Sometimes your head has to overrule your heart.
My favorite tracks this week are by Hall of Fame members—Marty Stuart’s “Skip a Rope,” The Oaks’ “Swing Down Chariot” and Michael McDonald & Willie Nelson’s “Dreams of the San Joaquin.” I’d crown any one of them my Disc of the Day. But bowing to radio reality, I have to give the prize to Old Dominion and its outstanding song of summer.
There are a number of new faces in the column this week. I am most interested in Frank Ray, who earns the DisCovery Award.
VINCENT NEIL EMERSON / “Texas Moon”
Writers: Vincent Neil Emerson; Producer: Rodney Crowell; Label: La Honda/Thirty Tigers
— His folkie vocal is backed by an enchanting bluegrassy blend of rippling acoustic guitars, fiddle and banjo. The dandy song is about a wandering fellow who is headed home to the Lone Star State. Highly promising.
RAY SCOTT / “Cover the Earth”
Writers: Ray Scott; Producer: Ray Scott & Michael Hughes; Label: OneRPM
— I have always liked this guy. His dark, rich baritone is a voice to get lost in. This mid-tempo tune rolls along with hearty energy and charisma, punctuated with semi-spoken accents. A winner.
DAVID FERGUSON / “Knockin’ Around Nashville”
Writers: Pat McLaughlin; Producer: David Ferguson; Label: Fat Possum
— Super producer Fergie is best known for being behind the board for Cash, Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and more. Now he’s stepping out as an artist, himself, with this wistful, ultra-traditional, steel-soaked, slow ballad. Country, country, country.
MIRANDA LAMBERT / “They’ve Closed Down the Honky Tonks”
Writers: Miranda Lambert; Producer: Jon Randall; Label: Vanner Records/RCA Records Label Nashville
— Stark and acoustic, like the rest of The Marfa Tapes album. The simple setting throws a spotlight on her extraordinary, stone-country vocal powers. There are a zillion reasons why she is at the top of this format, and this performance is yet another.
FILMORE / “Who Cares”
Writers: Filmore/Zach Abend/Josh Kerr; Producer: Zach Abend; Label: Curb Records
— Bubbling joy. Full of delightful rhythm and jaunty attitude. This guy always impresses me with his sonic creativity.
MICHAEL McDONALD & WILLIE NELSON / “Dreams of the San Joaquin”
Writers: Randy Sharp/Jack Wesley Routh; Producer: none listed; Label: Stem/Chonin
— This single benefits the United Farm Workers. McDonald leads the way with a languid, haunting delivery of the contemplative ballad. Then he and Nelson begin entwining their golden voices with accompaniment by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and the effect is utterly magical.
FRANK RAY / “Streetlights”
Writers: Frank Ray/Bobby Hamrick/Frank Rogers; Producer: Frank Rogers; Label: BBR
— This Texan is a former police officer who mixes his Latino heritage with pop-country production. The bilingual track has bright bursts of brass amid nervous rhythmic beats. Intriguing. Send more.
OLD DOMINION / “I Was on a Boat That Day”
Writers: Shane McAnally/Brad Tursi/Geoff Sprung/Josh Osborne/Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Whit Sellers; Producer: Old Dominion/Shane McAnally; Label: Arista Nashville
— How timely. Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and here’s the official summer kick-off song. This sunny bopper is the sound of happiness.
LILY ROSE / “Remind Me of You”
Writers: Sam Hunt/Corey Crowder/Ryan Vojtesak/Ernest Keith Smith; Producer: Matt Morrisey/Joey Moi; Label: Big Loud/Back Blocks/Republic
— Decidedly on the pop side of pop-country, but a listening delight. Catchy, sweet, warm and winning while delving in relationship regret.
MARTY STUART / “Skip a Rope”
Writers: Glenn Douglas Tubb/Jack Moran; Producer: Marty Stuart; Label: MS
— One of the all-time cool country social-message songs is dusted off by this new Country Music Hall of Famer. The song was a huge hit for Henson Cargill in 1968. Co-writer Tubb passed away this week, and this is a more than fitting elegy.
TIGIRLILY / “My Thang”
Writers: Kendra Slaubaugh/Krista Slaubaugh/Walker Hayes; Producer: Shane McAnally/Louis Newman; Label: Monument
— This sister duo harmonizes perfectly. The choppy, bouncy track is packed with pop energy.
THE OAK RIDGE BOYS / “Swing Down Chariot”
Writers: Marty Matthews; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: Lightning Rod/Thirty Tigers
— If you aren’t tapping your toes by the time this concludes, check your pulse. This scratches that old-time gospel itch, big time. Loved every note.