A cover of the Oscar-winning “Shallow,” a powerful anthem by one half of Sugarland and an uplifting message song by a nameless, faceless collective of Nashville artists help make up the tracks you need to hear this week.
Jimmie Allen & Abbey Anderson, “Shallow”
A Star Is Born‘s show-stealing power ballad won big at this year’s Oscars, taking home a trophy for Best Original Song. On this cover, country upstarts Jimmie Allen and Abby Anderson revamp the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper original with vocal acrobatics and country-pop polish, turning a tune about desperation into an even-keeled duet fit for prom slow dances.
Seth Walker, “Inside”
Polyphonic and psychedelic, Seth Walker’s “Inside” was inspired by a trip to Havana. The result is a funky, vintage-sounding exploration of rhythm and melody, with percussion-heavy production courtesy of the Wood Brothers’ Jano Rix and an out-of-the-box arrangement that’s unafraid to visit — and ultimately travel beyond — the stoned swagger of Dr. John’s Desitively Bonnaroo.
Patrick Park, “Everything Falls Apart”
An Elliot Smith-worthy folksong about “being kind in the face of defeat and disgrace,” “Everything Falls Apart” mixes melody and melancholy in equal amounts. A string arrangement helps boost Park’s acoustic guitar, but the real treat here is the song’s message of self-reliance and personal worth.
Conor Donohue, “The Garden”
The first half of “The Garden” is bare-boned and ballad-like, with Conor Donohue singing about his mental struggles over a gentle acoustic guitar. Then, right around the song’s midpoint, “The Garden” bursts into bloom with cymbal crashes, keyboards and female harmonies. It’s a pastoral folksong with a garage-Americana heart.
Jennifer Nettles, “I Can Do Hard Things”
Rooted in the Sunday-morning uplift of gospel music and the full-throated belt of blues, “I Can Do Hard Things” finds Jennifer Nettles singing about the challenges and triumphs of adulthood. She’s tired of compartmentalizing the world into categories of “black and white” or “wrong and night.” Instead, “I Can Do Hard Things” celebrates the in-betweens. As always, Nettles sells the song with a super-sized voice rich in Southern twang and Broadway-stage vibrato.
Bailen, “I Was Wrong”
“Nothing’s gonna change ‘til we all can say, ‘I believe that I was wrong,'” goes the refrain to this democratic song about reaching across the aisle, admitting fault and moving forward. Performed by a family band of young, New York-based coeds and produced by indie-rock titan John Congleton, “I Was Wrong” mixes a cynical if cathartic chorus with triple-stacked sibling harmonies.
Ingrid Andress, “Lady Like”
Don’t tell Ingrid Andress how to act. She outlines her own version of womanhood with this slow-burning anthem of independence, which celebrates a woman’s right to be outspoken and self-governed. “Don’t bite my tongue, I speak my mind/Let curse words fly when shit goes wrong,” she sings in a sturdy voice that owes more to pop music — a genre that’s already welcomed Andress into its fold, following her songwriting collaborations with artists like Charli XCX and Alicia Keys — than the country genre.
A faceless collective of Nashville-area musicians and producers, neonPPL aims to spread a message of inclusivity through positive-minded songs like “beYOUtiful.” The lightly danceable pop anthem features vocals from Lindsay Ell, Danielle Bradbery and Joy Williams, but “beYOUtiful” urges its audience to focus on the content, not the cast. “You’re the only one who can be you, so do ‘you’ as best you can,” the women sing, while a piano twinkles and an electronic drumbeat keeps time in the background.
Tucker Beathard, “Better Than Me”
Now signed to Warner Music Nashville, Beathard kicks off a new album cycle with this rock-influenced breakup song. “Better Than Me” finds the young songwriter rooted in place, unable to move past the remains of a relationship that’s long since crumbled. The chorus is kinetic, arena-country gold, with a melody that swings for the fences and a reverb-heavy ambiance that tips its unbent ballcap brim to Kip Moore.
Native Harrow, “Happier Now”
Although hailing from upstate New York, the two members of Native Harrow revisit the twilight twang and vintage vibes of the 1970s Laurel Canyon folk scene with this softly strummed ballad. Don’t let the optimistic title fool you; “Happier Now” finds singer Devin Tuel standing her ground and embracing her own melancholia, while bandmate Stephen Harms chimes in with major 7 chords and unhurried percussion.