Natalie: love, me EP by Lennon Stella
Lennon Stella, who made a name for herself on Nashville as an acoustic-strumming teen with impeccable vocals and quirky glasses, has fully transformed into a pop princess. And I am 100% (1,000? 1,000,000?) here for it. Her debut EP, love, me, is a 5-song reintroduction that showcases her legitimate songwriting chops, light-as-air vocals, and knack for ear-pleasing production elements, all while providing a succinct summary of her sound and artistic identity that effectively separates her from the pop genre’s crowded landscape.
Despite its complete (and wonderful) bubblegum candy coating, the EP’s strong songwriting foundation bleeds through via hard-hitting lyrics (“You put the weight of your world down on my shoulders / Why’d you have to make me older?“) and interesting melodies and chord changes (i.e. “Bad,” “Breakaway”). Stella’s impressive production army boasts Greg Kurstin, who worked on the stunning closer “Fortress,” Joel Little, and busbee, among others, and the slight sonic diversity proves beneficial. I would recommend a favorite, but I can’t choose, so listen to all of it. And then try to stop. Betcha can’t.
Lydia: “Omaha” by Erik Dylan
Sure we all like a feel-good, party song but what honestly makes you fall in love with music is the story, the songwriting, and the artist’s approach to sharing his or her heartfelt feelings. Erik Dylan is one of those special singer-songwriters who pours out his heart and experiences through his work.
His latest, “Omaha” is a stunning example. The song was inspired by an ad which originally appeared in the Omaha Daily Herald about a Vietnam Vet who had recently passed away and had no known family. The ad helped gather close to 1,500 people who then laid Stanley Stolz to rest. The moving tribute will no doubt give you pause.
“Naw, there ain’t nothing sadder than a black Cadillac with a long trail of nothing behind / No tiger lilies, no babies, no whiskey, living proof that lonely just died / Honey pack up the kids ‘cause we’re headed to Omaha in lieu of his family unknown / The paper says he was a Vietnam soldier and he needs some help getting back home.”
Annie: “What It Can’t Have” by Bobby Hamrick
I am plain and simple addicted to this song. I love the use of strings, I love the way Hamrick’s voice sounds on it, I love the too-freaking-real lyric. “I want the chair already taken / Wanna hold the hand already held / Wanna catch the eye that isn’t looking, I just can’t help myself.” The production is interesting and fun, grabs the ear at casual listen, and digs in deep with each replay.
Markus: “A Strange Way to Save the World” by Rascal Flatts
From their 2016 Christmas project, Rascal Flatts gives us one of the best country holiday songs in recent memory. A touching, religiously-fueled story soars on the back of a great hook and an engaging perspective. The piano-driven production is beautiful, and is restrained enough that the overlying message is able to truly shine through. Gary Levox refrains from his occasional tendency to oversing, while the harmonies shine when called upon. It’s a truly gorgeous tune well-worth a listen, and stands out as a highlight among the Rascal Flatts’ discography. It’s well-crafted, well-written, and well-sung, and is worth seeking out this holiday season.
Amanda: “Songbird” by Bailey Bryan
With her infectious sound and introspective songwriting style, 20 year-old Bailey Bryan is one of the most refreshing voices among the recent wave of rising artists in Nashville. While her 2017 debut EP So Far grabbed the attention of many, the Washington native’s originality truly comes to life on her latest release.
Though Bryan’s vulnerability is never absent in her music, “Songbird” does more than just highlight her undeniable songwriting talents. As the singer grapples internally with trying to find where she fits in, she turns to a higher power because she admittedly doesn’t have the answers she’s seeking. Bryan’s choice in the song’s musical arrangement, combined with her emotionally charged lyrics and her hip hop inspired rhythms during the second half of the song, are direct reflections of who she is as an artist and how far she’s already come in such a short time.
Though “Songbird” may stemmed come from Bryan losing her way, there’s no doubt the young singer-songwriter is most certainly on the path she was always meant to be on. Speaking right to the soul with the power to change lives, Bryan has a long and successful career ahead of her.