Dan + Shay, “I Should Probably Go To Bed”
This gorgeous pop piano ballad, co-written by the CMA Awards’ reigning vocal duo, elevates the pair to new heights and should find success across several formats. Arranged and produced by Dan Smyers, the opening solo piano quickly swells to include strings and towards the end builds to a lovely crescendo before sliding back to solo piano.
Shay Mooney’s boundless range still surprises as he hits notes that will probably haunt him when he has to sing the song live for decades to come. The harmonies and layered backing vocals recall the Beach Boys, Beatles and ELO. The first single from their upcoming album bodes well for things to come.
Rascal Flatts, How They Remember You
It’s the beginning of goodbye to Rascal Flatts, one of the most successful country groups ever. This seven-song EP shows why they’ll be so missed so much. The title track is a life lesson in how to treat other people and make the most of your time on earth, while “Looking Back” in the type of wistful heartbreaker that Gary LeVox can really sink his teeth into like few others. “Quick Fast In A Hurry,” featuring Rachel Wammack, is a fun romantic romp.
The EP also includes a cover of Kenny Rogers’ “Through the Years” that the trio first performed on CMT’s salute following Rogers’ passing this spring. Great harmonies and strong musicianship from Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney.
Taylor Swift, “Betty”
It’s been a minute since Swift switched from country, her first musical home, to pop and global domination (six years, actually), but she’s courting country airplay again with “Betty,” a sweet, acoustic guitar-based ballad on her new album, Folklore, that sounds like it could have been on her self-titled debut.
MCA Nashville is promoting the track, which is about redemption for past misdeeds. The protagonist, seemingly a boy named James, cheated on the title character and now wants a way back in. If he shows up at her party, Swift wonders if Betty will kiss him or turn him away. Country programmers should note that the version at country radio has been edited so the line, “Would you tell me to go f--k myself,” is now the more radio friendly, “Would you tell me to go straight to hell.”
Eric Church, "Bad Mother Trucker"
Though this was no doubt recorded before Charlie Daniels’ passing last month, this slab of southern-rock sounds like something Daniels would have released in the late ‘70s when country wore its rock and R&B influences proudly. This is also why we still need albums. This slide guitar propelled track would never be a single, but it’s a fun slice into Church’s mindset as we await his next solo album and still groove to his feisty “Stick That In Your Country Song.”
With lines like "She drove an '81 Peterbilt 18-wheeler, jet black with pink mud flaps/It was a mean piece of metal with lightning in the pedal, thunder coming out the back,” all that’s missing is a CB Radio. 10/4.
Lauren Alaina, "Run"
On the first single from her forthcoming Getting Over Him EP, Alaina looks at all the ways we -- and the things we use -- run, whether it be our cars, or metaphorically running from ourselves. She gives a powerhouse vocal performance on the track she co-wrote with Ben Johnson and Kennedi.
"We are all running. Constantly. Non-Stop. Even in this quarantine we are all still the busiest we’ve ever been," Alaina said in a statement. "Life just keeps going and going and going in unbelievable paces as we try to race ourselves to the next thing. My idea with the song was to refer to examples of all things that run because no matter what your walk of life is, we are all racing to the next thing." Mission well accomplished.
Brad Paisley, “There’s No I in Beer”
Since the pandemic has meant no world tour for now for Paisley, he went globe trotting via Zoom for a video for his current hit, “There’s No 1 in Beer.” His famous friends, including Tim McGraw, Darius Rucker, Carrie Underwood, A-Rod, Kelsea Ballerini, and Peyton Manning show up in the Zoom to sing along, but it’s the more than 200 fan-submitted videos from all over the world that make the clip so fun as they sing or shred along with Paisley or play “beersketball.”
“We’re all in this together,” as Paisley sings in the chorus, has never rang truer.
Zac Brown Band, “You and Islands”
“Can’t even count the days since we got away,” Brown sings to open ZBB’s latest. It’s a sentiment that rings true as much of the country remains on lockdown. He even works in the word quarantine. The track, released through the band’s own Home Grown Music, s a breezy, upbeat plea to return to an island paradise when times seemed less complicated…or at least safer. The title is a cute play on “you and I.” A welcome respite from the current worldwide heaviness.
Randy Travis, “Fool’s Love Affair”
In celebration of Travis’s 35th anniversary in the music business, this previously-unreleased demo, recorded in 1983 or 1984 by Travis, is a solid reminder that a voice like his comes along once in a generation and literally defines the genre. A traditional cheating ballad that, of course, does not have a happy ending hits just the right melancholy spot.
Quarantine All Stars, “Quarantine”
Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, Journey’s Jonathan Cain and musicians who play with Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Celine Dion, Eric Clapton and others jam on this funky instrumental, written and produced by Scotty Wilbanks, that’s raising funds for MusiCares COVID-19 relief fund. It’s not country, but given the pedigree of the country artists and musicians involved and the overall uplifting nature of the track, it will hopefully find support in country quarters. The Zoom video is a blast to watch.
Fancy Hagood, “Don’t Blink”
Hagood, under the moniker Who is Fancy, flirted with pop stardom five years ago with “Goodbye,” but despite a team that included Scooter Braun, Scott Borchetta and Dr. Luke, his career didn’t ignite. Now going under Fancy Hagood, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter returns with an emotional, full-bodied love song, complete with choir, about making the most of every minute with a loved one. It showcases his powerful voice and is the lead in to his upcoming debut album, Southern Curiosity.
Charley Crockett's cinematic Welcome to Hard Times, which sounds like the soundtrack to every spaghetti western ever released crossed with a night at the greatest honky tonk in the world.
10-time CMA musician of the year recipient Mac McAnally's Once in a Lifetime, whose lowkey vibe totally reflects McAnally's tenure as a member of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band (Buffett, whose label is releasing the set, co-wrote standout track "Changing Channels."