10 Best Country and Americana Songs to Hear Now: Brandy Clark, Kelsea Ballerini

Barn-burners from Nashville native Gabe Lee and songwriter Gretchen Wilson sidle up next to introspective ballads from Brandy Clark and Brian Dunne in this week’s list of songs to stream now.

Rumer, “The Song Remembers When”
British singer Rumer takes a stroll through the Hugh Prestwood song catalog on her new album Nashville Tears, lending her warm alto — with some shades of Karen Carpenter — to “The Song Remembers When,” previously a hit for Trisha Yearwood. She wisely doesn’t fool around with the arrangement or try to match Yearwood’s power, instead finding the perfect spot in her vocal range for it to sit and max out the nostalgic melancholy. J.F.

The Wood Brothers, “Little Bit Sweet”
The Wood Brothers whip up a life-affirming groove on “Little Bit Sweet,” singing the praises of love’s alternating flavors of bitterness and sweetness. Mixing Oliver Wood’s gentle finger-style guitar work with the trio’s keening harmonies, the song transforms into a percussion-heavy celebration of allowing oneself to feel that most powerful of feelings. Don’t fight it! J.F.

Brian Dunne, “Chasing Down a Ghost”
Brooklyn-based songwriter Brian Dunne addresses mental health in this stunner of an acoustic ballad, a song he wrote after beating back the demons in his own head. “It felt like an early Eighties horror movie,” he says of those dark days. Unlike the poor souls in those slasher flicks though, Dunne is a survivor. J.H.

Hardy, featuring Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson, “One Beer”
Hardy, the artistic guise of hit songwriter Michael Hardy, recruits Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson on “One Beer,” a story of an entire life in 12 ounces that appears on the guest-heavy album Hixtape: Vol. 1. “First comes lust, then the shotgun marriage, six months later come a baby in a carriage,” he sings, flipping around the old nursery rhyme for a hook-filled little slice of life coming at you fast. J.F.

Gretchen Peters, “Why You Been Gone So Long”
The Grammy-nominated songwriter of hits like Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” interprets the work of the influential writer Mickey Newbury on a new tribute album due May 15th. On the cover-band staple “Why You Been Gone So Long,” Peters all but re-creates a crowded, beer-slick dancefloor. Get up and dance. J.H.

Gabe Lee, “Honky Tonk Hell”
“Punk-ass devil be gone!” Gabe Lee howls in this ferocious twang-rocker, which crucifies the type of country music that lacks bite. There’s no danger of that here —”Honky Tonk Hell,” co-written with Marcus King, is all fangs and attitude, and a must-listen for those of us who could use a little aggressive release. J.H.

Jesse Daniel, “If You Ain’t Happy Now (You Never Will Be)”
Jesse Daniel lays it out straight in “If You Ain’t Happy Now (You Never Will Be)”: get your shit together and enjoy the here and now, people. Present global crisis aside, it’s some solid (and sobering) advice, set to a lively two-stepping honky-tonk rhythm and driven home by the lanky California singer-songwriter’s irresistible twang. J.F.

Brandy Clark, “Pawn Shop”
Is there anyone writing country-music story-songs as deftly as Brandy Clark these days? In “Pawn Shop,” a standout from her latest album Your Life Is a Record, she examines what drives someone to unload their heirlooms, from rings to guitars, and puts a human face on broken dreams. J.H.

Kelsea Ballerini, “Hole in the Bottle”
Like Sam Hunt’s “Hard to Forget,” Kelsea Ballerini’s “Hole in the Bottle” (from the newly released Kelsea) also splices cutting-edge contemporary country production with a classic theme and melody. With its blend of surprisingly funky drum loops and hard-twanging Telecaster, it’s a drinking song about maybe drinking too much in the midst of a personal crisis, and Opry member Ballerini sings it with a twinkle in her eye. J.F.

Mark Erelli, “Rose-Colored Rearview”
The Massachusetts singer-songwriter questions if the memories we hold about a better time are real or fantasy in this ballad fleshed out with allusions to Springsteen, family dinners, and the classroom pledge of allegiance. “Only white men miss the good old days,” Erelli decides, removing any layer of lingering nostalgia. J.H.

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