The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox- #3 (2023): (Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, Jake Worthington, etc.)

I’ve learned over the years that I’m not good at committing to weekly features, but I do somewhat miss when this operated as one. If I could ever find a consistently agreeable formula for it, I’d go back to that system, but for now … well, these reviews are about as timely as it gets with me. So, onward!

Brandy Clark, “Buried” (written by Brandy Clark and Jessie Jo Dillon)

It’s hard to believe it’s officially been a decade since Brandy Clark released her debut album. Maybe it’s because she’s shifted sonically from that more plaintive acoustic bedrock over the course of her three-album career, or maybe it’s that general feeling that she just hasn’t received as much proper recognition for those three solid projects as she should have. It could also be that we don’t often hear from her, even though when we do, greatness ensues.

Granted, speaking as someone who liked but didn’t quite love the pivot toward a lusher sound on 2020’s Your Life is a Record, I am excited to see what returning to those same plainspoken, acoustic roots will do for her upcoming self-titled album, especially with Brandi Carlile on board as its producer. “Buried,” then, is a great first step. It’s a comfortable one, too, and I don’t say that as a slight. Sure, it’s opting for the same coffeehouse folk styling that might make for an eventual tiring album – we’ll have to see – but if there’s one thing that works in Clark’s factor, it’s her deep, rich alto that always nails the rich, emotive, and, most importantly, mature delivery this material typically requires. And in playing off spare bits of acoustics and piano with a slight hint of echo, it may not necessarily aim for the rougher textures of that debut, but it does capture that same sense of devastating intimacy – and without any added gimmicks.

Said devastating intimacy, of course, is utilized for a breakup track following in the vein of her previous project, showing how she’ll move on if she has to, but will never forget. In a sense, the quaint atmosphere makes sense when there isn’t any malice present toward a former partner, nor is there any wallowing when the entire point is to find a way to move forward. I might have personally preferred a bit more dynamics overall in the production or writing, even if the detailed imagery does stick in the mind, but Clark returning to her roots doesn’t sound so bad thus far.

Jordan Davis, “Next Thing You Know” (written by Chase McGill, Greylan James, Jordan Davis, and Josh Osborne)

I’ve somewhat underestimated Jordan Davis’ commercial longevity. He always struck me as another forgettable D-lister with previous singles, even if the occasional diamond in the rough like “Buy Dirt” or certain album cuts showed potential. I don’t think the A-list will ever be in the conversation for him, but he’s done well for himself.

And thankfully, his newest single actually showcases a mature step forward, a wide-angled, slice-of-life song that feels rooted in similar sentiments as “Buy Dirt” but carries it further with actual storytelling detail and progression over platitudes. It’s perhaps a bit conventional in the overall formula, tracing a young couple’s journey together and ending with a final verse centered around their children in which they offer advice from experience, but there’s a sweeping gentleness in the cadence and Davis’ delivery that keeps it grounded well.

And aside from the programmed beat, it’s the warmest his production has ever sounded off the gentle, rattling acoustics. It’s perhaps a bit too even-keeled in sidestepping any attempts at deeper drama – I’ve seen this compared to Alan Jackson’s similar “Remember When,” where the personal detail in the framing allows itself to showcase the highs and lows – but with enough actual detail and a richer, understated presentation overall, this works.

Caylee Hammack, “History of Repeating” (written by Nicolette Hayford, Ashley McBryde, and Caylee Hammack)

I’ve always liked Caylee Hammack’s artistic instincts. She’s thus far balanced her stabs at commercial country-pop well, thanks to a singer-songwriter backbone that’s brought more flair and detail to the conversation. “Small Town Hypocrite” is my gold standard for that, given that it was one of my favorite overall songs of 2020. With that said, some of her material can be patchy at points – it’s one reason I skipped over “All or Nothing” earlier this year – and I do desperately wish those good instincts translated better commercially, but there’s a potential here that often works for the better.

And with “History of Repeating,” I may have just found my favorite song of hers since “Small Town Hypocrite.” Not quite on that level, mind you, but a lot of those same instincts are there in the emotional nuance and framing. Granted, a lot of it also has to do with Hammack herself, a terrific vocalist with an even better range, both on a technical level and in terms of her raw expressiveness and resonance.

And for modern pop-country, this is about as restrained as it gets with the opening watery acoustics translating to a pretty fiery chorus off the underplayed electric axes and (thankfully) real drums adding a slight booming echo, even if it can still feel a bit clunky in its overall groove. But really, it’s a song that’s elevated further by its writing, in which Hammack’s character’s history of repetition refers to how she can’t let an old partner go and continuously stumbles trying to get them back. What sticks out for me is the self-awareness, where she knows there’s no chance of a reunion anyway but can’t help falling back into old habits, her frustration especially heightened by her crescendo on the final chorus that nails the emotional nuance. In other words, excellent stuff – I hope an album is on the way. Boom.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real feat. Lainey Wilson, “More Than Friends” (written by Lukas Nelson)

This collaboration intrigued me at first glance, mainly because both lead artists have a tendency to lean more on natural, rollicking flair, albeit with a slight clumsiness in their respective presentations that has always kept me somewhat at a distance with them. Still, put them together and this single definitely has potential … until they create a barroom hookup track in which they share very little chemistry. I think it’s an issue of tone and mood. They’re not really relying on easygoing humor and certainly not aiming for any sense of darker mystique like Wilson herself did with Cole Swindell on “Never Say Never.” This just hits an odd middle ground that feels overall lightweight, not just in its lighter stabs at conventional country-rock but also in the slightly neutered dynamics overall. Plus, Nelson and Wilson sound like they’re operating on autopilot. With that said, this certainly isn’t bad; it’s just forgettable.  

Jake Worthington, “State You Left Me In” (written by Jake Worthington, Roger Springer, and Timothy Baker)

This is an interesting return. Jake Worthington is an artist I’ve had on my radar for years now, a traditionalist who plays to pretty familiar territory in sound, influence, and writing, but who has often provided a likable presence and a more agreeable framework than most of his modern contemporaries. But following some earlier EPs in the mid-2010s, he somewhat disappeared until now. And with a full debut album finally on the horizon, we’re off to a good start, especially when the first thing I hear on this single are those terrific acoustics interlaced with pedal steel, calling back to the ‘90s and 2000s but with a sharper, modern warmth. I’m utterly shocked that Joey Moi produced this, but credit where it’s due, I suppose. Still, good tones will only get a song and artist so far, which is where Worthington himself comes in. He’s almost a dead-ringer for Mark Chesnutt, with the same full-throated, weathered, rich tone that plays especially well to this sound.

Now, one of the easier complaints with this brand of neotraditional country is that it can lack a stronger distinctive lyrical punch or play to cornier sentiments. And indeed, the titular twist is a pretty easy one to guess before listening to a single note of this (he’s stuck in the same literal state an old flame left him in, unable to move on), but it’s the presentation that matters most. And in that case, again, Worthington just has that naturally smooth rollick to his delivery that can communicate simple heartache effectively. Familiar and uncomfortable, but in a really great way.

2 thoughts on “The Boom-or-Bust Jukebox- #3 (2023): (Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, Jake Worthington, etc.)

  1. There’s a good range of songs here. I like the Brandy Clark song and I’m really looking forward to her album. The Lukas Nelson/Lainey Wilson and Jake Worthington songs were good and I’m interested to hear them within the context of the albums. I couldn’t really get into the other two songs.

    Liked by 1 person

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