Nashville artists dominate this overview of current Americana recordings.
Admittedly, I’m mixing in some pop with this column, notably by durable Music City rocker Tommy Womack and new popster Olivia Evans. But there’s no denying the Americana bona fides of our own singer-songwriters Erin Enderlin, Gary Burr and Kent Blazy.
Nor those of our Disc of the Day winner, Keb’ Mo’, whose new album I eagerly await. The DISCovery Award goes to the majestic young alt-country vocalist, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, also a Nashvillian.
They’re all competing in a worthy field that also includes Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Single Girl Married Girl and Nathan Bell.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS / “Survivor”
Writers: Nathaniel Rateliff/Sam Cohen/Patrick Meese; Producer: Brad Cook, RMB & Elijah Thompson; Label: Stax
–I was initially put off by this. The choppy tempo and oddball melody just didn’t seem to work with the horn blasts and riffs. But the more I listened, the more it grew on me. The stop-and-go vibe actually becomes quite addictive. As always, Rateliff puts his whole soul into the lead vocal.
OLIVIA EVANS / “Leave It Behind”
Writers: Nash Overstreet/Olivia Schelske/Shane Stevens; Producer: none listed; Label: Interstreet/Middle Gypsy
–Olivia is the daughter of country star Sara Evans, but the sound on her debut EP Level is pop all the way. Her vocal on this sweet-sad heartbreak ballad is a folkie soprano layered with enchanting stacked harmonies. Elsewhere on the CD, you’ll find thumpy rhythm tunes, R&B balladry and hip-hoppy tuneful bangers. Extremely promising.
KEB’ MO’ / “Lean On Me”
Writers: Bill Withers; Producer: Keb’ Mo’, Vince Gill & Tom Hambridge; Label: Rounder
–Nashville’s leading bluesman pays tribute to his buddy Bill Withers, whom we lost last year. Keb’ Mo’ takes this familiar refrain at a gentle, steady pace with a nicely shaded vocal embrace embellished by lovely gospel-quartet harmonies. It is drawn from his forthcoming (Jan. 21) album Good To Be, which will feature collaborations with Darius Rucker (”Good Strong Woman,” the set’s first video), Old Crow Medicine Show (”The Medicine Man”) and Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth (”Quiet Moments”). Meanwhile, he has landed on Toby Keith’s new album with his song “Old Me Better.”
ERIN ENDERLIN / “If I’m Not In Hell”
Writers: Erin Enderlin/Kimberly Kelly/Kayla Ray; Producer: Erin Enderlin; Label: Black Crow
–As a songwriter, Enderlin has cuts by Alan Jackson (”Monday Morning Church”), Reba, Bill Anderson, Terri Clark, Lee Ann Womack (”Last Call”), Randy Travis, Rodney Crowell, Rhonda Vincent, Luke Bryan (”You Don’t Know Jack”) and more. As a record maker, she specializes in deeply etched portraits of honky-tonk pain. This hard-country ballad is super cool, telling the tale of a grieving woman who drinks away the pain while her life falls apart around her. What a line: “If I’m not in Hell, I’m headed that way.”
TOMMY WOMACK / “Pay It Forward”
Writers: Tommy Womack; Producer: Tommy Womack & Jonathan Bright; Label: Schoolkids
–Longtime Nashville rock hero Tommy Womack turns up the heat on his new CD I Thought I Was Fine. The set kicks off with this deep-twang, frothing track with Tommy’s droll, dry vocal contrasting with the driving tempo. I have loved him since his days in Government Cheese and The Bis-Quits in the ’90s. He’s survived cancer and a car crash and is still rocking splendidly, I am pleased to report. Buy this record.
CALEB LEE HUTCHINSON / “Slot Machine Syndrome”
Writers: Caleb Lee Hutchinson/Brent Cobb; Producer: Brent Cobb; Label: CLH
–This young Nashville singer-songwriter displays his wondrously deep, warm, country baritone on this swampy, twangy, melancholy honky-tonk ballad. It’s guaranteed to hook you and is the title tune of his new EP, which I heartily recommend.
GARY BURR / “Shout a Little Louder”
Writers: Gary Burr; Producer: Gary Burr; Label: GB
–Gary’s pal Ringo Starr plays drums on this track, but the real reason to listen is the songwriter’s passionate performance of the anti-war lyric. You’ll find the stately peacenik anthem on Gary’s self-penned and produced new CD Shout. He remains one of the coolest dudes in town. Ridiculously talented, too.
KENT BLAZY / “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be”
Writers: Kent Blazy/Garth Brooks; Producer: none listed; Label: KB
–This new Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee has a CD appropriately titled Me & My Guitar. The stark, simple musical settings make the lyrics jump out at ya. Especially on this country lyric about an empty, hollow, haunted guy who lost his wife and home and now looks forward to nothing. Blazy’s tender, tremulous vocal quivers with sadness while acoustic guitars ripple around him.
SINGLE GIRL MARRIED GIRL / “Wreck Cut Loose”
Writers: Daniel Morosi; Producer: Tom Gardner; Label: SGMG
–This folk-pop band’s latest is titled Three Generations of Leaving because it is a song cycle about the trials and tribulations of a mother, daughter and granddaughter who deal with everything from insecurity to drug dependency. Although the album chronicles this in a semi-narrative fashion, the songs can also stand on their own. Lead vocalist Chelsea Coy carries this languid, mournful, mesmerizing track with minor-key organ and guitar accompaniment. Elsewhere, you’ll find girl-group harmonies, Appalachian banjo, a hillbilly waltz, jazzy chords and more.
NATHAN BELL / “Retread Cadillac”
Writers: Nathan Bell; Producer: Brian Brinkeroff & Frank Swart; Label: NeedtoKnow
–Bell is an intense showman who champions working people, takes Fascists to task, waves a BLM banner and honors truth in the political, poetic lyrics of his new collection Red, White and American Blues. Guest vocalists include Aubrie Sellers, Patty Griffin and Nashville’s supreme soul sister Regina McCrary. The last named is heard on this slow-burn ode about a Black ex-con who makes his bitter way through a new life on the road while blues guitars moan along. Gripping.