New talent ruled this listening session.
Despite the presence of big names Kenny Chesney, Jordan Davis, Ashley Monroe and Luke Combs, the lesser-known artists had the records to beat—Jaden Hamilton, Tenille Arts, Drew Green and Dillon Carmichael, for starters.
One of the baby acts completely pinned my ears back. Lainey Wilson has a tough road ahead, since she is a woman and since she writes songs that actually say something. Both of which country radio abhors. But she is unquestionably the finest new talent here, and her album deserves to be on the short list of the Best of the Year. She triumphs as our DisCovery Award winner.
Niko Moon is a “comer,” too. He’s already had one big hit. I definitely hear another in his Disc of the Day winner, “No Sad Songs.”
TENILLE ARTS / “Give It To Me Straight”
Writers: Tenille Arts/Dave Pittenger/Allison Veltz Cruz; Producer: Dave Pittenger; Label: 19th + Grand Records
— Extremely well written. Getting a kiss-off burns like whiskey from the bottle. She sings it with finesse, and the production is a shuddering crunch of sympathetic heartbreak. I remain a fan.
KENNY CHESNEY / “Knowing You”
Writers: Brett James/Adam James/Kat Higgins; Producers: Buddy Cannon/Kenny Chesney; Label: Blue Chair Records/Warner Music Nashville
— It’s a country waltz! I love that. Cushioned by an airy, open production, Chesney sings wistfully of a love lost with the fondest of memories. It’s like being gently held in a comfy blanket while the porch swing sways.
JADEN HAMILTON / “Bad Spot”
Writer: Casey Beathard; Producer: Matthew McVaney; Label: Sony Music Nashville
— It’s an apology to someone he did wrong when he was going through a rough patch. His voice has enormous warmth and believability, and the echoey production is perfect. Hamilton is evidently a big TikTok sensation, and I can certainly hear why. This performance was so strong that it made me listen to his entire EP.
ASHLEY MONROE / “Drive”
Writers: Ashley Monroe/Niko Moon/Mikey Reaves; Producers: Ashley Monroe/Niko Moon/Mikey Reaves; Label: Mountainrose Sparrow/Thirty Tigers
— This one’s a head scratcher. It’s kinda mysterioso sounding, with a twang guitar popping out of a swirling audio atmosphere. Her near-whispered delivery is at the top of her soprano range. With all the twinkling, synthesized swoons and delicate, ear-catching pips going on, it’s a mite difficult to grasp the lyric.
JORDAN DAVIS / “Almost Maybes”
Writers: Hillary Lindsey/Jesse Frasure/Jordan Davis; Producer: Paul DiGiovanni; Label: MCA Nashville
— Bopping and catchy as the dickens. “I wouldn’t be sitting here next to you, if it wasn’t for the ‘almost maybes,’” he sings as he recalls all the past relationships that led him to her. The bearded one strikes again.
LAINEY WILSON / “Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’”
Writers: Lainey Wilson/Jay Knowles; Producer: Jay Joyce; Label: Broken Bow Records
— This woman totally grabbed my attention when she sang this on the Opry last weekend. I think we’re in the presence of a major talent, here. Her hillbilly-accented singing is pristine and sprinkled with stardust. The song about honesty and heartbreak is extraordinary. The wooshing, shuffling, wafting production beats with heartbeat rhythm. It is the title tune of her debut album; be sure and check out the set’s terrific single “Things a Man Oughta Know,” which she also performed on the Opry. Which reminds me, if you’re not tuning in to these weekly Circle TV streams, you are missing one of the great country-music showcases.
LUKE COMBS / “Forever After All”
Writers: Luke Combs/Drew Parker/Robert Williford; Producers: Chip Matthews/Jonathan Singleton/Luke Combs; Label: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville
— Have I mentioned how grateful I am for having this man in country music? In a world of “pop country” bullshit, he screams authenticity. This slab of romantic joy is yet another reason to love him.
DREW GREEN/ “She Got That”
Writers: Arkady Gelman/Drew Green/Jonathan Ross/Lee Starr; Producers: Mark Trussell/Alyssa Vanderheym; Label: Villa 40
— It’s a fusion of pop production, hip-hop beats and a country vocal that goes down easy. He exudes personality and friendliness.
KYLIE MORGAN / “Shoulda”
Writers: Kylie Morgan/Shane McAnally/Ben Johnson; Producers: Shane McAnally/Ben Johnson; Label: EMI Nashville/SMACKSongs
— Get up and dance. Or at least bob your head while this rocks, rocks, rocks. And rocks some more. Frankly, it wore me out.
CHARLEY CROCKETT / “Lesson in Depression”
Writers: Deborah J Perry/James Edward Hand Jr; Producers: Billy Horton; Label: Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers
— Do your ears feel the need for a country-music cleansing? Wash away all the Nashville pop pretensions with this slab of steel-and-twang Texas country music. Singer-songwriter James Hand died unexpectedly last year, and this is Crockett’s salute to his fallen pal. He currently has a big Americana hit with a remake of Billy Swan’s “I Can Help.”
NIKO MOON / “No Sad Songs”
Writers: Niko Moon/Anna Moon/Joshua Murty/Steven Lee Olsen/Alyssa Vanderhym; Producers: Niko Moon/Joshua Murty; Label: RCA Records Nashville
— Very cool. The creative, stuttering production is wonderfully charming. The cheery barroom song is about simply wishing for a buzz, a chill, a dance, a groove and a good-time tune. The name dropping of “Wagon Wheel,” “Chicken Fried,” “Sweet Caroline” and “Sweet Home Alabama” is a bonus. Moon’s jaunty delivery makes you want to party along. This sounds suspiciously like a No. 1 record.
DILLON CARMICHAEL / “Sawin’ Logs”
Writers: Brice Long/Wynn Varble/Brandon Kenny; Producers: Jon Pardi/Chris LaCorte; Label: Riser House Records
— I laughed out loud: “I’ve got wood, and she’s sawin’ logs.” A night of romance, thwarted. Especially since he’s bought “a box of fancy wine.”