First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos & albums that dropped this week.
Kelly Clarkson & Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”
In 1980, music legend Dolly Parton released the titular song to the soundtrack of the anthemic, working woman’s film 9 to 5 (which she starred in alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin). With it, Parton unleashed a musical warning shot that called to account the injustices women face in the workplace. Here, the song’s original peppy vibe gets a slowed down, soulful remake, thanks to Parton’s collaboration with Kelly Clarkson — as well as the production work of Shane McAnally, Sasha Alex Sloan and King Henry. The subdued production places a strong spotlight on Parton’s timeless lyrics about workplace equality, which are just as powerful (and sadly, still painfully relevant) 40 years after the original’s release. The new song is included in the upcoming documentary Still Working 9 to 5.
Julie Roberts & Jamey Johnson, “Music City’s Killing Me”
Back in 2004, Roberts earned a top 20 Billboard country hit with “Break Down Here,” and was heralded for her soulful voice. She followed with a string of releases including “Men and Mascara,” and albums including 2013’s Good Wine & Bad Decisions. In her latest release, she teams with one of Grand Ole Opry’s newest members, Jamey Johnson, to take on the heartache, creative restraints and deception that oftentimes comes with chasing down a dream on the streets of Nashville. Fiddle-drenched, crammed with emotional truths, and featuring two artists whose voices command attention, this song will be included on Roberts’ upcoming album, out Oct. 28.
Tyler Childers, “Angel Band” (Jubilee Version)
Childers, the singer/songwriter behind 2020’s Grammy-nominated Long Violent History, as well as 2017’s Purgatory and 2019’s Country Squire, is back — along with backing band the Food Stamps — with the upcoming release of the three-part gospel album, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?, on Sept. 30. On the project, eight songs are recorded in different ways: live (Hallelujah version), with added instruments (Jubilee), as well as a not-yet-described Joyful Noise version. On “Angel Band” (Jubilee Version), Childers offers a meditation on a unified heavenly choir, as he sings, “There’s Hindus, Jews and Muslims, and Baptists of all kinds/ Catholic girls and Amish plowboys…singing side by side, wondering why exactly/ They’ve been fussing the whole time.”
Pillbox Patti, “Eat, Pray, Drugs”
A cool, hazy ode to a trio of popular solutions for abating the boredom that comes with abiding in a small town, “Eat Pray Drugs” was written by Pillbox Patti (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Nicolette Hayford), with Aaron Raitiere, Park Chisolm, Benjy Davis and Connie Harrington. Rock-tinged, moody, with lyrics that cut to the bone, Pillbox Patti proves she has plenty more unflinching honesty beyond the work she’s done as a co-writer on songs for Ashley McBryde. With “Eat Pray Drugs,” she offers her own artistic expression on her upcoming album, Florida, out in October.
Zach Bryan, “Burn, Burn, Burn”
Bryan has been burning up the country charts with songs like “Something in the Orange,” which is also a top 40 crossover hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Here, he offers another largely acoustic track, filled with wistful longings to see loved ones who have passed on, take a drive on a back road, write some songs on an old guitar and take in all life has to offer. As the song winds toward its closing strains, his voice turns ragged and desperate to experience the full range of life, from pain to love and joy, in what is surely a live show favorite for Bryan.
Avery Anna, “What Made You Think?”
A smooth, lilting melody, and Anna’s emollient vocal lead the way on this feisty ballad. She boldly shrugs off any responsibility for her ex’s repeated attempts at rekindling their relationship, as she sings knowingly, “I played your game one too many times.” Anna wrote “What Made You Think?” with Andy Sheridan and Seth Ennis, and the track is featured on her upcoming EP, Mood Swings, out Oct. 7.
Larry Fleet and Morgan Wallen, “Where I Find God (Live)”
Larry Fleet broke through in 2021 with this introspective track, which he wrote with Connie Harrington. Fleet has been opening shows on Wallen’s “The Dangerous Tour,” and just released a live performance video of the song, featuring Wallen. This acoustic rendition highlights the similar timbre the two vocalists share, and judging by the crowd reaction, it was a sweet moment for fans in the audience.
Dustin Lynch, “Wood on the Fire”
This off-and-on again couple described in this Dustin Lynch song can’t quite let each other go — or as Lynch puts it, they “keep throwing wood on the fire.” Lynch’s urgent vocal captures both the song’s longing and frustration, while the churning-yet-intimate production offers plenty of spark.