Danny Burns, “North Country”
Backed by Mindy Smith, Sam Bush and ChessBoxer, Irish songwriter Danny Burns nods to his homeland with “North Country,” a moody folk song about Ireland’s earliest residents repelling a Viking raid. The acoustic instrumentation is top notch, but it’s Burns’ voice — with its unique pronunciations shaped back home in Donegal — that sells this salute to the old days.
Rachel Wammack, “Enough”
Rachel Wammack counts her blessings with “Enough,” a bright anthem about gratitude and positive perspectives. “If none of our dreams come true, if it’s down to just me and you. . .baby, it’s enough,” she sings, stretching out the final note with a voice built for soul music, country and the acrobatic points in between.
James Barker Band, “Keep it Simple”
The music video for James Barker Band’s newest single finds the group playing an Ed Sullivan-ish TV program in the 1960s, dressed up in white suits like the Wonders from That Thing You Do. The song itself is thoroughly modern, though, mixing polished country-pop production with sexed-up lyrics about poppin’ tops and makin’ out. Already a radio hit in the band’s native Canada, “Keep it Simple” is a friendly reminder that the Lower 48 doesn’t have a monopoly on country charm.
Anna Tivel, “Worthless”
With its tense stomp and sparse, spooky arrangement, “Worthless” sounds dangerous, as though Tivel is delivering the track from the brink of a bad decision. She calls it “a song about labels — about how difficult it is to shake a word, a name, a category heard over and over until it feels like it must be true,” and she delivers the song accordingly, setting the mood with Mellotron, minor-key guitar patterns and a tongue-twisting lyric.
Beoga featuring Devin Dawson, “Matthew’s Daughter”
The Irish folk band Beoga goes international with this crossover collab, featuring vocals from country-pop singer Devin Dawson and songwriting assistance from co-writers Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid. Two years earlier, Beoga made a pair of appearances on Sheeran’s %, adding Celtic credibility to songs like “Galway Girl.” “Matthew’s Daughter” brings that partnership full-circle, pouring doses of CCM and modern pop into the mix along the way.
Sara Evans and the Barker Family Band, “Dreams”
Sara Evans keeps it in the family, enlisting teenage daughter Olivia and 19-year-old son Avery as backup singers on this Southern makeover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song’s Americana arrangement includes plenty of acoustic guitar and mandolin runs, shot through with the blood harmonies of Evans (who plays the part of Stevie Nicks) and her two children. A full EP, including covers of songs by Beyoncé and Carole King, will appear next month.
Jake Owen, “Drink All Day”
Jake Owen drops an anchor alongside Zac Brown, Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffett with the tropical twang of “Drink All Day,” a three-minute tribute to the booze-soaked beach hangs that last from morning until last call. There are references to Otis Redding and Corona Light, too, sandwiched between conga-heavy percussion and a melody that’s build for seaside bonfires.
Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves, “Beaufort County Jail”
Bluegrass legend Alice Gerrard’s song about racial injustice and sexist violence in a Bible Belt jailhouse is revisited by two newer folk artists rooted in old-time traditions. Hargreaves sings “Beaufort County Jail” in a voice that’s equal parts field holler and high-lonesome croon, and the duo’s dueling-banjos arrangement nods to the past without muddying their cover’s contemporary applications.
Dylan LeBlanc, “Renegade”
A minor-key rocker, “Renegade” would’ve dominated the FM radio in 1982, back when Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers filled the airwaves with darkly-driven anthems like “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me).” Producer Dave Cobb captures LeBlanc and his road band, the Pollies, in their natural habitat: playing together live, guitars blaring, with LeBlanc’s voice piercing its way through the reverb.
Kree Harrison, “I Love the Lie”
There’s a new album in the works for Kree Harrison, whose standout voice earned her a second-place finish on American Idol back in 2013. Here, she wrings every ounce of sad, desperate emotion from “I Love the Lie,” a Chris Stapleton co-write steeped in the big-ballad tradition of late-Nineties country.