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.)
The Georgia Thunderbolts, “Be Good to Yourself”
Peach State country-rockers the Georgia Thunderbolts put their own Southern spin on Scottish blues-rock singer Frankie Miller, delivering a faithful but greasy cover of Miller’s 1977 single “Be Good to Yourself.” The first track off the band’s full-length debut Can We Get a Witness (out October 15th), “Be Good to Yourself” is a showcase for the Thunderbolt’s high-octane mix of chunky guitar, barroom piano and muscular drums. But it’s singer TJ Lyle’s vocal performance that ties it all together — he sings with a vulnerable R&B flair that distinguishes him from the more cocksure rock-band howlers.
Ric Robertson, “Sycamore Hill”
“Well, the coffee’s cold, spliff half smoked, on the edge of the ledge from a bedtime toke/I was reaching for a rhyme but couldn’t quite make the kill,” Ric Robertson sings in the delightful new song “Sycamore Hill.” A trippy swirl of fingerpicked psychedelic folk, the track deftly weaves in a funky breakbeat, melancholy fiddle, and studio effects for a lively — and timely — message about looking for simple pleasures. Robertson’s new album Carolina Child arrives July 30th.
Shannon McNally, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”
Shannon McNally’s latest album The Waylon Sessions pays tribute to one of country music’s greats, but she looks elsewhere in the outlaw canon for a version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” that also appears on the collection. With the steel guitar of Fred Newell heavily featured, it’s a gritty, reverent rendition that emphasizes McNally’s warm alto and recalls some of the yearning eroticism that made Sammi Smith’s definitive 1970 version so explosive.
Wanda Jackson featuring Joan Jett, “That’s What Love Is”
Wanda Jackson is unquestionably one of the great rock & roll shouters, but she’s also a gifted country balladeer, as she demonstrates on “That’s What Love Is.” A duet with rocker Joan Jett, who produced Jackson’s upcoming final album Encore, “That’s What Love Is” is a simple arrangement of piano and steel, with Jett providing harmony for Jackson’s soft, sometimes-spoken passages about that most bittersweet of emotions. “It’s what way we live/and every day’s a gift/that’s what love is,” Jackson sings. It’s less “Let’s Have a Party” and more “let’s celebrate what time we have left.”
Tim Easton, “Real Revolution”
“I had come undone/I was feeling unsung/went back upstate/got my bell real rung,” sings the tireless folksinger-songwriter Tim Easton, going full Dylan in his wordplay and delivery for “Real Revolution.” A track off Easton’s upcoming album You Don’t Really Know Me (out August 27th), it’s a rambunctious ode to demanding (and making) a change. Not of the political kind however — Easton’s revolution is personal, taking place in the heart and mind. It’s inspiring, zen-like stuff.
The Secret Sisters, “Someday”
Laura and Lydia Rogers — the Secret Sisters — bring their sibling harmonies to the new wave garage rock of the Strokes in a cover of the New York City band’s “Someday,” off the Strokes’ 2001 breakthrough Is This It. For their arrangement, the Secret Sisters slow the pulsing original way down, enunciating each word in stark contrast to Julian Casablanca’s muttered original delivery. It’s haunting and heavenly, all at once. “Someday” appears on the Rogers’ new EP Quicksand, a four-song set of two originals and two covers (the other is Fiona Apple’s “Heavy Balloon”).