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10 Best Country and Americana Songs to Hear Now: Hiss Golden Messenger, Billy Strings

Strings sounds the alarm on “Taking Water,” Hiss Golden Messenger rallies for education on “I Need a Teacher,” and more must-hear tracks

Best Country Songs, Hiss Golden Messenger, Billy StringsBest Country Songs, Hiss Golden Messenger, Billy Strings

The 10 best country and Americana songs to hear now, including Hiss Golden Messenger and Billy Strings.

Graham Tolbert*, Shane Timm*

Billy Strings shows off his fiery picking on “Taking Water,” Hiss Golden Messenger shows support for public education in “I Need a Teacher,” plus new tracks from Ottoman Turks and Amy Speace in this week’s list of must-hear tracks.

Hiss Golden Messenger, “I Need a Teacher”
Released in support of the North Carolina Association of Educators’ efforts to raise pay for school employees, the kickoff track from Hiss Golden Messenger’s upcoming Terms of Surrender is a blast of optimistic, anthemic Americana. It’s difficult to discern every lyric — frontman M.C. Taylor sings in a rapid, Dylan-worthy style that’s more about vibe that articulation — but the mood is palpably buoyant, punctuated by stabs of electric guitar and female harmonies.

Taylor Acorn, “Red White”
Raised in small-town Virginia, Taylor Acorn waxes nostalgic for the “red, white, cut-off blue-jean summers” of her youth with this kinetic track. The song’s bright, barreling pace mirrors the limitless rush of being a teenager, while the arrangement — a programmed synthesizer here, a burst of slide guitar there — splits the difference between modern country and contemporary pop.

Penny and Sparrow, “Stockholm
Inspired by a night of stoned conversation and deep thoughts at the Hotel Boulderado in Colorado, “Stockholm” finds Penny and Sparrow in a contemplative mood. Come for the duo’s gorgeous, signature harmonies; stay for the finger snaps, light keyboards and acoustic guitars that help turn “Stockholm” into the soundtrack for a rainy day spent at the window, watching the outside world blur.

Meg+Tyler, “Mardi Gras and Rhinestones”
A decade ago, Meghan Linsey cracked the Top 10 with “Keep On Lovin’ You,” the kickoff single from her short-lived country duo Steel Magnolia. 10 years later, she’s found a new duet partner — producer/songwriter Tyler Cain — and a revamped sound. “Mardi Gras and Rhinestones” is a gumbo of Big Easy bounce and southern-fried sass, with the two singers trading harmonies over a deep, cyclical groove.

Ottoman Turks, “Glass Bottles”
A self-proclaimed “outlaw country garage rock” band from Dallas, Ottoman Turks have logged a decade as underground cult favorites, with the bandmates attracting more attention for their solo projects and side hustles. That’s set to change this summer, when the group’s debut LP arrives. “Glass Bottles” leads the charge, updating one of the country music’s most treasured traditions — the drinking song — with self-deprecating humor and modern references to Facebook.

Billy Strings, “Taking Water”
Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings sounds a desperate alarm with “Taking Water,” an advance track from his September release, Home. The fretwork is top-notch and traditionally minded, but it’s the unexpected quirks — particularly the sound effects during the final verse, which mimic the sound of wartime artillery — that push Strings’ bluegrass into progressive territory.

Hollis Brown, “Do Me Right”
Hailing from Queens and possessed by the same blue-collar rock & roll spirit that haunts fellow New Englanders like Bruce Springsteen and Jesse Malin, Hollis Brown gets sinewy and sinister with the dark, driving “Do Me Right.” This is the soundtrack for a late-night drive through the American heartland.

Amy Speace, “Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne”
A longtime staple of East Nashville’s songwriting community, Amy Speace kickstarted her Americana career more than a decade before the genre received its own Grammy category. On this piano-led love letter to the artistic struggle, she deals with the death of a dream — a dream she’s chased for years, playing 150 shows annually in search of that ever-elusive “big break” — and the birth of a resolute decision to keep moving forward, regardless of the pay-off.

Thomas Rhett, “Remember You Young”
Thomas Rhett turns a Bible verse — “Always look at your wife in her youth” (Proverbs 5:18) — into a tear-jerking country ballad about the years that fly by and the memories that refuse to dissipate. The second single from Center Point Road, “Remember You Young” was co-written and co-produced by Rhett, whose catalog of wedding-worthy hits just gained another highlight.

Che Apalache, “The Dreamer”
With production from Béla Fleck and an Americana sound that reaches south of America’s borders for inspiration, “The Dreamer” tells the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in North Carolina. The lyrics bounce between English and Spanish, and the song follows suit, cooking up a worldly mix of Appalachian bluegrass and Latin folk.


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