Radio seems bent on trying to make you believe that all country music sounds the same, but today’s listening session is abundant proof that it does not.
We have tremendous diversity on display here. Two of the best sounding discs come from from Black Nashville singer-songwriters Shy Carter and Brittney Spencer. The Mavericks are here singing in Spanish. Lacy J. Dalton is political. Shelby Lee Lowe is a traditionalist.
Four songs name-check country heroes Waylon Jennings, John Wayne, Dolly Parton and, most excellently, the late coronavirus victim John Prine.
We also have a transition from rap to country with the imaginative Billy Ray Cyrus reworking of “Mama Said Knock You Out.” It is our Disc of the Day.
The DisCovery Award goes to Columbia newcomer Kameron Marlowe.
CHARLIE OVERBY/”Ode to John Prine”
Writer: Charlie Overby; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Tedd Hutt; Label: CO
– This country rocker is a COVID song. Amid a rolling rhythm, Overby sings, “The higher-ups say it ain’t so/But I can read between the lines…..Take me to another place, take me to another time/Tell me that we’re going out tonight to see John Prine.” The video features shots of Prine murals in Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, Seattle, Austin and Chicago and images of shuttered nightclubs. Proceeds from the song will benefit the NIVA Association’s Save Our Stages program.
ALEX STERN/”John Wayne”
Writers: Alex Stern/Reed Pittman/Brian Donkers; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Phil Barnes; Label: AS
– She sings this rumbler strongly, with lots of emotion and authenticity. The lyric is about a woman who acts like an outlaw and a hero, but realizes she’s vulnerable and only playing a part.
SCOOTER BROWN BAND/”Something Waylon Would Sing”
Writers: Rick Huckaby, Scott E. Brown; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Zach Farnum, Scooter Brown; Label: SBB
– It starts out semi-spoken, with a steel guitar weeping in the background. Then that familiar Waylors beat kicks in and the thumper production adds chicken-pickin’ Telecaster guitar and the audio pleasure meter goes up to “10.” Well done.
TORI MARTIN/”What Would Dolly Do “
Writers: Tori Martin/John Cirillo/Sarah Spencer; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Bill Warner; Label: LuckySky
– This bright, bouncy bopper is about following your dreams, no matter what anyone says. As she is to so many, Dolly is Tori’s empowering inspiration.
THOMAS RHETT/”What’s Your Country Song”
Writers: Thomas Rhett/Rhett Akins/Jesse Frasure/Ashley Gorley/Parker Welling; Publishers: Sony-ATV/Warner-Chappell, no performance rights listed; Producer: Dann Huff, Jesse Frasure; Label: Valory
– The lyrics string together the titles of country classics to create an anthem with an uplifting mood. The production is rather compressed and busy sounding. Some audio clarity would have made it more effective.
BILLY RAY CYRUS/”Mama Said Knock You Out”
Writers: Bootsy Collins, George Clinton Jr., Gregory E Jacobs, James Louis McCants, James Todd Smith, Leroy Mccants, Marlon Lu’Ree Williams, Sylvester Stewart, Walter B. Morrison, Jr.; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jaco Caraco, Tyler Hilton; Label: BBR
– It has a spooky, minor-key vibe with a ghostly banjo and a deep, dark bass line. Billy Ray’s quasi-hushed delivery makes it all the more ear catching. The original by LL Cool J in 1991 was aggressive and shouted. This totally re-imagines that million-selling rap classic.
KAMERON MARLOWE/”Giving You Up”
Writers: Kameron Marlowe; Publishers: none listed; Producers: Brad Hill; Label: Columbia
– He’s given up cigarettes and whiskey. Now he’s doing the same with a destructive relationship. Marlowe sings with a slight rasp and plenty of soul in this pulse-quickening, urgent production. Super promising.
LACY J. DALTON/”I Can’t Breathe”
Writers: Lacy J. Dalton/Jimmy Jackson; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jimmy Jackson; Label: LJD
– A steady undertow of a percussion and electric guitar creates a dramatic backdrop to Lacy’s heartfelt song for the Black Lives Matter movement. It manages to be both patriotic and progressive. Proceeds benefit the Equal Justice Initiative, which the singer learned about as a teacher in the California Prison System.
SHY CARTER/”Good Love”
Writers: Shy Carter, James Slater, Micah Carter, Carlo Colasacco; Publishers: none listed; Producers: David Garcia; Label: Warner
– This is so sweet and tender and hopeful. The sentiments about lifting each other up when times are tough couldn’t be better. It sounded so uplifting I wanted to hug him.
SHELBY LEE LOWE/”Could’ve Fooled Me”
Writers: Shelby Lee Lowe/David Ross/Andrew Scott Wills; Publishers: Green Hills/Draw Four/Taxaby, BMI; Producers: Andrew Scott Wills; Label: ONErpm
– Lowe sounds like a traditionalist with his sincere honky-tonk baritone surrounded by steel guitar and slow, two-step rhythm. The heartache lyric about finding a girl getting over a romance is straight-up country, too. I like him.
THE MAVERICKS/”Poder Vivir”
Writers: Alejandro Menendez/Raul Malo; Publisher: Wixen, no performance rights listed; Producer: Raul Malo & Niko Bolas; Label: Mono Mundo/ Thirty Tigers
– The Mavericks current album, En Espanol, is the group’s first Spanish-language project. This lovely, melodic and wildly catchy single has a charming, chugging beat and lilting squeezebox/Mariachi horns/guitar accompaniment. Malo sings his face off, as always. Even if you don’t understand a word of this Tex-Mex gem, you’ll swoon over the sound.
BRITTNEY SPENCER/”Sorrys Don’t Work No More”
Writers: Brittney Spencer, Brock Human, Connor Wheaton; Publisher: none listed; Producer: Kevin Dailey, Will Reagan; Label: Merlin
– Soft, sad and wistful, this mourns the end of a relationship in the loveliest way. When Maren Morris gave a shout-out to country women of color on the CMA Awards, I was with her all the way through Rissi Palmer, Mickey Guyton, Linda Martell, Yola and Rhiannon Giddens. Until she got to Brittney Spencer, at which point I went, “Who?” It turns out that Spencer is originally from Baltimore, has sung backup for Carrie Underwood and enrolled at MTSU. Oh, and she sings splendidly. Check her out.
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