As we begin 2021, we look at a landscape of rubble.
Music is a healing force, so let the healing begin. You can’t go wrong with Dolly, especially when she’s singing with Barry Gibb. Hailey Whitters is here with a good-time collaboration with LBT. Both the legendary John Fogerty and newcomer Mitchell Tenpenny are offering especially poignant songs for our troubled time.
But the Disc of the Day, and perhaps one of the most important country-music songs of our era, is “Undivided” by Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard. Be ready to blast this to listeners everywhere when it drops next week.
Our DisCovery Award goes to Helene Cronin, yet another example of how women are making some of our best music.
TRUNDLED / “High Water”
Writers: Ellen Braun/Joe Shea; Publishers: Trundled, SOCAN/ASCAP; Producer: D. Ledwell; Label: Indie Pool
– Echoey and dreamy. The gentle, atmospheric ballad wafts and caresses as singer-songwriter Ellen Braun delivers in a soft, comforting soprano. This is the title tune of a set of 10 Canadian gems by an ace band that has all the Americana bases covered.
MITCHELL TENPENNY / “Bucket List”
Writers: Mitchell Tenpenny/Chris DeStefano/Laura Veltz; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Jordan M. Schmidt; Label: Riser House/Columbia
– A lovely sentiment. It’s about living life to the fullest while we’re here, and he sings it with tender sincerity. The production ebbs and swells as he loses himself in the song. Well worth your spins.
JOHN FOGERTY / “Weeping in the Promised Land”
Writers: John Fogerty; Publishers: none listed; Producer: John Fogerty/Julie Fogerty; Label: BMG
– This Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer has touched the pulse of the nation so many times in his career. Now he takes us to church with this stirring anthem that offers a balm for these troubled times of pandemic and social injustice. Say, “Amen.”
JON PARDI / “Tequila Little Time”
Writers: Jon Pardi/Rhett Akins/Luke Laird; Publishers: Sony-ATV Countryside/Cowboy and Gus/Happy Song Factory/Ritten By Rhettro/Warner-Tamerlane/Sony-ATV Story/We Are Creative Nation/Suzanne James, BMI/GMR; Producer: Jon Pardi/Bart Butler/Ryan Gore; Label: Capitol Nashville
– It seems like I reviewed this a couple of years ago, but here it comes again. I still think it’s utterly charming. The Mariachi horns, squeezebox and rhythms create a romantic beach vibe that goes down easy.
CARVIN WALLS / “Hippie”
Writers: Kelly Carvin Walls, Drew Green, Kyle Coulahan, Quinn Loggins; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Ryan Rossebo; Label: Carvin Walls
– A hillbilly boy falls in love with a hippie in this lively bopper. Troy Walls takes the lead with partner Kelly Carvin ad-libbing, harmonizing and adding sprightly energy. This will take you back to summertime.
BARRY GIBB & DOLLY PARTON / “Words”
Writers: Barry Gibb/Maurice Gibb/Robin Gibb; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: Capitol
– The legendary Bee Gees genius teams up with Alison Krauss, Little Big Town, Jason Isbell, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Sheryl Crow, Olivia Newton John and more on his Nashville-recorded Greenfields CD (which drops tomorrow, Jan. 8). This gorgeous, timeless 1968 ballad finds full expression as Dolly trills the lead and Barry offers pinpoint harmony plus a taste of his inimitable, quavering solo voice on a brief lead vocal at the close. Two awesome talents at work.
PAUL BOGART / “I’m Just Sayin’”
Writers: Trent Willmon/Jenee Fleenor/Buddy Owens; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Trent Willmon; Label: 117 Music
– It’s a likeable string of pick-up lines with a jaunty country production. Warm and welcoming. The album is titled Won’t Have Far to Go. In addition to six Bogart originals, it features cool covers of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” This cowboy has the Strait goods.
TIM McGRAW & TYLER HUBBARD / “Undivided”
Writers: Tyler Hubbard/Chris Loocke; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Corey Crowder/Tyler Hubbard/ Tim McGraw/Byron Gallimore; Label: BMLG
– It is wonderfully catchy. More important, it’s a call for unity….and, boy, do we need that now. “We’ve been hateful long enough,” they sing, adding that it’s time for love and brotherhood. Well done, men.
HELENE CRONIN / “Riding the Gray Line”
Writers: Helene Cronin/Davis Corley; Publishers: Smoke and Honeysuckle/Brower Avenue, SESAC/ASCAP; Producer: Matt King; Label: HC (track)
– I was captivated by her resonant alto from the first notes. The vivid word portrait of a long-distance bus ride is underpinned by deep, heartbeat bass and a sighing steel. A supremely lustrous ballad experience, and a new troubadour to keep your ears on.
HAILEY WHITTERS & LITTLE BIG TOWN / “Fillin’ My Cup”
Writers: Hailey Whitters/Nicolle Galyon/Hillary Lindsey; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Hailey Whitters/Jake Gear; Label: Pigasus/Big Loud/Songs & Daughters
– Are you hip to Hailey Whitters yet? If not, get with the program, because this is a Class A singer-songwriter. On this sprightly outing, she’s going for the gold with LBT harmonizing lustily along for the romping ride. Ridiculously hooky and packed solid with good-time vibes.
KENT BLAZY & STEVE WARINER / “Scotty Moore”
Writers: Kent Blazy/Steve Wariner; Publishers: none listed; Producer: Chris Utley; Label: KB (track)
– It’s an Elvis tribute song embellished with Scotty Moore-style guitar licks. Blazy does the singing, but every instrumental sound you hear on the record was recorded by Wariner. A toe tapper, for sure.