First Country: New Music From Dan + Shay, Carly Pearce, Eric Church, Lanco and More

Dan + Shay
Emma McIntyre /AMA2020/Getty Images for dcp

Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney of Dan + Shay attend the 2020 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Nov. 22, 2020 in Los Angeles.

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

Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist”

The duo’s follow up to “I Should Probably Go to Bed” is a breezy pop confection -- their friendship with Justin Bieber has clearly rubbed off on them -- that oozes with sweet thanks to the ones they love, whether it be spouses, friends or even fans, during a period when we’ve all come to realize how much those we hold dear mean to us. “It’s a message of gratitude and hope,” Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney say in a statement. “A message to everyone in our lives: our fans, our friends, our families, to remind them all how grateful we are to be on the planet at the same time.” Light and uplifting and delightfully uncynical.

Eric Church, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones”

You certainly can’t judge a song by its title. Based on its moniker -- and Church’s musical leanings -- it’s easy to expect that this song would be a rave-up saluting the classic southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and country icon George Jones. Instead, it’s a beautiful acoustic ballad about a man named Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones, from Gadsden, Alabama, who learns some life lessons from his mama and has some surprises in store after she’s gone. Understated and lovely story that Church’s quiet presentation makes you want to lean in to catch every word.

Carly Pearce, "Should've Known Better"

Pearce gives another sneak peak into her forthcoming album, 29, with “Should’ve Known Better.” She’s already shown with last year’s “Next Girl” that heartache is great fodder to open her creative floodgates. "You should’ve known better than to break what you couldn’t fix,” she sings on a mid-tempo ballad that is genial musically, but bears its teeth in its lyrics.

Luke Bryan, “Down To One”

Bryan’s latest is a romantic ode to how we eventually narrow our love choices down to one -- down to the one. It receives an appropriately romantic video this week, as we follow the actions of a couple reveling in each other, while Bryan sings in front of what looks like a variety of green-screen settings, from the mountains to a star-filled sky. Covid-19 restrictions seem to have overruled any plans for a grander video, but it will make die-hard fans happy.

Lanco, “Near Mrs.”

Musically, the latest from the quintet recalls the country rock of The Band, while lyrically it cleverly mines all the misses -- the women from his past -- that led the protagonist to the right one. “To all the last chances/ Last call romances/ If those near misses had ever come through I would have missed out on you,” sings Lanco's Brandon Lancaster, who co-wrote the endearing tune with Shane McAnally and Jeremy Spillman. A welcome return.

Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More”

Stell follows back-to-back Country Airplay No. 1s “Prayed For You” and “Everywhere But On” with this woebegone tale of changing too late. The hard-drinking, selfish, belligerent man he used to be is gone, but his changes came too late to save his relationship, and the person getting to relish her love now “ain’t me no more,” Stell sings, in this classic love-gone-wrong tale. Could be a three-peat for Stell.

Brooke Eden, “No Shade”

After a four-year absence, Eden returns with a bopping song about taking one’s life back after “breaking free.”  The smart lyrics talk about there being in a “no shade” zone, in every sense of the term, and thriving in the sunlight now that who hurt her has hopefully crawled back under the rock they came from. Delivered with the perfect amount of attitude, and yes, shade from Eden.

Lathan Warlick feat. RaeLynn, “Roots”

Warlick, who first gained attention through his Tik Tok and Instagram posts, has already made his presence known in country with his collaborations with Granger Smith, Tyler Hubbard and Matt Stell. Now, his first single from Warlick’s Nashville Records debut is a country hip hop track with Warlick’s spoken word easily sliding into RaeLynn’s sung chorus heralding girls who come from small towns, proud of their roots. It’s all about the insinuating groove here.

Jake Hoot feat. Kelly Clarkson, “I Would’ve Loved You”

Hoot, crowned season 17 winner of The Voice, unites with his coach for this bombastic power ballad. Both performers go full out as they duel vocally, trying to outdo each other as they sing about which one will hate the other the most after their love crashed and burned. It’s not easy to go toe to toe with a vocalist as powerful as Clarkson, but Hoot more than holds his own. Understated, this is not.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”

Was there ever a better time to revisit Bob Dylan’s 1964 classic that addressed the turbulent times of the era, including the fight for civil rights? NGDB do the song proud, especially with assistance from Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, The War and Treaty and Jason Isbell, who sounds at times like Dylan here. The lyrics "Come, senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don’t stand in the doorway/Don’t block up the hall,” have never sounded so relevant. Available only through Bandcamp with all proceeds going to Feeding America.

Levi Hummon, “A Home”

Rarely are country songs quite as literal as this. Inspired by his actual house renovation during the pandemic, Hummon sings about “turning a house into a home,” but gets extra props for the best name drop of the year so far: “I know you hate that kitchen wall and I can’t wait to replace it all when I get the money from the song I wrote for Tim McGraw," he sings to his partner. (McGraw recorded Hummon’s co-write “Not From California” on his latest album).

Rodney Crowell, Songs From Quarantine

Crowell’s bluesy, spirited take on “She’s Back In Town” is one of the highlights of this collection, which includes Crowell collaborating with artists such as Keith Urban, Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, Ronnie Dunn and Emmylou Harris on stripped-down versions of songs the artists had previously recorded. All proceeds go to Music Health Alliance, so great tunes for a great cause. Available only for two weeks via Bandcamp.

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