This batch includes the latest from Craig Morgan, Mason Ramsey, Camille Parker, John R. Miller, Aaron Watson, Kylie Morgan, LANCO, and the Steel Woods.
One new collaboration (with Luke Combs) is fine, but the other (with Trace Adkins) is a non-starter, and the rest of the tracks find a notorious over-singer being joined in full histrionic screaming over his greatest– and hoo boy, is that subjective– hits, none of which work as a duet.
Falls Into Place
A bit of puppy-kicking here because this kid never had a chance. He sings about not trying to “be the next Hank,” but nothing here suggests who he is trying to be. He might have a decent voice someday, but right now his phrasing is stilted on just godawful songs.
After the Whiskey, Pt. 1
Caught between invincibility and starting to know better, this is a smart EP about getting one’s shit straight. Parker sings like Carly Pearce with better pitch, over production like Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway with some steel and banjo. Obviously, that’s a pro: Bring on Pt. 2.
John R. Miller
Heat Comes Down
A keenly observant songwriter who does that Ray LaMontagne “Old Man Hat” voice. Even if it’s part of his overall aesthetic, it’s still an affectation that draws too much attention to itself, to the detriment of what’s otherwise a strong album.
An inspired track list (Cyndi! Sheryl! Gaga?!?) and duet partners (Bri! Jamie Lin!) from a guy I never expected to do something in any way feminist. The horniest-ever version of “Love at the Five & Dime” is the highlight, but this is all a great surprise.
Making it Up as I Go
Nowhere near as good a singer as she is a songwriter, Morgan brings an overt modern feminist streak to her pop-country, so she’s utterly doomed at radio. But for a mainstream country album to foreground a woman’s agency as its whole mission statement? Right on.
Run, Run, Baby
Moody and melodic contemporary country EP that, if not particularly earth-shattering in any way, offers five tracks that beg the question, “Why Old Dominion and not these guys?” My bad for conflating them with LO/CASH for years.
The Steel Woods
On Your Time
As hard-edged as country-rock gets these days, but those edges cut both ways; at times, the heaviness here crosses the line into sludgy arrangements. Still, despite the loss of a founding member, they remain a distinct and vital act. Bonus points for the Patty Lpveless cover.