Heritage artists made up half of this listening session, and they provided many of its highlights.
Three Country Music Hall of Fame members are here — Bill Anderson, Garth Brooks and our Disc of the Day winner, Charlie Daniels. Also contributing to the tally are Joe Diffie and Gary Morris.
Gary and Garth are both crooning ballads with solo-guitar accompaniment. Add Toby Keith, Whispering Bill and Kacey Musgraves to the mix, and you’ll see that slow songs were the order of the day. Despite the peppy efforts of Kelsea Ballerini and Brad Paisley.
The DisCovery Award goes to Tim Williams. It turns out that when he’s not a TV spokesperson, he’s a marvelously traditional country singer.
KELSEA BALLERINI/Miss Me More
Writers: Brett McLaughlin/Kelsea Ballerini/David Hall Hodges; Producer: none listed; Publisher: Kobalt/Sony-ATV/Audiam, no performance rights listed; Black River
– This is a feisty pop-rocker with a groovy, empowerment lyric. The relentless rhythm drives home the message of female independence, and the little echoey-electro vocal “comments” are way cool. I’m in.
GARY MORRIS/Sense Of Pride
Writers: none listed; Producers: Gary Morris/Michael Bonagura; Publisher: none listed; Spirit (track)
– The title tune of Gary’s new CD is the tale of a WWII military veteran whose medal for valor lies in a seldom-opened drawer. The old soldier keeps his feelings locked inside himself. But a note he leaves behind speaks volumes. This is a solo-guitar ballad, but it’s just as potent as any full-bodied production.
BRAD PAISLEY/Bucked Off
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Arista;
– The grinding twang of the main guitar riff is worth the price of admission, alone. The rollicking spirit and personable vocal are first-rate. Toss in a few shout-outs to George Strait and his tunes, and you have a blue-ribbon winner.
JOE DIFFIE/Quit You
Writers: Danny Bell/Jeffrey East/Andy Autsier; Producer: Phil O’Donnell; Publishers: none listed; Silverado
– This ballad is backed by echoed hand claps, throbbing bass and rifled drumbeats. Diffie’s passionate delivery of the addictive-love lyric is electrifying. He’s still a mighty, country-music hoss.
TOBY KEITH/I’ll Still Call You Baby
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Show Dog
– In case you’ve forgotten, Toby is one of the finest country singers of modern times. This power ballad gives him plenty of expressive room. Sing on, brother.
TIM WILLIAMS/Magnolia City
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Wewax
– Tim is that handsome, silver-haired guy who’s the spokesman for Trivago on TV. His debut country CD kicks off with this solid, steel-soaked honky-tonker. He’s a teensy bit pitch-y in spots, but he definitely gets the job done. Play him.
BEAU WEEVILS/Bad Blood
Writers: Charlie Daniels/Chuck Jones; Producers: James Stroud/Casey Wood; Publishers: Miss Hazel/Songs of Universal/Music of Stage Three/Warner-Tamerlane/Mike Curb, BMI; Blue Hat (track)
– The band is a new foursome comprised of Charlie Daniels, drummer James Stroud, Allman slide guitarist Billy Crain and Charlie’s longtime bass player Charlie Hayward. This sidewinding, swampy blues rocker is just one standout on a CD that’s full of audio delights. A revelatory reinvention of a living legend. The collection is called Songs in the Key of E, and you need it in your life.
KACEY MUSGRAVES/Slow Burn
Writers: Daniel Tashian/Ian Fitchuk/Musgraves; Producers: Fitchuk/Tashian/Musgraves; Publishers: none listed; MCA (track)
– I still say that Golden Hour is a very pretty pop record. But now that it’s the 2018 CMA Album of the Year, celebrate the languid, ethereal beauty of its lead-off track. Kacey’s wafting vocal glows with Texas charm. I bought the turntable version, which is pressed on clear vinyl.
BILL ANDERSON & JAMEY JOHNSON/Everybody Wants To Be Twenty-One
Writers: Johnson/Anderson; Producers: Anderson/Thomm Jutz/Peter Cooper; Publishers: none listed; TWI (track)
– Anderson is this Country Music Hall of Famer’s 72nd album. At age 81, he can still cast a spell with his astonishing storytelling skills. Jamey trades verses and harmonizes with him on this contemplative ballad. It muses on the facts that youngsters wish to be older, and seniors wish to be younger. It’s easily the best written song of this listening session.
GARTH BROOKS/Stronger Than Me
Writers: Matt Rossi/Bobby Terry; Producer: none listed; Publisher: Bedroll Music/Tom and Terry Music; ASCAP; Pearl Records
– This tender ballad was a heart-tugger as a solo performance on the CMA telecast. Best lines: She lifts the weight of this whole world off my shoulder/With nothing but the touch of her hand. And the finale: I pray God takes me first/‘Cause you’re stronger than me.
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