First Country: New Music From Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Brothers Osborne, Kelsea Ballerini and More

Eric Church
Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Eric Church performs at LSU Tiger Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

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

Eric Church, Heart

The first of three albums coming from Church over the next week as part of the Heart & Soul trilogy, Heart, as the title implies, often deals with affairs of the heart, whether it’s the Seger-like "Heart on Fire" or the cinematic heartbreaker “Crazyland” (where, as so often, Church and his longtime backing singer Joanna Cotten wrap their vocals smoothly around each other). But the 9-track set also includes the blistering indictment of country establishment, “Stick That In Your Country Song,” and, as Church is fond of doing, hitting the road with the radio as his only companion on “Russian Roulette.” Each song tells its own full, vivid story with no word or note wasted.

Tim McGraw, Here on Earth (Ultimate Edition)

McGraw drops the deluxe version of his current album, Here on Earth, with six additional tracks, most of which are already available to fans, including "Keep Your Eyes on Me," the stately, dramatic ballad with wife Faith Hill originally featured in the 2017 movie The Shack; "Gravity" from Free Solo; and "Undivided," his current duet with Tyler Hubbard.

Thomas Rhett, “Country Again”

Rhett, whose music has often veered to the pop side of country, heralds his return to his country roots musically, physically and emotionally in this fiddle-drenched ballad. “I love me some California/but it sure ain’t Tennessee/and my roots down there in Georgia, yeah, they started missing me,” he sings on this tale of finding himself by coming back home. After trading in his Silverado and his boots, he’s once again embracing his country origins and even, as the sweet last verse testifies, found his way back to being present with his wife instead of staring at his phone.

Brothers Osborne, “Younger Me”

Following his coming out as gay earlier this year, Brothers Osborne lead singer T.J. Osborne addresses his younger self in this beautiful, shimmering message of acceptance and the acknowledgement that, despite all the pain and questioning he experienced hiding his truth — even contemplating suicide — “these trips around the sun, I needed every one to get to where I’m standing now.” It’s a gentle anthem of hope that rings with authenticity and honesty and a promise that being true to yourself, regardless of the time that takes, is always the better path. It’s not too bold to say that this track has the ability to change lives, hearts and minds by Osborne simply sharing his own unvarnished story of, in many ways, learning to trust others and himself.

Brian Kelley, BK’s Wave Pack

Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley strikes out with his first solo effort for Warner Music Nashville, crafting his easy-going sound that combines surf and spurs. The four mid-tempo tunes here, which he effortlessly delivers, all celebrate the beach life crossed with a country vibe that feels just right as he brands himself a “Beach Cowboy” in the first track, one who can just as righteously throw down brews on “Party On the Beach” or celebrate God on “Sunday Service in the Sand.”

Kelsea Ballerini feat. Kenny Chesney, “Half of My Hometown”

Ballerini, with an assist on backing vocals from Chesney, salutes their shared hometown of Knoxville on this acoustic ballad that anyone who has picked up stakes will be able to relate to. Ballerini looks at the half of her that remains emotionally in her hometown no matter how far she roams physically, and the inescapable, magnetic pull to return. “Backroads raise us/highways, they take us/memories make us/want to go back to our hometown,” she sings in this wistful tale, which was featured on last year’s kelsea and is her newest single to go to country radio.

Caylee Hammack and Chris Stapleton, "Small Town Hypocrite"

Hammack remakes her searing "Small Town Hypocrite" with an assist from Stapleton, who chimes in on the choruses here. Hopefully his presence will bring more attention to the gem, originally featured on Hammack's  2020 album, If It Wasn't For You, about abandoning your own dreams to stay tethered to your hometown for love and when that love curdles, it's too late to fulfill your down dreams.

Charlie Worsham, “Fist Through This Town”

In this atmospheric moody track (and video), Worsham, a frequent collaborator of Eric Church’s and Dierks Bentley’s, brings a disquieting intensity as he sings about the unrelenting feelings of frustration and anger as he rails against life. Whether trying to make ends meet himself or describing others similarly struggling, his despondency leaves him wanting to put a “fist through this town” and declaring, “I ain’t a killer, but I’d let the bastard drown.” Toward the end, the simmering goes full boil, as Worsham explodes into a fiery guitar solo. Compelling from the first note.

Serena Ryder featuring Steve Earle, “Better Now”

Ryder’s resonant voice -- which, at times, recalls Tracy Chapman here -- reimagines this song, about getting sober, with Earle for her forthcoming project, The Art of Falling Apart. The two go back almost 20 years and he adds a weightiness to her story as she reminds us, “It’s not a party if it happens everyday/it’s not medicine if it just makes the symptoms go away.” Having come through the other side to wellness, she convincingly and poignantly declares she knows better now. A truthful, impactful, and, ultimately, uplifting song about redemption.

Mason Horne, “Take Me Back”

Newcomer Horne keeps it traditional country on this tale of regret as he questions “how many sorries I have left.” He petitions help from his mama and God as he lists a litany of misdeeds, and he hopes it’s not too late for them to forgiveness. Solid songwriting while covering a well-trod subject.

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