Here are Max Sparber's picks for the best new country and Americana songs of March, 2018.
“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.
“I Wanna Cry,” Charley Crockett
Over a cowboy guitar and Cajun
squeezebox, intermittently yodeling, Crockett sings of going back to
Texas and copiously weeping for a lost love.
“He’s Funny that Way,” Bob Dylan
In a lush, string-backed
arrangement of this standard of the American songbook, Dylan flips the
genders, turning it into into a love song between men — his contribution
to Universal Love, an EP compilation of love songs for same-sex
“Weird Thought Thinker,” Joshua Hedley
Boasting the most
sumptuous production since the glory days of hi-fi demonstration albums,
Henley’s whole album is like a fever dream of Countrypolitan. Here he
boasts of his “rambling fever, and how useless he is when not on the
“Dancehall Dreamer,” Drew Holcomb
From a compilation of new
recordings of songs by Pat Green, this is an extremely spare production,
just voice and guitar. But Green’s song, about a never-been drunk
clutching to unlikely dreams, benefits from this spare, blunt
“To June this Morning,” Ruston Kelly & Kacey Musgraves
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite off Johnny Cash: Forever Words,
comprised of new songs based on Cash’s writing, but this gentle, lovely
adaptation of a letter from Cash to June Carter is at the top.
"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 Butterly to be their
backup band. The results are unexpectedly delightful.
“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.
“Heaven is Closed,” Willie Nelson
Nelson’s new album has
several songs that examine mortality with discomfort and ambivalence,
such as this one. A harmonica-backed, electric guitar-driven, melancholy
song that casts both heaven and hell as characters, neither worth
“Old Hickory,” Old Crow Medicine Show
The Old Crow band
presents a song in the style of The Band with the same rollicking,
slightly stoned quality Townes van Zandt brought to his cover of “Dead
Flowers.” It has the feel of country rock sung after a party on a porch
at 2 a.m.
“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.
“Caravan of Fools,” John Prine
Country and folk music are
especially well-matched to aging voices, and Prine’s voice here croaks
like his ironic sensibilities are choking him. The cowboyish song is a
near-Biblical vision of a locust-like plague of incompetents.
“At Least I’m Genuine,” Stevie Tombstone
With a arpeggiod
electric guitar in one channel and a Chicago blues harmonica in the
other, Tombstone’s song has him listing his assorted good and bad
qualities, shrugging that he may not be ideal, but at least he’s not
"High Desert Heat,” Too Slim and the Taildragger
If Straight to Hell and Dead Man had
inspired a genre of alternative filmmakers to try their hand at
Westerns in the 90s, this funereal, bluesy, reverb guitar-drenched
instrumental would have been the theme to all of them.
“Where You Are,” Tenille Townes
Sung in a sort of mannered pop
style that will either sound dated or be badly missed in a few years,
Townes’ song boasts a terrific, aching melody and dreamy, yearning
lyrics detailing the keen pain of both loving and missing someone.