Our August favorites include Patrick Droney, Lori McKenna, BJ Barham, Kenny Chesney, Lauren Duski, and Ruston Kelly.
Annie: “Brooklyn” by Patrick Droney
I first met Patrick Droney in college in New York City, so perhaps it’s only fitting that I’m most drawn to his self-proclaimed ode to the city on his brand new EP. The lyrics are visceral – I can feel the heat of the backseat cab argument, and my legs burn when he talks about a sixth story walk-up. Droney is Mayer-meets-D’Angelo-meets-James Bay, with expressive vocals that expertly ferry the lyric. “Brooklyn” is dipped in rock and soul and blues and character, making for the perfect sonic smorgasbord.
Lydia: “Wreck You” by Lori McKenna
Lately, I’ve found myself going back and listening to my favorite records of the last year or so and really taking the time to sit and listen to the stories the artists are trying to tell. For me, that’s the beautiful thing about music, the stories set to melodies. One of my absolute favorite songwriters is Lori McKenna, and if you don’t recognize the name you should definitely put her on your radar. She’s behind hits such as “Humble and Kind” (Tim McGraw), “Girl Crush” (Little Big Town), “God Made Girls” (RaeLynn), and the list goes on and on.
“Wreck You” is one of those songs that really hits me. The lyrics are easy to connect with and set to the beauty of McKenna’s vocals it’s impossible not to be swept up in the raw emotion of the story she’s telling. Key lyrics: “I don’t know what the hell you want from me / Is there something or someone I should be / One of these nights should I keep on driving’ / ‘Cause I don’t know how to pull you back/ I don’t’ know how to pull you close / All I know is how to wreck you / Something between us changed/ I’m not sure if it’s you or me / But lately all I do seems to wreck you.”
Markus: “Madeline” by BJ Barham
I’ve been re-visiting BJ Barham’s Rockingham lately, as well as his work with American Aquarium, and the track that keeps coming back to me is “Madeline.” It’s a song built as a message to his daughter, beginning with a framing of the context, and building up to a list-style presentation of advice. It’s personal and touching lyrically, broad enough to be relatable yet pointed enough to feel intimate.
Additionally, Barham’s straightforward presentation and gritty voice allows for a sense of authenticity to shine through, making for an unpolished yet fully effective delivery. Meanwhile, the production is restrained yet nuanced, allowing for the overarching messaging to shine through, while the tight melody holds the whole thing together. It’s an incredibly well-rounded record, and one that demonstrates Barham’s best artistic traits.
Zack: “Better Boat” by Kenny Chesney and Mindy Smith
Kenny Chesney’s newest album is one of his best yet, with this song being the icing on the cake. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the melancholy song offers a ray of hope by allowing the narrator to overcome his demons (or at least try), and the metaphor of building a better boat is such a fitting one for Chesney. Mindy Smith’s harmonies just add an extra layer to the song too. This song is a great reminder of what country music is all about.
Amanda: “Costume Party” by Lauren Duski
Written from a place of complete vulnerability, Duski’s raw and emotional debut removes the mask many of us hide behind for fear of how others will judge us, and instead poses one simple question – “why’s it so damn hard not to give a damn?” With its blatant honesty and inspiring message, “Costume Party” is nothing short of amazing. It’s the kind of song that doesn’t just deserve the attention, but it’s exactly what the music industry (not just country radio) needs to hear.
Natalie: “Son of a Highway Daughter” by Ruston Kelly
This song! A new-age campfire hymn, if you will. For the first two minutes, Kelly’s arresting vocals are saturated with vocoder effects, creating an ethereal space in which to appreciate his haunting, autobiographical lyrics. It’s stunning, with touches of steel guitar that strike just before the track breaks into a rolling, Americana-tinged refrain. Kelly and his co-producer, Jarrad K, effectively guide the listener through the stark switch in tempo and sound – it’s more euphoric than jarring, and takes several listens to fully appreciate. His forthcoming album, Dying Star, is out September 7.