A protest song from Josh Ritter, the latest punk-vaudeville from Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt, and Valerie June’s mesmerizing Hendrix tribute make up this week’s list of must-hear country and Americana tracks.
Leo Rondeau, “Get On With It”
While a chugging rhythm section keeps pace in the background, Nashville-by-way-of-North Dakota songwriter Leo Rondeau packs his bags and hits the road, looking for the quickest way to heal a broken heart. “I never know what I want, and in the end it’s only my fault,” he sings, shouldering the blame just before his sad, singalong chorus makes its final stand.
Nancy And Beth, “I Don’t Hurt Anymore”
Will & Grace‘s Megan Mullally taps into a lifelong Dinah Washington fascination with help from Stephanie Hunt, her musical partner in the cabaret-inspired “punk-vaudeville” duo Nancy And Beth. Their version of the 1950s standard “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” is indebted to Washington’s own reading of the song, with some sly winks, Broadway-worthy brassiness and serious vocal chemistry tossed in for good measure.
Caroline Jones, “Chasin’ Me”
Accompanied by a high-gloss music video shot in Big Sur and Zion National Park, “Chasin’ Me” finds Caroline Jones playing a literal game of hard-to-get, daring a would-be boyfriend to keep up the pursuit. Her voice is coquettish and cooing, not unlike a mid-Nineties Mariah Carey, and her guitar playing is appropriately understated, focused on vibe rather than virtuosity.
Cris Jacobs, “Painted Roads”
“Painted Roads” opens Cris Jacobs’ newest release, Color Where You Are, with staggering grooves, thick harmonies and syncopated stabs of electric guitar. It’s funky and free-spirited, with a breakdown during the seventh-inning stretch and plenty of slide guitar sprinkled throughout.
Michael Fracasso with Charlie Sexton, “My Blue Heaven”
Recorded in 1999, Michael Fracasso’s follow-up to World in a Drop of Water was shelved for 20 years. The complete record, Big Top, makes its overdue arrival this summer, led by the Beatles-evoking, Elliott Smith-worthy “My Blue Heaven.” Guitar legend Charlie Sexton and bass player George Reiff join Fracasso on the track, but it’s the frontman’s achingly lovely vocal performance that beams “My Blue Heaven” skyward.
Valerie June, “Little Wing”
Jimi Hendrix’s bluesy ballad gets a deep-space makeover courtesy of Valerie June, who focuses on atmosphere rather than guitar pyrotechnics. Everything builds toward the song’s dynamic, horn-filled outro, where June multi-tracks her own voice into layers of roughhewn harmonies.
Maren Morris, “Kingdom of One”
Winter is coming, but not before Maren Morris cranks the heat with this slow-burning ballad from the Game of Thrones soundtrack For the Throne. Dominated by acoustic guitar and Morris’ Brienne-of-Tarth-sized voice, “Kingdom of One” is haunting, lovely and thoroughly cinematic, just like the show itself.
Nightjacket, “Waking Up With You”
With its dreamy jangle and dramatic delivery, “Waking Up With You” nods to the glory days of shimmering college-rock, back when groups like 10,000 Maniacs and the Sundays briefly ruled the roost. There’s even a late-Eighties sheen to the chorus, where guitar arpeggios share equal space with singer Holland Belle’s crystalline croon.
Jamestown Revival, “Harder Way”
A road warrior’s lament about missing those back at home, “Harder Way” cranks up the harmonies and tugs at the heartstrings. Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance sing every word together, as though offering one another some sort of consolation as the highway rolls on.
Josh Ritter, “All Some Kind of Dream”
Don’t let the cheery twang of the unplugged guitars fool you. Ritter’s newest folksong nods to the politically-pointed protest songs of the Sixties and Seventies, with lyrics steeped in the nightmarish struggles of the modern day. There are children in holding pens, refugees on the run and feuding factions hurling insults across the aisle. There’s also plenty of string-band bounce provided by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, whose leader doubles as the song’s producer.