Here's how I spent my summer vacation: listening to a whole bunch of new music. Thanks to a long road trip last month, I finally caught up on most of the summer releases. Here are some of my favorite tracks from the stacks.
Of all the songs on the Zac Brown Band's compelling new album, Uncaged, "Natural Disaster" is probably my favorite. Brown gets to show off his vocal range, and I feel like every musician in the band gets a chance to step out. Plus it's a tricky tune to pin down -- is it a love song? A jam session? A short story set to music? Whatever it is, I'm impressed.
Dustin Lynch makes an auspicious debut with his self-titled release. "Cowboys and Angels" reminds me of country music from the 1990s -- understated production and big sweeping choruses sung by a rich, traditional baritone. This Tennessee native is bound for national success.
Even if you're not interested in American Idol, I would still suggest listening to Phillip Phillips' new single, "Home." Lots of people discovered it during the Olympics, thanks to its message of patience and persistence. And that driving beat underscores its positive message.
In addition, Texas music fans should track down Wade Bowen's The Given and Billy Joe Shaver's Live at Billy Bob's Texas. Both collections showcase their talent for well-crafted songs along with just enough swagger to keep their dedicated audiences satisfied.
Among albums and EPs, my top picks from this summer are Balsam Range's Papertown (bluegrass), Caroline Herring's Camilla (folk), Derek Hoke's Waiting All Night (Americana) and Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers' Old Gold (classic country).
Meanwhile, Americana fans will enjoy the Flatlanders' reissued recording of "Down in My Hometown," Radney Foster's 20th anniversary re-recording of "Nobody Wins" and Corb Lund and Hayes Carll's amusing duet "Bible on the Dash." The narratives of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Levi" and "Half Mile Down" are worth digging into as well.
Other new Americana tracks include Alberta Cross' "Wasteland," Colossal Gospel's "Leaving," the Dirty Guv'nahs' "Fairlane," Jason Heath & the Greedy Souls' "California Wine," I Draw Slow's "Honeymoon," the Illegitimate Grass Band's "You'll Never Break This Cold Heart of Mine" and Joey & Rory's traditional country duet, "His and Hers."
You might also take time for Penny Jo Pullus and Jimmy LaFave's "When the Battle Is Over," River City Extension's "Vanessa's Song, or Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger," SHEL's "On My Way," Shovels & Rope's "O Be Joyful," Chad Sullins & the Last Call Coalition's "August Sun," Butch Thompson and Pat Donohue's "Blues for Two," the Trishas' "Strangers," Uncle Lucius' "Pocket Full of Misery" and Robin & Linda Williams' "Lonesome."
If you enjoy an Irish influence, fiddle around with Gaelic Storm's "Rag and Bone" and "One More Day Above the Roses." For a true country voice, listen for Teea Goans' "Love's in the Here and Now." Bluegrass fans might try Robert Hale's "Gone Just the Same," the Marksmen Quartet's "This Is My Crowd," The Roys' "New Day Dawning," Karl Shiflett & the Big Country Show's "Tennessee Cut Up Breakdown" and Paul Williams & the Victory Trio's "He'll Calm the Troubled Waters."
For those who savor singer-songwriters, check out these tunes: Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound's "Two Melodies," Susan Cattaneo's "Pennies on the Rail," Amy Cook's "Waiting 4 the World 2 End," Patrick Davis' "So Sweet," Jenee Halstead's "Get Good With It" and the Brendan Hines' "Small Mistakes."
More favorites include Gabriel Kelley's "It Don't Come Easy," Eleni Mandell's "Magic Summertime," Kelly Joe Phelps' "Goodbye to Sorrow," Maia Sharp's "Change the Ending," Jesse Terry's "Empty Seat on a Plane" and Drew Womack's "The Way Love Rolls."