First Country: New Music from Luke Combs, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and More

Luke Combs
Sami Drasin

Luke Combs photographed on May 15, 2019 in Dickson, Tenn. 

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

Dierks Bentley, "Gone"

Bentley’s been away without ever leaving his sofa: in the first new music we’ve gotten from Bentley during the pandemic, he’s logging time on his couch, singing, “I’ve been a million places but they’re all right in my head,” as he admits he’s been “Gone,” ever since his woman split with him for parts unknown. The clever mid-tempo track, written by Nicolle Galyon, Ben Johnson and Niko Moon, fits squarely in Bentley’s wheelhouse, allowing his raspy voice to sink into self-pity as he bemoans his heartbreaking trips down memory lane without ever leaving his living room. David Garcia’s layered, guitar-driven production suits the disarray playing out in the tarnished romance. Though the focus is on a woman, the song also works as a pandemic theme where we all feel trapped in our homes with the only traveling going on in our minds.

Luke Combs, What You See Ain’t Always What You Get

Combs releases an extended edition of his No. 1 set, What You See Is What You Get, with five new tracks. He’s already scored five from the original set with more sure to come. The strongest possibilities are the biting “Cold As You” and the already released “Without You,” featuring Amanda Shires. Everyman anthem “My Kinda Folk” demands a live audience and is sure to be a favorite once Combs returns to the road, while album closer "Forever After All" is already taking on a life of its own via TikTok.  This is Combs’ time, and he’s seizing the moment.

Miranda Lambert, “Settling Down”

After her stunning “Bluebird” video, Lambert returns with another winning clip, this one a sweet slice of life as Lambert and her husband enjoy the pleasures of a simple day enjoying nature and each other. It’s as sultry and romantic as a Hallmark Channel movie—though leads in Hallmark movies seldom display abs as chiseled as Lambert’s ex-cop hubby. A modern day fairy tale.

Chris Stapleton, "Arkansas"

In the third track released from his Nov. 13 album, Starting Over, Stapleton channels Bob Seger by way of Little Rock. Co-written with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell, "Arkansas" is a driving southern stomp that jumps out of the speakers and celebrates life on the road. "Having so much fun, that is probably a little bit against the law," Stapleton growls in his own version of "Katmandu."

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow”

After performing this track from the 2018 Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of A Star is Born on Facebook and then on a CBS special to widespread fan acclaim, Brooks and Yearwood have recorded it for his new album, Fun, and released it as their latest single. After the first verse, Yearwood takes the lead here, giving Gaga a run for her money, while Brooks is content to stay in the background. A number of country artists made versions when the movie came out, including Jimmie Allen and Abby Anderson, but maybe country radio will gravitate to a new, superstar version.

Gabby Barrett, “The First Noel”

Barrett has had quite the year with “I Hope” topping both Billboard’s Hot Country Airplay and Adult Pop Songs (with Charlie Puth). She’s clearly had no time to record a holiday album, but it’s nice to get a teaser of what is sure to come eventually with her take on this traditional tune. Her voice brings a comforting warmth to the story of Jesus’s birth.

The Cadillac Three, Tabasco & Sweet Tea

The Cadillac Three get labeled country, but that’s an easy way out for a band that is truly impossible to categorize. On this latest collection, the trio effortlessly segue between rock, jazz, country, blues and any multitude of styles. Lead singer/guitarist Jaren Johnston has called the album “a science project,” and, to be sure, those who like their music strictly linear may find it too unstructured. True music fans will dive in, reveling in the musicianship and the delights to be found in the funkiness that permeates almost every track, including “Head Over Heels,” “Money Ain’t Sh*t,” and the autobiographical closing track about “three hippie hillbillies,” “Sabbath on Cornbread.” Unrelenting grooves within.

Kalie Shorr, “My Voice”

Shorr shows why her 2019 album, Open Book, ended up on New York Times’ best albums list with this song that appears on a new, expanded version of the set. Shorr has been a leading advocate for parity for female artists on country radio and with this mid-tempo, twangy driver, she is putting radio on notice, before admitting “though they’ll probably never play me because I’m not a boy.” She sings so sweetly but cooly that ice wouldn’t melt in her mouth, as she knocks down every argument she’s heard as to why radio won’t play her, before defiantly declaring, “The only time I’m going to be boxed in is when I’m six feet under in a coffin.” Shorr has proved she doesn’t need radio, but if radio is smart, it will realize it needs her.

Drew Parker, While You’re Gone

If you’re looking for some traditional country without even a hint of pop, check out Parker’s EP. All the tropes are here, from tea and trucks to boots and beer. Album opener “All The Beers” is a fun, pedal steel twirler and “While You’re Gone” is a mid-tempo ballad that feels like a hit. “I Was Lying” in a confessional track with a clever lyrical twist. Parker, who co-wrote all eight songs on the set, landed his first No. 1 as a songwriter with Jake Owen’s “Homemade, and has been named the opener for Luke Combs’ 2021 tour (he’s managed by Combs’ co-manager). Definitely one to watch.

Teddy Swims with Thomas Rhett, “Broke”

YouTube star Teddy Swims has made a name for himself covering songs such as Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” or Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” but it turns out he’s got a knack for discovering original songs. “Broke” is about as catchy as songs come. With an insinuating, old-school R&B rhythm, Swim recalls just last week when he was broke, as he struggles to adapt now that he’s “come upon some change” and is buying all “these things I never could afford.” Rhett joins him on the golf chorus to give him a few pointers while dropping a verse. Guaranteed to make you smile and tap your toes at the same time. A winning combination.

Emily Rose, The Heart

Singer/songwriter Emily Rose delivers a confident, accomplished debut EP that combines hints of ‘70s Laurel Canyon-era pop and ‘90s country with contemporary sounds. From opener “Hey Child,” a reminder to never lose the wonder inside of you, to current single, pedal-steel based “Windshield” and gentle shuffling “Always Something,” Rose is a welcoming, breezy presence.

George Strait and Miranda Lambert Perform 'Run' at the 2019 ACM Awards