The Mavericks’ turn in a groove-heavy version of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” Runaway June brush off a drunk-dialing dude in “Head Over Heels,” Dylan LeBlanc channels Neil Young in “Unanswered Questions,” and more in this week’s set of must-hear songs.
The Mavericks, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”
The Mavericks tackle an album’s worth of country classics and rock deep cuts with Play the Hits, a covers album that shows the range of the band’s influences. Their revision of Waylon Jennings’ mid-Seventies classic is fueled by horns, Delta-disco grooves and the baritone bombast of Raul Malo’s voice. Hank definitely didn’t do it this way, but it’s safe to say he would’ve dug the Mavericks’ spin.
Railroad Earth, “The Great Divide”
Railroad Earth’s bluegrass has always straddled the line between traditionalism and rule-breaking modernism. “The Great Divide,” the first single from their upcoming 2020 release, All for the Song, feels like a metaphor for the band’s overall approach, with drums — a big no-no for bluegrass purists — rooting an otherwise time-honored mix of mandolin, violin, guitar and the like. The song’s gospel overtones and references to heaven also pay tribute to band founder Andy Goessling, who died in late 2018.
Steep Canyon Rangers, “Blue Monk”
Captured live at MerleFest, “Blue Monk” is a rootsy, out-of-the-box reinterpretation of Thelonius Monk’s 1954 original, with banjo and mandolin taking the place of Monk’s piano and saxophone. Highlights from the rest of Steep Canyon Rangers’ covers-heavy set, including twanged-up versions of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Elizabeth Cotten’s “Shake Sugaree,” can be heard on the band’s upcoming North Carolina Songbook, which honors the musical tradition of the Tar Heel State.
Penny & Sparrow, “White Ferrari”
Speaking of covers, folk duo Penny & Sparrow turns Frank Ocean’s “White Ferrari” into a stirring acoustic ballad with this live performance. The video’s location — the empty floor of an anonymous warehouse, lit solely by the daytime sun spilling through the windows — stands in stark contrast to the performance itself, which is highlighted by the lovely harmonies of Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke.
Amy Speace, “Some Dreams Do”
Written after rewatching the Kevin Costner classic “Field of Dreams,” “Some Dreams Do” finds Amy Speace winding back the clock to her childhood days in the backyard, when she’d enjoy the final hours of a summer day in a whirl of imagination and athletic activity. Nostalgic and nuanced, “Some Dreams Do” contrasts those golden days with the black-and-white of the present, while still encouraging those who’re young enough to know better to dream as big as the July sky.
The Cadillac Three, “Back Home”
Country Fuzz, the Cadillac Three’s first studio album since August 2017, will be released next February. Included in the track list is “Back Home,” whose relaxed gait and stoned sway stand in contrast to some of the band’s amped-up anthems. It’s nice to hear Jaren Johnston and company unwind, though, and “Back Home” serves as a reminder that the Cadillac Three can cruise just as well as they can speed.
Dylan LeBlanc, “Unanswered Questions”
With a solo tour scheduled for December, Dylan LeBlanc trades the full-band fury of his latest release, Renegade, for a mix of acoustic guitar and cinematic strings on this new single. The orchestral accompaniment is lovely, all swelling dynamics and stately sweeps of violin, but LeBlanc’s voice is the most compelling instrument here, with high notes that nod to the fragility of Neil Young’s tenor.
Runaway June, “Head Over Heels”
The leadoff track from Runaway June’s debut LP finds songwriters Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne adding a modern spin to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” motif. The women are fed-up with drunk-dialing boyfriends and one-night stands, and they soundtrack that frustration with an empowered anthem that doubles down not only on the trio’s thick harmonies, but also their sharpest set of lyrics to date.
Hardy featuring Thomas Rhett, “Nothin’ Out Here”
As a songwriter, Hardy has enjoyed a near-constant presence on country radio over the past two years, co-writing Number One singles like Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country,” Florida Georgia Line’s “Simple” and Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down.” He keeps the collaborative spirit alive with his own release, Hixtape Vol. 1, whose songs make room for cameos by Joe Diffie, Zakk Wylde, Keith Urban and others. Thomas Rhett also shows up to sing the second verse of “Nothin’ Out Here,” a tribute to Flyover Country USA.
Tami Neilson, “Any Fool With a Heart”
Whomever said they don’t make them like they used to obviously hasn’t heard Tami Neilson. A beehived belter whose songs nod to golden-age crooners like Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee and Bobby Darin, she evokes the 1950s with “Any Fool With a Heart,” a stellar mix of spaghetti country-western and retro pop. The video drives home the song’s mid-century nostalgia, while the accompanying album — February 2020’s Chickaboom! — doubles down on Neilson’s firecracker voice and throwback thrust.