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.)
Bailey Callahan, “City Lights”
Nashville-by-way-of-Florida songwriter Bailey Callahan pulls off the tricky feat of believably setting a country song in New York City. Instead of Big Apple clichés, she peppers the lyrics with references to the Staten Island Ferry and the general overstimulation that permeates the city. “Weed and wine and an unwell mind/sometimes the city lights make you blind,” she sings in a tone reminiscent of Lucinda Williams. It’s a palpably pained love song, with the protagonist — “a good girl” — trying to bat away insecurities and the end of a romance she sees coming a mile away.
Riley Clemmons, “Headspace”
Riley Clemmons taps into the hyperpop of Charli XCX for this unrelenting banger, which plays up the 21-year-old Nashville singer’s effervescent singing style. “Headspace” is a song about persevering and growing, with Clemmons pledging to transform a bad memory into a learning experience. “I like the way I feel brand new,” she sings. “I’m stronger for what you put me through.” Clemmons’ new album Godsend, released via Capitol CMG, is out now.
Walker Hayes featuring Lori McKenna, “Briefcase”
Walker Hayes is joined by Lori McKenna for a reflection on his own relationship with, and similarities to, his father in the acoustic ballad “Briefcase,” a track from his new Country Stuff EP. Hayes recalls being sad that his dad was always at work, not realizing the sacrifices his father was having to make until he had kids of his own. Now his paychecks depend on him getting out on the road: He acknowledges he finally understands the struggle. “It’s a juggling act between feeding the kids and feeding the dreams we chase,” he sings, with McKenna providing harmonies. “I guess the guitar doesn’t fall too far from the briefcase.”
Billy Law, “Voicemail”
Ottoman Turks bassist Billy Law steps out on his solo debut Alone Somewhere (August 20th via State Fair Records), a collection of country weepers and introspective Americana that’s in stark contrast to the frenetic garage-rock of the Turks. Versatility is Law’s strong suit, on display even within the same song: “Voicemail” is all country steel and whiskey lyrics one minute, and indie soul-searching the next. “I won’t make the same mistake if you say yes again,” he promises by the end, a self-aware declaration of vulnerability.
Tyler Dean McDowell, “Older Women”
Forty years ago, Ronnie McDowell released the song “Older Women” and scored one of his signature country hits. As a kind of Father’s Day treat, the singer’s son Tyler Dean McDowell has put his own spin on the winking celebration of cougar love. The original’s four-on-the-floor backbeat and groove are replaced in this version by a more aggressive guitar attack à la Lenny Kravitz, and the younger McDowell injects his soulful vocal performance with a little fire. The song holds up well in its new incarnation, evidence “Older Women” — both the song and the demographic group — never really go out of style.