Clare Dunn doesn’t let empty pockets keep her from a good time, Madison Kozak laments a flaky lover, and Austin Jenckes looks to Memphis for inspiration in this week’s list of the best country and Americana songs.
Clare Dunn, “Money’s All Gone”
Years after playing a string of North American arenas alongside Bob Seger, Clare Dunn channels her former tourmate’s highway-speed rock & roll with this guitar-driven anthem. Inspired by her childhood in small-town Colorado, “Money’s All Gone” is a tribute to teenage kicks and carefree nights — on a budget.
Chris Knight, “The Damn Truth”
John Prine makes a cameo on Almost Daylight, the ninth album from hard-touring Americana troubadour Chris Knight. It’s easy to see why. Road-worn, pockmarked, and laced with a thick Kentucky accent, Knight’s voice is the perfect vehicle to deliver songs like “The Damn Truth,” whose pissed-off lyrics attempt to sort the universal truths from the modern world’s pack of lies.
Madison Kozak, “Phases”
Madison Kozak’s crush is no more reliable than the moon, punctuating moments of bright visibility with periods of fading attention and flat-out disappearance. Originally released on her Heartbreak School EP, “Phases” is now the soundtrack for Kozak’s newest music video, which makes its debut days before her first performance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Austin Jenckes, “Never Left Memphis”
It’s no surprise that country-rock headliners like the Cadillac Three and Brothers Osborne have tapped Austin Jenckes as an opening act. There’s serious power in the guy’s voice, which is steeped in the bluesy, soulful tradition of the American South. Here, he honors one of the area’s music capitals with a song that’s every bit as funky as Memphis itself.
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EG Vines, “Drunkard’s Dream”
Nostalgia rules the roost on “Drunkard’s Dream,” which kicks off as a stripped-down ballad and builds into a Coldplay-sized blast of expansive arena pop. Throughout it all, EG Vines sings about a golden yesterday that seems to shine a bit brighter than the present, while pedal steel guitar and anthemic percussion sell the drama in the background.
Maddie & Tae featuring Dierks Bentley, “Lay Here With Me”
Back in 2015, Maddie & Tae joined Dierks Bentley on his countrywide Sounds of Summer Tour. Four years later, the two acts are teaming up again, this time for a harmony-rich ballad about saving a rocky relationship from its looming collapse. Everyone gets a turn at the mic, but the moments where all three singers join forces — as they do during the cinematic refrain — form the most compelling case for a cease-fire.
Kylie Frey, “One Night in Tulsa”
Real romance is worth traveling for. “One Night in Tulsa” finds Kyle Frey promising to go the extra mile, so long as it means she’ll cross paths with her sweetheart for a single evening. Soaringly sentimental, this mid-tempo original shows off not only the country classicism of Frey’s songwriting, but also the power of her pipes, which earned her a strong finish on last year’s prime-time singing competition Real Country.
The 40 Acre Mule, “Bathroom Walls”
The 40 Acre Mule formed in 2015, but the band’s revivalist boogie-woogie points to a healthy appreciation for 20th century rock & rollers like Chuck Berry. A horny hell-raiser punctuated by saxophone solos, guitar riffs, and a raucous rockabilly shuffle, “Bathroom Walls” is a fresh take on a familiar sound, tied together with a risqué storyline about restroom graffiti and late-night trysts.
The Milk Carton Kids, “I’ll Be Gone”
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan get back to the beautiful basics with The Only Ones, an album of acoustic folk duets that hits just as hard as last year’s full-band effort, All the Things I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do. “Death might be waiting, but it better get some wings,” they sing on “I’ll Be Gone,” which unfolds like the manifesto of some battle-scarred road warrior. “I’ll be flying, riding on the wind.”
Jake LaBotz, “They’re Coming for Me”
Working with producer (and J.D. McPherson bassist) Jimmy Sutton, Jake LaBotz turns paranoia into a haunting, Tom Waits-worthy piece of cabaret Americana with “They’re Coming for Me,” the title track from his newest solo effort. He delivers his lyrics like a method actor, imbuing each line with a mix of theatricality and wild, wide-eyed believability.