This was a week of left-field surprises.
In our “comeback” department, we have a strong return to form by Mary Chapin Carpenter as well as a stunning reappearance by Skip Ewing. Tim McGraw is back, too.
Kane Brown continues his pursuit of pop music, while the formerly country-as-grits Elizabeth Cook takes a wild detour into that realm.
While Miranda Lambert‘s “Bluebird” continues its march up into the top-10, she offers a further reminder of her greatness with “Dark Bars.”
Previously noted for writing songs for others, Ross Ellis claims this week’s DisCovery Award.
Most surprising of all is the Disc of the Day prize going to outsider country-music savior Tyler Childers. Long may he sing.
TYLER RICH/Feels Like Home
Writers: Tyler Rich/Andrew DeRoberts/Jon Nite; Producer: Lindsay Rimes; Publisher: none listed; Valory
– Quite stirring and attractive. It’s like “Cheers” set to music with warmth, camaraderie and raise-a-glass good vibes. I’m in.
SAM HUNT/Hard To Forget
Writers: Josh Osborne/Shane McAnally/Ashley Gorley/Audrey Grisham/Luke Laird/Mary Jean Shurtz/Russ Hull/Sam Hunt; Producers: Luke Laird/Zach Crowell; Publisher: none listed; MCA Nashville
– Surprise! He sings it.
MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER/Secret Keepers
Writer: Mary Chapin Carpenter; Producer: Ethan Johns; Publisher: none listed; Lambent Light Records/Thirty Tigers
– Resonant and glowing, with her dark alto leading a lyric about the hidden emotional undertows that can haunt our interpersonal relationships. The rolling, country-rock tempo gives it a radio-ready sound. I have always loved this artist.
KANE BROWN ft. SWAE LEE & KHALID/Be Like That
Writers: Alexander “Eskeerdo” Izquierdo/Kane Brown/Khalid Robinson/Khalif Brown/Mike Will/Ryan Vojtesak; Producer: Charlie Handsome; Publisher: none listed; RCA Nashville
– It’s totally pop, but you have to admire its earworm catchiness. Seldom has a negative-girlfriend sentiment sounded so jaunty.
MIRANDA LAMBERT/Dark Bars
Writers: Liz Rose/Miranda Lambert; Producer: Jay Joyce; Publisher: Sony-ATV Tree/Pink Dog/Songs of Crazy Girl/Warner Tamerlane, BMI; Vanner Records/RCA Nashville
– If there was ever a doubt in your mind that she’s a country-music genius, this will erase it. A swirling meditation about embracing loneliness and facing honky-tonk truth. In a word, awesome.
ELIZABETH COOK/Perfect Girls of Pop
Writer: Elizabeth Cook; Producer: Butch Walker; Publisher: none listed; Agent Love Records/Thirty Tigers
– Disappointing. It’s a good song, but the double-tracked, overly-echoed vocal is distracting. I think the idea here is to take a shot at pop airplay, since it does have a retro ’80s, new-wave vibe. There is also a video for a track called “Bones” that is an even more overt bid for pop/rock acceptance
TIM McGRAW/Here On Earth
Writers: Chase McGill/Jessie Jo Dillon/Jon Nite; Producers: Tim McGraw/Byron Gallimore; Publisher: none listed; Big Machine Records
– Uplifting and inspirational. Music like this can bring people together. Love is the answer.
MANDY BARNETT/It’s Now or Never
Writers: Aaron Schroeder/Eduardo di Capua/Wally Gold; Producer: Fred Mollin; Publisher: Gladys/Kobalt/Aberbach/Raleigh/Universal, ASCAP/SIAE; Melody Place/BMG
– Mandy replaces Elvis’s florid, quasi-operatic reading of the 1960 song with something more sweet and intimate, while sacrificing none of her vocal power. A winner.
ROSS ELLIS/Love Blind
Writers: Allison Veltz Cruz/Ross Ellis/Zach Kale; Producer: Aaron Eshuis; Publisher: none listed; RCA Nashville
– It’s a heartfelt ballad wherein he prays that she will overlook his shortcomings and keep loving him. Quietly endearing.
TYLER CHILDERS/Country Squire
Writer: Tyler Childers; Producers: Sturgill Simpson/David Ferguson; Publisher: none listed; Hickman Holler Records/RCA Records
– The subject of the title is a 24-foot camper. He’s fixing it up to make a home for himself and his honey while a hillbilly band prances friskly behind him. As always, he’s a beacon of Real Country Music. The uptempo ditty has inspired Tyler’s first music video. It’s a cute-as-can-be, highly humorous animation.
Writer: Skip Ewing; Producers: Kyle Lehning/Skip Ewing; Publisher: Write On!, BMI; Write!
– This prodigiously gifted fellow had a flurry of big hits on MCA in the late 1980s. In the following decade he wrote huge songs for Collin Ray (“Love, Me”), Randy Travis (“If I Didn’t Have You”), Kenny Chesney (“You Had Me From Hello”), Diamond Rio (“I Believe”), Bryan White (“Someone Else’s Star”), Clint Black (“Something That We Do”) and more. In 2013, he turned his back on it all, sold his belongings and vanished from music. This is the title tune of his comeback CD, a lovely, tuneful, wistful recollection of wanderlust and lost love. The man can still cast a musical spell. Welcome home, son.
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