Here at Wide Open Country, we love sharing our favorite music, whether it’s a brand new track that you haven’t heard or an oldie that deserves some new attention. Each week, our team of music writers spotlight one song that stands out among the pack. Here’s what we’re listening to this week.
Lorie’s Pick: “Americana,” Nickel&Rose
“Americana,” the title track of talented duo Nickel&Rose’s upcoming record, takes aim at one of the most important issues within the genre: lack of representation. Carl Nichols and Johanna Rose use a engaging mix of modern Americana and African folk elements to soundtrack a message that needs to be heard. “The instruments from Africa are no longer for me,” Nichols sings. “Just like the songs we sang when we all wanted to be free.” During a time when equality on the airwaves has become such a widespread conversation, “Americana” serves as a needed reminder that the genre’s roots did not grow from a white man’s soil.
Bobbie Jean’s Pick: “The Fixer,” Lori McKenna
If you’re one of the many dealing with red, puffy eyes after listening to Lori McKenna‘s brilliant new album The Tree, it’s a safe bet that “The Fixer” is partially to blame. The song is a snapshot of daily life for a husband and wife — the fixer and the fighter. The scene of a man surrounded by lawnmower parts, scrap metal and kitchen drawer knobs will be familiar to anyone who grew up around a family member who became the designated “fixer” of the household. But the story at the heart of the song is one of “the fixer” struggling with the fear, agony and helplessness he feels in the wake of his wife’s sickness all while trying to keep it together for her sake. In true McKenna fashion, it’s a stunning portrait of love, commitment and faith from one of the world’s greatest songwriters.
Rachel’s Pick: “A Ride Along the Mountain Valley,” The Little Miss
Any gatekeepers out there who want to save country music will feel at ease with The Litle Miss. The LA-based singer-songwriter knows how to leverage her rich voice on “A Ride Along the Mountain Valley,” crafting a cowboy ballad that would feel at home a couple of decades ago. The thing is, The Little Miss wants to tear those gates down from the inside. “A Ride” carefully deconstructs traditional masculinity and unwarranted confidence. By the end of the ride, you won’t realize how it happened, but you’ll want to traverse the journey again a few more times to get the details.
Bobby’s Pick: “Summer Wine,” Lorrie Morgan, Pam Tillis, Joe Diffie and Darryl Worley
With its tale of lustful betrayal, it’s a wonder that Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s 1967 recording of “Summer Wine” went untouched — or is it uncovered? — by country stars for about 50 years. Maybe no one felt up to the task of recreating a near-perfect pop song? For their 2017 covers album Come See Me and Come Lonely, Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis were up to the task after calling in some reinforcements. With the help of guest vocalists Joe Diffie and Darryl Worley, Morgan and Tillis recapture another famous daughter’s emotive brilliance.
Jeremy’s Pick: “For You,” Brandon Stansell
Los Angeles-based Brandon Stansell garnered eyes and ears with his 2017 album Slow Down. That record’s title track featured Ty Herndon, a nod to one of Stansell’s heroes. As one of the first openly gay country singers to be building a career whilst out (in contrast to coming out after building a bit of success), Stansell knows the road ahead could still be fraught with close-mindedness. But songs like “For You” prove he’s got the talent to outlast it. This pop country heart warmer feels even a little reminiscent of AC stars like Jessie McCartney, with a dose of Dan + Shay. That little descending line in the chorus — “love looked like falling every day” — is what really seals the deal.
Thomas’ Pick: “Jimmy,” Travis Parker
A few months back, Ft. Worth songwriter Travis Parker released a four-song EP called Bent Leaf Sessions. It was just him, his guitar, a few timely harmonica hits and a collection of reserved and introspective ballads. “Jimmy,” the first tune, finds Parker inside the mind of a hardworking American—the kind who’s up before the sun has risen and not back home until it’s set. Like many blue-collar rural folks, Jimmy’s been dealt a difficult hand. He’s playing it to the best of his ability, knowing it’s what he has to do. There isn’t an opt-out or escape plan. “For another day out in the sun, sweating out a living, it ain’t no fun,” sings Parker with a calloused grit. There’s a small pause before he returns with an exhaling “but it’s gotta be done.” Parker’s rough and ragged storytelling is marked by authentic detail of small town struggles and hard earned pay. Still, it’s not as though he’s been beaten down by life altogether. There’s this cautious optimism that beams out every once in a while that’s hoping and wishing for a brighter tomorrow. You hear Jimmy’s boot laces and the trickle of his coffee pot, but most of all, you feel his earnest dreams.