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10 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week: Corey Smith, Lilly Hiatt and More

Smith’s defiant “Empty Rooms,” Hiatt’s homage to vinyl, Paul Cauthen’s Cash-like exhortation and other songs to hear now

10 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week: Corey Smith, Lilly Hiatt

Songs by Corey Smith and Lilly Hiatt are among the 10 country and Americana tracks you must hear this week.

Courtesy of Corey Smith; Alysse Gafkjen

Paul Cauthen channels Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney implores us to all get along and Jesse Dayton embraces his stubborn side in this week’s collection of country and Americana songs you need to hear.

Paul Cauthen, “Everybody Walkin’ This Land”

With a new EP, Have Mercy, on the way in June, baritone-voiced Texan Paul Cauthen digs deep into his gravelly growl for the first song off the project, “Everybody Walkin’ This Land.” A martial, apocalyptic creed about the state of the nation and universally just-getting-by state of humankind, Cauthen rattles off the shared plights of “believers, pretenders, and bona-fide sinners” in a gruff sing-speak that channels the world-wearied solemnity of American-era Man in Black recordings. It’s a dark, spooky track, but the warbling coda lets a little light seep in right at the end. J.G.

Maddie & Tae, “Friends Don’t”

When Maddie & Tae released “Girl in a Country Song” in 2014, they turned poking fun of country radio conventions into a country radio hit – no easy task indeed. But what happened next wasn’t easy either. Subsequent singles failed to resonate, and they shuffled record labels from the since-shuttered Dot imprint of Big Machine to Mercury Nashville. Now the duo of Maddie Marlow and Taylor Dye are prepping for their comeback LP, led by a new single, “Friends Don’t.” Part of what Maddie & Tae say will be a concept album, “Friends Don’t” tells the story of a romance crossing the lines from friends to lovers, anchored around their stellar vocal pairings and some of the tightest harmonies on Music Row. M.M.

Randall King, “Tuggin’ on My Heartstrings”

Randall King just released his debut LP last week, but already the west Texas native comes with a big-name endorsement from Garth Brooks. “This kid is what country music is all about to me,” Brooks said this week on his Inside Studio G video series, and it’s not hard to see what he likes about King. “Tuggin’ at My Heartstrings” is a boot-scootin’ neo-traditionalist nod to Brooks’ Nineties heyday, when Brooks ruled the airwaves with Alan Jackson and George Strait. Garth pointed out that King remains unsigned, but it only appears to be a matter of time. J.G.

Jesse Dayton, “May Have to Do It (Don’t Have to Like It)”

Life is full of inconveniences that social decorum obliges us to go through with: Get out of bed in the morning, comb our hair, go to work. Even, you know, go to war. Austin guitarslinger Jesse Dayton turns that begrudging sense of duty into an utterly relatable motto on the latest song from his upcoming album The Outsider, “May Have to Do It (Don’t Have to Like It).” The song rattles and hums its way to a scrambled, barbed-wired guitar solo and a grim, alcohol-related prognosis from the doctor. Will Dayton change his ways? Maybe, but he sure won’t want to. J.G.

Kenny Chesney, “Get Along”

Kenny Chesney sees his boat drink as half full in the optimistic new single “Get Along,” the first taste of Songs for the Saints, the singer’s 17th studio album. But the Caribbean cowboy is celebrating more than just good times here – he’s asking listeners to appreciate daily minutiae, from singing songs to painting walls. “Make a friend / can’t we all get along,” he implores. And thanks to Chesney’s most emotional delivery in some time, it’s hard to not get onboard with the sentiment. J.H.

Lilly Hiatt, “Records”

“Records” was a standout track from Lilly Hiatt’s excellent 2017 album Trinity Lane. To celebrate her life in music, Hiatt just released a new music video for the tune, cobbling together footage from live performances, long drives to new towns, and, of course, visiting records shops, ultimately paying homage to the track’s belief in the singular healing power of listening to the right song at the right time. B.M.

Corey Smith, “Empty Rooms”

Corey Smith has never been one to bow to authority figures (see “Fuck the Po-Po,” his personal account of power gone unchecked). But the Jefferson, Georgia, singer-songwriter is particularly defiant on “Empty Rooms,” the first hint of his upcoming album. This time, Smith is cutting down the corporate music business: “I wouldn’t trade my freedom for a minute on your stage / I’d rather play in empty rooms,” he growls, doubling down on his vow to never record “cookie-cutter shit.” Best known for his road-warrior touring and big-with-the-college-crowd songs like “Maybe Next Year” and “21,” Smith embraces funk and fury on “Empty Rooms,” resulting in his strongest effort in years. J.H.

Adam Wright With Lee Ann Womack, “From My Bough”

Songwriter Adam Wright’s name was all over Lee Ann Womack’s 2017 album The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone, with contributions including the haunting “All the Trouble” and the title track. Womack returns the favor by adding background vocals on Wright’s chilling “From My Bough,” from his forthcoming album Dust (out June 22nd). With a hint of traditional English folksong lurking in his eerie melody, Wright sings about racial violence and lynching from the perspective of a tree – begging to be chopped down before it can serve as an accessory to any more horror. J.F.

Dawn Landes, “What Will I Do”

Dawn Landes has been making music for over a decade now, since her debut solo project Dawn’s Music in 2005. Since then, Landes has released solo music and collaborated on an eclectic range of projects with other artists, including Sufjan Stevens and Norah Jones. She’ll release a new album, Meet Me at the River, on August 10th, a project for which she tapped legendary country producer Fred Foster. “What Will I Do” is the first song available from that album, and it showcases Landes’ pristine vocals and the talents of her murderer’s row of a band. B.M.

Devon Gilfillian, “Troublemaker”

Devon Gilfillian is one of the most exciting young artists in Nashville’s burgeoning soul scene, and he’s made his mark nationally, too, with songs from his 2016 self-titled debut EP. He signed to Capitol Records in late 2017, and in recent interviews, he’s alluded to a potential full-length in 2018. If his new song “Troublemaker” – a raucous heaping of swampy soul rock – is any indication of what to expect from that project, music lovers are in for a serious treat. Even football fans are already hip to Gilfillian: he recently performed at the NFL Draft in Dallas. B.M.

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