Billy Ray Cyrus turned 50 last week. (Where does the time go?) And it's been 18 years since Dolly Parton romanticized him in "Romeo." Both of those stars released new music this summer, along with longtime favorite Vince Gill (who covered a pop gem) and iconic Texas musician Joe Ely. Along with a handful of independent artists, here are 10 new tracks you might enjoy.
Billy Ray Cyrus, "Runway Lights"
He's never shy about his patriotism, and this song ranks up there with "Some Gave All." Cyrus sings from the perspective of a soldier who's serving his country from halfway around the world. He misses home, yet he knows he's got a job to do. It's a fitting tribute for Labor Day weekend.
Dolly Parton, "Somebody's Missing You"
The buoyant superstar shows a soft and tender side on this ballad from her optimistic new album, Brand New Day. The flowing melody fits nicely in her vocal range, and the simple lyrics convey her loneliness. If you're in a long-distance relationship, this sweet song will comfort you.
the Grascals, "Ol' Joe Clark"
The award-winning bluegrass band salutes the 50th anniversary of The Andy Griffith Show with this nimble instrumental. If you think you know everything about the classic series, the Grascals challenge their audiences to trivia contests on the road. Well, gaaaaw-ly!
Joe Ely, "The Highway Is My Home"
In this dramatic song, a foolish rambler gets stuck in a storm after his lover leaves him stranded. Even worse, she goes back to the other guy. When it rains, it pours. Ely recorded his new album in Texas (naturally), and he delivers a fine version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever," too.
Lindi Ortega, "Little Lie"
This Toronto-based songwriter describes her sound as "a roadside motel love affair between old school outlaws and country darlings." That's about right. On "Little Lie," she keenly admits to a small deception, only because that's what her lover wanted to hear. This rhythm section is killer.
Mary Bragg, "When Your Heart Belongs to Another"
In this peppy tune, the talented Georgia native (who now lives in New York) turns down a tempting, flirtatious offer by a man who shouldn't be asking in the first place. Hey, she's got her eye on somebody else anyway. If you liked Jewel's foray into country, you may enjoy this, too.
Robert Ellis, "What's in It for Me?"
This young Texan offers a traditional weeper about love gone wrong. In true country fashion, he staggers in drunk with stinky clothes, only to find that things are not what they used to be. When I heard him sing this in Nashville, I absorbed every steel guitar lick, then went right to the bar.
Rod Picott, "Welding Burns"
Picott is the son of a welder, and he draws on that family history in this revealing narrative. His albums are sparsely produced, a raw sound he capably replicates on his never-ending tour dates. Americana music fans will appreciate his attention to detail and conversational writing.
Town Mountain, "Fallin' Off the Wagon"
This fun, quick-fingered bluegrass instrumental chugs right along, so the title must not be referring to wheels. These fellows take their name from a spot near their home base of Asheville, N.C. -- a.k.a. Beer City, USA. Mike Bub produced their album, which they recorded live in the studio.
Vince Gill, "I Know You're Out There Somewhere"
It's been decades since I heard this melancholy Moody Blues pop hit from 1988, so it surprised me that I was singing along with Vince Gill in no time. The Moody Blues have given a bluegrass spin to their catalog, with Gill's high, lonesome rendition an undeniable highlight of the project.