It's the season for spring cleaning, but first, here are some newly-released tracks that are worth dusting off. Whether it's a heartbreaker from pop star Adele, a country-rocker from rising duo Thompson Square or an early demo from country legend Johnny Cash, this playlist offers a fresh look at 20 new projects.
Adele, "Someone Like You"
With her strong but nuanced vocal, Adele imagines herself in the future, face to face with the man who broke her heart so long ago. Although she hasn't healed, she wishes him the best and asks him not to forget her. This bittersweet song closes her outstanding new album, 21.
Charlie Sizemore, "Slow Goin'"
One of my favorite bluegrass singers unearthed this nimble number by songwriters Shawn Camp and Paul Craft. In it, the object of his affection has gone, leaving his thoughts to wander. But despite the topic (and the title), this traditional-leaning tune moves quickly. Outstanding picking, too.
Eddie Spaghetti, "Never Thought That I Would"
For his Bloodshot Records debut, this roots-rocker covers the country-to-punk spectrum befitting his time in the Supersuckers. Yet this up-tempo tune strikes me as a simple pop song with crunchy guitars. If you don't regret your post-relationship rebounds, you may dig this one.
G. Love, "Walk On"
Well-known in hip-hop circles, G. Love stumbled upon a kindred spirit in the Avett Brothers. Their fledgling friendship led to the Americana-inspired album Fixin' to Die, which Scott and Seth Avett produced. Loose and fun, "Walk On" would sound awesome at a summer festival.
The Gibson Brothers, "Dixie"
As a longtime Elvis fan, I was compelled to include this vivid character study by the notable bluegrass duo. The narrator imagines a world where the King chose an early girlfriend over an entertainment career. Col. Parker's shady contracts and reckless gambling get their due, too.
Gwyneth & Monko, "Found in Benson"
As a Nebraska native who clearly remembers the icy streets, I get a warm feeling inside from this song about two wayward travelers who chill out with a friendly bartender in Omaha. It's rare to hear songs about finding happiness on the Great Plains, but everybody I still know there loves it.
Hayes Carll, "Grand Parade"
Here's one for the laid-back guys and their beer-drinkin' buddies. This likeable Texan reminds you just how satisfying it is to pull up a chair on a sunny Sunday afternoon, pop a top and watch all this life go by. Naturally, it's even better when a hottie strolls past. Is it summer yet?
Hudson Moore, "Take You Home"
This sweet song reminds me of a Taylor Swift composition, except this native Texan writes about boxed wine in the moonlight and fogging up the windows. Ah, to be young. Still, the beat is catchy, the fluid guitar adds texture and Moore's vocal is just charming enough to pull it off.
Jackie Bristow, "Runnin'"
With roots in Australia and Austin, Bristow possesses a smooth voice that draws out the melody and moodiness of this longing ballad. She still hears their Saturday night fights, but confesses that after a cozy Sunday morning, all was forgiven -- even though they missed church (again).
Johnny Cash, "Train of Love"
The future star combined his penchant for writing about trains and heartbreak in this mid-1950s demo. You can't help but pity him as he sadly declares, "Everybody's baby but mine's coming home." A bluegrass band could easily energize this lonesome tune with whistle-like fiddle parts.
Josh Slone & CoalTown, "Mama's Midnight Altar Calls"
If only he had listened to his mother's prayers, this narrator wouldn't be doing his time behind steel bars. The moaning fiddle underscores a life of regret, but fortunately he finds redemption in the prison chapel. This capable bluegrass band slows down just enough so the message isn't lost.
Kate York, "My Best Friend"
I've long admired the way this Nashville writer blends a conversational tone with poetic lyrics. On this outing, she's grateful just to share a long drive. The chorus can apply to a lover as well, but if you want a tender song to describe another kind of companionship, I recommend this one.
Mike Scott, "Cross Your Heart"
Fans of bluegrass gospel will embrace this tune, uplifted by Sonya Isaacs and Carl Jackson on harmony. The lyrics begin by asking how you start the day -- on your own or following Jesus? The enjoyable singing and melody both bring to mind a Porter Wagoner-Dolly Parton duet.
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, "The Company I'm Keepin'"
This married couple makes beautiful music together, literally. On this sincere ballad, Sarah Lee Guthrie (the grandchild of Woody Guthrie and daughter of Arlo) quietly expresses her gratitude to her partner. Even in hushed tones, the notion of no longer having a backup plan can speak volumes in a relationship.
Southerner, "Can I Cross Your Mind"
Written like a letter to an ex-lover, Nashville songwriter Trent Dabbs looks for a glimmer of hope that she's thinking of him, too. He insists that she never really wanted to split, but the fact that he's begging to be in her life, even in a small way, may be evidence to the contrary.
Susan Gibson, "Hope Diamond"
This Texas road warrior wrote the Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces" and still craves exactly that. When a suitor notices her, she brightly replies that she's not a rare gem, just a shiny stone that reflects the other person's light. Then she grabs her (emotional) baggage and heads out.
Thomas Kivi, "Bridalveil Falls"
This is the saddest song I've heard this year and quite possibly the prettiest. A bride, a burial, a breakdown. ... Forget about happy endings because this character is still grieving. With a spare accompaniment and a confiding vocal, the tragic story pulls me in like a gloomy indie movie.
Thompson Square, "Getaway Car"
Here's a unique spin on commitment, essentially asking, "Would you outrun the cops with me?" This married duo scored their first hit with the flirtatious "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," but this pulsating track shows a louder side of their music. This one's destined for the car radio.
Various Artists, "Jerusalem Ridge"
Bill Monroe titled this invigorating song for his home turf. Some call it a fiddle tune, while others maintain it's made for mandolin. Luckily, this version captures the energy of both instruments. Hot pickers include Mike Scott, Aubrey Haynie, Bryan Sutton, Mike Compton and Ben Isaacs.
Wildfire, "She Burnt the Little Roadside Tavern Down"
Jealous of her man's shenanigans, the woman in this nifty bluegrass tune strikes a match and solves the problem once and for all. Well, at least until the next neighborhood bar opens. It's easy to imagine men and women alike getting a chuckle out of it, but do not try this at home!