Eric Church’s soulful “Heart Like a Wheel,” Jillian Jacqueline’s riveting duet with Keith Urban and Aaron Watson’s uplifting “Higher Ground” are among the 10 country and Americana tracks you must hear this week.
Eric Church, “Heart Like a Wheel”
For all its talk about wheels, Eric Church’s newest release from Desperate Man rolls forward at a deliberately relaxed pace. The song’s cruising speed is set by its drumbeat, whose casual swing is reminiscent of old Stax Records. Gospel harmonies, church organ and a cyclical, soul-inspired melody only strengthen those comparisons, turning “Heart Like a Wheel” into a modern-day song that wears its yesteryear influences well.
Kaia Kater, “New Colossus”
Reaching far beyond her roots as an old-time banjo picker and Appalachian-influenced folksinger, Kaia Kater uncovers a new sound with “New Colossus,” the first single from her upcoming Grenades LP. The song is equal parts stoned mountain music and smart, atmospheric Americana, punctuated by a bright, double-timed chorus. Kater explores her father’s upbringing in Grenada throughout the rest of the album, turning Grenades into a meditation on identity and family. With “New Colossus,” she shows just how diverse her own identity has become.
Marcus King Band, “Welcome Round Here”
A brassy blues-rock epic, “Welcome Round Here” doubles down not only on Marcus King’s fretwork, but also the larger-than-life punch of his voice. He’s a Southern rocker in the classic sense, evoking memories of the soul-singing Greg Allman one minute and his guitar-god brother, Duane, the next. Produced by Dave Cobb at Nashville’s RCA Studio A, “Welcome Round Here” is one of two advance singles from King’s upcoming Carolina Confessions, which arrives October 5th.
Jillian Jacqueline feat. Keith Urban, “If I Were You”
Jillian Jacqueline co-wrote “If I Were You” with Sarah Buxton, who once provided Keith Urban with one of his most enduring power ballads, “Stupid Boy.” Coincidentally, Urban plays a right-hand role throughout this track, which was partially recorded at his home studio. His electric guitar weaves its way throughout every chorus, but it’s the blend of both singers’ voices that truly steals the spotlight, with the up-and-coming Jacqueline holding her own in the presence of a chart-topping superstar.
Aaron Watson, “Higher Ground”
Recorded in front of 65,000 fans at the 2017 Rodeo Houston, Live at the World’s Biggest Rodeo Show captures Aaron Watson in full-fledged rockstar mode, delivering a supersized show on his home turf. This bonus song closes out the album on an equally stirring — but much more subdued — note. A studio recording inspired by Hurricane Harvey’s victims, “Higher Ground” swoons and swells on the back of a small string section, with Watson delivering lines like “I pray you always be strong” as though they were Sunday-morning benedictions.
William Elliott Whitmore, “Busted”
Kilanova, William Elliott Whitmore’s newest album of covers, finds the banjo-playing punk-folkie tackling a century’s worth of country, soul and metal songs, from 1920s Appalachian classics like “Country Blues” to the Captain Beefheart deep cut “Bat Chain Puller.” He keeps thinking faithfully rustic on “Busted,” a honking, rough-edged cover of the Harlan Howard original. It’s his voice — a booming, boozy baritone, with a midwestern drawl — that most convincingly sells the song, with each lyric delivered with equal parts humor and desperation.
Watson Twins, “Hustle and Shake”
“Hustle and Shake” kicks off with a single line of unison, before sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson launch into their trademark harmonies. From there, the kickoff single from the band’s upcoming album, Duo, moves along at a breezy folk-pop pace, channeling the godfather of all vocal groups — Fleetwood Mac — along the way. Recorded in Nashville, Duo is the group’s first album to feature the sisters’ byline on all eights tracks, proof that the Watson Twins’ writing chops are as worthy of a draw as their blood harmonies.
Adam Hood feat. Brent Cobb, “She Don’t Love Me”
Already known for his behind-the-scenes songwriting work for Little Big Town and Miranda Lambert, Adam Hood shifts attention back to his solo career with this year’s Somewhere in Between. Brent Cobb joins him for “She Don’t Love Me,” a loose country-rocker featuring vocals from both performers. While the backing band locks into a stomping, funky groove, Hood and Cobb sing their verses with lazy Southern drawls, creating the song’s rhythmic push-and-full.
Lindi Ortega & Corb Lund, “Lovers in Love”
Originally released in fuller form on Ortega’s fifth album, Liberty, this stripped-down revision of “Lovers in Love” trades Charlie McCoy’s harmonica solo for acoustic guitars and upright piano chords. Ortega has a duet partner this time around, too, sharing the spotlight with fellow Canadian-born country singer Corb Lund. Together, they praise the small things that separate genuine soul mates from those just going through the motions.
Impala, “The Insomniac”
Like the theme song to some yet-to-be-made James Bond movie set in the tropics, the instrumental “Insomniac” from this Memphis outfit featuring Bo-Keys bassist Scott Bomar combines surf-guitar nostalgia with a minor-key, spy-movie-worthy riffage. Together, those influences form a truly unique sound, one that’s retro without lapsing into mimicry. For fans of Steelism, the Ventures and Quentin Tarantino soundtracks.