Let’s pretend this is an awards show, and give out prizes in lots of categories. Our Female Vocalist Disc of the Day honor belongs to Miranda Lambert, with special kudos for coloring outside the lines with her song choice. The Male Vocalist Disc of the Day prize goes to Chris Stapleton. No one else even comes close. The Vocal Group Disc of the Day award, I am delighted to announce, is presented to the Eli Young Band for its outstanding audio work. I can’t say enough good things about the magnificent Chris Stapleton, who is also taking home this week’s DisCovery Award. Applause, applause.
BRANCH & DEAN/The Dash
Writers: Marlon Dean/Michael Huffman; Producers: Michael Huffman, Marlon Dean Scallan & Jeff Silvey; Publishers: Shootin Straight/Huff Stuff, BMI/ASCAP; SSM Nashville
-The “dash” is the one they place between your birth and death years. The message here is to spend that brief “dash” well, because, “There’s only so much breath you get to take….So love like you mean it, everyday.” Imaginative and emotionally valid.
CLINTON GREGORY/You Smile
Writers: Pebe Sebert/Gerald Smith; Producers: Jamie Creasy & Clinton Gregory; Publishers: Laloluka/Melody Roundup/Bluewater, BMI; Melody Roundup
-Tender and caressing. This thoughtful ode to perseverance finds its perfect voice in this fine, stone-country stylist. Songwriter Sebert, by the way, is the mother of pop star Ke$ha.
LAUREN ALAINA/Barefoot and Buckwild
Writers: Lauren Alaina/Chris DeStefano/Jon Nite; Producer: Chris DeStefano; Publishers: Lyles/EMI April/Sugar Glider/Jon Mark Nite, BMI/ASCAP; Mercury/19 (CDX)
-Just what we need, a female artist jumping onto the dirt-road-party bandwagon.
ELI YOUNG BAND/Drunk Last Night
Writers: Laura Veltz/Josh Osborne; Producers: Frank Liddell & Justin Niebank; Publishers: Warner-Tamerlane/Want a Fresh One/Black River, BMI/ASCAP; Republic Nashville
-Frothing and foamy, this is one delectable slab of country-rock. Everything works here: The morning-after lyric, the frenetic tempo, the stuttering guitars, the group harmonies and the crisp production work.
Writers: Taylor Swift; Producers: Dann Huff, Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift; Publishers: Sony-ATV Tree/Taylor Swift, BMI; Big Machine (Track)
-It’s Taylor in her twirling, swirling uptempo mode. Dizzy, bright and delirious.
CHRIS STAPLETON/What Are You Listening To
Writers: Chris Stapleton/Lee Thomas Miller; Producer: Tony Brown; Publishers: House of Sea Gayle/Small Fish/Writers of Sea Gayle/Itchy Baby, ASCAP/BMI; Mercury
-Sublimely soulful. If you never caught his performances in The SteelDrivers, welcome to the Next Great Vocalist in country music. Chris has written hits for Josh Turner, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Steel Magnolia and more, but Nashville insiders have always known that his powerful singing has always deserved its own spotlight. Now it has it.
JASON ALDEAN/Night Train
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Broken Bow (track)
-This restrained, subtle, gracefully shaded performance is his most accomplished vocal to date. The come-on song casts him a romantic role. An attractive change of pace.
JESSE & NOAH/Driven Back
Writers: Jesse & Noah Bellamy; Producers: Jesse and Noah Bellamy; Publisher: Skunk Ape, ASCAP; Jessandnoah
-David Bellamy’s boys head in a funky, pop direction on the title tune to their latest collection. Left of center, but definitely listenable.
MIRANDA LAMBERT/All Kinds of Kinds
Writers: Phillip Coleman/Don Henry; Producers: Frank Liddell, Chuck Ainlay & Glenn Worf; Publishers: Gravitron/Carnival/Warner-Tamerlane, SESAC/BMI; RCA (track)
-Exquisitely produced, with rolling Dobro notes, strummed acoustic guitar, rippling mandolin and shuffling percussion. Her vocal is a crystalline wonder, and the song is a pure, off-kilter delight. In a word, brilliant.
Writers: L. Cooper/J. Sciullo/J. Spilner; Producers: www.PhiveStarr.com & DjKo; Publishers: Average ZJS/DJKOPhivesarr/Riley Payton, BMI/SESAC; Backroad/Average
-This guy represents the mud-people, off-road, ATV subculture, hence his album title, Mud Dynasty. Its single is packed with electronic effects and thumping beats. As a general rule, I hate country rapping. And this is no exception.