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).
Miko Marks and the Resurrectors, “One More Night” (written by Justin Phipps, Miko Marks, and Steve Wyreman)
I’ll admit I’m long overdue in talking about Miko Marks, a performer who originally tried her hand at a country music career in the mid-2000s but was denied and has only found deserved success in recent years. Last year’s Our Country was a great listen I should have covered, so in making up for lost time, we have a new single for her upcoming Feel Like Going Home album that’s also pretty great. It’s right within her wheelhouse, too – a smattering of ‘70s-inspired, southern-fried country and gospel with a lot of smoked-out rollick in tone and groove. And really, the older sound makes sense, given that this has been described as a tribute to her musical upbringing and influences. Perhaps a bit conventional in its overall progression, but Marks is a fantastic performer who can easily make this her own, and I definitely appreciate the message to aspiring musicians not to let anyone determine the kind of music you can and cannot love or sing. Boom.
And now, our newest entries to this week’s top 40:
No. 38 – Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (written by Ashley Gorley, Ben Johnson, Hunter Phelps, and Michael Hardy)
Look, I’ll freely admit that I’ve rarely had patience for Michael Ray’s material, even if I didn’t mind his neotraditional pivot with “Whiskey and Rain.” But I had heard some surprisingly positive buzz for this song from colleagues I wouldn’t expect to offer it, and now that I’m hearing it … well, this is certainly oddly fascinating, but in a surprisingly good way! I’ll state my criticisms up front, though: Ray has a naturally warm tone that’s easy to like, but I’ve never gotten much out of him as a performer in the way of charisma or nuance, and the sharper vocal production during the chorus can be really jarring – there’s a difference between conjuring swagger and feeling really overblown. But in a way, I get it, because this is his way of leaning more heavily into a darker slice of almost southern-Gothic-tinged country, with a spiky fiddle line and plucky acoustics (as well as snap percussion that doesn’t need to be here and somewhat detracts from the appreciated muscle this song otherwise carries) that reminds me somewhat of Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” (hey, when HARDY is good, I’ll give it to him); it’s certainly one of the last pivots I expected from him.
Granted, given Ray’s track record of recording lyrical duds, I also didn’t expect to hear a story song about a crooked, moonshine-dealing preacher who basically uses his church as a front and eventually has the deacons in on the deal as well. Honestly, I really respect the choice to go there with a sacred theme for this genre and frame it as a pretty straightforward story song to release to radio. I would have maybe preferred a tighter ending with actual consequences involved, but this is surprisingly good even without it.
No. 39 – Joe Nichols, “Good Day For Living” (written by Bobby Hamrick, Dave Cohen, and Neil Mason)
You know, despite me being lukewarm on that last Joe Nichols album, this really makes me happy to see – his first top 40 hit in seven years. And I’m glad it’s with this single, because while it is pretty pleasant radio filler on paper and the production is just a tad more polished than I’d otherwise prefer (even if a generally breezy tone does shine through), it’s really likable all the way through. It helps that Nichols has always had a natural rollick to his delivery and is a terrific performer to boot, with a ton of charisma to his credit that helps to sell this song’s cheery sentiment. It also helps that he comes across as the more mature, good-natured family man here who can sell some of the song’s cornier details of enjoying life with an easy charm. A world-beater? No. But I do hope it turns into a comeback hit for him.
And now, this week’s throwback review:
(No official audio, not that we need it)
Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places” (written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee)
… I mean, come on, it’s “Friends in Low Places.” Mark Chesnutt may have also recorded it, but it’s Garth Brooks’ wide-eyed, shit-eating grin and charisma that turned it into an anthem, the hit that defined its decade, and the song that anyone will inevitably sing along to whenever it comes on – country fan or not, even more than 30 years after its release. I think that’s the key to it, because while it is, on paper, a familiar tale of the out-of-place country dweller in a more urban setting – a theme that can be particularly grating at its worst, which is typically when it’s framed as a defensive “us versus them” narrative – it’s Brooks that turns this into an anthem for everyone. He’s down but not out, and he’s going to have a blast ruining an ex-partner’s black tie affair in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, where he’s in on the joke and isn’t really causing any harm … hell, with a huge hook like that, I’m sure the party guests are the ones coming together to sing this with him by the end. So yeah, it’s definitely an iconic hit where the appeal is obvious, but it’s also worth noting the deeper appeal. Boom.