This week’s Must-Hear New Country column features newcomers, legends and legends-in-the-making. Charley Crockett teams with Willie Nelson for a duet, while Brittney Spencer, Megan Moroney, Elvie Shane and more reliable favorites offer up stellar new releases.
Charley Crockett and Willie Nelson, “That’s What Makes the World Go Around”
Two of Texas’ most towering truth-tellers combine forces, as Crockett and the nonagenarian Red Headed Stranger team up for this sacredly country tale, which Crockett co-wrote with Kullen Fox, Rich Brotherton and Taylor Grace. Nelson’s music has been a key influence on Crockett’s own unique hybrid of styles, with Crockett having previously performed as part of Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival. Here, the two convey the story of a woman torn between the allure of dark bars with a vibrant honky-tonk sound, and the wholesome appeal of lighthearted moments such as soaking in the joy of watching children playing outdoors. This unadorned track adeptly weaves Nelson’s distinctive voice and guitar playing with Crockett’s earthy, soulful sound.
Brittney Spencer, “Night In”
This electrifying groove makes an evening staying in with comfy clothes, good friends and favorite tunes spinning as irresistible as any dressed up night on the town. Spencer mixes up rock riffs, vivid lyrics and her nimble, captivating voice, then further heightens the fun and girl power with backing vocals from her friend and fellow singer-songwriter Maren Morris. Written by Spencer, Jessica Cayne and Summer Overstreet, with production by Daniel Tashian, this makes for an alluring preview to Spencer’s upcoming album My Stupid Life, out Jan. 19.
Elvie Shane, “What Do I Know”
Shane broke through with the tender stepfather/stepson ode “My Boy” in 2021. Since then, he’s issued songs that remind listeners of his affiliation for hard rock anthems. He continues that vision on his latest preview to his upcoming album, Damascus (out April 19). He wrote “What Do I Know” with Dan Couch, Jonathan Sherwood and Oscar Charles, with Charles producing.
Lyrically, Shane is in reflective mode, cataloging things he feels to be true, ranging from his preference for Coke mixed with Jack Daniels, a six-string guitar as the premier vessel for storytelling, and his belief that grudges mostly harm those who hold them. The production starts out more sparse than some of his previous efforts, but swiftly accelerates into his signature full-bodied, guitar-driven sound. His voice retains a world-weary edge, but it’s when the song draws to a close that he showcases the Southern rock rawness it possesses.
Tigirlily Gold, “I Tried a Ring On”
Tigirlily Gold previously earned a Country Airplay top 40 hit with the feel-good anthem “Shoot Tequila.” Here, this harmonically savvy sibling duo unearths the nuance of reticence of moving on after a relationship that once held so much hope has fizzled. The duo’s sisters, Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh, wrote the song with Josh Jenkins and Pete Good. They describe the relational aspirations held to the heart — envisioning the wedding day, the dress and all the matrimonial ceremony details — before taking the blame for not seeing the relationship for the short-lived moment that it was.
Annie Bosko, Annie Bosko EP
Bosko issues this self-titled, five-song EP, chock-full of ’90s country sounds and a stellar roster of writers contributing to the project, including Hannah Dasher, Wynn Varble, Bridgette Tatum and Trent Tomlinson. The sinewy R&B-country come-on of “Neon Baby” is superb, as the singer/songwriter sets up essentials for a romantic evening with candles and classic country tunes spinning. Meanwhile, “Boots On” is a countrified female empowerment anthem, a twangy celebration of hard-working ladies who know how to have fun when the workweek winds down. She continues her rollicking ways on “Honky Tonk Highway” and the Lainey Wilson-penned “He Gone.” Overall, Bosko’s vocal is energetic and competent, with a set of songs seemingly tailor-made for rousing live shows.
Drake Milligan, “Don’t Leave Me Loving You”
Milligan has previously gained fans through his rowdy boot-stompers such as “I Got a Problem” and “Sounds Like Something I’d Do.” But here, he artfully employs his silky, hearty twang to this pleading ballad. He knows a relationship is coming to an end, but he asks not for another chance, but rather an irrefutable certainty to its ending. “Come leave me hurt, come leave me mad/ Come leave my heart broken in half,” he sings, on this solid throwback ’90s country arrangement, crafted by Ben Stennis, Bobby Pinson and Matt Rogers.
Megan Moroney, “What Are You Listening To?“
It’s a tall order for any artist to take on a song previously recorded by lion-throated singer Chris Stapleton, but “I Ain’t Pretty” singer-songwriter Moroney puts her own introspective spin on this early 2013 Stapleton release. Moroney previously released a live performance video of the song and quickly followed with this studio version. Here, Moroney eschews any attempt to replicate Stapleton’s penchant for full-throated angst, but rather wraps her elegant voice, all purr and scratch, around the lyric, drawing out more sadness and resignation than agony. Her debut album Lucky has already proven her skill as a writer — this track further evinces her skill as a vocal interpreter as well.
Shaylen, “Been There Before”
When a potential lover invites her back to his place, she turns him down, knowing his ruse makes him practically indistinguishable from suitors that have come before him. “I bet you’ll take my coat to show you’re a gentleman/ Hang it in the closet next to your skeletons,” she sings on this track that spills with specific, accusatory details, also noting a photoframe facedown in his room, a bottle of whiskey by his bedside and “dirty laundry all over the floor.” The song’s pop-country production gives off early Taylor Swift vibes at moments, but Shaylen delivers with strong, wisened confidence.
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