Last year, Zack started a series called “Sing One With Willie,” which features some of Willie’s top duets with other artists. He was forward-thinking enough to make “Sing One With…” an umbrella category, and it’s about to come in handy for me.
Interestingly, it hadn’t crossed my mind to use that category until I started writing this post, but while it’s been bouncing around in my head, I’ve been thinking about those great Willie Nelson crossover duets back in the day. But I think there’s an even better parallel for what Kane Brown’s been up to: Kenny Rogers.
Rogers could sing with Dottie West on one record, then pair up with Sheena Easton on another. Dolly Parton this week, Kim Carnes next week.
I’m reaching the point of evangelical zeal about Kane Brown, and two of my favorite things he’s ever done have released this year. Both of them fit well enough outside of the Country Universe for me to not do a traditional single review, but both collaborations are further evidence that an artist who can be right at home singing with Chris Young is just as natural with leading electronic and R&B artists.
The first release this year was “Memory,” a fascinating collaboration with blackbear, who himself is no stranger to bouncing around genres. Here, Kane Brown provides the chorus hook: “I want to live life fast, I don’t know how to slow down. Wanna get high, I don’t know how to come down. Help me now, I’m running on empty, and I don’t want to be a memory.”
blackbear does the emotional heavy lifting here, but Brown provides a solid foundation for the track throughout, and the vibe of the record remains alluring upon repeated listens.
Last week, Brown revealed the track that’s the namesake of his current headlining tour. “Blessed and Free” is a collaboration with R&B singer H.E.R., who won both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2021 with two different songs.
I can’t get over how well this song plays with the idea of being blessed by another person in a derisive way and turns it around into a statement of independence and self-worth:
‘Cause as long as my eyes still see
As long as my heart still beats
As long as I’m alive, I’m free
So I don’t count on nothin’
Don’t ever stop runnin’
I ain’t hurtin’ nobody
So just let me be
I got good intentions
I don’t need your blessings
‘Cause I’m already blessed
Yeah, I’m already blessed and free
Both of these songs, alongside “One Mississippi,” make Brown’s upcoming album my most anticipated new release, and I think that when his historic tour of NBA arenas comes to Brooklyn, I’ll be in the audience.
The Charlotte Observer caught up with Brown recently, and he had this to say about that upcoming album:
Your brand of country can have a rap vibe, and of course you’ve collaborated with R&B artists like Khalid and Blackbear. Do you see a future in which you fully shift away from country?
Oh, no. That’s one thing that I wouldn’t do to country music. I mean, they let me in…so I probably will never put out an album where there’s more than like two or three pop songs on there, with the rest of it being country. I’ll always have a song on country radio before anywhere else.
Brown carving out a place for himself in country music – and holding the door open behind him – is among the reasons he joined Dolly Parton as the only two country artists on this year’s Time 100. About that honor, Brown had this to say:
Q. OK, so what does it feel like to be named one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine?
Man, I’ve been telling everybody, I don’t look at myself as anything but the dude that I was before I started all this music. And so when they said that I was part of it, I thought it was cool, but I didn’t really understand why. I didn’t really take anything away from it — at first. Since then, I’ve had all these people come up to me and they’ve been like, “Man, you’re changing the game.” Like, my security guards, they’re like, “We look up to you, and people look up to you, and you’re making country music a thing where even if you look different, you can still feel like you belong here.” (Brown’s mother is white, and his father is part black and part Cherokee.) Hearing that, and then hearing like people’s moms say how their kids are biracial, and “we just love you for what you do” and things like that — all of it just started hitting me at once and made me super-emotional. It’s honestly just an honor to be a part of it.
Q. How much do you think about race and — to paraphrase Darius Rucker (the Black country singer who wrote the essay introducing Brown on the Time 100 list) — the doors that you’re kicking down?
See, I never thought about it, you know? I’ve just been trying to do my own thing and get by and make my fans love the music — or hope they love the music — and then just try to provide for my family as well. And my main focus has just been trying to help others. But I never thought that I’d be helping others just by being me. I think that’s the cool thing.
Y’all, I love this guy. Who knew he’d be the one to restore my hope in mainstream country music?
Check out “Memory” and “Blessed and Free” below.