A bluegrass great, an alum from The Voice with a Stapleton vibe and a powerhouse vocalist with a fresh slant on a love song make up the 10 country and Americana songs you must hear this week.
If Austin rockers the Band of Heathens are any indication, rock & roll is alive and well. On “Trouble Came Early” (off the band’s most recent LP Duende), vocalist Gordy Quist channels Shake Your Money Maker-era Chris Robinson, with a Black Crowes-worthy arrangement to boot. Big vocal harmonies and honky-tonk piano recall early Rolling Stones, while a couple of capable, greasy slide-guitar solos at the song’s bridge and outro should fans who miss the Duane era of the Allmans sit up straight. B.M.
Kelsea Ballerini delivers a playful put-down to sentimentality on her latest single, “I Hate Love Songs,” but she isn’t exactly cold-hearted about it. The second song to be put to radio from last year’s Unapologetically, “I Hate Love Songs” takes a swipe at all the lamest romantic clichés, right down to getting the color of violets wrong. It’s a fun, tough-talking ode to keeping things real, but there’s still room to have a soft spot. “I hate love songs, yeah, I really do,” Ballerini sings. “But I love you.” J.G.
Like a reincarnated Bob Seger track from the Eighties, “Ride Away” looks to heartland rock & roll for its cues. It’s big, booming and a bit wild-sounding – a soundtrack for pool halls, roadhouses and open highways. Jenckes plays the part of a small-town dreamer who’s itching to head somewhere else, preferably with the local heartbreaker in the passenger seat. The storyline may be familiar, but Jenckes’ vocal chops seal this deal, breathing new life into old traditions. When he climbs into his upper register during each chorus, the effect is Stapleton-sized. R.C.
A songwriter’s songwriter, Hyde is perhaps best known for his work alongside artists like Eric Church, who scored major hits with Hyde-penned tunes like “Springsteen” and “Record Year.” He earns his own share of the spotlight with this month’s Norman Rockwell World, his debut release as a solo artist. “Old Hat” is one of the record’s breezy, bittersweet highlights. Cheeky and charming, Hyde delivers the song from the perspective of an old-school traditionalist who’s reeling from the pace of the modern world. “You don’t know to throw all of the old out for the new,” he laments during the first half of the chorus, before admitting he “ain’t ready to give ‘old hat’ the boot.” R.C.
More influenced by the primal punch of 1960s rock & roll than the twang of country, “Leap of Faith” kicks off Kinder’s year with brawny bang. He pulls double duty as the song’s soul singer and lead instrumentalist, backing himself up with blasts of raw, amplified blues. If the Black Keys ever decide to record outside material, this song could be a first cousin to “Lonely Boy.” R.C.
Guitar shredder Lindsay Ell cracks the Top 40 for the first time, updating the sounds of Y2K-era pop/rock – think Michelle Branch, Matchbox 20 and the rejuvenated Liz Phair – for country audiences. Sugarland’s Kristian Bush makes a cameo as the song and its album’s producer, stacking the arrangement high with vocal harmonies, keyboards and interlocking guitar arpeggios. “Criminal” focuses not on Ell’s playing, though, but on her voice, which packs as much of a punch as her fretwork. R.C.
Ashley McBryde’s forthcoming album Girl Going Nowhere is one of the year’s most anticipated new releases, and for damn good reason: Her songs boast thoughtful, narrative lyrics that recall Brandy Clark with a sound that should please fans of both Nineties country and today’s new traditionalists. While “American Scandal” may sound (based on title alone) like a stab at political commentary, it’s actually an affecting love song, simple in its message and powerful in its sentiment. As for the titular scandal? Well, let’s just say JFK and Marilyn Monroe still have a few folks in their corner. B.M.
“To Make Love Sweeter for You” is the first tempting taste of the durable Del McCoury Band’s upcoming LP, Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass (out May 25th, the same weekend as the bluegrass legend’s 11th annual all-star DelFest event). A classic honky-tonk ballad penned by Glenn Sutton (Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”) and songwriter-producer Jerry Kennedy, the song was the first chart-topping country hit for Jerry Lee Lewis after signing with Nashville’s Mercury Records’ subsidiary, Smash. McCoury’s high lonesome vocal is accompanied by rolling piano and weepy fiddle, turning the romantic tune into one that could easily pivot toward unrelenting regret. S.B.
The first previously unreleased recording from Chris Cornell to emerge since his death in May 2017 is every bit as haunting as could be expected – if not more so. “You Never Knew My Mind” sees the late Soundgarden singer put a pair of old Johnny Cash poems to music for the Forever Words compilation, and Cornell definitely channels the world-wearied austerity of the Man in Black’s American Recordings. The musical accompaniment gradually builds to a crackle of drums and feedback, but the beating heart of the performance is Cornell’s voice – wounded and soaring, triumphant and tragic. J.G.
Courtney Marie Andrews first got our attention with her 2016 album Honest Life, which drew the young songwriter comparisons to greats like Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris. On her forthcoming follow-up May Your Kindness Remain, the songwriting and vocal chops that earned such praise are present, but Andrews and producer Mark Howard incorporate elements of soul, roots and rock, providing Andrews with a bigger sonic palette worthy of her huge, versatile voice. On album cut “I’ve Hurt Worse,” Andrews channels her inner Bob Dylan, triumphantly stretching out her vowels while singing of a fickle lover likely unworthy of such jubilation. B.M.