Lauren Alaina’s Nineties nostalgia, Joy Williams’ call to action and Tim McGraw’s U2-evoking power anthem are among the must-hear songs this week.
Lauren Jenkins, “Give Up the Ghost”
Lauren Jenkins is frustrated with her man, who’s seemingly unable to forget the former flame who kept him warm before Jenkins’ arrival. “Two of us is one too many,” she sings during this song’s driving, meteoric chorus, urging her beau to “give up and the ghost [and] hold on to me.” Dressed up like an anthemic pop-rock song, “Give Up the Ghost” mixes Jenkins’ powerful pipes with an arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place on a Carrie Underwood record.
Sontalk, “Baby I’m Gone”
Songwriter Joseph Lemay is fed up with frustration. “I’m gonna change my mind,” he sings during the first verse, before the steady pulse of an electronic drumbeat and clouds of reverb-heavy electric guitar widen the song’s horizons. An evocative, compelling song about leaving negative feelings in the rearview mirror, “Baby I’m Gone” hits multiple peaks, with Lemay’s voice rising in the track’s latter half.
Stephen Carey, “Wrecks Me”
“I’d rather have a girl that wrecks me rather than feel nothing at all,” Stephen Carey sings, backed by Jason Aldean-sized electric guitars and an R&B drumbeat. Co-written by the Cadillac Three’s Neil Mason, “Wrecks Me” is both aggressive and atmospheric, propelled by a Nineties alt-rock influence that suits Carey’s own country-music hodgepodge.
Nora Collins, “Plain Jane”
A poignant power ballad that packs the same swooning punch as Miranda Lambert’s Revolution B-side “Virginia Bluebell,” “Plain Jane” shines a light not only on Collins’ vocals, but her songwriting chops, as well. The song delivers an “It gets better” message to anyone who longs to fit in, with Collins reminding the listener that “there ain’t nothing plain about your heart.” Vince Gill chimes in during the chorus, thickening up the melody with some harmonized vocal support.
Mandolin Orange, “Time We Made Time”
“It’s time we made time just for talking, it’s time we made time to heal,” Andrew Marlin sings in this lushly-decorated folk ballad, backed by Emily Frantz’s harmonies and the gentle atmospherics of the pair’s backing band. Inspired by the death of Marlin’s mother, “Time We Made Time” makes a lovely case for confronting one’s emotional baggage head-on.
Joy Williams, “Canary”
Recorded during the pregnancy of her second child, Joy Williams’ “Canary” is a personal call to action, with the former Civil Wars singer promising to step up, speak her mind and rally in the face of oppression. As usual, her voice stills the spotlight, with everything building toward Williams’ ringing, crystal-clear glory note in each chorus. Producer Kenneth Pattengale frames those vocals smartly, borrowing a move from his own band, the Milk Carton Kids, and shunning amplification in favor of foot-stomped percussion and acoustic guitars.
Bedouine, “Hey, Who Really Cares?”
A cover of Linda Perhacs’ psych-folk cult classic, “Hey, Who Really Cares” sounds both stunning and understated, with Bedouine’s Azniv Korkejian singing in a bedroom whisper over waves of tape-echoed guitar. The real highlight, though, is the analog metronome that stands in for a traditional drumbeat, sounding less like a percussive instrument and more like a steadily ticking clock.
Lauren Alaina, “Ladies in the ’90s”
“I was born in ’94,” Alaina begins, kicking off an upbeat anthem that nods to the decade’s iconic females. Britney Spears, TLC, Shania Twain and Madonna all receive shout-outs, with “Ladies in the ’90s” doling out accolades to singers of all stripes. Musically, the song is similarly diverse, rooting itself not in the glory days of Nineties country music, but rather the genre-jumping appeal of modern country. The result is a song that builds a bridge between Alaina’s childhood past and adult present.
Tim McGraw, “Thought About You”
Dressed up like a U2 power ballad, “Thought About You” is modern country at its most cinematic, shot through with ringing guitars, twinkling keyboard effects and a chorus that’s meant to inspire and invigorate. McGraw is in a reflective mood, witnessing reminders of a loved one in everyday occurrences. “I thought about me, I thought about God, everything love is and everything it’s not,” he sings, while the band soars in the background.
Henry Derek Elis, “What’s Left of Us”
Elis delivers this haunting, minor-key barn-burner like a carnival barker who’s gone hoarse, framing his Tom Waits-ish growl with swirls of fiddle and pedal steel. A Southern gothic standout from his new release, The Devil Is My Friend, “What’s Left of Us” is gravely and graveyard-worthy — the perfect soundtrack for mid-October.