10 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week: Brandi Carlile, John Prine and More
Too much music, never enough time. In a particularly prolific era for both country and Americana music, with artists from Nashville to Austin releasing songs to radio and online, it’s near impossible to digest every new track. Which is why Rolling Stone Country is launching this new regular series, a curated list of the 10 songs you must hear each week. We’ll do the work; you just press play.
Joshua Hedley, “Mr. Jukebox”
Third Man Records signee Joshua Hedley is known around Nashville as “Mr. Jukebox” thanks to his uncanny ability to play just about any tune under the sun, and play it well. It’s an appropriate title for his forthcoming debut then, and also makes for a pretty fun tune. A quick-shuffle barroom jaunt, the single is the perfect introduction to Hedley, his unapologetically country aesthetic and his truly singular voice. B.M.
The Mastersons, “Don’t Tell Me to Smile”
With both the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements reverberating throughout the entertainment industry, it’s no surprise that many women artists are confronting their experiences with sexual harassment via song. Husband-and-wife duo the Mastersons tackle the uniquely frustrating phenomenon of men asking women to smile in a song – off their 2017 album Transient Lullaby – whose title also serves as a valuable piece of advice. An accompanying video provides a persuasive visual, with guest appearances from Margo Price, Cary Ann Hearst and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. B.M.
Jerrod Niemann, “I Got This”
Niemann is stocked with all the requisites for a killer evening, including liquor, vinyl, cigarettes and a gassed-up vehicle. The only thing he’s missing is someone to help him finish his White Russian. While an electric guitar loops a minor-key riff in the background, he lays out his proposal for some company. “The only thing I’m needing is a girl to play the lead in this cool movie that I’m dreaming up right now,” he says in a low baritone. Lights, camera, action. R.C.
Sam Morrow, “Heartbreak Man”
Morrow’s forthcoming album Concrete and Mud, out March 30th, should be on the radar of anyone who loves greasy, crunchy, deep-fried Southern rock, and the track “Heartbreak Man” is a pretty damn good example of why. The swaggering kiss-off finds Morrow taking the perspective of a devil-may-care heartbreaker, all over thick, dirty riffs and honky-tonk piano. With a Seventies rock-indebted solo at the song’s bridge, “Heartbreak Man” is a tune that’d do early Lynyrd Skynyrd proud. B.M.
The Reckless Electric, “Ice Cream and Liquor”
Mary Bragg and Becky Warren are two respected Nashville songwriters known for their delicate craft and thoughtful introspection – it’s won them awards, garnered hefty accolades and slots opening for the Indigo Girls. But with their new joint project, the Reckless Electric, they wanted to get a little less serious and have a plain old good time – all while proving that they’re a force to be reckoned with. It all comes together perfectly on the hilarious and spunky “Ice Cream and Liquor,” which is full of twangy, take-no-shits attitude in the school of Pistol Annie’s “Hell on Hells.” M.M.
Trent Harmon, “You Got ‘Em All”
A power ballad with all the blockbuster bluster of an American Idol coronation song, “You Got ‘Em All” finds Idol champ Trent Harmon swinging for the country-pop fences. The song starts off quietly, building from a stripped-down, piano-led arrangement into a colossal production. All the usual hallmarks of a radio hit are here, but it’s Harmon’s voice – a genuinely emotive, elastic instrument – that gives “You Got ‘Em All” its human heart. R.C.
Brandi Carlile, “Hold Out Your Hand”
Brandi Carlile’s always been an activist for social justice, though she’s generally veered away from being explicitly political in any of her songs themselves. But on the blistering “Hold Out Your Hand,” from her new Dave Cobb-produced LP By the Way, I Forgive You, she creates a roots amalgam that travels through many corners of the splintered American soul: police brutality, nonstop violence, dissolutions, discouragement. Not, however, without a solution. And for Carlile, it’s simple. “Hold out your hand,” she sings in her unparalleled howl. It’s furious, complex and a little punk rock. M.M.
John Prine, “Summer’s End”
“Summer’s End” is the first song to be released from The Tree of Forgiveness, John Prine’s first LP of new material in 13 years, and it leaves no doubt that he’s lost none of his gift for a lyric that is at once spare and devastating. Forgiveness is central to this rippling acoustic tune, but what exactly it’s regarding is left unsaid. It’s that cryptic quality that makes the fragile, beautiful ballad so transient and powerful, a fact enhanced by a guest vocal from Brandi Carlile that is positively incandescent beside Prine’s gravelly plea. J.G.
Oak Ridge Boys, “Pray to Jesus”
“Pray to Jesus” isn’t a gospel song – it’s not even a religious one – but it’s a neat trick that the Oak Ridge Boys manage to make it sound as such. A frayed blue-collar ballad by Brandy Clark, the song is turned into a stained-glass boogie by the Oaks. In their hands, it’s a hustler’s creed with a pious streak that could have been a holdover from a Sun Studio session circa 1954. With its original incarnation dating back to the Forties, the Oak Ridge Boys have a deep history of gospel singing, and they have no trouble picking up the habit here. J.G.
Lindi Ortega, “Lovers in Love”
Lindi Ortega knows how to put the bite in romance, but “Lovers in Love” – released on Valentine’s Day – isn’t shy about getting sentimental. Perhaps it’s the influence of her recent marriage and move back home to Canada, but Ortega is decidedly light here, both in tone and in the song’s breezy arrangement. And Charlie McCoy’s harmonica certainly gets the pulse racing, with the Nashville legend making an appearance that adds extra sparkle to the moment. J.G.