First Country: New Music From Morgan Wallen, Florida Georgia Line, Jon Pardi & Barry Gibb

Morgan Wallen
Jason Kempin/ACMA2020/Getty Images for ACM

Morgan Wallen attends the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry on September 13, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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

Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album

Immediately upon its release at midnight, Wallen’s first album in three years soared to the top of iTunes U.S. chart. It’s a fitting start for the superstar in the making and the album’s assured success will make it the country set to beat in 2021. Thirty tracks deep, the supersized Dangerous is a lot of Wallen, but it manages to never feel bloated. He’s already taken “More Than My Hometown” to No. 1 on Hot Country Airplay with the retro “7 Summers” on the rise. The first half is more reflective as Wallen, who co-wrote 16 of the 30 tracks, takes on failed relationships, including on the catchy opening track “Sand in My Boots,” duets with Chris Stapleton on “Only Thing That’s Gone” and covers Jason Isbell’s sultry “Cover Me Up.” (It shows the high level to which he’s regarded by his musical heroes-now-peers that the album ends with a previously unreleased cut from Eric Church.) The second half amps up the party by highlighting in blinking bright neon Wallen’s small town and southern roots on tracks like “Rednecks, Red Letters, Red Dirt” and the lowbrow, funny “Country A$$ Shit.” Wallen primarily sticks to only a few lanes -- primarily heartache accompanied by alcohol and fishing and partying accompanied by alcohol -- but he travels them with a remarkable command of his craft for someone only on his second album. When he reaches further, such as on “Livin’ the Dream,” about the suffocating isolation that burgeoning fame brings, he shows off his true, seemingly limitless, talents.

Barry Gibb, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1

The eldest Bee Gee traveled to Nashville to remake some of his and his siblings' biggest hits with country artists. Even songs that seems like they wouldn’t lend themselves to country arrangements, such as “Jive Talkin’” -- reinvented here as a slow groove with Miranda Lambert and Rival Son’s Jay Buchanan -- work out well. The best tracks blend Barry Gibb’s instantly recognizable tremolo with an equally notable voice, including a shimmering “Run to Me” with Brandi Carlile, a wistful “Too Much Heaven” with Alison Krauss and his reunion with Dolly Parton 40 years after he co-wrote/produced “Islands in the Stream” for a touching “Words.”

Florida Georgia Line, “New Truck”

A few weeks ahead of their Feb. 12 album release, FGL's Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley espouse the joy and thrills that a new truck brings. The ditty is nursery rhyme-like in its simplicity and purposefully almost borders on novelty, which the pair acknowledges in the very amusing '70s-inspired lyric video.

Jon Pardi, “Tequila Little Time”

Pardi’s latest single from Heartache Medication is a mariachi horn-filled, swaying track with clever word play (“Tequila Little Time” = “To kill a little time” -- get it?). With winter in full swing, “Tequila Little Time” is an easy-going instant trip to a beach bar without ever leaving home.

Steve Earle & the Dukes, J.T.

Clearly an album that Earle would have been happier never releasing, J.T. features Earle and his crack band covering songs written by his son, Justin Townes Earle, who died last year. It’s as inspiring as it is heartbreaking with each track infused with the love Earle feels for his son. Despite the awful circumstances that led to its creation, J.T. stands completely on its own as a fine tribute,  as Earle rambles through the Hank Williams-like “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” and the haunting, bluegrass-tinged “Lone Pine Hill.” The one original is “Last Words,” a punch-in-the-gut track about Earle’s last conversation with his son.

Hailey Whitters with Little Big Town, “Fillin’ My Cup”

Whitters made a lot of fans with last year’s The Dream and her breakthrough should continue with "Fillin’ My Cup," a toe-tapping, harmony-filled midtempo track with Little Big Town (they previously cut her song "Happy People") continues her move into the mainstream with a tasty track that measures life’s vicissitudes where sometimes the cup is half full and sometimes it’s half empty. The trick is navigating between the two.

Tyler Booth, “Already Got One” and “Palomino Princess”

New traditionalist Booth releases two tracks that salute the woman in his life, both of which perfectly suit his deep, ranging voice. In “Already Got One,” the more radio-friendly of the two, he leaves his buddies at the bar because he’s already got the love they’re still looking for waiting for him at home. Ballad “Palomino Princess” compares his love to a horse with her “unbridled spirit” and leans heavily into his equine comparisons by encouraging her to “climb on up and grab the reins.”

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