Chuck Mead roars back with a blast of rocking honky-tonk, Erin Enderlin pours a potent whiskey and Cobie Caillat’s new band Gone West make their debut in this week’s list of the best country and Americana tracks.
Sam Williams, “Gemini”
Hank Williams Jr.’s 22-year-old son bridges the gap between astrology and Americana with this nuanced, nocturnal-sounding anthem about humans’ dual nature. “I’ve been a jailbird, I’ve been a scholar; turned a pure Catholic girl into the devil’s daughter,” he sings over stomp-clap percussion and a minor-key chord progression, his voice exuding equal parts power and grace.
Chuck Mead, “Big Bear in the Sky”
Years before Nashville’s Lower Broadway became the go-to destination for bachelorettes, bros and beer-drunk tourists in rhinestone-encrusted graphic tees, the district was a home-away-from-home for Chuck Mead, who played as many as six local gigs a week as the frontman of BR549. Now touring behind his fourth solo album, Close to Home, he gets heavy with “Big Bear in the Sky,” an amped-up blend of rockabilly, astronomy, and Southern-fried surf rock.
Erin Enderlin, “I Can Be Your Whiskey”
Two weeks after taking home a handful of awards — including Female Vocalist of the Year — at the Arkansas Country Music Awards, Erin Enderlin serves up this barroom ballad about desperation, long nights, and quick fixes. “I can drown the memory that you’re trying to forget,” she sings to a would-be lover, offering up her love as the ultimate vice.
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Brandon Stansell, “Top Shelf”
Earlier this year, Brandon Stansell drew upon his own coming-out experience for “Hometown,” an emotionally-charged ballad that doubled as an anthem for the LGBTQ community. “Top Shelf,” a drinking song led by syncopated guitar riffs and a sunny chorus, lightens the mood without lessening the punch of Stansell’s pop hooks.
The HawtThorns, “Shaking”
Already a leading light in L.A.’s independent country scene, the HawtThorns swing for the heartland country-rock fences with “Shaking,” whose brightly-strummed guitars and sunny harmonies channel the warmth of the band’s west coast home. If KP Hawthorn’s voice sounds familiar, that’s likely because the frontwoman recently logged several years with Calico, whose roster of twang-loving power women also included fellow California cowgirl Jaime Wyatt.
Alana Springsteen, “Slow Down”
Inspired by a run-in with a reckless driver in Nashville, “Slow Down” finds Alanna Springsteen caught up in the rush of a new relationship, unable — and perhaps unwilling — to halt the momentum. At 18-years-old, she writes with beyond-her-years poise, mixing the lovestruck giddiness of a teenager with the hooks of a pro.
Hailey Whitters, “The Days”
“The other day, it hit me like a hammer that you can’t get back those moments that really matter,” Hailey Whitters sings during the pre-chorus of “The Days.” Although filled with memories of a long-gone childhood, the song doesn’t dwell in the past, choosing instead to balance its nostalgia with a commitment to make each new day count.
Dan Wilson, “A Modest Proposal”
The songwriting powerhouse behind Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” is back, releasing a new track every month through the end of the year. “A Modest Proposal” finds him in folk-pop mode, turning the title of a 290-year-old Jonathan Swift essay into a light, summery request to go steady. The only caveat? His sweetheart will have to make room for Wilson’s first love: music.
Jon Pardi, “Ain’t Always the Cowboy”
Written by Brandon Kinney and Josh Thompson, “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” finds Pardi playing the role of a rambling man who has finally found a reason to settle down. During the power-ballad-worthy chorus, though, we learn that his beloved doesn’t share those feelings. A high-flying salute to heartbreak, “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” is delivered during the painful peak of a breakup, with Pardi’s lover fleeing the scene and “leaving love in the dust of a midnight Chevrolet.”
Gone West, “What Could’ve Been”
Their name might evoke Go West, whose “King of Wishful Thinking” dominated pop airwaves across the globe in 1990, but Gone West’s music is cut from a different cloth. “What Could’ve Been,” the group’s first single, channels Fleetwood Mac by way of Lady Antebellum, filtering a coed vocal attack through a prism of heartbroken lyrics, layered harmonies and gauzy guitars. Stoking the song’s radio-friendly fire is Go West’s most famous member, Colbie Caillat, who did some airwave domination of her own with songs like 2007’s “Bubbly.”