Here are Max Sparber's picks for the best new country and Americana songs of March, 2018.
“Two Cold Nights in Buffalo,” Courtney Marie Andrews
Dylan-style organ and a Band-style country rock arrangement, Andrews
sings a quavering song of lovers trapped on the wrong side of town in a
“Whistle Down the Wind,” Joan Baez
Tackling Tom Waits’ quietly
heartbroken song off “Bone Machine,” Baez recreates it as a gentle folk
masterpiece, her lilting, heavy vibrato making the song’s longing and
wistfulness almost unbearable.
“The Burden,” The Bones of JR Jones
A sprightly, charming duet
between singers Jonathon Robert Linaberry and Nicole Atkins, over a
pounded kick drum, handclaps, and a poppy piano figure. The singers
insist to each other that they really, really want to help the other
“Basil Gone to Blossom,” Caitlin Canty
I loved “Take Me for a
Ride” from this album when it was released as a single; now I’m going to
recommend “Basil,” a quiet honky tonk number with classic pedal steel
solo and lyrics in which a lost love plays out as nature going to seed.
“Faded Red,” Kevin Daniel
Cheerfully soulful tune, backed by
banjo and organ, about recovering from a traumatic past and barely
holding it together in the present. “If you want to break down, break
down the whole way,” Daniel sings, unexpected ska-like horns rising
“The Load,” Katy Guillen & The Girls
Over swampy slide guitars Guillen sings a bluesy number about just what a drag the day to day can be and what a relief it is to just refuse to be responsible. “The load will make you older,” Guillen explains.
“Roads We’ve Never Taken,” High Valley
A rip-roaring ode to the
pleasures of long drives, benefiting from a Statler Brothers-style
melody, banjo and slide guitar duet, and close harmony singing.
“Cold Mountain,” Vivian Leva
A magnificent, old-timey mountain
holler. Leva’s singing is precise and lovely, but also unafraid of
leaning into the distinctive keening twang of Appalachian music.
“Lungs,” Long Tall Deb and Colin John
A rendition of Townes Van
Zandt’s corrosive classic that sounds like local singers at some cheap
hotel cocktail lounge that somehow convinced Iron Butterfly to be their
backup band. The results are unexpectedly delightful.
“Melt Like Wax,” Logan Magness
Over a rattling combination of
ratatat drums and a high, keening pedal steel guitar, and plinky piano
vamping, Magness sings of going for a long drive with someone you love
to try and escape lingering self-loathing.
“Wind-Up Man,” Trixie Mattel
The award-winning drag
artist sings a buoyant country novelty about receiving a robot as a gift
and falling desperately in love with the gift. A Peter Paul and Mary
song from another, better dimension.
“Girl Going Nowhere,” Ashley McBryde
On an album largely
comprised of bombastic (albeit excellent) pop country, I prefer this
quieter ballad about the pleasures of succeeding when everyone expects
you to fail and do not hesitate to remind you.
“Heartbreak Man,” Sam Morrow
Over a shockingly good, fuzzy
guitar riff and pulsing electric guitar, Morrow belts out his
post-romance warning that he’s no good and people should know it. It’s
like Dr. Teeth’s Electric Band was spitting out a bitter country tune.
“Pablo,” Lindi Ortega
Much of Ortega’s new album sounds like
David Lynch had hired Ennio Morricone to score “Twin Peaks,” and then
set it in Mexico. This ode, as an example, a love song to a Mexican
cowboy sung partially in Spanish.
“Smooth,” Maggie Rose
Country singer Rose makes a solid detour
in clavichord-driven, Pointer Sisters-style pop soul. I am a fan of when
soul singers tackle country and vice versa, and this is a terrific
“Maybellene,” Chris Smither
A radical re-imagining of the Chuck Berry classic, ignoring everything Berry brought to the song except for the lyrics and an occasionally minor-key gloss on his melody. This is the song as a growled, back-woods blues number with mournful fiddle.