“I’m to Blame”
Written by Westin Davis, Kip Moore, and Justin Weaver
When Kip Moore puts on the outlaw boots, they actually fit just right. He’s not posing. He’s not playing a character. He’s singing his truth, and he can get done singing that truth in two minutes and seventeen seconds.
Zac Brown Band
Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, and Niko Moon
Zac Brown Band has been doing so many variations on the same handful of themes – relaxing, drinking, digging your hometown – that each new release has to mix thing up a bit to justify its existence.
Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter
Written by Kenny Chesney, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
No, it isn’t as strong as “You and Tequila.” Let’s get that out of the way right now, because expecting that lightning to strike twice will make it easy to miss the subtle beauty of “Wild Child”, Chesney’s new collaboration with Grace Potter.
Potter’s harmonies provide the perfect lift to Chesney’s understated and grounded vocal performance, allowing for the two singers to mirror the two characters of the song: a free-spirited woman who follows the wind and the man who is along for the ride.
“Take Your Time”
Written by Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
“Take Your Time” is interesting for its combination of rapidly delivered spoken word and warmly sung melody, and for its tentative attempts to acknowledge a woman’s own agency.
The structure borrows heavily from contemporary urban music, and will sound familiar to anyone who has listened to a fair amount of Drake. But Hunt keeps the proceedings grounded enough in country that it doesn’t sound nearly as reductive as it could’ve been.
Written by Jaron Boyer and Sara Haze
This is quite the quiet riot. Rascal Flatts return to their signature ballad sound on “Riot”, which has moments that sound like a throwback to “What Hurts the Most.”
Unlike that classic hit, which soared with melodramatic intensity, this one never leaves first gear. All of the effective atmosphere that’s built up during the first verse dissolves into a very bland chorus that lacks any punch. Perhaps that’s because the whole conceit of there being “a riot breaking up my heart” if their love goes south doesn’t make much sense.
Written by Bill Anderson, Mo Pitney, and Bobby Timberlin
At first, Mo Pitney’s “Country” sounds like one of those songs they used to write to open an awards show back in the eighties. But as the song progresses, the scope of what he’s describing as country expands, until it moves into the surprisingly touching final verse that details a funeral for a fallen soldier.
“Better Than You Left Me”
Written by Mickey Guyton, Jennifer Hanson, and Jenn Schott
This is pretty much how a country ballad is supposed to sound, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing says heartache like a steel guitar, and if you’re going to sing with vulnerability, it’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. All you need to do is show up with a decent lyric, not let the production get in the way, sing the song well, and you’re done.
Written by Ross Copperman, Mike Gossin, Jon Nite, and Rachel Reinert
I’m starting to think there’s a group of guys in Nashville who have only two things going for them: the ability to sing “whoa-oh-whoa” and enough dirt on every record producer to blackmail them into singing on thirty records a year.
“Little Toy Guns”
Written by Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey, and Carrie Underwood
With her latest single, Carrie Underwood once again reaffirms that she is among the best and most compelling artists of modern country music.
A depiction of verbal and emotional abuse on an epic scale, “Little Toy Guns” captures a truth not often talked about: that domestic violence can wound and scar without ever once raising a hand or breaking the skin, and can cause lasting collateral damage beyond even its intended target.
“Going Out Like That”
Written by Rhett Akins, Ben Haslip, and Jason Sellers
Reba McEntire is one of the genre’s all-time greatest storytellers. Her best material captures both the strength and vulnerability of the everyday woman, and “Going Out Like That” fits in well with her legacy of songs that are empowering without sacrificing believability.
McEntire is also one of the genre’s all-time greatest stylists, and that’s where her new single falls short. The song is delivered in mostly a monotone, with few of her signature curlicues. She just never gets out of the starting gate for some reason. The song doesn’t require it to be effective, but a little more variety would’ve been nice.