First Country: Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett, Gabby Barrett, Deana Carter & More

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Blake Shelton

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

Blake Shelton, “We Can Reach The Stars”

When Shelton wed Gwen Stefani in July, he penned his own wedding vows in the form of a song. Now, he’s letting the rest of the world hear the tender, emotional track. Delicate guitar work starts off this song, as Shelton reflects how he wishes they had met earlier in their lives.

“Who are we to question God and his greater plan?/ You and me are a blessing,” he sings, his straightforward, unadorned delivery offering a glimpse into the earnest love he feels for his new bride. The track will be included on December release of Shelton’s Body Language deluxe album.

Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine” (2021 Version)

Deana Carter commemorates the 25th anniversary of her 1996 debut album Did I Shave My Legs For This? with a special reissue. Two of her biggest hits from that album, “Strawberry Wine” and the title track, get a boost as Carter welcomes a sterling lineup of artists to join in. On the enduring (and CMA Award-winning) “Wine,” she welcomes Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, Ashley McBryde, Kylie Morgan and Vince Gill to lend their talents, which infuses this song’s wistful remembrance of first love an appealing range of textures and emotional nuances.

Priscilla Block, “Peaked in High School” 

Block’s music first went viral on TikTok, as one of her previous releases “Just About Over You” gained traction and she landed a deal with country label UMG Nashville. With the aforementioned track in the top 20 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, Block has just released a new track that calls out a high school bully, whose glory days dwindled soon after those teenage years were over. As with “Just About Over You,” this track is deeply autobiographical, detailing Block’s grievances, before pointing out how her fortunes have changed.

“I got a deal/ You got divorced,” Block deadpans with her signature wit — though ultimately, the song is about pushing past the naysayers and following your own ambitions.

Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer”

Rhett continues his penchant for songs about young love and nostalgia on this sweetly piano-based tune, which finds a young couple desperately clinging to those last moments of summer — and their short-lived romance.

Though Rhett released Country Again: Side A (the first in a two-part project) earlier this year, it looks like fans will have to wait until Fall 2022 for the second half of the project. The singer-songwriter just announced that “Slow Down Summer” is from a different project, Where We Started, set for early 2022. Rhett penned “Slow Down Summer” with Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure, and Sean Douglas — as well as Rhett’s father, recent Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Rhett Akins.

Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up”

Following Barrett’s more pop-inflected, glossy No. 1 hits “I Hope” and “The Good Ones,” this talented artist’s latest offers a more organic, breezy vibe, thanks to a mix of jangly string work. “Get me out of my head and out of this town,” she sings in this relaxed, yet still commanding track, which she penned with Jon Nite and Ross Copperman.

Kameron Marlowe, “Steady Heart”

They are oil and water, but somehow their differences just seem to work. This steady love song is charged with sentimentality and rural imagery, from gravel roads and AM radios, and old pawn shop guitars meant for playing “Angel From Montgomery.” “When we come together/ We’re the best of who we are,” Marlowe sings. As a co-writer on the song, alongside Jessi Alexander and Dan Isbell, Marlowe also brings a certain relaxed authority to his vocal delivery. Lyrically, it’s more streamlined than his previous outing “Giving You Up,” marking another step forward in his creative progression.

LOCASH, “Beach Boys”

This track, which leads the duo’s newly-released five-track EP Woods & Water, interpolates The Beach Boys’ 1964 classic “I Get Around,” incorporating it into a song that sonically falls in line with the current output at country radio. But instead of singing the praises of a cool car, they’ve got an urge to “take the country to the beach, boys,” trading “Jack D” for Jose Cuervo, and swapping Tennessee for laid-back beaches.

Nate Smith, “Raised Up”

Smith’s first offering since signing to Sony Music Nashville is a promising one, building from an elegant piano to a righteously hooky chorus, while Smith possesses a gravelly vocal vibrato that surges with urgency. This track focuses on re-centering himself on the values and life lessons he was raised on.

“Any time I lose my way/ I turn the way I was raised up,” he sings in this soulful rock-country track he penned with Trannie Anderson and Jonathan Smith.

Randall King, “You in a Honky Tonk” 

King likes his lover best when she’s dressed up in the neon lights of a honky tonk. This Texas native’s got the effortless vocal delivery and barroom-ready, fiddle-soaked production nailed down, but this track doesn’t quite reach the same level as his previous excellent efforts such as “Record High,” “Another Bullet,” or “Tugging on My Heartstrings.”

 
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