake Milligan, “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” (written by Drake Milligan, Brett Beavers, and Terry McBride)
I’m in a weird place with this first entry. I somehow missed out on covering this young traditionalist’s debut EP last year, even amidst a buzz of hype. For context, Drake Milligan started as an Elvis impersonator, almost competed on American Idol but decided to move to Nashville to hone his songwriting instead, signed to Broken Bow Records, of all places, competed instead on America’s Got Talent, and just recently announced his upcoming debut album. And I’m now in another weird place with this, because without a pre-release single other than the five EP tracks from last year, I’m basically making up for lost time here.
Granted, I don’t mind, because while I won’t say his ’90s-meets-2000s neotraditonal style is anything revolutionary in its presentation or writing, it is really enjoyable. First of all, he’s a terrific singer, with a rich baritone reminiscent of Chris Young that, as you might expect, works terrifically well with the chosen style – especially when said style carries the punchy drive of, say, those early Dierks Bentley records, a comparison only strengthened by the common Brett Beavers involvement in the writing. My introduction to him was through “Over Drinkin’ Under Thinkin’, ” but I think “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” might be my early favorite – a track reliant on heavy swagger he absolutely has … even if it’s about settling down. Yeah, that’s what kind of fun about this, because for as much as he ostensibly plays the familiar role of the country boy who says he’ll never change, he knows there’s something equally fun about leaning into love and the unpredictable nature of it. The fact that it’s a turbo-tonk song with a fantastic drive and crunch in its guitar and saloon piano production helps, too. It’s familiar, but it’s fresh, and though I am late to the party, I’m excited to hear what’s next. Boom.
And now, our lone new entry to this week’s country airplay chart:
No. 39 – Cody Johnson, “Human” (written by Tony Lane and Travis Meadows)
Speaking of solidly likable neotraditional acts finding traction, I’m thrilled “‘Til You Can’t” has become the unexpected (but deserved) breakthrough hit for Cody Johnson over the past year. His last album may have been a bit bloated despite the effort, but there were definitely decent follow-up choices … and yeah, this is one that’s actually grown on me a little over the year. For starters, while it’s broadly sketched from the familiar template of asking a partner’s forgiveness for imperfections, this avoids leaving it at the “I’m just a man” conceit in favor of working toward bettering one’s self, no matter how often they stumble. And when you have Travis Meadows’ detailed, humble, lived-in writing working well with burnished acoustics, soft percussion and brushes of fiddle and pedal steel – along with the appreciated subtle female backing vocals complementing Johnson’s sincere performance and adding weight to the sentiment – it’s a great fit overall. I’m not sure it’s as immediate as its predecessor, but this is a track worth the slow burn to appreciate. Boom.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
Alabama, “Jukebox In My Mind” (written by Dave Gibson and Ronnie Rogers)
… OK, fine, looks like it’s a week of neotraditional country. And, weirdly enough, that’s not a label one could really associate with Alabama, a band known more for either its adult-contemporary slow jams or its fast-paced, fiddle-driven southern-rock trailblazers. If anything, however, this, at least to me, marks just how quickly the ’90s country sound was taking hold over the format. And, in going fully old-school and relying mainly on solid harmonies, a reserved production augmented by fiddle and pedal steel to complement that quaint, lonesome barroom appeal (never-ending, too, given the clever use of a needle dropping to open and close the song), and classic country heartache where the misery haunts our character, they prove they can handle tried-and-true country music really well. It’s quietly one of my favorites of theirs. Boom.