Eric Church, "Doing Life With Me"
In another entry to his forthcoming album, Church is thankful for all those doing life with him, through all the mighty ups and considerable downs, from family and friends to his band and crew -- and, most importantly, his fans. "Spend my livin’ giving thanks/ For the ships I never sank / Every big, every little in the everyday things / The notes and the words and the songs I sing / To the ones doing life with me," he sings in this gentle, vulnerable, lovely song to end 2020 on.
Kelly Clarkson and Brett Eldredge, “Under the Mistletoe”
Clarkson and Eldredge who shine in this bouncy holiday original that sounds like a throwback to Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, have now released a similarly adorable animated video that has it all: carolers, errant pets, snow, shy new lovers, a grandpa locked in the bathroom and a cartoon Clarkson and Eldredge. Even an obtrusive Lavazza product placement can’t dampen the fun silliness.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass Vol 2—The Cowboy Arms Sessions
Similarly to Vol 1, which came out in October, Simpson revisits his catalog with an ace bluegrass band (dubbed the Hillbilly Avengers)— including ringers mandolin player Sierra Hull, fiddler Stuart Duncan and guitarist Tim O’Brien— to reinvent some of his previously released tunes as bluegrass tunes. It’s a re-imagination, helmed by Dave Cobb, that totally works, especially on a song like “Oh Sarah,” a downtempo, somber love ballad that gets a gorgeous mandolin-laced mid-tempo interpretation. Fans will have a blast comparing the originals to the new versions. It is so wrong to hope that Sturgill cuts an album of all new material with this outfit?
David Nail, Bootheel 2020
Nail took three songs and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, decided to release them in their demo form. The result is a trio of stripped-down tunes that are haunting evocations of small town life. “Roach Motel” is set to a droning organ, detailing a quietly devastating visit between a prostitute and client, approaching Springsteenean levels of raw, cinematic poignancy. Both “Nobody Knows, ” about a secretive first love, and “Back Home,” which addresses our birthplace’s inescapable hold, are strong -- but it’s “Roach Motel” that packs the emotional wallop here.
Mitchell Tenpenny, “Neon Christmas”
The music clip for Tenpenny’s upbeat holiday track serves as a literal good-natured visualization of the song. As he and his honey end up grounded after their flight gets canceled, they hang out in their favorite honky tonk, throwing back shots like egg nog, playing pool and even checking in with Santa. As long as they’re together, the holiday is bright (even if it’s lit by neon).
Steve Earle, “Champagne Corolla”
On J.T., coming Jan. 4, Steve Earle & The Dukes cover songs written by Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle, who died in August. They imbue the song with the perfect blend of barroom rock and blues in this upbeat tribute to a girl in her champagne Corolla. Extra points for rhyming “soldier” and “Corolla.” Earle’s affection for the song -- and his son -- shine through on this pearl.
Ernest, who has made his mark in Nashville as a songwriter—most recently for co-penning Morgan Wallen’s No. 1, “More Than My Hometown,” returns as an artist with this laundry list of items we can all be thankful and raise a glass to from mama and Jesus to football and freedom. The tune, co-written with Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, among others, is simple and catchy as can be.
Trace Adkins, “Ain’t That Kind of Cowboy”
The video from Adkins brings a new dimension to the sweeping song, as the protagonist -- instead of riding off into the sunset -- drives home every evening from his tree care business. The twist is the family in the video is the real-life Dailey family from Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the clip captures the family patriarch tending to the trees like a modern day gunslinger, juxtaposed against Adkins’ more traditional cowboy ways. Sweet and sentimental.
Randall King, Leanna
Neo-traditionalist King, who co-wrote Garth Brooks’ “The Road I’m On” with the superstar, releases a four-track EP named after his sister, who died earlier this year. First track, the gentle “Takin’ It As It Comes” addresses accepting life on life’s terms despite overwhelming hardships. Fiddle-drenched “Hey Moon” sounds straight out of a George Strait album from the ‘90s, while “Around Forever” is an sweet ode to love that includes the memorable line, “Life spins like a Haggard record, it goes from good to bad to better.”
Chevel Shepherd, A Good Ol’ Country Christmas
Shepherd, winner of season 15 of The Voice, blends secular holiday tunes like “Let It Snow” and with more traditional tracks, like “Mary Did You Know” (check out her stunning a capella opening) and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” The unifier is Shepherd’s powerful, emotional voice and the often twangy, country-fied arrangements that add a new twist to holiday chestnuts.
Dierks Bentley and Brandi Carlile Perform 'Travelin' Light' at the 2019 ACM Awards