While Brothers Osborne and Dan+Shay offered up stellar new albums this week, and Maren Morris issued a double-punch of new music with The Bridge, we look at a slate of more new country music released this week. Dustin Lynch teams with Jelly Roll, while Sam Williams honors his late grandfather, country music legend Hank Williams, Sr., by covering one of his classic songs. Also, Stephen Wilson Jr. offers an extremely promising debut project. All that and more below in Billboard Country’s weekly must-hear roundup.
Dustin Lynch with Jelly Roll, “Chevrolet”
Dustin Lynch teams with the seemingly ubiquitous CMA male artist of the year nominee Jelly Roll for the latest country song to interpolate a classic hit. Jessi Alexander, Hunter Phelps and Chase McGill interpolate the instantly recognizable melody and rhythm from the Mentor Williams-written 1973 Dobie Gray hit “Drift Away,” with a newly-penned set of lyrics. Here, six-packs, Brooks & Dunn, dirt roads and a Chevrolet replace rock n’ roll as simple requisites for a soul-lifting evening. Lynch’s smooth vocal offers a nice foil for Jelly Roll’s soul-gravel renderings, but both of their voices melt bone-deep into the song’s joyous lyrics.
Track45, “When I Grow Up”
Sibling trio Track45 (which includes Jenna Johnson, KK Johnson and Kane Brown/Jake Owen/Parmalee songwriter Ben Johnson) follows their previous six-song EP Grew Up On with this stirring ballad. Released during Suicide Prevention Month, “When I Grow Up” touches on depression, difficult family circumstances, self-harm and regret. KK’s lead vocals are equal parts raspy and earnest, while the group’s familial harmonies are superbly tight-knit.
Sam Williams, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry“
Singer-songwriter Sam Williams celebrates the centennial celebration of the birth of his grandfather, the late country music icon Hank Williams, Sr., with this ethereal, blues-tinted rock rendering of his grandfather’s classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The song serves as a perfect vehicle for his hauntingly soulful voice, which still harbors hints of Williams, Sr.’s plaintive tenor.
Stephen Wilson Jr., Søn of Dad
On his debut, 22-song album, Wilson Jr. offers a meshup of large-scale arena rock, country, and elements of grunge. “Year to Be Young 1994” offers a chronicling of the essence of the 1990s youth culture, from Kurt Cobain and pagers to roller rinks and nights spent flopped on a bedroom floor, soaking in music through headphones; the track has already garnered over 3 million streams on Spotify.
But the emotional heart of Søn of Dad reverberates in songs that offer maturing perspectives on fatherhood. “I used to hate being called Jr./ I don’t mind any longer,” he sings on “Father’s Son,” his gruff vocal pulling out all the anguish and honor of being connected to his namesake on the lush, string-driven track. “Grief Is Only Love” tackles loss with the succinct musing, “Grief is only love with no place to go,” while “Hang in There” focuses on the trinkets he keeps to remind him of his late father and serve as a reminder to keep forging onward.
Elsewhere, songs such as “The Devil” and “Holler From the Holler” offer unvarnished, keen-eyed looks at good and evil. “I came from the mud where the low lives waller/ Sailor-swearing, single-parent, double-wide squalor,” he testifies on “Holler From the Holler,” his voice at once soaring and coarse, as he sings of domestic abuse and life in an impoverished area. Throughout the album, Wilson Jr. offers the kind of nuanced storytelling that has helped make stars of artists like Eric Church and Chris Stapleton, and he has the vocal prowess to back it up. An extremely promising debut.
Austin Williams, “Wanna Be Saved”
Williams’ debut single currently ranks in the top 20 on the iTunes country chart, his burly vocal and a stolid percussion bolstering this pills-and-booze fueled tale of taking on life at full speed in the wrong direction. Williams sings of the struggle between pain-numbing vices and the urge for some kind of spiritual resolution. Sonically, track falls in line with the rock-stoked, hip-hop infused works of mainstream country radio mainstays like Morgan Wallen and Jason Aldean.
Madeline Merlo, “Tim + Faith”
Merlo is known for writing the hit “Champagne” for Lady A, and providing backing vocals on the Cole Swindell hit “She Had Me at Heads Carolina.” This protean singer-songwriter deftly offers her own tribute to ’90s country in this soft swirl of nostalgia and romance, recounting a teenage love soundtracked by the music of McGraw and Hill. Merlo’s velvety, lilting voice lends a dreamy quality as she melds titles, lyrics and a snippet of the melody of “It’s Your Love” into this storyline. A lovely outing.
Robert Hale, “I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water”
Longtime bluegrass music mainstay Hale performs a grassy take on the 1965 Stonewall Jackson hit here. “I washed my hands but they didn’t come clean,” he sings on this outlaw narrative, which effloresces with the fleet-fingered instrumentation from Hale (guitar), Nathan Aldridge (fiddle), Kameron Keller (bass), Jason Davis (banjo) and Chris Davis (mandolin).
Sammy Arriaga, “Tennessee Whiskey”
Florida native Arriaga issues his latest in a slate of Spanish-language covers of classic country songs, with two versions of “Tennessee Whiskey” — one bilingual and one entirely in Spanish. Sonically, the track largely remains faithful to Stapleton’s rendering, highlighting Arriaga’s rich vocal range, while forging the song forward into new territory.