A country legend, some rising radio stars and burgeoning Americana singer-songwriters make up this week’s list of songs you need to hear right now.
Inspired by everything from the road-warrior lifestyle to trippy theories of time travel and consciousness expansion, “Opening Band” feels like a heady, half-lit interpretation of the Band’s countrified boogie. Shot through with jangled guitar and ragged harmonies, it draws a parallel between musicians on the long road to success and humans on the hunt for deeper, more meaningful lives. If that sounds a bit too complex, don’t worry — this kickoff single from Blank Range’s debut LP, Marooned With the Treasure, has enough hooks to go down easy. R.C.
Cole Swindell has had some divisive moments in his rise to chart domination, from the pulse-free “Flatliner” to the party-heavy, Luke Bryan light “Chillin’ It.” But his new single, “Break Up in the End,” is a dramatic turn for the Georgia native. Set to a simple guitar backdrop, Swindell’s voice is more poignant and unvarnished than ever, floating through a gentle love song that shows how romance is worth it – even if it’s destined to fail. “Break Up in the End” is a radical departure from anything Swindell’s done before, and a welcome, mature surprise. M.M.
There’s something infinitely satisfying about the mix of saccharine British pop and foot-stomping Americana that encapsulates Jade Bird’s approach, and “Lottery” is full of it – along with delightful wordplay and earworm melodies. The follow-up to her Something American EP, “Lottery” has already racked up over two million spins on Spotify and even spawned a more solemn acoustic version, where it seems that winning the jackpot doesn’t always result in a life of riches. M.M.
Years before inking a deal with the same record label as Lindsay Ell and Randy Houser, Allen received some lasting guidance from his grandmother, who reminded him to always let the women in his life know how much they meant to them. He took the counsel to heart, using his grandmother’s words as the inspiration for his debut single. A stripped-down ballad about caring for your loved ones, “Best Shot” was the second-most added song at country radio last week. Looks like grandma was right. R.C.
“I wish I woulda laid my hands on you,” Ashley Monroe coos time and again on “Hands on You,” the first song to be premiered from her upcoming third, Dave Cobb-produced LP, Sparrow. She speeds those words up, slows them down, and draws them out, finding all the different ways she can to express her regret over a missed romantic opportunity. Which is fitting, because there isn’t anything else Monroe needs to say in this smolderingly soulful track that delivers its sex appeal not in what gets said, but in how she says it. J.G.
Scotty McCreery is having the last laugh with his newest single “Five More Minutes,” which just rose to Number One on the country airplay chart – all after getting dropped from his record label and assuming that his career had met its untimely end. McCreery co-wrote the song inspired by the death of his grandfather, and it lets him settle deep into his classic vocal sensibilities and meld it all with a knack for sophisticated yet pop-friendly ballads. Country doesn’t have a lot of comeback kids, but “Five More Minutes” is a testament to good ol’ perseverance. M.M.
If Kacey Musgraves’ “Butterflies” feels like an amorous blindside for fans of the tough-talking Texan, “Space Cowboy” lands like a more familiar kiss-off. Not to be confused with a song by “The Joker” himself, Steve Miller, “Space Cowboy” is a matter-of-fact relationship post-op with Musgraves’ trademark turns of phrase (“You can have your space, cowboy, I ain’t gonna fence you in”). Spare and wistfully arranged, Musgraves’ narrator isn’t afraid to let her hurt show, even as she makes the tough call that she knows to be correct. J.G.
This Bay Area ensemble calls on the sounds of classic soul and funk in “Call It Home,” evoking the greasy rumble of Booker T and the MGs in the opening bars before channeling the spiritual ecstasy of Sly and the Family Stone in the soaring choruses. The opening track and title song from their forthcoming two-part album Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2, “Call It Home” features some sublimely gritty ad libs from the iconic Bonnie Raitt, a pretty solid endorsement of the group’s bona fides. J.F.
If Willie Nelson’s twilight years are to be spent amidst constant speculation over whether he’s “Still Not Dead,” then he’s sure not going to take it lying down. “Last Man Standing,” the title track from the new record due to be released before the Red Headed Stranger’s 85th birthday in April, is yet another rumination on the country legend’s mortality, as well as the friends – Merle and Waylon, among them – who have passed away before him. Nelson approaches this grim subject with candor and a typically jaunty tone. Then again, as he once sang himself, he just might live forever. J.G.
Don Gallardo stakes his claim as a roots-rock lifer with his upcoming April release, Still Here. It’s an album rooted in persistence and purpose, with songs like “Kicking Up the Pavement” shining a light on the struggle of the modern-day road warrior. On the acoustic “A Boat Named Harmony,” though, Gallardo trades his band van for a sailboat, painting himself as the unlucky captain of a sinking ship. With open water all around him, he choses love over panic, finding peace in the presence of his duet partner, Erin Rae. Heartwarming and harmony-heavy. R.C.