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First Country: Kelsea Ballerini, Lainey Wilson, Tenille Arts & More

todayFebruary 17, 2023

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First Country is a compilation of the best new country songs, videos & albums that dropped this week.

Kelsea Ballerini, Rolling Up the Welcome Mat

Ballerini continues in the recent lineage of divorce albums from artists including Adele and Carly Pearce with her most intimate work to date, a six-song set (accompanied by a short film) that unflinchingly details the phases of the dissolution of her marriage to fellow artist Morgan Evans. This raw project chronicles a relationship that slowly dims from its brightly-wedded origins into cloudy voids wrought by physical and emotional distance. “Mountain With a View” feels like a straight-forward response to Evans’ own post-divorce song “Over For You,” while some of the project’s strongest tracks come with no-holds-barred, lyrical gut-punches of “Interlude” and “Blindsided”–songs that shake loose the last visages of keeping up appearances, in favor of wading into the messiness, anger and pain of loss. The project concludes with “Leave Me Again,” with a message of self-worth not so unlike her early hit “Miss Me More.” This time, Ballerini’s music is stripped back to just a vulnerable guitar-vocal, her voice peaceful and hopeful, like the first glimpses of a sunrise after a long, dark night.

Lainey Wilson, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

CMA Award-winner Wilson makes this contribution to the Rolling Stones tribute album Stoned Cold Country, turning this Stones classic (which peaked at No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973) into a track that transforms from barroom weeper into funky, piano-inflected track, spearheaded by Wilson’s own unique vocal flair. Wilson has earned country chart hits with the emotive “Heart Like a Truck” and wisdom-imbuing “Things a Man Oughta Know,” but here, she reminds listeners that she can rock out just as well.

The Pretty Wild, “Bettin’ On Us”

This newcomer sister duo is ready to go all-in on this anthemic, alternative pop-country hybrid about boldly risking everything when you know the reward is worth it. Sisters Jill and Julia wrote the song with Ben Williams and Colin Healey. The sisters’ harmonies are understated, while production from JoJo Centineo injects the song with a rock-tinged energy.

Tenille Arts with Maddie & Tae, “Last Time Last”

Arts teams with duo Maddie & Tae for this song that is steeped in the culture of bittersweet nostalgia, musing that if the last moment of a good thing made itself evident–whether last kickball game as a child, or the last kiss with a lover–one would do all they could to cause those final moments to linger. Maddie & Tae’s vocal pairings with Arts sound fresh and wistful. Arts wrote the song with Alex Kline, Trannie Anderson and Alison Veltz Cruz.

Joy Oladokun, “Changes”

An early release from Oladokun’s upcoming album April 28 album Proof of Life, “Changes” features the singer-songwriter’s vulnerable voice floating above tender acoustics as she reflects on kinetic shifts, both global and personal. “Life’s always been a little dangerous, but I don’t wanna stay the same so/ I’m trying to keep up with the changes,” Oladokun sings, her voice a relaxed balm on a steady beat. The song follows her previous collaboration with Chris Stapleton on the lush ballad “Sweet Symphony.”

Jay Allen, “No Prayer Like Mama’s”

Written by Jay Allen and Justin Morgan, with production from Morgan and Micah Wilshire, this intensely personal song pays tribute to Allen’s late mother, who passed away in 2019 after a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Here, Allen excels at constructing sleek pop-country with an impactful message, serving as a worthy platform for his potent vocal.

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