The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox – #39 (2022): William Beckmann, Morgan Evans, Elle King, and Shane Smith and the Saints

Editor’s note: Hey all, I apologize for the infrequent activity here as of late. Between tending to family illnesses, snowstorms, and other real life commitments, I haven’t had as much time to commit to the outlet as I usually do. And since we’re coming up on a pretty quieter time of year for me anyway as year-end list season rolls around, it’s a simultaneous, paradoxical case of fortunate and unfortunate timing. With that said, I do plan to get certain things done before the end of the year, including this, a final single review roundup for the year, plus an eventual large album review roundup, and other miscellaneous posts before those lists arrive. I just ask that you all bear with me until I can get back into full throttle for 2023. Thank you for your understanding, and for reading! – Zack

It’s been some time since I reviewed some individual singles here, yet oddly enough, I haven’t really accrued much of a backlog in that department. That means this will likely be the last song review roundup of the year, unless a bunch of new releases magically pop up out of nowhere (and in today’s age, that’s totally possible). Onward!

William Beckmann, “Damn This Heart of Mine” (written by Nick Walsh and William Beckmann Hyslop)

William Beckmann came on my radar earlier this year with his pretty solid EP, Faded Memories (“In the Dark” has remained a strong highlight for me all year), and he’s back again already with new single “Damn This Heart of Mine.” Perhaps the increased exposure from that project has done him some good, as this is certainly a more full-bodied production effort than most of those EP tracks, with a lot of rollicking groove and flair in the roiling harmonica and slow-burning electric axes. Otherwise? It’s a pretty solid breakup track, albeit one that could have fit on that EP, with a little too much broad focus and interchangeable detail in the overall framing and lyrics to stick in the memory a bit better. And I still think Beckmann is a tasteful, if not especially expressive, presence. Still, he’s a name worth keeping an eye on, and this is pretty likable.

Morgan Evans, “Over For You” (written by Geoff Warburton, Madison Love, Morgan Evans, and Tim Sommers)

Here’s a name I didn’t expect to talk about again. For those who don’t know, Morgan Evans was a one-hit wonder from a few years ago, albeit one probably known more for being formerly married to Kelsea Ballerini than actually being an interesting artist. But with a surprising number of divorces in country music in recent years … well, I hate to say it keeps me interested where artists will take their music next, but Evans’ new single actually drew some considerable acclaim for its perspective.

And while I’m still not outright blown away by him – he’s got a very generic voice, and while his emotional interpretation here is solid and heartfelt, it’s only barely so in either regard – this is definitely worth the buzz, if just for the writing alone. It treads a careful line of acknowledging the other partner’s feelings over a tough goodbye and how saying that word had to be tough for them as well, but it’s also rightfully angry at dragging out something that wasn’t real for them and keeping Evans’ character in the dark. But it’s not necessarily dismissive, either – the general conceit is that he just wants to know when it was over for that other partner and when he started loving a different person – which is fair and better than assuming the love waa never there to begin with – and there’s something inherently sadder about leaving it at that unanswered question. Good stuff.

Elle King, “Jersey Giant” (written by Tyler Childers)

We’re just full of surprises today. Elle King’s debut country project will arrive in January, and the fact that her take on an old, never-released Tyler Childers song isn’t on there is damn-near criminal, because this is excellent – and I say that as someone who’s never been crazy about that guy as, well, everyone else. Granted, I can see why Childers has distanced himself from this song over time, given that it’s about reminiscing over wilder days and old flames; he’s just not in that metaphorical place anymore, which is fair, though it does leave a lot of fan-favorite cuts out in the wild still waiting on studio versions, either from him or someone else.

But I really love the urgency in the writing here, taking a very simple, familiar theme of young love and nostalgia and imbuing it with a lot of inherent sadness and recklessness as the character here tries to rekindle a fire they themselves put out in the first place, knowing it’s likely all for naught. They’ve changed and that old partner likely has as well, so it’s a classic case of not knowing what one has until it’s gone. And to complement it all we have a really striking production balance to nail the melancholic atmosphere, sporting just enough wistful rollick in the acoustic groove and further accents through the crying fiddle and soft pedal steel echoes. It’s definitely more in line with what you’d expect from Childers over King, sonically, but given how tonal mood and balance has always been of my bigger issues with his work, it works exceptionally well here. The surprising drawback for me is King herself, a normally terrific vocalist and one who is trying her best to nail the wistful sadness of the situation and has the haggard tone to sell those missed years and opportunities convincingly as is. But her flow here is a bit monotone overall, which dampens the greater impact of the writing. Even with that said, though, I didn’t expect to love this quite like I do. You’ve probably already heard it, but if not, it’s definitely worth the listen. Boom.

Shane Smith and the Saints, “Fire in the Ocean” (written by Shane Smith)

I’ve been eagerly awaiting new Shane Smith and the Saints music, given that their typical brand of Celtic-infused country and rock has always clicked extremely well with me on foundation alone. And now they’re poised to blow up in the same way Whiskey Myers did a few years back, thanks to some very prominent exposure through the newest season of Yellowstone, and I can’t wait to see where it all goes for them.

As far as their new music, though, steady and consistent is the name of the game here, and that’s actually perfectly fine. It’s perhaps a bit softer than what we’re used to with them – it’s part of why I wasn’t blown away by “Hummingbird” earlier this year – but “Fire in the Ocean” is full of the epic, sweeping change-ups and crescendos one comes to expect with this band, all backed by the titular lead singer’s earthly bellow that’s always made this band’s work feel naturally gargantuan. And with the breakup focus adding even more dramatic intensity and stakes here, it all clicks excellently for another adventurous, blazing epic. It’s not quite as heavy as their best work in this vein, or, conversely, as dramatically restrained in the vein of, say, “Little Bird,” if I’m being honest. And I’d struggle to say it matches their absolute best work, but that’s a pretty high bar to clear anyway. So if this is someone’s introduction to them, they still can’t really go wrong.

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