Blake Shelton’s swampy ode to rural living, Alice Wallace’s examination of life on the road and Sam Outlaw’s laid-back Don Williams cover make up the list of must-hear country and Americana songs this week.
Matt Stell, “Prayed for You”
A God-fearing epic about faith, love and the salvation provided by a good romantic match, Matt Stell’s “Prayed for You” toes the line between Christian and country music. “I kept my faith like that old King James said I’m supposed to,” Stell sings, happy that he waited for the right woman to come along.
How do you reinterpret one of the most widely covered songs in rock history? By dropping the harmonies, nixing the drums and, instead, transforming Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” into a lonely, lovely piano ballad. Lissie will stay behind the ivories for her upcoming When I’m Alone: The Piano Retrospective, which arrives later this week.
Blake Shelton, “God’s Country”
Written by Devin Dawson, Michael Hardy and Jordan Schmidt, “God’s Country” is a Southern-rockin’ country stomper that honors the everyday surroundings of rural Americans. The lyrics sketch a familiar picture of dirt roads, muddy riversides and golden sunrises, but there’s comfort in the commonplace.
Buddy and Julie Miller, “Spittin’ on Fire”
Recorded at their home in Nashville, Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Spittin’ on Fire” is a haunting song driven forward by minor-key guitar chords and ragged husband-and-wife harmonies. It’s also the musical couple’s first release in a decade, following 2009’s Written in Chalk.
Midland, “Mr. Lonely”
Honky-tonk guitar riffs, triple-stacked harmonies and a line-dancing tempo all push this song forward, turning “Mr. Lonely” into another blast of cool, retro country. A full album — the follow-up to the band’s On the Rocks debut — is expected later this year.
Jana Kramer, “Beautiful Lies”
A power ballad with plenty of U2-inspired guitar atmospherics, “Beautiful Lies” finds Jana Kramer in a state of denial, unwilling to accept the reality of a crumbling relationship. Instead, she asks her partner to fudge the truth, hoping to prolong some lingering magic before it’s all gone. “Make it up, make it pretty, I don’t mind — tell me beautiful lies,” she sings.
Gabby Barrett, “I Hope”
Gabby Barrett’s first single since leaving American Idol is full of venom and vitriol. “I hope she’s wilder than your wildest dreams, she’s everything you’re ever gonna need. . .and then I hope she cheats like you did on me,” she sings to an ex-boyfriend, nodding to the influence of the countrified idols — particularly Carrie Underwood, whose “Before He Cheats” is echoed here — who came before her.
Tim Baker, “All Hands”
The former frontman of Hey Rosetta! kicks off his solo career with this indie-folk anthem about his coming-of-age in Newfoundland. It’s nostalgic and nuanced, with a chorus that nods to Jackson Browne and a buoyant, bubbling verse worthy of Feist.
Alice Wallace, “The Blue”
On the title track from her fourth album, country-singing Californian Alice Wallace sings about the uncertainty of a career spent on the road. “The Blue” pays tribute to those who’re willing to take leaps, laced with soaring strings that nod to the country classics of the 1970s.
Sam Outlaw, “Love Is on a Roll”
Sam Outlaw is in an Eighties state of mind with this cover of Don Williams’s 1983 hit. The tempo is faster, updated to suit a countrified world that moves faster today than it did in the Reagan era, but the sonics are pitch-perfect. Come for the clean, compressed Stratocaster guitars; stay for the island-inspired drum grooves.