It's easy to be cool when you're always in tune with the latest music. As for me, I need air conditioning. Now that summer's winding down, though, I figured I'd share a few cool tracks that I enjoyed this summer, from country stars like Brad Paisley and Wynonna, newcomers such as Frankie Ballard and Carter's Chord, and indie talent like Laura Cantrell and Jim Quick.
Brad Paisley, "Be the Lake"
For me, a long weekend at the lake means a laid-back pace, no phone, a couple of beers and a rare chance to unwind with my friends. For Paisley, though, it apparently means checking out the hot ladies on the dock. The song's fun, flirtatious lyrics are a nice match with the splashy banjo riffs.
Carter's Chord, "A Little Less Comfortable"
I'm a minimalist, which may come from moving a lot in my 20s, so I can identify with this romantic ode to the simple life. These three sisters, whose voices blend effortlessly, literally grew up with Waylon Jennings as their parents toured with him during the Outlaw years.
Erin McDermott, "Going Home"
A rising talent in bluegrass, this Vermont songwriter gets inspired by motion. (Indeed, her album is titled Time to Go.) This observant narrative finds a man rediscovering his roots after 30 years. Bonus points for bringing Stuart Duncan, Tim O'Brien and Bryan Sutton on board.
Foster & Lloyd, "It's Already Tomorrow"
A roots-rock duo from the 1980s reunites with a clever, driving number that sounds like a hit to me. Here, they sing about how their kids like to hear about the old times -- even when it seems like yesterday. The upbeat tune is the title track to their first album of new material since 1990.
Frankie Ballard, "A Place to Lay Your Head"
Now here's a pickup line: "Baby when you're ready to call it a night, I got a place to lay your head." That raspy voice suggests he's not singing about the sofa. New on the scene, Ballard has been making waves at country radio with "Tell Me You Get Lonely" and "A Buncha Girls."
Jim Quick, "Stronger Than You Need to Be"
This North Carolina singer calls his fans the "Coastline Crazies." I dig the horns, the suave groove and especially the message -- it doesn't make you weak to give in to a new love. If you've ever tried dating someone who won't let their guard down, this up-tempo soul tune will ring true.
Laura Cantrell, "I Can't Tell My Heart"
This sweet-voiced Nashville native beautifully sings the praises of the longtime Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells. A highlight of her tribute album is "I Can't Tell My Heart," Wells' 1960 weeper about loving a cheater and a liar who leaves her flat. Ah, good ol' country music.
Patty Griffin, "I Love"
On this memorable Tom T. Hall classic, Griffin relishes the simple pleasures. Hey, who can resist little baby ducks? Her version comes from a tribute to Hall's landmark 1974 children's album, Songs of Fox Hollow. The lines about winners and losers get me every time.
Russell Hitchcock, "Good to See You Again"
The Air Supply singer recorded this solo project in Nashville, calling upon local songwriters for material. In this ballad, he comes face-to-face with the long-lost lover that keeps him stuck in the past. His vocals convey the heartbreak, even as he concedes that he's glad they crossed paths.
Wynonna, "Love It Out Loud"
Through constant confessions, we've learned plenty about the Judds. Now here's a tune about what Wynonna gleaned from Naomi: Love isn't really love until you love it out loud. As usual, I don't quite understand what they mean, but I will say (out loud) that I love Wy's powerful voice.