Big Release Day In Country Music (3-3). Here’s What Not to Miss

In the embarrassment of riches that is the current country/Americana landscape, it’s an increasingly common issue where there are more new album releases on a given Friday than time to review or even listen to them in a timely manner. So to make sure you don’t miss anything that might appeal to you, here’s a run down of this week’s releases.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This won’t happen every Friday. But on the busier Friday’s, this will be an increasingly occurring feature here at Saving Country Music for busier releases days.

Willie Nelson – I Don’t Know A Thing About Love

It is Willie Nelson who has defined the best of country music for decades of fans, but it was songwriter Harlan Howard who best defined what country music is when he called it succinctly “Three chords and the truth.” Though that might be the Country Music Hall of Famer’s most quoted line, it’s Harlan Howard’s catalog of songs that just like Willie Nelson’s career, defines what country music is in its greatest form, and for many generations.

“Streets of Baltimore,” “Life Turned Her That Way,” and “Tiger By The Tail” are just some of the songs that Harlan Howard hung his career on, and are songs that Willie Nelson has selected for his next album as a tribute to Harlan. A few more Howard tracks that didn’t make the cut but most country fans will recognize immediately are “I Fall To Pieces,” “Heartaches By The Number,” and “Why Not Me.” (read more)

The Panhandlers – Tough Country

Well it wasn’t just a lark apparently, and competing egos ended up not getting in the way, because this Texas supergroup epicentered around Lubbock has announced its second official album. Comprised of Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry, William Clark Green, Josh Abbott of The Josh Abbott Band, and songwriter John Baumann, The Panhandlers are an uncanny amount of talent in one place that was able to meld together through a mutual appreciation of West Texas and great songwriting. The results were a very quality, and very country self-titled debut album in 2020 that was favored by many.

The new album will include four songs released on the late 2022 EP West Texas is the Best Texas. But with a 14-song track list, you’re not getting short changed. Just like their debut, West Texas songwriter Charlie Stout also contributes to the writing, making him a de facto fifth member. Songwriter Erik Dylan also appears a couple of times in the track list. (read more)

Michael Cleveland – Lovin’ Of The Game

Michael Cleveland continues to be a significant part of the resurgent swell we’ve seen in the popularity of bluegrass over the last few years. Both as a solo artist and as a collaborator, he’s brought such authority and passion to the fiddle discipline, it’s infectious with the audience. A 12-time IBMA winner, his last album Tall Fiddler won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

Lovin’ Of The Game features appearances from Béla Fleck, Billy Strings, Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke, Jeff White, The Travelin’ McCourys, and Vince Gill, perhaps making this album Michael Cleveland’s biggest breakout yet. “He plays fearless and it’s intoxicating to play with him because he makes you play fearless,” says Vince Gill. “He takes no prisoners but he plays with restraint and a soul. He plays without abandon.”

Drayton Farley – Twenty On High

If you can’t get enough of that country/rock/roots sound emanating from Alabama and underpinning excellently written songs that cut straight to the heart, you have little to no excuse to not sift Drayton Farley’s Twenty On High to the very top of your 2023 depth chart. To be released via Hargrove Records in conjunction with Thirty Tigers, this is his first full studio album, but Drayton has already been making a big impact with a couple of lo-fi, acoustic-only releases. It was patently clear then that Drayon had something worth paying attention to, even if the lack of production kept the music from reaching a wider audience.

All of that changes with Twenty On High, as producer Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit employs his fellow 400 Unit members Chad Gamble (drums) and Jimbo Hart (bass), as well as pianist Peter Levin and violinist Kristin Weber to bring Drayton Farley’s songs to life. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield also appears on a song. Matt Ross-Spang also worked on the project as an engineer. (read more)

Slaid Cleaves – Together Through The Dark

This Austin-based songwriter who is well-respected across the folk and country worlds has now put in 25 years as a traveling troubadours. He’s ready to release his first album in five years, and his third album in a row produced by Scrappy Jud Newcomb. A childhood friend of Rob Picott, together they wrote the de facto title track “Through The Dark,” and recorded it with the rest of the album between surges of COVID-19. Slaid Cleaves also once contributed an article to Saving Country Music.

“This album speaks to the hopeful, the hard working, the battered, confused, and the sad,” says Scrappy Jud Newcomb. “But above all to the believers in the city of freedom that we heard in the stories of our youth and all those FM radio hits.”

Karen Jonas – The Restless

Fredericksburg, Virginia’s favorite singer and songwriter is back with a collection of songs that is both sultry and literary in a way that only Karen Jonas can pull off. It will be her fifth full-length release since her stunning 2014 debut Oklahoma Lottery that stuck her on the radar of Saving Country Music. Once again she works with long-time guitarist Tim Bray, along with the “Seths” of bassist Seth Morrissey and drummer Seth Brown, along with multi-instrumentalist Jay Starling.

“The record tells a story, but it isn’t linear,” Jonas says. “There are throughlines: this collection of dreamy, raw, romantic, and ill-fated stories. It’s important to me that the songs don’t judge the stories, they just dig in, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. Sometimes it’s hard to unpack where the narrator and I begin and end.”


Other Releases:

Luke Laird, Lori McKenna, And Barry Dean –The Songwriter Tapes Vol. 1 (4-song swap/retrospective)

Eli Buddy and Sweet Mesquite – Songs of Atascosa & South Central Texas (authentic Texas country)

Chris Williams and Kid Reverie – Something From Nothing (Americana)

The Mavericks – In Time, 10th Anniversary Deluxe (In Time was SCM Album of the Year in 2013)

Mason & the Gin Line – Sangre

Meg McRee – Is It Just Me?

New Earth Farmers – The Good Ones Got Away

National Park Radio – Canyons

The National Parks – 8th Wonder (folk pop from Utah)

Doolin – Circus Boy (French folk pop)

IVA – Nobody’s Woman EP (Americana)

Nate Fredrick and the Wholesome Boys – Self-Titled EP

Logan Springer & the Wonderfully Wild – Crow

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