We have a historic DisClaimer column today—for the first time, five of our spotlight sounds are by African-American country up-and-comer’s.
Mind you, not all of them have a deep understanding of what “country” is, exactly. But if you’re into hick-hop fusion styles, we have you covered.
Of these five, two of them have authentic approaches, Aaron Vance and our DisCovery Award winner, Charley Crockett.
Scattered among these folks are a bevy of country heavyweights. Old Dominion, Maren Morris, Willie Nelson, FGL and Kip Moore are all on hand.
The Disc of the Day prize is shared by two extraordinary rocking tracks. New Country Music Hall of Fame honoree Marty Stuart rides high with “I’ve Been Around” and future Hall of Famer Blake Shelton is right there with him singing “Minimum Wage.”
CHARLEY CROCKETT / “I Can Help”
Writers: Billy Swan; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Bruce Robison; Label: The Next Waltz
– This Texan takes the 1974 Billy Swan country-pop classic out for a leisurely drive. The laid-back folkie groove with a tinge of New Orleans R&B backbeat is a relaxing ride. The track is making inroads on both country and Americana playlists, and deserves to.
BLAKE SHELTON / “Minimum Wage”
Writers: Nicolle Galyon/Corey Crowder/Jesse Frasure; Publishers: Warner Chappell Music; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Label: Warner Music Nashville
– It’s a sentiment as old as country music, itself—being rich in love is better than having material goods. This time, the lyrics are spitfire sharp, the vocal delivery has edgy passion and the track totally rawks. A smash.
TIERA / “Found It In You”
Writers: Cameron Bedell/Tiera Leftwich; Publishers: Songs & Daughters; Producer: Cameron Bedell; Label: Tiera
– This Birmingham native has been signed by Nicolle Galyon’s female-driven publishing company and hosts her own daily show on Apple Music Country that focuses on up-and-coming artists. Tiera describes her sound as “R&B country.” This languid, acoustic piano ballad swoons in jazzy romance.
KIP MOORE / “How High”
Writers: Kip Moore/Bobby Terry/Luke Dick/Westin Davis; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Luke Dick; Label: MCA Nashville
– Thumping and rocking, with a doomy, deep-twang melodic bed under Moore’s raspy, fiery vocal. Super hooky. Essential.
AARON VANCE / “Cabin Fever”
Writers: Aaron Vance/Rich Karg; Publishers: Rich Karg, ASCAP; Producer: Aaron Vance/Rich Karg; Label: Windy Holler
– Very funky and twangy. He’s a really cool, traditional-leaning hillbilly vocalist, but equally important is the groove-soaked track with its catchy, boing-boing guitar effects. I dig this guy’s distinctive, creative, off-the-wall approach. Play it again.
FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE / “Life Rolls On”
Writers: Ben Burgess/Alysa Vanderheym/Emily Weisband; Publishers: Warner Chappell Music; Producer: FGL & Corey Crowder; Label: Big Machine
– The title tune of the duo’s upcoming fifth album has a steady-state, somewhat monotonous sound with not much of a melody. Blandly listenable.
WILLIE JONES / “American Dream”
Writers: Willie Jones/Josh Logan/Jason Afable; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jason Afable; Label: The Penthouse / EMPIRE
– Dark and very compelling, if not exactly down-home rootsy. This is an ear-opening hick-hop country fusion sound with a pointed political message about what it means to be Black in America. Jones is partnering with the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville to solicit fan statements on the topic. He performed at the museum’s virtual, grand-opening celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
WILLIE NELSON / “That’s Life”
Writers: Dean Kay/Kelly Gordon; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Buddy Cannon/Matt Rollings; Label: Legacy
– The title tune of Willie’s Frank Sinatra tribute album is one of the coolest songs in the Sinatra catalog. The country legend’s take on Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 1966 hit is a woozy, bluesy delight.
SEE YOUR SHADOW / “I Know My Worth”
Writers: Michael Coleman/Shukur Haynes; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Michael Coleman; Label: See Your Shadow
– This is a multi-racial, female quintet fronted by a hick-hop stylist. Driven by a bopping banjo, the song is a female-empowerment anthem with hooks a-plenty. Girl power with a groove that doesn’t quit.
J.P. SAXE & MAREN MORRIS / “Line By Line”
Writers: Jimmy Robbins/JP Saxe/Maren Morris/Ryan Marrone; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Ryan Marrone; Label: Arista
– Enchantingly pretty pop. Is this woman ever going to release a country record again?
CAITLYN SMITH & OLD DOMINION / “I Can’t”
Writers: Ben West/Caitlyn Smith/Steven Wilson Jr.; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Christian “Leggy” Langdon/Shane McAnally; Label: Monument
– Lustrously produced with gobs of echoey audio atmosphere surrounding stellar vocal work. Radio ready.
MARTY STUART / “I’ve Been Around”
Writers: Johnny Cash/Marty Stuart; Publishers: none listed; Producer: John Carter Cash; Label: Legacy
– Sensational. I completely love this record. Stuart channels the slap-back rockabilly vibe of the Man in Black, giving it a snappy, contemporary edge. Cash’s lyric is a dandy. It’s shocking that he never recorded this, himself.