10 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week: Kelsea Ballerini, Walker McGuire
A country-EDM collaboration from Kelsea Ballerini and the Chainsmokers, an arena-sized jam about getting older from emerging duo Walker McGuire and an irresistible 1990s homage from Kane Brown are all featured in this week’s list of best country and Americana songs.
William Matheny, “Christian Name”
Alt-country guitars meet power-pop melodies on the newest release from this West Virginia troubadour, who logged years as a sideman before going solo with last year’s Constellations. Having already released a follow-up album this past April, he continues the prolific streak with “Christian Name,” a warm ‘n’ weary road that doubles as the B-side to Matheny’s cover of the Centro-matic song “Flashes And Cables.”
Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack, “Gotta Serve Somebody”
Multiple generations of country icons team up for this swampy cover of Bob Dylan’s Grammy-winning original. There’s no clear leader; instead, all four vocalists share the spotlight equally, swapping holy-roller gospel riffs like members of the Bible Belt’s coolest church choir. Behind them, Mickey Raphael wails on harmonica while Jim “Moose” Brown (a former member of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band) chimes in with electric guitar.
The Chainsmokers featuring Kelsea Ballerini, “This Feeling”
The EDM duo and the country chart-topper meet each other halfway on this crossover single, which shines equal light on both sides of the country-pop divide. Glittering with electronics and vocal effects, “This Feeling” finds its two vocalists struggling to define the feeling that’s making their hearts flutter. By the time the chorus arrives, though, they’ve abandoned the search for the right word, resorting instead to a “Yeah yeah yeah” refrain that’s built for mass singalongs.
Donna the Buffalo, “Dance in the Street”
Donna the Buffalo double down on socially-conscious songs about unity and self-improvement with the upcoming Dance in the Street, their first album in half a decade. “Motor,” the record’s second track, is every bit as kinetic as its title indicates, with co-founder Tara Nevins encouraging her listeners to abandon their emotional baggage and speed toward a brighter horizon. “You’ll be dancing under the moon before too long,” she promises, while sunny guitars kick up clouds of highway dust in the background.
Kate Campbell, “Damn Sure Blue”
The title track from her newest collection finds Campbell in a dispirited mood, weighed down by the weight of a modern world. “I can’t see why good people do such hateful things, but they damn sure do,” she sings during the chorus, whose bright bounce stands in contrast to its sad-eyed message. Like Hank Williams Sr., Campbell doesn’t let sorrowful subject matter get in the way of a good country song, which lends a classic bent to an otherwise contemporary song.
Walker McGuire, “Growin’ Up”
The modern drum loops and polished, poppy production may look beyond country music’s traditional boundaries, but “Growin’ Up” still delivers a time-tested message that’s all too familiar to the genre’s die-hards: the coming-of-age realization that you can never go back home again. By the song’s end, bandmates Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire have stopped wishing they could travel back in time, choosing instead to salute the memory of a bygone adolescence. “Let’s raise ’em up and make a toast to forever,” they sing, before launching into one last stadium-sized refrain.
Marissa Nadler, “Said Goodbye to That Car”
Not all machines are built to last. On “Said Goodbye to That Car,” Nadler turns the breakdown of her car into a metaphor for a dying relationship. “119,657 and the engine blew, 119,657 and I thought of you,” she croons, fashioning a chorus out of the vehicle’s final odometer reading. Far more stark and stripped-down than the songs from 2016’s Strangers, “Said Goodbye to That Car” refocuses attention on Nadler’s voice, an otherworldly instrument that’s capable of wringing emotion out of references to a dashboard.
Kane Brown, “Short Skirt Weather”
After landing a line of crossover hits with his modern, R&B-influenced sound, Brown renews his country credentials with “Short Skirt Weather,” a sunny single worthy of country-pop’s 1990s golden years. The fiddle player, electric guitarist and upright pianist all rip their own solos, while Brown delivers his chorus with a wink and a rumbling, deep-seated baritone. One of the genre’s most popular Millennials, Kane Brown may be proof that the kids are, indeed, alright.
Matt Campbell, “The Night That I Found Jesus”
“Gather ’round, there, y’all people, for the story I will tell,” Matt Campbell begins, kicking off this country-fried combination of twang, Telecasters and train beats like some old-world folk hero. A former bar back at Robert’s Western World in downtown Nashville, Campbell has since graduated to playing gigs upon the venue’s iconic stage. “The Night I Found Jesus” doubles down on that experience, mixing Campbell’s tall-tale delivery with vintage songwriting built for dancehalls and honky-tonks.
Hush Kids, “Morning Is Made”
Solo artists Jill Andrews and Peter Groenwald join forces on this tribute to new beginnings, renewed love and the optimistic rush of each new day. “The morning is made for the time that I spend with you,” they sing, their harmonies backed by acoustic arpeggios from co-writer Ian Fitchuk. A gorgeous, gentle gem of indie-folk.