First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos and albums that dropped this week.
Chris Stapleton, “Cold”
After releasing jaunty “Starting Over” a few weeks ago, Stapleton returns with another peek into his forthcoming album with this earth-shattering ballad, co-written by Stapleton, producer Dave Cobb, J.T. Cure and Derek Mixon. The song opens with a dirge-like piano and just gets sadder from there as Stapleton, on one of his most soulful vocals, asks why his lover has to “cut me like a knife…girl, you know you left this hole right here in the middle of my soul.” Add in strings and a B.B. King-like guitar solo and this is the finest rip-your-heart-out song you’ll hear all day…or any day.
Carrie Underwood, My Gift
Underwood’s first holiday album (how has this not happened before?) marries her crystalline vocals with majestic standards including “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night” to beautiful effect. Her five-year old son chimes in on “Little Drummer Boy,” while she and John Legend duet on the uplifting “Hallelujah,” one of three originals written for the project. Destined to become a perennial.
Scotty McCreery, “You Time”
For fans who have been following McCreery since his American Idol stint nearly a decade ago, it’s been a delight to watch him grow up in front of our eyes. With the fun, sultry “You Time,” he loves his life on the road, but longs for “me and you time” with his wife where he can enjoy “red wine, sipping in the moonlight, your touch, your skin, your lips kissing on me all night.” The first single from his forthcoming album bodes well for his streak of three back-to-back No. 1s to continue.
Trisha Yearwood, “I’ll Carry You Home”
After performing the song, introduced on last year’s Every Girl album, during the In Memoriam segment at last week’s ACM Awards, Yearwood officially releases the touching song of support and solidarity, made all the more memorable by her stunning delivery.
Michael Ray, “Whiskey and Rain”
Ray returns with this melancholy mid-tempo ballad about trying to get over someone with whiskey and rain the only constants in his life as he tries to drown the pain. Written by Josh Thompson and Jesse Frasure, the tune is a throwback to brooding songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s with solid production by Ross Copperman highlighting Ray’s vulnerable delivery.
Caitlyn Smith feat. Old Dominion, “I Can’t”
For the deluxe version of her sophomore album, Supernova, Smith recreates slow burner “I Can’t” as a duet with Old Dominion, giving the sinewy track about not being able to move on after a relationship ends a new dimension.
Travis Tritt, “Ghost Town Nation”
The first release from his upcoming Dave Cobb-produced album, “Ghost Town Nation” has the swampy southern rock Tritt is best known for. The single, Tritt’s first in a decade, may be the first song to rhyme “eleven” with “armageddon” as he endorses escaping to the country to get away from today’s pressures.
Earl Thomas Conley, Promised Land: The Lost Album
When Conley died in 2019, country music lost one of its most authentic, treasured voices. Promised Land features previously unreleased tunes recorded by Conley in 2000 and 2001, but they fit right in with his ‘80s-era hits in terms of straight-ahead, guitar-driven production that place the emphasis squarely on Conley’s vocals. Conley didn’t need bells and whistles then and, wisely, producer Nelson Larkin didn’t add them when cutting these tracks, the best of which are “Better Said Than Done,” “Working My Way Down” and “Your Love Is Worth It All.”
Brandy Clark feat. Brandi Carlile, “Same Devil”
Produced by Brandi Carlile and featuring the Grammy winner on backing vocals, “Same Devil” is a hard-hitting, haunting track about the demons we face in these trying times…some self-inflicted, others thrust upon us. “Everybody got some kind of hell, just different levels,” Clark sings. Written during the pandemic, the song won’t provide any comfort if that’s what you’re looking for, just cold hard truths exquisitely rendered.
John Rich, “Earth To God”
Rich makes a straight-forward plea to God to “send his love down/take away the pain in your holy name/we ask this now.” Accompanied by a spare piano and strings, and a swelling choir as the song builds, Rich delivers a song that should appeal to anyone who is looking for a little grace these days. The video includes footage from Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse’s international relief efforts. Rich will perform the song at Sept. 26’s Washington Prayer March.
Danielle Bradbery, “Girls In My Hometown”
In this reflective ballad, Bradbery looks back on the girls she grew up with and what they are doing now. As she left town to pursue her dreams, she wonders if those she left behind are married or getting jaded. Are they “making daddy proud?” More poignantly, she questions if they—and she—got it right with the decisions they have made.
Donovan Woods feat. Katie Pruitt, “She Waits For Me To Come Back Down”
Juno Award-winning Canadian singer songwriter Woods strikes a gentle, poignant note with this tender duet with Pruitt. Woods sings glowingly of his love and her infinite patience in the layered, atmospheric ballad: “I’m a mess/she’s a masterpiece…she waits for me to come back down.” Just the sight of her is enough to calm him down.
Jamey Johnson & Keb’ Mo feat. Robert Randolph and Angela Primm, “Amazing Grace”
Country outlaw Johnson is one of those artists who can believably sell every word of “Amazing Grace” and here, combined with the always stellar Keb’ Mo, Randolph and Primm, they pay tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis in a video that uses news footage from Lewis’s life as a young activist and from the Civil Rights movement—as well as Lewis’s final trip in a caisson across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. A fitting and moving salute to a most remarkable man.
Also noteworthy: Granger Smith releases the affable Country Things Vol. 1, the first part of his 10th studio album, led by stand out tracks, “Hate You Like I Love You,” the twangy title track, former single, “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads,” and deserving single “Heroes”… Following “That Kind of Song,” big-voiced Liv Charette, who sounds like a rough-hewn Carrie Underwood, returns with love-gone-wrong song “Bulletproof”… After releasing a number of tunes that have garnered him a streaming following, Filmore finally puts out State I’m In, his full-length Curb debut, and it’s a whopping 18 country pop tracks, many of which sound radio ready, including finger-popping “New To This” and the catchy “Nothing’s Better,” which would have sounded perfect on a Jonas Bros. album… Red dirt country star Aaron Watson returns with the sprightly, infectious, fiddle-flecked “Silverado Saturday Night,” a song sure to make the listener forget about any troubles that might exist outside of the truck.