There’s two-word headline for this week’s edition of DisClaimer.
Our survey of new country sounds is topped by our hands-down Disc of the Day winner, whose two words are Chris and Stapleton.
The listening session was festooned with new faces. Staging their column debuts were Triston Marez, Alexander Ludwig, Elvie Shane, Norman North and our DisCovery Award winner, Drew Parker.
CHASE BRYANT / “Upbringing”
Writers: Chase Bryant/Stephen Wilson Jr.; Producer: Chase Bryant/Jon Randall; Label: Green Iris
— The track churns and burns with a frothing, rocking energy while his urgent tenor vocal soars above. Excitement rules in this excellent production.
TRACE ADKINS / “Heartbreak Song”
Writers: Greg Crowe/Johnny Garcia/Adam Wood; Producer: Mickey Jack Cones/Derek George; Label: Verge Records
— This icon doesn’t know how to be anything but charismatic. This rolling, midtempo tune decries happy-happy, feel-good country songs and points out that sometimes ya just gotta have heartache in your audio diet. Recommended.
WALKER COUNTY / “Bits & Pieces”
Writers: Benjamin Mathis/busbee/Jon Bellion; Producer: David Garcia; Label: Warner Music Nashville
— Their scampering vocals are a delight. I love how the pinpoint, twin-like harmonies stay perfectly in place no matter how rapid-fire the delivery becomes. The song has a cool, femme attitude, too. I definitely look forward to hearing this on the radio and to hearing more from this talented duo.
CHRIS STAPLETON / “You Should Probably Leave”
Writers: Chris Stapleton/Ashley Gorley/Chris DuBois; Producer: Chris Stapleton/Dave Cobb; Label: Mercury Nashville
— The sensuous soul groove is super compelling, with laid-back guitar, funky organ and deep-blue rhythm section. It goes without saying that his vocal is stunning on this steamy ode to magnetic sexual attraction. He’s a mighty, mighty man.
ELVIE SHANE / “My Boy”
Writers: Elvie Shane/Lee Starr/Nick Columbia/Russell Sutton; Producer: Oscar Charles; Label: Wheelhouse Records
— Like all great country music, this song is nothing but emotional truth. He feels love and fatherhood for a boy who comes into his life as a stepson. Written with insight. Sung with depth. Millions will relate to this.
ALEXANDER LUDWIG / “Let Me Be Your Whiskey”
Writers: Alexander Ludwig/Mike Dulaney; Producer: Kurt Allison/Tully Kennedy; Label: BBR Music Group/BMG
— He’s the Hollywood star of Hunger Games, Vikings, Lone Survivor, Bad Boys for Life and more. But don’t hold that against him. He’s also a Real Deal country artist, as this nicely done romantic ballad demonstrates.
TRISTON MAREZ & RONNIE DUNN / “Where the Neon Lies”
Writers: Chris Duboise/Lynn Hutton/Triston Marez; Producer: David Dorn/Alex Torrez; Label: Torrez Music Group
— Triston has a smooth, solidly country delivery that’s beautifully complemented by Ronnie’s spine-tingling honky-tonk vocal burn. The twang guitars and echoey backdrop add to the single’s undeniable oomph. By all means, play it. This youngster been paying his dues in Texas and on Lower Broadway long enough and deserves his time in the spotlight.
NORMAN NORTH / “Plain Jane”
Writers: Norman North; Producer: Norman North/Lex Lipsitz; Label: Venice
— His pleading tenor is country and the backing track is hip-hop. A fascinating fusion by another Black entrant into the format.
GARY LeVOX & MERCYME / “A Little Love”
Writers: Bart Millard/Jordan Mohilowski/Ethan Hulse/Jess Cates; Producer: Jordan Mohilowski/Tedd T./Brown Bannister; Label: Big Machine Records
— The Rascal Flatts front man is issuing his debut CCM collection, One on One. Its single is a collaboration with Christian stars MercyMe and is infused with that group’s pop sensibilities. The mood here is sunny, positive and uplifting.
DREW PARKER / “While You’re Gone”
Writers: Drew Parker/Jameson Rodgers; Producer: Phil O’Donnell; Label: Warner Music Nashville
— I dig this guy. He has a powerful singing voice, and the production is epic. The song finds him sitting and drinking, knowing that she’s gone and wondering if she’s ever coming back. I’m thinking she’s history, pal, so drink up and go home. Heartache on the hoof.
TEXAS HILL / “Neon Heart”
Writers: James LeBlanc/Ryan Beaver/Mike Walker; Producer: Texas Hill; Label: Queue
— This new trio is comprised of former TV-competition stars Craig Wayne Boyd (The Voice), Casey James (American Idol) and Adam Wakefield (The Voice). They harmonize effectively on the choruses. The thin, unimaginative pop production lets them down.
SHANNON McNALLY & RODNEY CROWELL / “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”
Writers: Rodney Crowell; Producer: nShannon McNally; Label: Compass Records
— Shannon’s album is called The Waylon Sessions. Her drawling alto slips just behind the relentless beat to find a groovy pocket on this revival of a 1980 classic. The song’s Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame writer jumps in for a personality-packed third verse. The track kicks butt. She also has videos of “Black Rose” and “I’ve Always Been Crazy.” This gal has the goods.