Songwriters Jessi Alexander and Brandy Clark return with fresh solo material, Lilly Hiatt cranks the amps up to 11 for some delicious guitar rock, and Texas supergroup the Panhandlers arrive.
Jessi Alexander, “Mama Drank”
More than a decade after writing Miley Cyrus’ Grammy-nominated mega-hit “The Climb,” Jessi Alexander has whittled her sense of southern storytelling and country hooks to a razor’s edge. This year’s Decatur County Red marks her first release since 2014, and she’s in fighting shape throughout, with kickoff single “Mama Drank” paying a swampy salute to the hard-working women who, after a long day’s work, deserve a boozy break.
A Thousand Horses, “Drinking Song”
Southern rock lives! While Lynyrd Skynyrd wrap up their long-running farewell tour, A Thousand Horses — whose simpatico sound earned them a handful of opening dates on the Skynyrd run — are building their own legacy of red-blooded country-rock anthems inspired by the FM dial’s glory days. “Drinking Song” is exactly what its title suggests: a fresh update of an age-old musical tradition, aimed at those who’d like a little more past in their present.
The Panhandlers, “No Handle”
“I am just a man in the middle of this land,” goes the chorus to “No Handle,” sung by all four members of the Panhandlers — songwriters Josh Abbott, Cleto Cordero, William Clark Green, and John Baumann — in a glorious jumble of roughhewn, Texas-sized harmonies. A supergroup of Lone Star Statesmen whose songs carry on the musical influence of West Texas, “No Handle” was produced Bruce Robison and tracked straight to tape, resulting in a warm, broken-in sound fit for dancehalls, diners, and long drives across the flatlands.
The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow
“Don’t you build a highway across my land,” sings Troy Hanna, one of the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s five singer-songwriters. A protest song about the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict at Standing Rock, “Don’t Cross My Land” is defiant and driven, laced with everything from harmonica (from Arlo Guthrie!) to roadhouse-worthy guitar solos.
Devon Gilfillian, “Unchained”
A soul stomper about pushing beyond life’s obstacles, “Unchained” matches Devon Gilfillian’s blues-rock roots with hip-hop hustle, anthemic keyboards, and a killer falsetto hook. Producer Shawn Everett goes the whole arrangement to an R&B beat that’s both old-school and boldly futuristic, rustling up the same genre-bending charm that characterized his work with everything from the Alabama Shakes’ Sound and Color to the War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding.
Lilly Hiatt, “Brightest Star”
Lilly Hiatt’s electric guitar jangles one minute and jolts the next, adding a mix of power-pop sparkle and alternative roots-rock crunch to a song that already spotlights the folksy flutter of her voice. If Lucinda Williams had contributed a track to the Reality Bites soundtrack, it might’ve sounded a bit like “Brightest Star,” the first taste of Hiatt’s upcoming Walking Proof.
Katie Pruitt, “Loving Her”
“Loving Her” is a summery pop-rocker that finds Katie Pruitt singing the praises of her girlfriend. “If loving hers a sin, I don’t wanna go to heaven; there’s nothing else up there I could need,” she declares over light drums and acoustic guitar, channeling the same mix of earth, easygoing Southern soul, and pop savvy that ran throughout Bonnie Raitt’s Luck of the Draw.
My Sister, My Brother, “Nothing Without You”
Sean McConnell, Garrison Starr, and Peter Groenwald first worked together at a songwriting retreat, penning “Nothing Without You” during their initial session. That song — a gorgeous, harmony-drenched ballad about partnership and purpose — convinced the musicians to form a band that highlighted not only their songwriting smarts, but also the unique, coed blend of their voices.
Payton Smith, “Creek Don’t Rise”
A country-pop millennial whose songs proudly wave the genre-crossing flag of the Spotify generation, Payton Smith nods to everyone from Gavin DeGraw to Thomas Rhett on his new single. The pictures he paints are familiar — half-working trucks, levees, and nighttime trips to the fishing hole — but that does little to muddy the waters of “Creek Don’t Rise,” whose heart beats with a mix of fresh blood and tried-but-true twang.
Brandy Clark, “Who You Thought I Was”
Inspired by a witty wisecrack from songwriting legend John Prine, “Who You Thought I Was” finds Brandy Clark standing at the end of a relationship, looking back at what went wrong. “Now I wanna be the me I couldn’t be when we were together,” she sings over a trotting drumbeat, her voice flanked by bright harmonies, chiming guitars, and light layers of strings.