Whether you’re exhausted from being cooped up in your house, trying to keep your kids from killing each other, working long hours, or just dealing with life right now — you could use some new tunes to rawk out to. Our girl Sylvia June brings you recently released albums that promise to deliver.
I was raised on classic rock. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy Osbourne, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Yes, Deep Purple…this kind of stuff was the only thing I ever heard my dad listen to when I was young. The only radio station that was allowed in the car was our local rock station Z-98. KG95, the pop station, was for pussies. As you can imagine, country music wasn’t even a thing…
As I got older, with my own stereo to control, I explored all the genres and found things I loved about all of them. But the one I have always had trouble getting too deep into is country. Sure, I had a brief flirtation with country music in the early ’90s when Garth Brooks was at his peak. “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places,” along with Alan Jackson’s “Chatahoochie” and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” are seared into my brain. It all just seemed too comical and I kind of hated it. To be fair, most of my favorite artists that could be considered classic country are either old or dead. Only Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams are still making music.
Having more time on my hands lately, I went on an exhaustive search to see if I could find new country music that I would love. I am happy to say I was not disappointed. I haven’t heard any of these artists on our local country stations, though (granted, I’m not listening that hard). At least now I know there is life out there.
Here are the five best new country albums I’ve found this year so far:
Release Date: February 7, 2020
Why I Like It: I still haven’t listened to what The SteelDrivers sounded like back in the day with Chris Stapleton at the helm, but they must have always been amazing considering the talent that’s there now. “Bad for You” is this bluegrass group’s first album in 5 years, debuting new lead singer Kelvin Damrell. I’ve always had a thing for rock bands that incorporate strings into their music, but I never heard bluegrass music I really liked until I heard this. I think fiddle/viola player Tammy Rogers really gives the group depth as their only female member, and her harmony vocals are fire.
Favorite Songs: The album opener, “Bad for You,” drew me in immediately with its driving rhythm and harmonies. It is my kind of song, for sure.
Check out The SteelDriver’s YouTube channel, where they have a bunch of song videos, the results of a cover contest of their music and “behind the song” clips. “I Choose You” is a sweet love song with a very cute lyric video.
Release Date: April 17, 2020
Why I Like It: How has this guy flown under my radar for 15 years? His given name may be totally generic, but Jake Smith’s music is anything but. Produced by Shooter Jennings, “On The Widow’s Walk” is the seventh album Smith has released under the moniker The White Buffalo and it is still as gorgeously compelling as his first. He sounds like Eddie Vedder, but I don’t think it’s on purpose. He’s ridiculously talented and also an adorable, long-haired burly dude. If I didn’t like women, and Jake wasn’t married, I’d be trying to ask him how he’s doing if you know what I mean.
My Favorite Songs: I couldn’t pick just one, his lyrics are poetry. In “Cursive,” there is a line that goes, “If songs quit breaking our hearts, I don’t know what I’ll do.” I don’t know what I would do, either. Just listen to the entire album now and thank me later.
Check out The White Buffalo’s YouTube Channel for episodes of “In the Garage,” where he shoots the shit for a bit and explains some of his favorite songs before playing them. I love this episode featuring “Problem Solution,” he cracks me up.
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Why I Like It: Um, why didn’t anyone tell me Norah Jones was in a country band?! Puss N Boots is barely mentioned in Jones’ Wiki, but holy fuck y’all — this project she’s got going with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper is EVERYTHING. “Sister” is this Americana/folk/country group’s second full length album, released six years after their debut, “No Fools, No Fun.” All of these talented women have their own solo careers (in fact, Jones’ latest solo album dropped last week), and side projects. When a band decides to open an album with an instrumental track, you know they have nothing left to prove. I am in total awe.
Favorite Songs: The best cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” I’ve ever heard.
And props for the creative lyrics video for another favorite, “It’s Not Easy.”
Release Date: January 24, 2020
Why I Like It: If all bluegrass bands were like the two I’m talking about in here today, the genre could take over the world. It doesn’t matter that these guys are named after my favorite football game appetizer. The Lil Smokies are masters of complex instrumentals and harmonies. Hearing/seeing Matt Cornette rapid fire on his banjo blows my tits off. “Tornillo” is their third studio album.
Favorite Songs: “World’s On Fire” and “Carry Me” are both excellent songs, whose lyrics I suppose I need to transcribe to get them online, since I can’t find them anywhere.
The fast-moving album opener, “Fortunes,” makes me smile no matter how crappy my mood is.
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Why I Like It: This Minnesota native’s songs are delicately layered compositions. Definitely poetic, sometimes heartwrenching, always beautiful. She’s definitely more pop country. It’s no surprise she’s co-written well-known songs performed by other artists, like Megan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.” “Supernova” is Smith’s second album.
Favorite Songs: “Long Time Coming” is a great song about moving forward with your life. I know what it’s like to love and miss someone achingly, so “Feel That Way” has found its way on repeat a few times recently.
I love watching Smith perform, and this video for “Damn You For Breaking My Heart” is great.
Other country artists who’ve put out new music I’ve enjoyed this year — Lucinda Williams, John Moreland, Maddie & Tae, Ashley McBryde, and Brandy Clark.