The hushed intimacy of the duo Ida Mae, a dusty road anthem by the Vegabonds and a new one from the King of Country Music make up our list of the best country songs to hear this week.
Travis Denning, “After a Few”
The singer behind the fake-I.D. anthem “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” tells tales of what happens after those drinks are consumed in this sultry jam. It’s slickly produced, but it works, thanks to Denning’s husky vocal and the lovelorn quality in his delivery.
Cassadee Pope, “If My Heart Had a Heart”
Pope’s long-awaited second full-length album Stages came out last Friday, and in her latest single, she curses her own inability to stop feeling things. “If my heart had a heart it would go on and leave me alone,” she sings in the chorus, alternately furious and crestfallen as she belts powerfully one moment and dials back to a tear-soaked whisper the next.
Chatham County Line, “Think I’m in Love”
This band of North Carolina-based bluegrass pros cover a variety of popular songs on the their upcoming album, including Beck’s “Think I’m in Love.” Where the original (from 2006’s The Information) was tinged with swirling psychedelia and powered by a steady groove, Chatham County Line reimagine it as lovely, pastoral folk where all the players abandon flashy solos in favor of atmospheric accents. Without drums, it feels weightless and suspended in space, as if mirroring the dazed excitement and confusion of its narrator.
Ida Mae, “If You Don’t Love Me”
Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean, the married couple who make up the duo Ida Mae, excel at hushed intimacy on this fragile ballad. Produced by Ethan Johns, it’s proof that the best harmonies often come from artists with a shared history.
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George Strait, “God and Country Music”
The King of Country Music returns with a stunner of a ballad that, while employing two country tropes in its title, is far from hackneyed. Rather, Strait is simply doing what he does best: singing about what he knows.
Our Native Daughters, “Black Myself”
One of 2019’s most exciting collaborations is Our Native Daughters, the roots-music supergroup of Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell who combine their talents for an unflinching look at the legacy of slavery, resistance and racism in America. Penned by Kiah, the group’s new release “Black Myself” piles accordion and acoustic guitar on top of a muscular blues-rock beat as it examines cruel realities and daily discrimination for African-Americans past and present. “You look me in my eyes, but you don’t see me, ’cause I’m black myself,” sings Kiah. But in the end, there’s also a message of hope, strength and defiance that makes this an absolutely vital listen.
The Vegabonds, “Best I Can”
“I’m just a poor boy out here/doing the best I can,” sings vocalist Daniel Allen in this driving rocker, which highlights the Alabama band’s dusty, road-tested vibe. Yes, it’s another in a long line of traveling songs, but the Vegabonds ace it.
Brandon Ratcliff, “Number in My Phone”
Newcomer Brandon Ratcliff mines the brooding swagger of Sam Hunt in his new release, welding echoing acoustic guitar and piano to a programmed beat in “Number in My Phone.” That title phrase encapsulates dating in the modern age: an entire relationship, bookended by the presence of a phone number that may very well never be called again. Ratcliff sings it like he’s been there a time or two.
Donovan Woods, “Go to Her”
Juno-nominated singer-songwriter Donovan Woods shows off his subtle mastery of storytelling in this newly released single, with the opening line “She took a train to see him/How very European!” tossing us right into the plot. Woods accompanies his narrative about a conflicted character with some delicate acoustic guitar and plaintive strings, which swell in intensity but fittingly never really offer a tidy resolution for the messy human heart he’s describing.
Shannon LaBrie, “All By Myself”
Nebraska native LaBrie recasts Eric Carmen’s 1975 soft-rock hit as a delicate confession: “sometimes I feel so insecure,” she whispers. It’s a gorgeous vocal, accompanied only by some reverby guitar.