With five contenders this week, the folks at Sony are on fire.
Drew Green, Willie Nelson and Tenille Townes all have worthy new tracks.
The label group also chimes in with the Disc of the Day by Jameson Rodgers, as well as the DISCovery Award winner, Nate Smith.
NATE SMITH / “Raised Up”
Writers: Nate Smith/Trannie Anderson/Jonathan Smith; Producer: Joel Bruyere; Label: Sony
—This guy’s resonant voice grabbed me from the very first note. The track begins simply, with just stark piano accompaniment, then gradually builds its punchy, oomphy instrumentation to match his soulful vocal emoting. The power ballad is about looking to the roots of your values whenever you lose your way. Promising in the extreme.
PAULETTE CARLSON / “Branded Soul”
Writer: Paulette Carlson; Producer: Mark Capps; Label: The Orchard/CDX
—Noted in the 1980s for her lead singing in Highway 101 on Warner and solo work on RCA, Carlson is still singing with throaty distinction. This mid-tempo outing has a nicely rumbling production, but she needs a stronger song for a comeback.
DENNIS QUAID / “Heartbeat”
Writers: Dennis Quaid; Producer: Chris Lindsey; Label: DQ
—The beat of her heart is an ocean in which he drowns. Not exactly a metaphor I understand, but his singing on this lovely waltz is steady and strong. The clear, eloquent production is exquisite. I think I can finally forgive him for his dreadful portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1989 feature film Great Balls of Fire.
THE WILLIE NELSON FAMILY / “All Things Must Pass”
Writers: George Harrison; Producer: Willie Nelson/Steve Chadle; Label: Legacy
—Willie’s new album, which drops Nov. 19, is a family affair wherein children Micah, Amy, Paula and Lukas, plus sister Bobbie participate. Lukas takes the lead on this sweet, gentle revival of the George Harrison pop classic. Willie softly harmonizes while Mickey Raphael’s harmonica sighs in sympathy.
RANDALL KING / “You in a Honky Tonk”
Writers: John King/Matt Rogers/Brandon Day; Producer: Bart Butler/Ryan Gore; Label: Warner Music Nashville
—Drenched in steel guitar, neo traditionalist King is turned on by seeing his gal in a roadside dive. Whatever floats your boat….
MICHAEL RAY / “Higher Education”
Writers: Derek George/Frank Rogers/Jeremy Bussey/Monty Criswell/Tim Montana; Producer: Frank Rogers; Label: Warner Music Nashville
—“Learnin’ how to rock, learnin’ how to roll,” in the school of hard knocks, that’s Ray’s “Higher Education” according to this rousing romper. Lee Brice, Kid Rock, Tim Montana and Billy Gibbons provide hearty guest vocals. A good-time vibe, for sure.
CLARE DUNN / “Holding Out for a Cowboy”
Writers: Clare Dunn/Whitney Phillips; Producer: Clare Dunn; Label: Big Yellow Dog
—This is a powerful performance, full of soulful vocal licks that range from dark, chesty tones to soaring high-end dramatics. Her own electric guitar passages are the icing on this tasty cake. Very cool, indeed.
JAMESON RODGERS / “Missing One”
Writers: Hunter Phelps/Smith Ahnquist/Jameson Rodgers; Producer: Chris Farren/Mickey Jack Cones; Label: River House/Columbia
—Since their breakup, he’s missing one of his Eagles records she took, missing cigarettes and missing his own heart. The thumping, heartbeat tempo is cool. The furious guitars are cooler. His scintillating vocal performance is coolest of all. I love this record. It pulses with passion.
LEA SWEET / “Can I Kiss Away a Broken Promise”
Writers: Jeff Silverman/Lolita Lea Sweet; Producer: Lea Sweet/Jeff Silverman; Label: LS
—I love it that her album is called The Black Queen of Country Music. The single from it demonstrates that she has the vocal chops to back up that claim. A promising disc debut.
TENILLE TOWNES / “Villain in Me”
Writers: Tenille Townes/Alex Hope; Producer: Alex Hope; Label: Columbia
—Kinda dark, intimate and personal, and wholly involving. This woman is consistently excellent. Another building block in a star-making career.
THOMAS RHETT / “Slow Down Summer”
Writers: Thomas Rhett/Rhett Akins/Sean Douglas/Jesse Frasure/Ashley Gorley; Producer: Dann Huff/Jesse Frasure; Label: Valory
—Now that he’s back at home in country music, he’s going from strength to strength. This is a wonderfully well written bit of wistful romance—they were so madly in love that they wanted time to stop moving. Sincerity shines here.
DREW GREEN / “Dirt Boy”
Writers: Drew Green/Kelley Lovelace/Lynn Hutton; Producer: Mark Trussell; Label: RCA
—Instead of “hillbilly” “hayseed” and “hick,” they called him “dirt boy” because he was a farm kid. Now he’s proud of it, and singing about it with gusto. Sing on, bro.