Long-awaited new music from the Chief, a live performance of a country classic and a sun-kissed new single from newcomer Frank Ray are among the country and Americana songs you need to hear right now.
Andrew Combs, “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me”
A lovely reimagination of the Blake Mills original, shot through with equal parts melody and melancholy. Andrew Combs dresses up the arrangement with horns, harmonies and subdued strings, but it’s his double-tracked voice that truly steals the show, offsetting the song’s guilty conscience – this is an apology to a pissed-off lover, after all, with more than a dozen repetitions of the line “I know I fucked up” – with a gorgeous croon that makes a good case for forgiveness.
Frank Ray, “Tequila Mockingbird”
“She’s my low tide and my high tide / My umbrella in my Mai Thai,” Frank Ray sings, rattling off a string of boozy, beachy metaphors in celebration of his lady friend. A former police offer who spent a decade patrolling the streets of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Ray tackled topical subjects like immigration on his 2017 EP Different Kind of Country. “Tequila Mockingbird” is a fowl of a different feather, though, with Ray – who filmed the song’s music video in the appropriate setting of Key West, Florida – shifting his attention to waves, women and popped tops. Surf’s up.
Rhonda Vincent, “When the Grass Grows Over Me”
Released 50 years after George Jones’ own version, Rhonda Vincent’s cover of “When the Grass Grows Over Me” finds the bluegrass belle sangin’ and twangin’ in front of a sold-out crowd at the Ryman Auditorium, a performance that was captured for her new album Live at the Ryman. The instrumentation is traditional and top-notch, but it still plays second fiddle to Vincent’s Grammy-grabbing croon, which warms the heart just before breaking it. Jones would approve.
Alejandro Escovedo, “Sonica USA”
The son of Mexican immigrants, Alejandro Escovedo mines his own backstory for “Sonica USA.” Featuring the MC5’s Wayne Kramer on lead guitar, the punky track finds him looking back on his childhood days as a Chicano punk-rocker in the American Southwest. Escovedo covers similar ground on his upcoming album, The Crossing, a concept record revolving around a pair of migrant musicians.
Madison Cunningham, “Beauty into Clichés”
The Punch Brothers’ opening act offers a sneak preview of her upcoming album with this headliner-worthy knockout. “Beauty into Clichés” mourns the modern world’s commodification of everything that’s unique and unusual, with Madison Cunningham roasting some of her fellow songwriters along the way. “Shouldn’t it concern me that we shrink beauty to fit in our minds? / Don’t have to listen to the whole song to know what’s in the third line,” she sings, accompanying herself with expert chugs of electric guitar along the way. For fans of Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley.
Riley Green, “There Was This Girl”
Alabama native Riley Green – whom reality-TV fans may remember as the winner of CMT’s Redneck Island – embodies his country upbringing on his new EP for BMLG Records, In a Truck Right Now. A collection of radio-ready songs produced by Dan Huff, the EP swings for the fences, leading with “There Was This Girl,” a song co-written by Green that gives credit where credit is due: nodding to the women whose inspiration drives men forward.
Eric Church, “Desperate Man”
The Chief is back. Written with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Desperate Man‘s title track mixes the Sunday-morning sweep of gospel music with the samba-rock groove of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” The result is unlike anything else on country radio, marking Eric Church as one of the genre’s only heavyweights who’s willing to reach far beyond tried-and-true trends.
“Bullets” may have been recorded in Fort Worth, Texas, but the song – off the new EP Forever On Your Side (Niles City Sound Sessions) – takes its cues from other locales, channeling the funky fire of Motown and the soulful swagger of Dan Auerbach’s Nashville-made recordings. “You can’t put the bullets back into a gun,” howls the band’s frontman, Bear Rinehart, while guitars growl, strings swoon and horns honk in the background. Had the song been released one year earlier, it might’ve soundtracked a scene from HBO’s The Deuce, whose early-Seventies vibe suits Needtobreathe’s dark makeover.
Carolina Story, “We Were Young Once Too”
The husband-and-wife harmonies of Ben and Emily Roberts run throughout this gentle Americana ballad, which examines the effects of time upon a relationship. “We Were Young Once Too” is both appreciative of the present and nostalgic for the past, with Carolina Story’s two members – both bound together by a love that’s been sweetened and sharpened by age – pining for a time when innocence and ignorance made everything seem a bit brighter.
Edan Archer, “Bad Imitation of Something Good”
Gainesville, Florida, native Edan Archer channels the influence of hometown hero Tom Petty with “Bad Imitation of Something Good,” a kinetic kiss-off to a lover who can’t handle his woman’s rough edges. “You want a good woman by your side who puts the toothpaste cap on just right,” she sings, delivering the chorus in a tone that’s far more acerbic than apologetic. With its thick harmonies and heartland-rock guitars, the song nods to Petty’s mid-Eighties period, back when he wrote country songs for Rosanne Cash and Lone Justice.