Country music’s men don’t have a lot to say, but they sure sound good doing it.
Lyrically, we have a crop of singles here that are either positive love songs or warmly nostalgic vignettes. There are strong vocal performances from Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, CB30 and Granger Smith.
Finishing in a dead heat for Disc of the Day are the ever-soulful Nate Smith and the team of Dierks Bentley & Billy Strings. Dierks gets the nod because he’s outside the box with a weed-loving lyric.
George Birge has no such competition for this week’s DISCovery Award.
NATE SMITH / “Wreckage”
Writers: Chris Sligh/Mary Kutter/Nate Smith/Paul Wrock; Producer: Joel Bruyere; Label: Arista
–The passion this man puts into his recorded performances never fails to stop me in my tracks. On this torrid outing, he pours emotion into a power ballad that praises a partner who loves him with all his faults. His debut album is finally coming on Feb. 17 next year. I, for one, cannot wait.
WALKER HAYES / “Face in the Crowd”
Writers: Walker Hayes/Emily Falvey/Tofer Brown; Producers: Walker Hayes/Joe Thibodeau; Label: Monument
–He’s not the world’s strongest singer, but the sincerity in this earnest, sweet performance is undeniable. It’s an ode to his wife, the “face in the crowd” who’s the only one who matters in his rocket ship career. He hopes that when his 15 minutes of fame ends, she’ll still be by his side.
BLANCO BROWN & T.I. / “Trap Still Bumpin’”
Writers: Blanco Brown/T.I.; Producers: Tre Trax/Blanco Brown; Label: Cinq
–Brown rode and performed “The Git Up” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That monster hit (reportedly 15 million sold) is an example of his self-anointed country sub-genre, “trailer trap” music. Now he’s teaming up with T.I. “the king of trap music.” The result is more Atlanta hip-hop than it is country music, but the “stoner,” easy-going groove is mesmerizing.
GRANGER SMITH / “Moonrise”
Writers: Andy Albert/Granger Smith/Jordan Schmidt/Justin Wilson; Producers: Granger Smith/John Marlin; Label: Wheelhouse Records
–This intensely romantic power ballad is produced and sung beautifully. I especially loved the extended, echoey, instrumental fade at the end. It’s the title tune of Smith’s first starring movie, which premieres via Pureflix on Dec. 15.
BRIAN KELLEY / “Florida Strong”
Writers: Brian Kelley”; Producers: Brian Kelley/Katlin Owen; Label: Big Machine
–It’s a jaunty, chin-up song dedicated to the resilience of Sunshine Staters. I could have done without the spoken-word bridge. Royalty proceeds benefit the Florida Disaster Fund and the Red Cross.
DIERKS BENTLEY & BILLY STRINGS / “High Note”
Writers: Charlie Worsham/Jim Beavers; Producers: Dierks Bentley/Ross Copperman/Jon Randall/F. Reid Shippen/Brett Beavers; Label: Capitol
–A total delight. Dierks and Billy sing the praises of weed in this witty, bluegrassy romp. Those fleet-fingered guitar notes rippling through the thing come courtesy of reigning Bluegrass Entertainer of the Year Billy plus the always welcome Charlie Worsham.
CLEDUS T. JUDD / “Shoot a Deer”
Writers: Cledus T. Judd/Chris Clark; Producer: none listed; Label: CDX
–Sung to the tune of Luke Byran’s “Drink a Beer,” this parody goofs around with silly hunting imagery. The video features Cledus and someone in a deer costume competing for laughs in the woods. You might not chuckle out loud, but I guarantee you’ll smile.
KEITH URBAN / “Street Called Main”
Writers: Chris LaCorte/Josh Miller/Scooter Carusoe; Producers: Keith Urban/Dann Huff; Label: Capitol
–This one’s another from Urban’s apparently bottomless well of uptempo love celebrations. Cheerful, joyously toe-tapping, bright and sunny. Highly listenable. But the radio single remains the also hearty “Brown Eyes Baby.”
GEORGE BIRGE / “Mind on You”
Writers: George Birge/Jaron Boyer/Michael Tyler/Colt Ford; Producers: Ash Bowers; Label: RECORDS/Sony
–A fevered dream of obsessive romance that swirls with electronics and hypnotic lyric repetition. Birge staged his Opry debut with it on Nov. 22.
SAM HUNT / “Start Nowhere”
Writers: Sam Hunt/Zach Crowell/Shane McAnally/Josh Osborne; Producers: Zach Crowell/Chris LaCorte/Shane McAnally/Sam Hunt; Label: MCA Nashville
–Very sweet. Hunt sings in a soft, heartfelt tenor as he wistfully ponders his youthful innocence. This one is ideal for the holiday season, since it yearns for hearth and home.
ALEX MILLER / “When God Made the South”
Writers: Jerry Salley/Aaron Wilburn/Lee Black; Producer: none listed; Label: Billy Jam
–The 6’6” American Idol alum rocks out on this Dixie anthem. At just 19, Miller is still maturing as a vocalist. In a few years, he’ll be able to bring out the baritone dips that this melody should have.
CB30 / “Now We’re Talkin’”
Writers: Christian Clementi/Brody Clementi/Dan Agee/Nick Wayne; Producer: Paul DiGiovanni; Label: Buena Vista
–These two brothers always bring a youthful vibe to a listening session. This groove-soaked bopper is a cute barroom pick-up ditty with a smart, innovative production. Highly engaging, as always.
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