Whether it’s coming out of Nashville, New York, L.A., or points in between, there’s no shortage of fresh tunes, especially from artists who have yet to become household names. Rolling Stone Country selects some of the best new music releases from country and Americana artists. (Check out last week’s best songs.)
Jimmie Allen featuring Monica and Little Big Town, “Pray”
Jimmie Allen goes big on collaborations on Bettie James Gold Edition, an expanded version of the “Best Shot” singer’s 2020 EP now featuring Breland, Keith Urban, and Pitbull, among others. One of the standouts is “Pray,” an uplifting collaboration with Little Big Town and R&B great Monica. With solemn piano chords, Allen describes the ebbs and flows of his faith. “What it is and what it isn’t/Well, it’s not for me to say,” he sings, before Monica belts out a verse and Little Big Town add their heavenly harmonies as the song heads toward a soaring finish. Rather than coming across as pious, it’s a quiet plea to look within for something that brings you peace, whatever you choose to call it.
Taylor McCall, “Highway Will”
With spooky percussion and a vocal rumble reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s version of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” Taylor McCall’s “Highway Will” is a brooding, at times menacing, introduction to the South Carolina songwriter. “If the devil don’t kill me, then the highway will,” he sings in the slow-burning ballad about the dangers of the rambling life. McCall will release his debut album, Black Powder Soul, on Thirty Tigers this September.
Tenille Townes, “Girl Who Didn’t Care”
Tenille Townes excels at making empathetic, searching statements into very tuneful compositions. The Juno-winning artist’s latest is “Girl Who Didn’t Care,” the first release from an upcoming follow-up to The Lemonade Stand, and it finds her looking for the person she used to be. Over a double-timed, indie-ish guitar riff, Townes thinks about how she used to dream and play without limitations. “I miss my imagination, I wonder how it faded,” she admits. The chorus adds a pulsing bassline and sturdy backbeat, while Townes’ lyrics and melody get all the focus. She doesn’t have some tidy resolution for us, but she knows if she keeps looking, she’ll find that person. “I know she’s still in there somewhere,” she sings.
Tim O’Brien, “He Walked On”
Bluegrass maestro Tim O’Brien pays tribute to Earl “JT” Gray, the late proprietor of Nashville’s legendary venue the Station Inn, in the title track to his new album. Accompanied by a lo-fi music video, “He Walked On” finds O’Brien telling JT’s tall tale: a man who, even as progress threatened to swallow up his club, continued to focus on the “music” in Music City. “Brand new buildings going up and old ones coming down,” O’Brien sings, setting the scene of a changing physical — and musical — landscape.
Don DiLego, “Dim Red Light (Make It Shine)”
“We’re all ghosts in waiting,” Don DiLego sings in this ecstatic promise to make his days on earth shine. It’s the type of song that’s built for better days (which we all hope are finally here), and DiLego, a Massachusetts native with a gift for poppy Americana, sells the message with unbridled exuberance “I feel pretty good if I don’t mind saying,” he shouts at one point. It’s hard to doubt him. “Dim Red Light” arrives with director Jenna Pace’s surrealist video, shot at the historic Eckley Miners’ Village in coal country Pennsylvania.
Del Barber, “Meantime”
With a sharp sense of melody and a natural knack for homespun narratives, Canadian country/folk singer-songwriter Del Barber has been releasing first-rate albums for over a decade. “Meantime,” the first single from Barber’s upcoming archival collection, Stray Dogs: Collective B-Sides, Vol. 1, shows that he’s been holding onto some top-notch material all along. “I never used to start fires because I could,” Barber sings in the ballad’s intriguing opening lines. “I was either cold or misunderstood.”