To paraphrase Alan Jackson's new single, I've got a long way to go before I catch up on all the recent releases on my desk. I definitely need a long summer road trip -- my favorite way to listen to a stack of albums. That's coming up at the end of July. (Woo hoo!) In the meantime, here are 20 new tracks with a country influence I've been enjoying over the last few months.
Alan Jackson, "A Long Way to Go"
In this up-tempo tune, he's got a bug in his margarita -- and a hit on his hands. It's a little bit gross that he swallows the tiny insect, though worse things have happened after drinking tequila. With the festive mariachi horns and a carefree attitude, this one's worth saving for a rainy day.
Augustana, "On the Other Side"
This is an atmospheric pop song about loving someone beyond this life. Each time I listen, I can totally hear Keith Urban doing a killer version. The momentum in the melody, the passion in the vocal, the spirituality in the lyrics ... this San Diego band may have to find a way to Nashville.
Bahamas, "You're Bored, I'm Old"
Let's say you're dating someone much younger. Some folks might offer their congratulations with a sly wink. But not Afie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas. His acoustic ode to May-December romance works, though, even as the reasons for the breakup run deeper than the title suggests.
Blind Boys of Alabama, "Jesus Built a Bridge to Heaven"
This iconic gospel group allows a hint of traditional country influence on their latest album, Take the High Road, co-produced by Jamey Johnson. That well-traveled bridge is built with three nails and two crossties, but you better believe the foundation is something stronger.
Colin Hay, "Send Somebody"
It's after midnight and he's clutching the phone, trying to stay strong. No, it's not "Need You Now." Instead of a booty call, this songwriter is more interested in reconnecting with himself. Better known for leading Men at Work (best known for '80s pop hits such as "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now"), Hay shows a more sensitive side of his pop sensibilities.
Eliza Gilkyson, "Roses at the End of Time"
This sweet-voiced folk songwriter from Austin, Texas, keeps her eyes on the horizon. In this gracious and romantic ballad, she commits to carrying her beautiful bouquet through eternity. She enlisted her son, Cisco Ryder, to produce her compelling new album of the same name.
Emmylou Harris, "The Road"
Harris eulogizes her friend and musical partner Gram Parsons on the lead track of her elegant album, Hard Bargain. "I've spent my whole life out here working on the blues," she sings. She credits him with guiding her musical career, and I'm grateful she made the journey.
Jennifer Hudson, "Believe"
When this R&B singer belted out the Brooks & Dunn ballad at the duo's Las Vegas tribute last year, she swiftly brought me to tears. This stellar version ends her new album, I Remember Me. It isn't the live performance, yet the urgency and conviction in her voice remains.
Jeremy Lister, "Sinking Stone"
This Nashville-based songwriter found a true fan in Alison Krauss, who recorded her version of this bummer ballad on Paper Airplane and sings harmony on Lister's rendition. "Justice will have been served when Jeremy Lister is a household name," Krauss says. Who am I to argue?
Louisa Branscomb (sung by Claire Lynch and Jim Hurst), "I'm Gonna Love You"
In a clever way to make an album, bluegrass songwriter Louisa Branscomb invited the genre's top singers to record her original material. The highlight for me is this pretty, acoustic song about a performer determined to get home after the gig and embrace the one who's waiting for her.
NewFound Road, "Blackadders Cove"
"I'll tell you a secret that nobody knows." With that mysterious opener, this young bluegrass band weaves a tale of illicit love, wrecked wedding plans and, of course, a bloody ending. The eerie track comes from a new live album recorded at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tenn.
Oh Susanna and Jim Cuddy, "Lucky Ones"
In my 20s, I took this advice to heart: "Don't compare your own situation to someone who seems to have it all, because you never know the whole story." This love-gone-wrong country weeper drives the point home. Still, who'd think they were so miserable with such beautiful harmony?
Owen Temple, "Mountain Home"
A fine songwriter from Austin, Temple found a muse in folks on the fringe for his latest album, Mountain Home. In the brisk title track, a long-imprisoned man is on a bus ride back to the familiar forest. It may look like the middle of nowhere to you, but for him, it's home.
Robyn Ludwick, "Hillbilly"
This longing ballad gives a melancholy twist to the adage, "You can take the boy out of the country." A Texas native, Ludwick (a sister of songwriters Bruce Robison and Charlie Robison) writes from the view of a drifter who thinks about home, family and the inevitable passage of time.
Sean Patrick McGraw, "Too Far Gone"
A favorite in country bars and clubs, McGraw displays his capable songwriting and strong baritone on this midtempo tune. While he admits he was overwhelmed by the wrong woman, he'd do it all again. This one takes me back to the rich country sound of the '90s.
Steve Earle, "Every Part of Me"
The quiet, romantic side of Earle rarely surfaces on his newer albums. However, he opens his heart on "Every Part of Me," a sentimental love song with a message that reminds me of "Bless the Broken Road." I enjoy Earle's spare, soft version, yet I hope a big star cuts it, too.
Tara Nevins, "Wood and Stone"
With the wonderful fiddle groove and vividly written lyrics, Nevins gives a glimpse into her roots. Stepping out for a rare solo record (beyond her beloved band, Donna the Buffalo), she meshes her Cajun influences, unique voice, drums and steel guitars for an intriguing look at her heritage.
TJ Broscoff, "Ready to Fly"
As a young musician in Dallas, TJ Broscoff lost his fledgling career to cocaine and whiskey. After hitting rock bottom, he ditched the drugs and renewed his interest in songwriting. Many addicts will identify with his path in "Ready to Fly," a rugged and honest look at his life.
The Waifs, "Beautiful Night"
Any happy yet harried parents will identify with this nifty song about finding time to reconnect romantically despite the piled-up laundry and toys. The Australian band recorded their loose and likable project in a basement studio in St. Paul, Minn., while living above it for two weeks.
Whiskey Myers, "Broken Window Serenade"
When the Texas band played Nashville, this melodic, hard-luck ballad drew me in. The object of the singer's affection failed to make it in Hollywood and came back home to fight depression, poverty and addiction. It's a sad country song with an honest look at the seedier side of life.