A cover of an Eighties classic by a promising new trio, the latest nautical-themed entry from a country superstar and a gorgeous message of being in the moment are among the 10 tracks you must hear this week.
Nobody’s Girl, “Call Me”
Blondie’s 1980 chart-topper gets a millennial makeover. Caught halfway between arena-country and modern rock, the revamped “Call Me” finds Nobody’s Girl layering their three-part harmonies over electric guitars, fiddle and driving drums. Bandmates Betty Soo, Grace Pettis and Rebecca Loebe are all seasoned songwriters in their own right, too, making “Call Me” an appetizer for the original songs that fill the band’s upcoming release, Waterline.
Willie Nelson, “Summer Wind”
It’s been more than a half-century since Frank Sinatra released Strangers in the Night, an album that blended big-band bombast with mid-Sixties pop arrangements. Nelson does something similar with “Summer Wind,” the Strangers in the Night hit that appears in revised form on Nelson’s new album of Sinatra covers My Way. Here, an upright bass roots a sparse arrangement of harmonica, piano, brushed percussion and acoustic guitar. Consider it a classic, countrified revamp of an American standard, performed by the Red Headed Stranger in honor of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Rayland Baxter, “79 Shiny Revolvers”
Written the day Leonard Cohen died, “79 Shiny Revolvers” takes a satirical look at our country’s fascination with firearms. The song’s psychedelic pop nods to the Beatles, Dr. Dog and other bands whose gift for melody was matched by oddball humor. “You really wanna save the world, man?” he asks during the singalong chorus. “Well, I wanna save it, too / We can blow ’em away, the American way.” In the background, an orchestral string section swells its way toward a crescendo, courtesy of producer Butch Walker.
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Lucero, “Cover Me”
Set for release next month, Lucero’s Among the Ghosts marks the band’s 20th anniversary. It’s appropriate, then, that “Cover Me” harkens back to the band’s roots, dishing up another serving of garage-rock grit and punky punch. Frontman Ben Nichols based the song’s lyrics on the final scene of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, mixing his Southern sensibilities with some Wild West flair. “On the count of three, cover me,” he rasps, ending the song – just like the movie itself – before we discover the characters’ fate.
Cam, “Road to Happiness”
“Is the future that we’re chasing worth the right-nows that we miss / On this road to happiness?” sings Cam, shining a light on the uncertainty and self-doubt that fills every path toward stability. “Road to Happiness” is uncluttered, unforced and almost entirely unplugged, with Cam swapping the vocal acrobatics of her previous single, “Diane,” for a toned-down performance that suits the song’s acoustic arrangement. So what if there are no show-stopping moments or sky-high notes? “Road to Happiness” is a lovely tribute to the journey, not the destination, and Cam wears her restraint well.
Lori McKenna, “The Fixer”
A heartbreaking story of a sick wife and her attentive – but ultimately helpless – husband, “The Fixer” is Lori McKenna at her best: articulate, melodic and meditative, capable of wringing extraordinary emotions from ordinary topics. It’s also one of the many highlights from The Tree, her 11th solo record. Produced by Dave Cobb, “The Fixer” refocuses well-deserved attention on the woman who wrote country hits like Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” reminding everyone that McKenna can sing with the best of them, too.
Kenny Chesney, “Better Boat”
With guest vocals from Mindy Smith and acoustic guitar arpeggios from Jimmy Buffett’s right-hand man, Mac McAnally, this song is truly a team effort. Kenny Chesney’s beach-bum persona has served him well for decades, but “Better Boat” turns the tide, spinning the story of a heartbroken man who’s steadily patching himself up. Travis Meadows and Liz Rose wrote the tune, supplying Chesney with a sobering, slow-moving standout on his newest album, Songs for the Saints.
Gregory Alan Isakov, “Chemicals”
The first single from this October’s Evening Machines, “Chemicals” unfolds at a gentle pace. There’s an endearingly oddball vibe to the song’s first half, but “Chemicals” hits its stride during the chorus, which Gregory Alan Isakov sings in a warbling falsetto. “Was it just chemicals in my head?” he asks, trying to make sense of his own convolution. Recorded in a barn on Isakov’s three-acre Colorado farm, this is the sound of befuddlement turned into beauty.
The War and Treaty, “Are You Ready to Love Me?”
File this song under “Motown-worthy.” Soulful and sweet, “Are You Ready to Love Me?” finds husband-and-wife partners Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter preparing to get down to business. The song’s title also doubles as a clever question to those who haven’t heard the band’s R&B-flavored roots music, which will receive its biggest push to date this August, when the full-length Healing Tide hits stores.
Hilary Williams, “Crazy”
The oldest granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr., Hilary Williams carries on the family business with this lead single from My Lucky Scars. “You and I were meant to drive each other crazy,” she sings during the chorus. Come for the waltzing tempo, which saunters and swings; stay for the electric guitar solo, whose blazing tone packs more attitude than Williams’ granddad on a bender.