Best New Country and Americana Songs: April 2018

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 couples.

“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 road.

“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 presentation.

“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 knowing.

“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 pretending.

"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.


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