The new single off Kentucky country vocalist Dillon Carmichael’s just released debut album, a rip-roaring ZZ Top cover by Whitey Morgan and Leyla McCalla’s brassy protest song are among the must-hear country and Americana tracks this week.
Fairground Saints, “Somewhere Down the Line”
Set to a kick-drummed pulse, “Somewhere Down the Line” marries the coed Californian harmonies of Fleetwood Mac with the polished punch of modern country-pop. “I’ve got a full tank of gas and some money,” goes the chorus, stacked high with layered vocals, banjo and pedal steel. File this single under “road trip soundtrack.”
Stephen Kellogg, “Love of My Life”
“This is a simple song about simple things: a boy and a girl and a wedding ring,” Stephen Kellogg sings in “Love of My Life,” while atmospheric guitars ebb and flow in the background. Originally written as a birthday present for his wife, the song doubles as the kickoff single from next month’s Objects in the Mirror, which finds Kellog working with fellow roots-rock road warrior Will Hoge.
Delta Rae, “Hands Dirty”
The #MeToo movement gets another well-deserved anthem courtesy of Delta Rae, whose Brittany Holljes sings “Hands Dirty” with a mix of electrifying empowerment and pissed-off soul. “They show me no mercy, so I just keep on working,” she sings over a groove of stomped feet and clapped hands. Uncompromising and utterly compelling, “Hands Dirty” makes its well-timed arrival during election season.
Whitey Morgan and the 78s, “Just Got Paid”
Nearly 50 years after ZZ Top’s Rio Grande Mud, this deep cut gets a dark n’ dirty makeover courtesy of another big-bearded, country-rock outlaw. Morgan’s version is similarly gruff and guitar-heavy, with clear reverence for the original. To bring everything full circle, he recorded “Just Got Paid” at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, less than a day’s drive from ZZ Top’s old stomping grounds of Houston.
Brandi Carlile & Sam Smith, “Party of One”
Brandi Carlile revisits the final song from By the Way, I Forgive You, this time sharing the song’s elastic melody with Sam Smith. Also returning to the fold is producer Dave Cobb, who decorates the track with subtly grand touches — a burst of upright piano here, an orchestral crescendo there — and wisely waits until the four-minute mark to bring in the rest of the band. After all, when two voices as powerful as these are leading the charge, do you really need the rest of the troops?
Dillon Carmichael, “Dancing Away With My Heart”
At 24 years old, Dillon Carmichael sings with a big-voiced baritone that belies his Millennial status. Here, he delivers a power ballad like the second coming of Randy Travis, reaching into his lowest register for rumbling proclamations of love and loyalty. He gets clever in the chorus, too, reshuffling the standard wedding-vow script for a memorable hook — “Nobody’s ever gonna love you the way I do, ’til death do us part” — that’s both familiar and out-of-the-box.
The Bad Signs, “Dial 666”
Released just in time for Halloween, this garage-rock ghost story finds frontwoman Samantha Harlow dialing up the devil with a favor in mind. Her baby is gone — like, mortally gone — and she’s looking to get him back at any cost. In the background, a tremolo-heavy guitar drowns in a pool of reverb, as though the Bad Signs recorded “Dial 666” in a spooky, Upside Down version of Sun Studio.
Henry Jamison, “Gloria”
Folksinger Henry Jamison examines the way in which skewed, violent interpretations of masculinity are passed down from generation to generation. In one verse, a group of strangers yell homophobic slurs at two boys as they pass by Dairy Queen. In another, a bloody video game desensitizes those same boys to carnage. The lyrical content may be heavy, but the song’s arrangement is dreamy and downy soft, laced with orchestral strings and a Sufjan Stevens-worthy vocal.
Leyla McCalla, “The Capitalist Blues”
Inspired by Leyla McCalla’s adopted hometown of New Orleans, “The Capitalist Blues” finds the former Carolina Chocolate Drop mixing Big Easy brass with protest-song sentiment. The song lurches forward with greasy, half-lit swagger, like a Mardi Gras band at the end of a lively, drunken parade. Look deeper, though, and McCalla’s politically pointed lyrics pack a stronger punch than a Sazerac.
The Mavericks, “Hey! Merry Christmas!”
The title track to the Mavericks’ new Christmas record nods to the old-school holiday music that whipped up Christmas cheer during the mid-20th century. With its rock & roll bounce and sock-hop strut, “Hey! Merry Christmas” feels like a direct descendant of Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph.” Come for Raul Malo’s richer-than-egg-nog voice; stay for the saxophone solo.