First Country: New Music from Morgan Wallen, Kelsea Ballerini, Kip Moore, Dolly Parton & More

Morgan Wallen
John Shearer

Morgan Wallen

First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos and albums that dropped this week.

There is a bonanza of new music out this week, including Kip Moore’s new album, fresh singles from Kelsea Ballerini and Morgan Wallen, the pandemic song we all need from Dolly Parton (check out Jillian Jacqueline’s entry here too), as well as a dance invasion courtesy of Diplo and Dave Audé.

Kip Moore, Wild World

Ten months after Moore, one of country’s more thoughtful artists, released the album’s opening salvo, the lighthearted “She’s Mine,” his entire fourth studio set arrives. Moore penned 12 of the 13 tracks, which includes one of his most personal songs ever, “Payin’ Hard,” a song about living with regrets, as well as the hard charging “Southpaw” and vulnerable “Fire and Flame.” “My first hope at all times is that it does something to your soul when you’re listening to it,” Moore told Billboard in March.“I never want it to be fodder and just words and melodies. I hope that it somehow applies to other people's lives and brings them a little peace with questions they have and their own internal struggles they’re having. I'm always hoping they can feel my heart as far as that goes. My heart was put in the project.”

Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole in the Bottle”

A favorite track from Ballerini’s new album becomes an official single. The jaunty track celebrates the time-honored tradition of drowning one’s sorrows in the alcoholic libation of choice—-in this case wine. It’s a more country-tinged track than Ballerini normally delivers and it’s a fun, lighthearted change of pace following the confessional “Homecoming Queen” and Halsey duet, “The Other Girl”

Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown”

Wallen may love his girl more than “a California sunset” or “when a guy gets the girl at the end of the book.” You know what he doesn’t love her more than? His hometown. In this mid-tempo track, which went to radio this week, Wallen knows he has to let his love go fulfill her dreams while he stays moored to his hometown. Coming quickly on the heels of his No. 1 Country Airplay hit, “Chasin’ You,” “More Than My Hometown” is the second look at Wallen’s forthcoming second album.

Dolly Parton, “When Life is Good Again”

For many of us, Parton has been the patron saint of the COVID-19, whether through reading bedtime stories virtually to children or donating $1 million to Vanderbilt Medical Center’s coronavirus efforts. This week, she shares a song written under quarantine that speaks to how this time has changed her and her heart and the kinder, more caring person she vows to be on the other side. With a video made from stock footage and shots of people in masks, when Parton declares “And it’s gonna be good again” at the 3-minute mark, and people start to take off their masks, just try not to cry. Also in her non-preachy way, she ends the video with a placard that reads, “Be safe, be respectful, wear your mask, lead with love.” If anyone can get through to those still refusing to mask up to protect others, it’s Dolly.

Cam, “Redwood Tree”

In this lilting track, backed by an insistent repeating guitar rift, California native Cam marks the passage of time as she compares her life— and all its forward motion— with the static redwood tree that has been a constant no matter where the roams. She may leave home, deal with aging parents and even have a child of her own, but the tree remains a sturdy, comforting reminder of all she left behind when a sense of permanence is hard to come by. The animated video, featuring Cam in silhouette in various stages of her journey, is a treat. The song, like previously released single, “Till There’s Nothing Left,” will be on Cam’s second album coming later this year.

Midland, Guitars, Couches, Etc., Etc., Etc.

With a titular nod to Dwight Yoakam’s groundbreaking 1986 album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc, the boys in Midland deliver five acoustic takes of previously released tunes, including hits “Drinkin’ Problem,” “Burn Out” and current single, “Cheatin’ Songs.” While the title salutes Yoakam, the strong stripped-down intimate performances, filled with harmonies, recall the Eagles. “It was medicinal to pick these songs back up and re-interpret them in a new way both recording wise and in the arrangements & colorings.  We hope you enjoy these new iterations as much as we did making em,” said lead singer Mark Wystrach in a statement.

Orville Peck, “No Glory in the West”

Veiled, enigmatic country singer Peck recalls Johnny Cash in the official video for “No Glory in the West.” With his sonorous voice, full of gravitas and accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Peck and his trusty stead forge through snowy mountains day and night toward a destination that ends in only more isolation. The loneliness, especially in this time of social distancing, is palpable. “Glory” is the second entry revealed from Peck’s June 12 EP, Show Pony, which also includes a duet with Shania Twain and a remake of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.” God willing, he and Reba McEntire find a way to do that chestnut together.

Diplo, Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil

The ubiquitous superstar DJ releases his long-incubating country collaboration album that features Morgan Wallen, on their double-platinum certified track “Heartless”; as well as Thomas Rhett on “Dance With Me” (also featuring Young Thug), and Zac Brown, Danielle Bradbery, Orville Peck, Blanco Brown, Cam and more. The results are mixed, but with country artists collaborating more frequently with dance (Kelsea Ballerini and the Chainsmokers) and pop artists (Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber), the mash up seems totally in line with current trends.

Tucker Beathard, “Can’t Stay Here”

Beathard releases a fully fleshed out rendition and video of the poignant “Can’t Stay Here” after fans embraced a stripped down version. The first song he wrote after his brother’s murder, the song (and video) are ostensibly about a failed love affair, but Beathard’s sense of loss— in all respects— is palpable.  “After my brother passed away in December, I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional energy to start writing again right away. But, I decided I might as well try and clear my head and mess around with some writer buddies of mine and sure enough, the first song I wrote this year was this one,” Beathard said in a statement. “I decided to post an acoustic video of me playing it, and after seeing the feedback, I knew it would be a great addition to the album and went in and recorded it right away .”

Also noteworthy: Newcomer Chris Bandi’s self-titled EP, which includes bubbling under “Man Enough Now.” Jillian Jacqueline’s “Wait for the Light,” a gentle, reassuring track sure to provide needed comfort during the pandemic. Old Dominion’s three previously unreleased songs that were originally recording for past projects including the thumping “I’m On It,” “Can’t Get You” and “Goes Without Saying.” Mike & the Moonpies’ essential Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart, which features Midland’s Mark Wystrach on Smooth Shot of Whiskey.” And finally for the mind-blowing moment of the week: Barbara Mandrell’s 1978 classic “Sleeping Single In a Double Bed” gets turned into a full-on banger thanks to a dance remix by Dave Audé.

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