Country music has booze on the brain this week.
”What else is new?” you ask. Well, Priscilla Block and Drew Green are having a party time with it, while Parker McCollum and Breland with Lady A are drowning their sorrows. Even more significantly, Dax & Elle King are seriously dealing with the issue of alcoholism.
Neither of our award winners is singing about this theme, however. Tyler Braden earns a Disc of the Day award for just being a vocal sensation. Erin Kinsey is joyously heading for the open road and nailing down a DISCovery Award.
ERIN KINSEY / “Just Drive”
Writers: Erin Kinsey/Josh Ronen/Michael August; Producer: Josh Ronan; Label: RECORDS
–The track is bursting with energy and sizzle. On the choruses, the rocked-up guitars almost overwhelm her potent, double-tracked soprano. But overall, this is a commanding performance. Texas-to-Tunetown transplant Kinsey made her Opry debut last month, and it was a dandy.
BRELAND & LADY A / “Told You I Could Drink”
Writers: Charles Kelley/Daniel Breland/Zach Manno; Producers: Sam Sumser/Sean Small/Zach Munno; Label: Bad Realm/Atlantic/Warner
–A slow R&B groove leads to Breland’s hip-hoppy vocal. Lady A’s luscious harmonies kick in on the heartbroken choruses. The group’s dynamic Charles Kelley takes the second verse, pulling us firmly onto country solid ground. In light of his current effort toward sobriety, the lyric seems somewhat ill-timed.
JESSE LABELLE / “My Last Broken Heart”
Writers: Jesse LaBelle/Rob Crosby; Producer: Jesee Labelle; Label: JL
–Labelle’s showcase last Friday at the Listening Room was a home run. He demonstrated full mastery of his craft as a performer—engaging the audience, leading a crackerjack band, commanding the stage and singing his face off. And then there were the songs, as accomplished as anything you will hear in Music City. I’ve liked this guy’s records in the past, and this propulsive new single has rasp, moxie, urgency and fire to spare. It also drove the audience wild. He is totally “ready” and richly deserves a seat at the table. Get on board, A&R reps.
TOBY KEITH / “Peso In My Pocket”
Writer: Toby Keith; Producers: Kenny Greenberg/Toby Keith; Label: Show Dog
–The title tune of Toby’s new album is a good-time stomper, an invitation to a night on the town with “a peso in my pocket and a pepper in my pants/Got a pancho on my shoulder and a cha-cha in my dance.” Snarling guitars and a snarky vocal drive this delightful, south-of-the-border ditty. This total pro shows the kiddies how it’s done, for real. Get well soon, Big Guy. We miss ya.
RACHEL WAMMACK / “Like Me”
Writers: Rachel Wammack/Kelly Archer/Tawgs Salter; Producer: Zach Manno; Label: Sony
–This penetrating ballad is a personal statement of purpose, reclaiming her true self instead of trying to please others all the time. Her intimate vocal is terrific, engaging the listener with every breath, every phrase and every falsetto soprano leap. Bravo.
PARKER McCOLLUM / “Handle on You”
Writers: Parker McCollum/Monty Criswell; Producer: Jon Randall; Label: MCA Nashville
–McCollum is on a roll. This thumpin’ heartbreak song finds him drinking away the blues while the band heats up to a slow rolling boil behind him. Every steel-string twang marks this with country authenticity.
DREW GREEN / “This Miller Lite of Mine”
Writers: Drew Green/Brent Anderson/Smith Ahnquist; Producer: Mark Trussell; Label: Sony
–Who could resist this title? Yes, it borrows the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.” And yes, it rocks.
RICHARD MARX / “One Day Longer”
Writers: Richard Marx/Keith Urban; Producer: none listed; Label: RM
–Marx was a big pop/rock hit-maker in the late 1980s (”Hold On to the Night,” “Right Here Waiting,” “Don’t Mean Nothing,” etc.). His forthcoming Songwriter album is meant to demonstrate that he can write country tunes with finesse. This energetic track takes a page from co-writer Urban’s sunny/uptempo playbook. Quite enjoyable.
TYLER BRADEN / “Try Losing One”
Writers: Tyler Wayne Davis/Adam Newman Wood/Tyler Braden; Producers: Adam Wood/Randy Montana; Label: Warner
–This ex-firefighter has been knocking on the door for far too long. Come on, people. Swing it open wide, because this power ballad burns with ferocious power and passion. His vocal range is simply stunning, beginning in a hushed baritone and rising to high tenor, and then higher still. In a word, wow.
PRISCILLA BLOCK / “Off the Deep End”
Writers: Priscilla Block/Martin Johnson/Brandon Paddock; Producers: Martin Johnson/Brandon Paddock; Label: Mercury
–She’s so much fun. This sassy bopper urges us all to go a little crazy every now and then. “The whiskey’s fine, jump in!” she exhorts. I want to party with her. Don’t you?
AMANDA SHIRES & MAREN MORRIS / “Empty Cups”
Writer: Amanda Shires; Producer: Lawrence Rothman; Label: ATO
–Shires new Take It Like a Man album is getting lots of media attention. On this Latin-tinged ballad, the Jason Isbell fiddler/spouse is joined by her Highwomen bandmate Morris on high vocal harmony. Their blend is delicious. Keyboards, strings, guitars and punchy percussion swirl in a fabulous mix.
DAX & ELLE KING / “Dear Alcohol”
Writers: Alex Nour/Daniel Nwosu Jr./Elle King; Producer: Lex Nour; Label: RECORDS
–This is yet another attempt to mash up country and hip-hop. Dax has nothing to do with country music, as his vocal and the electro track make plain. King jumps aboard in support, but the result is still more his music than hers. That said, the lyric’s message is definitely three-chords-and-the-truth, a socially conscious masterpiece that faces the struggle for sobriety head on. The video featuring both artists depicts the stark reality of an AA meeting. Essential listening.
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