The pickin’s are slim today.
There are only five essential listening experiences here. They belong to Marty Stuart, Breland & Mickey Guyton, Mo Pitney and the Lee Ann Womack collaboration with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Plus our Disc of the Day winner, Kelsea Ballerini with an assist from Kenny Chesney.
Morgan Wade, who has been opening shows for her equally tattooed sister Ashley McBryde, wins the DISCovery Award.
FILMORE / “Good Thing”
Writers: Filmore/Geoff Warburton/Zach Abend; Producer: Zach Abend; Label: Curb
—The relationship is kaput, but the fond memories linger. He sings it with sweet regret, and the shuffling, kinda nervous track is cool. The repetitive chorus is sung a few too many times.
KELSEA BALLERINI & KENNY CHESNEY / “Half of My Hometown”
Writers: Kelsea Ballerini/Jimmy Robbins/Nicolle Galyon/Ross Copperman/Shane McAnally; Producer: Kelsea Ballerini/Jimmy Robbins/Ross Copperman; Label: Black River
—Wonderfully evocative. Musing about your roots. Whether you get away or stay put, your heart always belongs to the place where you were raised. Chesney provides a subtly shaded, perfectly nuanced harmony vocal.
STEPHEN FLATT / “Hold You Tonight”
Writers: Stephen Flatt; Producer: Dave Roe/Stephen Flatt; Label: SF
—It’s a breezy country rocker about a trucker headed for home. The ride is smooth and easy. The singer is the great-nephew of Country Music Hall of Fame bluegrass legend Lester Flatt.
LORETTA LYNN & MARGO PRICE / “One’s on the Way”
Writer: Shel Silverstein; Producers: Patsy Lynn Russell/John Carter Cash; Label: Legacy
—Well, nothing is ever going to match Loretta’s original 1972 performance of this gem. But this has plenty of verve and goodwill going for it. Margo is very much a disciple, and her affectionate warmth shines through.
GARY LeVOX / “The Distance”
Writers: Gary LeVox/Josh Hoge/Matt McVaney; Producers: Gary LeVox/Matthew McVaney; Label: Big Machine
—Gary’s debut solo single is a big-production, Christian pop outing. It’s about leaning on faith when times are hard. His searing tenor retains its impressive range.
BRELAND & MICKEY GUYTON / “Cross Country”
Writers: Breland/Sam Sumser/Sean Small/Will Gittens; Producers: Sam Sumser/Sean Small; Label: Bad Realm/Atlantic
—This is simply lovely. An airy, lilting track with both vocalists turning in extraordinarily affecting performances. The gentle tune celebrates a journey, a quest to find one’s identity, and it hits home beautifully. Previously issued as a superb Breland solo track, this duet version is just as terrific.
LATHAN WARLICK & TYLER HUBBARD / “My Way”
Writers: Lathan Warlick/RaeLynn/Tyler Hubbard/Blake Hubbard/Jarrod Ingram; Producer: The720; Label: RECORDS/Columbia
—Warlick raps. FGL’s Hubbard sings and raps. The hip-hop track is stuffed with acoustic samples. It sounds too spare for the r&b crowd and too rap for the country audience.
MORGAN WADE / “Don’t Cry”
Writers: Morgan Wade/Paul Ebersold; Producer: Sadler Vaden/Paul Ebersold; Label: Orchard/Ladylike
—Confessional and soul baring. She has a hushed, intimate delivery, and the overall vibe is kinda like ‘70s singer-songwriter-troubadour. Promising.
MARTY STUART / “Ready for the Times to Get Better”
Writer: Allen Reynolds; Producer: none listed; Label: MS
—If I didn’t know this was a 1978 Crystal Gayle oldie, I’d swear this lyric was written specifically for our seemingly endless pandemic times. New Country Music Hall of Fame member Stuart strips things down to a moody, guitar-vocal track and dips down into his lower baritone to create charismatic audio magic. Compelling and mesmerizing.
CHARLES N. GALLASPY JR. / “Fried Bologna Sandwich”
Writers: Charles N. Gallaspy, Jr.; Producer: none listed; Label: CNGJ
—Don’t give up your day job.
MO PITNEY / “Local Honey”
Writers: Adam Wood/Mo Pitney/Wil Nance; Producer: Jim “Moose” Brown; Label: Curb
—I love the loose-limbed, funky track with all the rhythm in the trunk. Pitney’s on-the-money vocal brings out the tune’s good-time vibe perfectly. Rollicking and a boatload of fun. Get buzzy with this.
THE FISK JUBILEE SINGERS & LEE ANN WOMACK / “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right”
Writer: Blind Willie Johnson; Producers: Shannon Sanders/Jim Ed Norman/Mike Curb/Paul T. Kwami; Label: Curb
—The disc celebrating the 150th anniversary of Nashville’s original superstars has won the Jubilee Singers their first Grammy Award. Collaborations abound on it — Jimmy Hall, Keb Mo, CeCe Winans, Rodney Atkins, The Fairfield Four, Ruby Amanfu and more make appearances. A wailing Womack fronts the ensemble on this rousing foot stomper drenched in bluesy gospel atmosphere. Soulful in the extreme. Clap hands and believe.