First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos & albums that dropped this week.
Kane Brown, “Whiskey Sour”
Brown is known for his genre-blending collaborations with Swae Lee, Khalid and more, but as a teen, he first began building a fanbase via videos of himself covering songs by artists including Chris Young and George Strait. Since then, he’s kept up a string of pop and country collaborations, also including “What Ifs” with Lauren Alaina and “Famous Friends,” his Young collaboration which topped Billboard’s Country Airplay Songs of 2021 list.
“Whiskey Sour,” written by Adam Craig, Jaxson Free and Josh Hoge, marks one of Brown’s most traditional-leaning recordings to date, awash in fiddle and acoustic guitar. Here, Brown is an understated vocalist, placing the focus on the song’s solid storyline of a relationship that swiftly veers from idyllic to non-existent.
Dolly Parton, “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans”
Parton released her first album, Hello, I’m Dolly, in 1967. More than five decades later, she’s forged one of the most enviable and enduring song catalogs of any musical genre. She continues with her latest release, an uplifting sentiment celebrating ambition and work ethic. Parton’s endlessly effervescent voice is heartfelt on this autobiographical tale of a musician with her sights set on Nashville. The song gets a boost from jaunty acoustic guitar, and bluesy harmonica and backing vocals.
“A little scared, but what the heck/ My desire is always greater than my fear,” she sings with wide-eyed enthusiasm on this track, which was produced by Richard Dennison and Tom Rutledge. “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans” is set to be included on the album Run, Rose, Run (out March 4) — accompanied by the novel by the same name, which Parton co-authored with James Patterson.
Joe Nichols, “Good Day for Living”
On this upbeat title track to his upcoming album — his first full-length project in over four years — Nichols continues with the signature neo-traditional sound that has been so prevalent on some of his No. 1 Country Airplay hits like “Sunny and 75” and “Gimme That Girl,” a blend of old-school song construction with a modern sheen.
In “Good Day For Living,” his circumstances are less than ideal — little money, a cramped living space and a broken A/C — but that won’t dampen his bright outlook on life and love. “Ain’t making no worry no bigger than it is when it isn’t,” he sings on this track, which was written by Dave Cohen, Bobby Hambrick and Neil Mason.
Tenille Townes, “When’s It Gonna Happen”
In 2018, Townes first broke through at country radio with her top 30 song “Somebody’s Daughter,” and followed it with the heart-wrenching tribute “Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking).” In 2020, she was named the Academy of Country Music’s new female artist of the year.
In Townes’ latest release, she again proves her mettle as a writer and vocalist. In “When’s It Gonna Happen,” she’s a bystander, watching as her friends are going on dates, picking out wedding rings and exchanging vows. But though she’s left pondering when she’ll find her own true love, Townes’ rendering flourishes from softly heartbroken to proudly anthemic. She co-wrote the song with Steph Jones and Stephen Wrabel.
Hailey Whitters, “Everything She Ain’t”
Over the past several years, Whitters has proven herself a stellar songwriter (she earned a Grammy nomination as a co-writer on the song “A Beautiful Noise”) and artist in equal measure. With her latest, she warns a guy that his current romantic flame might have “a little style and a Hollywood smile,” but his girl’s not treating him right. Thankfully, Whitters has the solution: “I’m everything she is/ and everything she ain’t.”
On this track, penned by Whitters with Bryan Simpson and Ryan Tyndell, handclaps and sweet fiddle lines boost Whitters’ charming vocal and razor-sharp wordplay. “Everything She Ain’t” is from Whitters’ upcoming third album, Raised, set to be released March 18 via Pigasus/Songs & Daughters/Big Loud.
Danielle Bradbery, “Break My Heart Again”
Since 2017’s “I Don’t Believe We’ve Met,” Bradbery has increasingly incorporated R&B and pop elements into her sound, experimenting with the range of textures her versatile voice can produce. This collaboration from Riley Biederer and “Butter” co-writer Rob Grimaldi offers Bradbery a complex melody and aching storyline, further elevated by soft piano and production from Nathan Chapman. Bradbery’s agile vocals tumble expertly across the verses, before leaping into the elegant, anguished chorus.
“You could be gone in the morning/ I wouldn’t mind if it meant I get one more night,” Bradbery sings, easily relating post-breakup longing and anxiety. She knows she’ll likely just get her heart broken again if they reunite, but it’s worth it to be with her lover in the end.
Amythst Kiah, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Last year, Kiah released her Rounder debut Wary+Strange, which earned critical acclaim and landed Kiah three Americana Music Award nominations, as well as two from the organization’s British counterpart, Americana UK. This year, Kiah returns to the road with her own string of tour dates, and will join Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend Festival in Mexico.
Here, Kiah offers a stirring rendition of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” led by Kiah’s stunning alto vocal, which simmers and splinters with anguish in all the right places through these classic lyrics about two lovers steadily growing apart.
Josh Mirenda, “Til The Neon’s Gone”
As a co-writer on hits recorded by Jason Aldean (“They Don’t Know,” “Girl Like You”) and Dierks Bentley (“Somewhere on a Beach”), Mirenda knows his way around clever wordplay. With his debut single for Average Joe’s Entertainment, Mirenda melds a throwback ’90s country sound with timeless country imagery such as neon lights and dusty barrooms into an ode of everlasting devotion. “The truth about a cowboy/ is the good ones don’t always ride away,” Mirenda sings, making it clear that his love will last until there are no dirt roads in country songs and no whiskey in honky tonks.
Naturally, Mirenda is a co-writer on the song, which he penned with Jon Nite and Ashley Gorley. Mirenda is set to release an EP via Average Joe’s Entertainment later this year.
Brett Eldredge, “Want That Back”
In a world filled with hate and judgement, the constant lure of social media, and talking heads on news stations, Eldredge longs for simpler times. He recalls “the shine of a new summer/ barefoot baseball with my brother,” and a host youthful memories from an era when a long drive, a summer love, or simply being with friends was enough. A top-shelf singer, Eldredge easily telegraphs the song’s wistfulness and longing to jettison the load of hate, judgement and heavy burdens for a while. He’s also a co-writer on the song with Scooter Carusoe.
Jacob Bryant, “The Bottom (Raise ‘Em Up)”
Though the song’s title would make it seem that this track is simply another ode to alcohol-fueled good times, Bryant adds another layer. This song honors those who had to start at the bottom and made their dreams come true through hard work and determination—though to be sure, it includes plenty of encouragement to down a few celebratory drinks.
The track is included on Bryant’s new album, Bar Stool Preacher, which releases Jan. 14.