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First Country: New Music From Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani, Hardy and More

First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos and albums that dropped this week.

Check out our picks for the week of July 24 below.

Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, “Happy Anywhere”

The two lovebirds follow up No. 1 ballad “Nobody But You” with a sweet, banjo-led ditty that features Shelton singing about always being on the run until he met his sweetheart. Now, he declares, “I could be happy anywhere with you.” Stefani provides harmony on the geographic triptych as the two traipse through different locals content to simply be together. It’s as charming as it is low-key.

Hardy, “Give Heaven Some Hell”

An instant grat track from Hardy’s debut album, A Rock, which drops Sept. 4, “Give Heaven Some Hell” is an emotional goodbye to a fallen friend struck down at a young age. The track, co-written with such luminaries as Ashley Gorley, strikes all the right notes as he tells his friend to “crank it loud, hold it down until I get there.” Hardy, who launched his career with the polarizing “Rednecker” before winning acclaim for co-writing such tunes as “God’s Country,” Blake Shelton’s best track in years, already sounds comfortable in the spotlight.

Mickey Guyton, “Heaven Down Here”

Guyton keeps coming with soul stirring, topical songs this year, starting with “What Are You Gonna Tell Her,” followed by “Black Like Me” and, now, “Heaven Down Here,” a plaintive plea for some divine intervention through these rough times.

Written with Gordie Sampson, Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey, Guyton says of the gentle ballad: “Sitting at home and watching the world burn down around me during this pandemic led me to write ‘Heaven Down Here.’ It is a song asking God to spare a little love for this world in need… I hope that everyone can hear that intent and receive the same healing.” Hopefully radio will embrace the song to provide a salve for listeners.

Caylee Hammack featuring Alan Jackson, “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good”

Requests for intercession continue this week with Hammack’s remake of the Don Williams’ classic (written by Dave Hanner). The newcomer is joined by Jackson on a tune that seems as relevant, if not more so, than when Williams released it almost 40 years ago. The pair, whose vocals intertwine beautifully, keep the original’s genial, low-key twang, but Hammack amps up the emotional delivery.

Lori McKenna, The Balladeer

One of the top songwriters in any genre, Grammy winner McKenna is revered for her simple truths and they are in abundance on her album. The gorgeous “This Town Is a Woman,” featuring Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman (she co-wrote their smash, “Girl Crush”), compares a town to a seductive siren who will still send you lovingly on your way if she can’t make your dreams come true.

Melodically infectious “Good Fight” looks at a long-time relationship (perhaps her marriage) and the strength it takes to master the peaks and valleys. Gently produced by Dave Cobb (who smartly keeps McKenna’s vocals front and center), the album is full of gems — try not to cry listening to “The Dream” or “When You’re My Age”– all presented in McKenna’s effortless folky style. It’s not splashy, but it’s one of the most authentic albums you will hear all year.

Bill Anderson, The Hits Re-Imagined

Legendary Songwriter Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Famer ‘Whisperin’ Bill Anderson revisits some of his biggest hits made famous by him and other artists, on this, his 73rd album. Spanning nearly 60 years, the collection includes new versions of 10 of his best tunes, including “Whiskey Lullaby,” “Po’ Folks,” “City Lights” and “Give It Away.”

At 82, Anderson brings a gravitas to the heavier songs (“Whiskey Lullaby” belongs in the canon of saddest songs ever) and a lightheartedness to tunes like “Po Folks” with a low-key production that keeps the focus squarely on Anderson and his delivery. Just as it should be.

Noah Schnacky, Noah Schnacky

Big Machine Records has been developing 23-year old Schnacky, a former child actor, since giving his a big spot at its 2019 Country Radio Seminar showcase. After peppering the market with poppy, peppy tracks like “Feels Like Live” and “Comeback,” Schnacky releases his Dann Huff-produced debut 7-track EP today on the back of his latest single, “I’ll Be The One.” Radio hasn’t embraced Schnacky yet, but he’s doing well at streaming outlets, which is where he younger audience is more likely to find him.

Bexar, “Again”

New duo, which takes its name from Bexar County, Texas, sends its first Warner Music Nashville effort out into the world. Co-written and produced by Ross Copperman, “Again” gives serious One Direction vibes similar to “Story of My Life” before incorporating an Avicii dance beat straight out of “Wake Me Up.” While it won’t score points for originality, the song has serious ear worm potential. It’s a sweet nostalgic look back with the realization that even with the benefit of hindsight, the protagonist wouldn’t change a thing.

Joey Hendricks, “Yours or Mine”

Sony Nashville newcomer introduces himself with a sexy mid-tempo tune that questions who’s going to make that inevitable first move in all facets of the relationship from first glances and kisses to “whose bed are we waking up in?” The Washington native plied his trade as a songwriter in Nashville for a few years before inking with Sony as an artist. While it remains difficult to distinguish one new male artist coming out of Nashville from the next, Hendricks shows promise with an intriguing song and pleasing vocal.

Arlo McKinley, “Gone for Good”

McKinley was the last signing to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records before Prine’s death from coronavirus this spring. He strikes a resonant chord with “Gone for Good,” a heartache-filled track about the dissolution of a longterm relationship that benefits from McKinley’s tender, sorrowful delivery. Vocally, he recalls Jason Isbell, and similarly to Isbell and Prine, there’s something timeless about his music that sounds just as rooted in the ‘60s as the present. The track appears on his Matt Ross-Spang-produced set, Die Midwestern, which goes out Aug. 14.

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