It’s been two years since Brown’s stellar debut The High Road, but luckily she’s let us into the making of new music by posting acoustic demos on her SoundCloud. Her writing is stellar as always, and in “Runner,” she describes a woman who doesn't do a very good job at staying. Brown is the queen of metaphors, one of the best in this song being, "she's a bullet and this dead-end town's a gun." Even without full production, Brown creates incredible music.
Reid crafts a compelling tale on "The Right One". It’s a mixture of hope and sadness, as Reid recounts her bad decisions as she waits for ‘the right one.’ It’s a somewhat idealistic description of love, but that’s what makes this song so able to connect with people. Everyone is searching for that love that’s just meant to be. The idealistic chorus contrasting with the sadder verses crafts a surprisingly accurate description of real life. We live lives that aren’t what we want while we dream for more.
Cole nails nostalgia on this piano-driven demo that initially appeared on her YouTube series, the Rockumentary. Her vocals have always been what set her apart from the other rising female country artists, and on this song she really showcases that strength. The soulful take on country is unique and refreshing, and something that will speak to a lot of young people just getting into the genre.
Smith is incredible at making bluesy soul-country and she proves it on this demo. “Fool Myself” is another breakup song, but no song can be just another song when sung by Smith. Just like she does on her official recordings, and like she will on her debut Monument Records album out early next year, Smith puts her whole heart into the song. Her vocals are so strong not just because she’s a technically incredible singer, but because of the emotion in her vocals.
Mignon Grabois enlisted rising star Devin Dawson and Jaxon Hargrove on this powerful ballad, yielding incredible results. Mignon is one of the lesser-known artists on this list, but her vocals deserve to be better known. This song is country to the core, with the production and the candid honesty in the lyrics about figuring out how to let go of a relationship lost. Mignon hasn't figured out how to let go, but she has figured out how to write a killer song.
If you're looking for a great country story song, look no further than the great Lori McKenna. This song is about the ending of summer, and the beginning of winter, of which October is the bringer. The details in her lyrics, like "smell of smoke and yesterday hanging on the wind" paint such specific and powerful images. McKenna is a storyteller, unlike any other songwriter in country music.
Sara Haze’s collab with Forest Glen Whitehead (Kelsea Ballerini) may be one of the catchiest pop-country songs in the format this year. Haze's powerful but interesting vocals along with the conversational lyrics create an accessible and dance-able experience for the listener. While this may not be a country song to the core, this song sounds like it would race to the top of the charts if an artist cut it or if Haze released it herself.
Hemby, Nicolle Gaylon and Liz Rose crafted a love letter to music when they wrote this song. "If There Was No Music" is a new perspective on the role music plays in all of our everyday lives. Hemby sings about the music of our "teenage pain," of music that "reminds you of yourself." In a format where most songs are about love between humans, this focus on something we take for granted is beautiful.
Ashton is poised to break out next year, and she's been teasing new music to come out early in the new year. This song is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come from here, and it's damn good. Her vocals are unmatched in the genre as well as music in general. Her vocal talent, paired with the perfect mixture of vulnerability and badassery in her lyrics are what make this song, and her discography, so irresistible.
This song tells the story of a complicated couple, one whose love feels more and more forced as the days go by. Little details like “the dishes piled up in the kitchen” and “a mirror cracked above our vanity” represent little imperfections that represent real problems in the relationship of the couple. But the hope in the song, that they can still fix and attempt to start again, is there. Burruss hasn’t given up. This song is simple, understated, but brilliant.