Flatland Cavalry, “Mountain Song” (written by Cleto Cordero and Stephanie Constancio)
Well, this one somewhat slipped under the radar, but that also seems intentional with Flatland Cavalry. For years now they’ve made very comforting music with a youthful exuberance in the writing to keep it from ever being sleepy. And heading into the fall season, this is a pretty chill track with an almost Alabama-like quality in the atmospheric keys and neotraditional backbone (and also a terrific fiddle outro, to strengthen that comparison). And I have to say, coming off of some uneven (but still great) projects, this feels like a restrained pivot back to where this band best operates, made all the more fitting by the more self-reflective, meditative content with a nature-driven bent to the writing. It’s just an all-around really great, unassuming palette cleanser. Boom.
Mickey Guyton, “Somethin’ Bout You” (written by David Garcia, Mickey Guyton, and Tyler Hubbard)
Well, it’s certainly her most radio friendly track to date, and if she doesn’t score a hit with this, I don’t know what to say. Of course, that also means I mostly find “Somethin’ Bout You” to be Mickey Guyton’s least interesting single to date, your average mainstream country love song built around lines like “you being you” and “doin’ what you do” and not a lot of distinctive detail otherwise, even if the warmer midtempo pop-country groove does ground this nicely. She’s still a convincing enough performer to sell this well and make it feel earnestly lovestruck, and Lord knows she’s put in the work to craft more important songs that haven’t went as far as they should have. But I have to say it – there isn’t really much to this song.
Laura LaCross, “Holy Pockets” (written by Laura Belczak and Brandon Ray)
Better late than never sometimes, which is my roundabout introduction to Laura LaCross, a performer with an almost Lori McKenna and Liz Rose-like quality to her vocal delivery and approach to songwriting. She’s released a handful of singles over this year, and “Holy Pockets” has been my favorite, where the aforementioned comparisons come through in the more restrained yet still textured presentation – even if this maybe feels like it burns a bit too slowly at points. Of course, those comparisons are more fitting for the writing anyway, where despite the pretty stark religious iconography, I like that this is a song, ultimately, about the profound mystique of faith in general and how we lean on whatever we believe in when in desperate situations – no one is really spared from clinging on to something, after all. And with LaCross’ weathered delivery feeling lived-in enough to complement the writing, it’s as good of an introduction to her work as anything else. Boom.
Gabe Lee, “Rusty” (written by Gabe Lee)
It wasn’t that long ago I discussed Gabe Lee for this feature, but now he’s gearing up to release a new project of his own, so there’s even more reason to get excited. I will say, though, that this wasn’t quite the pivot I expected for him to make following his previous work – a track with all of the bones of an anthemic heartland rock ballad about growing up and learning more and more about yourself and the world along the way. A pretty familiar template – hell, for rock and country – but the beauty with Lee’s work always comes in the lived-in, observational details that actually make his scenarios feel fully fleshed-out. It almost reminds me of Steve Earle’s “Someday,” only the fire has been somewhat tempered here as Lee takes greater stock of himself and his journey left ahead. I’m not wild about the echo placed on his usually expressive howl that somewhat buries him in the mix, but I can also get using it to note the distance between his past and where he’s at now. Only time will tell if it’s more feature than flaw, but for now, it’s another winner from him. Boom.
The Panhandlers, “Where Cotton is King” (written by Cleto Cordero, John Baumann, Josh Abbott, and William Clark Green)
You always hope that members of supergroups like this can strike that balance between their solo work and group contributions to record more than just one project comprised of the latter (I’m still waiting on that next Highwomen project). And though the Panhandlers have only released this new single and are promoting it as a standalone entity thus far, it does give hope that more is on the way – a good thing, too, given their solid 2020 debut effort. Granted, their West Texas-inspired songs are about as far removed from my experience as a country music fan as it gets, but this is one instance where I can appreciate something outside my comfort zone, especially with the blatant Waylon Jennings-inspired back beat (which is more fitting than some may think, given that Jennings’ hometown is just north of Lubbock).
Yes, it is basically the stomp and groove that wins me over on this, but there is something to be said for wrapping the mythos of cotton being the only crop that grows in the Texas Panhandle in something of a darker mystique. I’m still not sure these guys blend well as singers, but they certainly do as writers.
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