First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, albums and videos that dropped this week.
Carly Pearce, 29: Written in Stone
An expansion of Pearce‘s previously-released (and now CMA album of the year-nominated) EP 29, this full-fledged project is steeped in ’90s country influences, and exquisitely maps out the stages of emotional wreckage Pearce has weathered over the past few years — both through a divorce and the death of her former producer busbee, who she offers the soul-stirring ballad “Show Me Around” in tribute to. Regarding the former, she lays it all on the line on songs such as “All The Whiskey in the World” and the Kelsea Ballerini co-write “Diamondback,” and revels in a well-crafted turn of a phrase in the gut-punch hook to “Easy Going” (“Now that it’s all out/ out in the open/ you made it so easy going”).
Patty Loveless joins her on “Dear Miss Loretta,” as Pearce sings of how her own romantic hardships made her fully appreciate the frank, steely songwriting of country music legend and fellow Kentucky native Loretta Lynn. Glimmers of hope and continued healing do show up in the album’s closing song, “Mean It This Time,” as she aims to put the past behind her and hope for a lasting romance down the road. Her voice brings clarity to every nuance of heartbreak and survival on this project and the result is her finest work to date, and one of the most emotionally resonant country albums released so far this year.
Scotty McCreery, Same Truck
McCreery’s previous album, Seasons Change, earned the singer-songwriter three No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. On his latest outing, he continues proving his mettle not only in the recording booth but in the writing room, as a co-writer on the bulk of the project’s songs. While the album is filled with songs about love and odes to McCreery’s small-town, North Carolina roots, one of the album’s most sterling tracks, “The Waiter,” penned with album co-producer Frank Rogers and Matthew West, is a tender portrait of enduring love. Another ace is the clever track “Damn Strait,” a rare outside cut on the project, penned by Trent Tomlinson and Jim Collins, in which McCreery name checks several of King George’s greatest hits.
Florida Georgia Line, “Always Gonna Love You”
On this release from Florida Georgia Line‘s album Life Rolls On, love is as strong and reliable as a strong cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal after the Sunday service. The new video for the track, helmed by director TK McKamy, centers on a couple doing their best to care for their daughter as they navigate parenting separately. After spending the day with his daughter, the father drops her off with her mom. When he’s asked to stay for dinner, he hesitates and makes an excuse to leave. However, the love between them is still there, and in the video’s sweet conclusion, they take a leap of faith and a first step toward rekindling the relationship, much to the delight of the young girl.
Old Dominion, “Hawaii”
Following their recent hit “I Was on a Boat That Day,” this country quintet keeps the beach vibes flowing on this sunny track about longing for a return to the Aloha State. “Wish we could go back to island time,” the group’s lead vocalist Matthew Ramsey sings, his warm voice coursing alongside his Old Dominion bandmates’ relaxed harmonies, bolstered by flashes of guitar and ukulele. Elsewhere, the song’s lyrics paint a vivid, sunny portraits of coastal utopia, complete with swigs of pineapple rum from a coconut, and name-checking of Elvis and Priscilla. “Hawaii” is from their upcoming album Time, Tequila & Therapy, which will be released Oct. 8.
Ray Fulcher, Larkin Hill Mixes
As a co-writer on country hits including “Even Though I’m Leaving,” “Does To Me” and “When It Rains It Pours,” Fulcher is one of a group of co-writers that have helped artist and writer in his own right Luke Combs notch 11 No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. With this five-song EP, Fulcher proves he’s got an amiable voice and plenty more radio-friendly fare in his arsenal. Here, he takes pride in the term redneck (the ‘90s country-esque “Compliment”), raises a can to some of life’s most memorable milestones (“Bucket List Beers”), maintains that every top-shelf memory has “A Girl in It,” and muses that self-defining moments are worth the pain (“Damn If It Didn’t Hurt”).
Jameson Rodgers, Bet You’re From A Small Town
Mississippi-born Rodgers earned a Platinum-selling song in 2019 with “Some Girls,” and has followed it with the Luke Combs collaboration “Cold Beer Calling My Name.” On his debut album, Rodgers co-wrote 14 of the 15 songs, all of which chronicle his rural upbringing and big dreams. The title track catalogs the nuances of growing up in a rural community, from summers spent hauling hay for spending money, to logging hours driving on old dirt roads with the radio turned up loud. Music from The Hag helps him survive a breakup in “Merle Haggard” (“Mama tried to warn me you would break my heart in two/ Merle Haggard would’ve wrote songs about you”). One of the project’s best is “Porch With a View,” which finds him “coffee-canning” his money, and dreaming of a home on a big plot of land to share with his lover.
Laine Hardy, Here’s to Anyone
This former American Idol winner teamed with Michael Knox on his full-length debut project. Hardy co-wrote two tracks on the album, which proves a suitable introduction to Hardy’s story and artistry, detailing his Louisiana roots (“The Other L.A.”) and small-town raising (“Here’s To Anyone”). While much of the album is radio-friendly, country-pop fare, he’s at his best on the moody, southern rock-infused “Authentic,” which makes the most of his limber vocals, years of guitar playing and classic rock influences.
Ray Scott, Cover The Earth
Back in 2005, Ray Scott cracked the Top 40 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart with his declarative debut album My Kind of Music. Since then, he’s stayed true to that missive, with a style of traditional-minded country music seemingly custom-made for fans of Waylon Jennings and Haggard, and a voice as smooth and sturdy as fine leather. On his 12-track effort, Scott’s songwriting is painstakingly crafted, mining lyrics and stories that match his top-shelf vocals.
On the title track, he details the story of a father who settles down in a small town after seeing the horrors of war overseas, while his son grows up to be drawn to travel and the open road. “I wanna cover the earth until it’s covering me,” he sings. Elsewhere, he brings a world-weary tone to lines like “Ain’t gonna cry for help/ Don’t wanna bring that kind of shame down on myself,” in “Valley Like This,” which details a battle with depression kept close to the vest.
Hailey Whitters feat. Trisha Yearwood, “How Far Can It Go?”
Singer-songwriter Whitters previously teamed with Little Big Town for the track “Fillin’ My Cup” on her deluxe album Living the Dream. Here, on a song she penned with Nicolle Galyon and Hillary Lindsey, Whitters continues with the winning formula by welcoming vocalist extraordinaire Yearwood on this retro-flavored, ‘90s country-influenced track. With an airy melody and front-and-center fiddle, “How Far Can It Go?” ponders whether a fresh-faced romance can go the distance. Though Yearwood and Whitters did not record the track together in the studio, they did team up for the new video, which captures an easygoing camaraderie between the two unique vocalists.