First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos & albums that dropped this week.
Zach Bryan, “Summertime Blues“
Just months after topping the Billboard Country Albums chart with his whopping 34-track album American Heartbreak in May, this prolific, country and Americana-synthesizing artist returns with the nine-track EP Summertime Blues. The slow-burning, demo-like title track makes great use of Bryan’s craggy, weathered voice and the song finds the singer-songwriter staring into a summer sunset, musing that he has no one to share it with as the summer months stretch long before him. This year, Bryan has had successful sets at Stagecoach Country Music Festival and at its newly-minted, more Americana-leaning cousin, Palomino Festival. Meanwhile, his song “Something in the Orange” just entered the Country Airplay chart at No. 59 and is in the top 10 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Bryan is shaping up to be one of the most exciting country music newcomers of the year.
Zac Brown Band with Cody Johnson, “Wild Palomino”
“Palomino” seems to be the word of the moment, as the appellation of Miranda Lambert’s most recent album, the brand of a new country music festival from the makers of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, and now the title of Zac Brown Band’s collab with Cody Johnson. Country music’s preeminent, free-wheeling jam band teams with one of its brightest neo-traditionalists, in a soft ode to hard-charging troubadours who love as fiercely as they run free. Superb harmonies and a heartfelt delivery make this an ace pairing.
Tyler Hubbard, “Way Home”
This come-to-Jesus anthem follows Hubbard’s initial solo offerings, “5 Foot 9” and “35’s.” Written by Hubbard with Corey Crowder and Canaan Smith (with production from Jordan Schmidt), this track centers on a wayward soul returning to a spiritual homebase. “More than one time, I took the wrong two-lane, just lettin’ my horses run wild/ Yeah, I got lost, until I got found,” Hubbard sings on this heartfelt track. Offering one of his most earnest vocals to date, this is a solid solo effort from Hubbard.
LeAnn Rimes feat. Mickey Guyton and Sheila E., “the wild”
LeAnn Rimes teams with “Black Like Me” singer-songwriter Guyton and renowned percussionist Sheila E. for one of Rimes’ most unvarnished, important musical releases to date, as the trio of musicians fire back at centuries of persecution against women. Penned by Rimes and her longtime collaborator Darrell Brown, haunting chants and sharp percussion flow around lyrical firebombs as potent as their illustrious voices, on lines such as “The persecution of the woman, the burning has gone on for too f–king long,” and the pointed, “We’ve been told that our sex is ungodly, and we’ve been told that our rage is too much/ But when rage burns through our heart…it restokes the fire that changes the world.” “the wild” marks the fifth release from Rimes’ upcoming Sept. 16 album, god’s work.
Wade Bowen feat. Vince Gill, “A Guitar, A Singer and a Song”
This is a stunning ode to the creative tug at the heart of singer-songwriters, regardless of their fame or fortune. With a title like that, Bowen smartly joined forces with fellow triple threat singer, writer and musician Gill, who has earned 18 Country Music Association awards to date.
“You think you’re singing a song, but the song’s singing you/ I don’t know why I do what I do/ I just know that I’m in right or wrong,” Bowen sings, backed by Gill’s airtight harmonies. Gill takes the lead on the second verse, his voice sterling and wisdom-filled. Between Bowen and Gill, the two artists effortlessly convey the endless passion to create and perform, alongside the reality that their music will far outlive them.
Kelsea Ballerini, “Love is a Cowboy”
Flashes of fiddle and plinking guitar mesh with lyrical imagery of boots, John Wayne, as Ballerini sketches the futileness of trying to tame a lover filled with wanderlust. One of Ballerini’s more earthy country releases to date, “Love Is a Cowboy” follows the glossy “Heartfirst” from the singer-songwriter’s upcoming September album Subject to Change.
Arlo McKinley, This Mess We’re In
McKinley has penned songs recorded by Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers. The follow-up to 2020’s Die Midwestern EP, McKinley’s latest for Oh Boy Records solidifies his place as one of the most exciting new voices in country and Americana. On this 11-song project, which includes songs such as “City Lights” and “Rushintherug,” McKinley outpaces his previous musical efforts, further proving his ability to forge potent, impactful songs from moments of pain, loss, joy and longing.
For King & Country with Hillary Scott, “For God Is With Us”
Earlier this year, CCM duo for King & Country earned a three-week No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart with this song. Now, they team with country trio Lady A’s Hillary Scott for a revamped version of this hit, which makes great use of Scott’s powerful vocals and tasteful ad libbing throughout.
This pairing feels natural, though a country-CCM crossover is nothing new for either the sibling duo or for Scott — for King & Country previously teamed with country music legend Dolly Parton for the Grammy-winning duet “God Only Knows,” while Scott picked up a few Grammys of her own, for her CCM album Love Remains and the song “Thy Will.”
Julia Cole, Whole ‘Nother Margarita EP
Over the course of this five-song EP, Cole takes listeners deeper into her creative soul, building upon previous releases such as her viral TikTok hit “Sidepiece.” On “Rather Be Crazy,” she’s clear-eyed and fearless, even when she knows she’s not making the best decisions. “Growing Up (Are You Happy)” takes to task society’s expectations on 20-somethings to race through pre-determined milestones, while rarely focusing on finding happiness, regardless of the timeline. Throughout the five-song EP, Cole’s voice ranges from feather-light to appropriately acerbic in “Thank God We Broke Up.” A promising release from this newcomer.
Alana Springsteen, History of Breaking Up (Part Two)
Last year, Springsteen released History of Breaking Up (Part One), and follows it with this eight-song, pop-country collection that blends muted twang, breezy rhythms, and Springsteen’s voice — which, though commanding, relies on intimate singer-songwriter confessionals rather than vocal acrobatics. Springsteen is a writer on all but one of the songs on the project, with the exception of the stirring and vulnerable Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley and Rhett Akins composition “New Number.” “Trust Issues” is a self-aware reflection of the emotional wreckage left in the wake of a breakup, while the ethereal and stinging “History of Breaking Up” catalogs the hateful words and the divvying up of belongings that accompany a romantic dissolution.