Willie Jones, “American Dream”
Jones makes his most significant statement so far with “American Dream,” a powerful song that declares, “when you’re living in a black man, it’s a different kind of American dream.” Released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the compelling video references MLK, the Black Lives Matter marches and protests following George Floyd’s murder and Colin Kaepernick, among others. Jones pulls no punches about systemic racial inequality during a spoken segment as a young black boy runs for his life: “Objectified, commodified, and scrutinized by blue eyes/And blue and white lights dancing off his skin.” The thought-provoking song is the centerpiece of Jones’ debut album, Right Now, out Friday (Jan. 22). The rest of the album is a lighter lift, including the toe-tapping “Country Soul,” the hilarious “Bachelorettes on Broadway” (which will have anyone who’s gotten caught behind the endless pedal taverns loaded with drunk bridal parties chuckling) and the swaying title track. Not really sure what kind of statement Jones is trying to make with the album cover, which features him urinating on a campfire (unless it’s a reference to the line “pot to piss in” on “Whole Lotta Love”). Best to focus on the music and Jones’ infectious blend of country, pop and soul.
Lainey Wilson, “Neon Diamonds”
The real wedding can wait, but the drinking can’t. “Tonight, we ain’t nothing but a downtown bride and groom, getting hitched on whiskey vows and exchanging drunk ‘I do’s,” Wilson sings in the fun opening track of her debut studio album, Feb. 19’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinking. Wilson continues to combine traditional country — with that strong Southern accent, how could her voice sound anything but? — with rock elements that are very appealing. The song serves as a nice counterpoint to her sincere, mandolin-laced, current single “Things a Man Oughta Know.”
Tom Jordan and Mitch Thompson throw off serious Justin Bieber vibes on this melancholic, acoustic tale of the lingering anguish following a breakup and the phantom pain that remains long after the relationship has ended. Grows stronger with repeat listenings.
Sam Williams, “Can’t Fool Your Own Blood”
Williams comes with as golden a pedigree as one can in country music: He’s the grandson of the legendary Hank Williams and son of Hank Williams Jr. But he’d stand out even without the famous family tree on this guitar-driven, emotional ballad about not being able to keep the truth from those who know you the best, no matter how hard you try. Williams doesn’t sound like his dad or granddad — his voice has more of a craggy rock edge than any twang — but it sure looks like he’s inherited some of their talent.
Chase Wright, “Why Should We”
Wright, who captured ears with his covers of such songs as Justin Bieber’s “Lonely” and Tate McRae’s “You Broke Me First,” continues to impress with his original material — this time with this midtempo track that builds on an insinuating loop and Wright’s pleasing pop delivery.
Bexar, “One Day”
The Texas duo composed of Chris Ryan and Logan Turner continues to impress with their hooky, catchy tunes. With its hand-clap, acoustic guitar-strumming vibe, the genial “One Day” will find favor with fans of acts like The Lumineers, who easily incorporate pop, folk and a little bit of country into their instantly accessible tunes.
Joey Hendricks, “Hollywood”
Newcomer Hendricks follows “Yours or Mine” with a sultry, sexy midtempo track that counts the ways his love is more addictive than all the drugs in Hollywood and more permanent than the longest-lasting tattoo.
Herrick, “Some Kind of Lonesome”
In this year of seemingly unrelenting loss, Herrick — husband and wife duo Kerry and Donna Herrick — offer this touching lament as a tribute to all of those we’ve lost. Written following the death of Donna’s mom, the video broadens the concept to include other losses, including a spouse or child. Donna’s tearjerking vocal never crosses over to the maudlin, but certainly speaks to the age, when she sings, “You left my heart homeless, you took everything.” There’s not a lot of comfort here, just unvarnished truth.