Ben Burgess, Tears the Size of Texas
Burgess has made a name for himself as a writer on the Martin Garrix/Troye Sivan collaboration “There For You,” Lil Wayne’s “Dreams,” Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses,” and Ernest’s “Flower Shops.” Now, he’s proving he’s got the kind of commanding vocals and artistic vision to sing them himself with his debut album Tears the Size of Texas. The project is filled with stout-hearted, unvarnished stories, whether he’s running from a mundane future on “White Picket Fence,” pondering the meaning of life in “When We Die,” or purposefully letting a relationship fizzle after he’s been left for another lover in the slick and smoldering “Kill a Man,” — or, as he sings, “I don’t want to know his name/ Because I don’t want to kill a man.”
Darius Rucker feat. Chapel Hart, “Ol’ Church Hymn”
Rucker was among the millions who watched the family trio as they struck a chord with viewers with their Grand Ole Opry live broadcast performance of “You Can Have Him Jolene,” but the singer-songwriter already knew of the trio’s musical talents, having already extended an opportunity for the trio to join him on this song from his upcoming album. This redemptive love song (“You soothe my soul like an ol’ church hymn,” Rucker sings) is rooted in the deep-seated ties between country and gospel, and highlights four of the most formidable vocalists within the genre, showcasing Rucker’s warm, gritty lead as well as the dazzling display of Chapel Hart’s gift of harmony.
HARDY topped Billboard’s Hot Hard Rock songs chart earlier this year with “Sold Out,” and expands upon that foray with this in-your-face hybrid of rock, metal and country. Sung from the perspective of a round of Jack Daniels and touting the benefits of liquid courage, the song is lyrically reminiscent of Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol,” but with a sonic palette that heightens the aggression and crashing dynamics with every chorus. Careening guitar slabs and vocals that make the most of HARDY’s angsty growl help prove his capabilities in multiple genres.
Valerie Ponzio, Frontera
In the space of four songs on her Frontera EP, Ponzio sets the stage for her amalgam of country, R&B and Latin. “Just a Bordertown” pays homage to Ponzio’s El Paso raising, close to the Mexican border. Meanwhile, she proves she can play both sultry and sunny, as “Desert Rain” pulses with breathy urgency, while the flirtatious “Orale” beckons someone to join in a spirit-lifting party. The project rounds out with a cover of Selena’s R&B-shaded “I Could Fall in Love,” from her posthumous 1995 album Dreaming of You. Ponzio stays faithful to the song’s melody while cooling down the original’s pop instrumentation with more acoustic-based overtones.
Alexandra Rodriguez, “Coming Home”
Delicate, unpolished acoustic guitar and a quasi-lullaby melody bolster Rodriguez’s accessible, lilting vocal, as she recounts a season of losing herself, ultimately grateful for the ability to rebuild her identity. This soothing, poetic tribute to self-reliance is a promising release from this Miami native.
Stephanie Quayle, “The Lost Years”
One of Quayle’s most self-searching releases, the singer-songwriter delves into a decade — time she calls “The Lost Years” — spent hiding her true self, acquiescing to people’s demands and keeping quiet. She details the waves of losses that were the result of that striving, including loss of friends, body positivity, a lover and ultimately, self-respect. Here, as her voice is filled with pain and regret, she reckons with the losses and lessons learned the hard way, and lets the hurt linger, with no concrete resolve. “The Lost Years” seemingly marks the beginning of an album’s worth of truth-telling stories, as the lead single from her upcoming album, On the Edge, out Nov. 4.
William Beckmann, “Damn This Heart of Mine”
He’s heartbroken and reminded of the love he lost with every song on the radio, every empty hallway he walks through, and every beat of his heart. Texas native Beckmann’s casually desolate, smooth delivery is refreshing within a country format that leans heavily on full-throated pop-rock, and at times his voice sounds reminiscent of his mentor Radney Foster, while the instrumentation gets accented with punchy harmonica.
MacKenzie Carpenter, “Huntin’ Season”
Carpenter’s lover has been waiting all year for hunting season, and she has, too — while he’s long gone trying to catch a buck, she’s spending her free time hanging with her girls, shopping, and watching TV. This catchy track is packed with clever, Shania Twain-esque hooks and Carpenter’s winning exuberance.