First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos and albums that dropped this week.
For a format that often goes out of its way to avoid political issues, a few of this week’s songs pull no punches when it comes to a stark look at America, including new songs from Eric Church and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Eric Church, “Stick That In Your Country Song”
Church never plays by the rules or stands on formality, but he takes it to new levels on this defiant track that looks at an America that is broken, despite the every day heroes doing herculean work. Singing counterpoint to a heavy acoustic guitar riff, he sings “Take me on up to Detroit City/the jails are full/the factories empty…Drop me off in Baltimore where every other window’s got a plywood board/where dreams become guns and drugs/ and the only way out is to shoot out or run.”
Written by Jeffrey Steele and Davis Naish, it’s a trenchant social commentary about the mindless tunes that radio sometimes favors over weighty material. “Stick that in your country song/take that one to number one,” he spits out as the song builds over a screaming electric guitar and wailing backing vocals. Will radio be brave enough to play this essential cut?
Cole Swindell, “Single Saturday Night”
The video for Swindell’s latest single opens with the singer on his sofa as the horrible news about the pandemic and collapsing economy wash over him. He wisely retreats into a fantasy world — captured through smart computer graphics, existing footage, and lots of green screen that allows him to float in space or roam with camels — as he reflects on his last single Saturday night before meeting that special someone.
“We had to get really creative shooting because we were still in quarantine, and it ended being one of the most fun videos I’ve ever done,” Swindell said in a statement. “Because of having that extra time I was able to be really involved in the creative and editing process and this video is a snapshot of my quarantine of trying to tune out all of the bad news and dreaming of being back out on the road at live shows with my band and fans.”
Tenille Townes, The Lemonade Stand
With “Somebody’s Daughter, “ the song Columbia Nashville used to introduce Townes to the U.S., it was clear that she was an artist with something to say. Subsequent single, “Jersey on the Wall,” furthered that point. Two years after “Daughter,” Townes’ Jay Joyce-produced label debut arrives and while it includes those weighty songs, there’s also room for the upbeat “Come As You Are,” and the gorgeous, ethereal “The Most Beautiful Things.”
She’s swept the Canadian Country Music Association Awards last year, including winning female artist of the year, so the question is if fans south of the border are ready to show her the same love.
Brett Eldredge, “Sunday Drive”
A lonely piano and strings weave their way through this elegant, nostalgic title track from Eldredge’s forthcoming album that looks back to a time when you’re “watching the world through an open window/trees lined up like dominos” and thinking you’ll never get old. The lovely twist in the song amps the emotional ante. Life can sometimes look pretty sweet in the rearview mirror.
Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet”
The latest from “Yours” singer takes an intimate look at his marriage on this mid-tempo track including dealing with going straight from his honeymoon to wondering how he can pay rent to finding out his wife was expecting. It’s a sweet slice of life that many listeners will be able to relate to and is perfectly in line with the number of songs tackling baby booms, including Brett Young’s “Lady,” and Jake Owen’s “Made for You.”
Chrissy Metz, “Actress”
The This is Us actress, who first showed off her considerable vocal chops on “I’m Standing With You” from the film Breakthrough, returns with the second peek at material from her forthcoming EMI Records Nashville album following “Talking to God.” The heartbreaking song, beautifully delivered by Metz, details having to put on an Oscar-worthy upbeat performance when you run into a past love and his new partner even though you’re dying inside.
Noah Schnacky, “Feels Like Love”
Co-written by Schnacky with Ross Copperman and Matt Rogers, “Feels Like Love” is a poppy summertime ode to putting the top down and enjoying the first flushes of romance. Its breeziness is perfectly suited to developing artist Schnacky’s sweet vocals. Coming to a car commercial near you.
Chris Bandi, “Would Have Loved Her”
Newcomer Bandi returns with the video for this tender ballad that serves as a love letter to his “pops” as he tells him about meeting “the one.” The piano-based tune unspools as he reveals the life — and family — that he built with “that girl I told you about.” “Pops,” of course, is dead, but the song never turns maudlin. And as Bandi performs it on a field as footage of a young girl dances, it’s a fitting ode to fathers everywhere.
Old Crow Medicine Show, “Pray for America”
Lots of topical songs coming to the fore this week. As OCMS leader Ketch Secor walks with a sign with the words “Pray for America” on it, as if he’s a one-man march, he walks past signs that detail where we find ourselves today and it’s not a pretty picture, including “Black Lives Matter,” “One in Five Americans Are Still Unemployed,” “A Black Man is Five Times More Likely To Go to Jail” and 1 in 8 Live Below the Poverty Line.” Fittingly, Secor pleas “God, set your grace on thee,” as the song closes.
Will Hoge, Tiny Little Movies
Roots rocker and exceptional songwriter Hoge (the co-writer behind Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” among others) returns with a solid, twangy album that wears his influences as Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen on its sleeve, but still manages to be original and a great companion for that road trip we’re all taking this summer instead of flying. Top tracks include the propulsive “The Overthrow” and the bluesy confessional, “My Worst.”
Also noteworthy: Teddy Robb makes his Monument Records debut with nostalgic look back at a time before cell phones, the beer was cold and trucks were old with the cleverly titled “Heaven on Dirt”… Jason Nix, who has toured with Canaan Smith amount others, debuts with the irrepressibly retro and catchy “Money on You”…Columbia Nashville new signee Kameron Marlowe makes a strong first impression with the hypnotic “Burn ‘Em All.”