This week’s new country round-up features Ashley Monroe’s ethereal, dreamy new song, while Midland offers up a rendition of one of Glen Campbell’s signature songs and Bill Anderson is part of an all-star Country Music Hall of Fame lineup.
Ashley Monroe, “Over Everything”
Three-time Grammy nominee Monroe returns with her first new music since her 2021 project Rosegold and with it, further refines her place as one of the most engaging vocalists in the country music firmament. Written with Al Anderson and Scott Stepakoff, “Over Everything” offers her distinct, fluttering soprano over molten, muted percussion as she envisions escaping a town that brings days of monotony and continual emotional baggage for a life similar to the freedom she finds in her dreams. Airy, understated and clear-eyed, the song is lifted by the quiet assuredness in Monroe’s vocal.
Wyatt Flores, “Life Lessons”
Over the past few years, the runaway success of artists like Zach Bryan has also bolstered success for other genre-melding, country/Americana-influenced artists such as Oklahoma native Flores, who has seen such songs of his as “Please Don’t Go” and “Losing Sleep” gain major traction on streaming. On the rollicking, banjo-led title track to his new seven-track EP Life Lessons, Flores delves deep into his country and bluegrass influences. With a vocal both wide-eyed and wisened, Flores reflects that while neither of his grandparents graduated from high school, it’s in his blood that his lessons are learned best on the road rather than from a blackboard. Life Lessons also features his previous releases “West of Tulsa” and “Holes.”
Midland, “Wichita Lineman”
From their debut single “Drinkin’ Problem,” through more recent releases Let It Roll and “Cheatin’ Songs,” this harmony-based trio’s Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson have long demonstrated the deep influence of over four decades of country music on their projects, which are spilling with vintage country references. Now, the band offers up an adept rendering of a country classic, this 1968 signature hit from the late Glen Campbell, a song they’ve regularly featured in their live shows, Sinewy guitar lines bring a languid pace to the song, accented by Wystrach’s silken lead vocal, before the song spaces out with a bluesy, rock-leaning guitar line.
Meg McRee, “History of Heartbreak”
“In the history of heartbreak/ This one’s in the hall of fame,” McRee sings pointedly over rippling, melancholy acoustic guitar. This Vanderbilt grad has steadily constructed a reputation as a potent songcrafter, writing songs for Grace Potter, Caylee Hammack and Elle King. She expands on that position with this raw and woeful track, written alongside Ashley Monroe and Bryan Simpson. The song also serves as the title track to McRee’s upcoming Dec. 8 full-length project.
Priscilla Block, “Hey, Jack”
She’s gussying up with cutoff jeans, press-on nails and boxed haircolor, looking to soothe a heartbreak with a night out on the town. Block is known for her witty feminist anthems and uproarious fare like “Off the Deep End” and “Thick Thighs.” On her latest, she notes, “I’m sorry, champagne, maybe some other day/ There ain’t nothin’ to celebrate.” Maybe so, but here, she proves even her songs about busted love have a swagger and verve. Block wrote the track with Randy Montana, Dave Cohen and Jeremy Stover.
Tanner Usrey and Ella Langley, “Beautiful Lies”
For his debut project Crossing Lines, Usrey refreshes his breakthrough song, “Beautiful Lies,” by teaming with “Excuse the Mess” singer-songwriter and Alabama native Ella Langley. Usrey trades in resignation rather than angst here, layered with Langley’s impassioned drawl, as they sing about a self-destructive relationship. “My first mistake was believing that you would stay/ When I know every good damn thing, it fades,” they sing. Their harmonies are pristine, soaring over understated guitar and softened percussion. A superb pairing of two earnest vocalists.
Bill Anderson, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare & Jimmy Fortune, “The Country I Grew Up With”
Five members of the Country Music Hall of Fame join forces here, spearheaded by Bill Anderson. The song begins with Gill’s warm tenor, building with the addition of Anderson, Bare, Nelson and Fortune as they trade off memories of a bygone era, meeting and spending time with their fellow country artists, including Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner, and discussing the warmth and generosity they felt from their close friends and artists.
As the song progresses, they mourn the loss of such friendships, and the term “country” shifts from country music to America, as they mourn a country tattered by anger and division. “There’s not enough love and too much hate,” they sing.
Anderson wrote the song with Lance Miller and Bobby Tomberlin, with production from Anderson and Thomas Jutz. An all-star cast of musicians aid the song, including drummer John Gardner, guitarist Jutz, bassist James Gordon Freeze, pianist Dirk Johnson, fiddler Tammy Rogers and pedal steel guitarist Scotty Sanders.
Renee Blair, “Hillbillies and Betties”
Renee Blair has found greater acclaim over the past year as a writer on the rock-tinged Lainey Wilson/HARDY collaboration “Wait in the Truck.” But in her own latest unabashedly country release, tender banjo and steel guitar are laced around the song’s notion of enduring small-town love stories that blossom around a shared cola, nights spent in a Chevy truck and saving up money in pursuit of two lovers’ shared dream. Blair wrote the song with Blake Pendergrass, Nick Bailey and Lenny Pey.
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