Each week this list assembles songs from the country music and Americana spheres that we think deserve your attention. This edition does that too, but also serves a purpose unique to this 2020 Election Day by compiling exemplary songs of change, protest, compassion, and comfort. Here’s the tracks to get you through the week.
The Avett Brothers, “This Land Is Your Land”
The roots-music power players celebrate both unity and diversity in their rendition of Woody Guthrie’s American staple. But the Avetts’ sparse banjo-led rendition is only part of the story: The video, by director Samuel Bayer, is a snapshot of all the different faces and places that have always made the U.S. great.
Brent Cobb (featuring Nikki Lane), “Soapbox”
Brent Cobb launched a straightforward campaign this fall encouraging folks to “git off our soapbox and vote.” The call to civic duty was inspired by this shuffling track off Cobb’s new album Keep ‘Em on They Toes, which features Nikki Lane harmonizing with the Georgia songwriter about holding one’s tongue and speaking with your ballot. “Well, hot dog, your opinion is louder than mine!” they sing, cutting through all the noise, “You might wear out my nerves, but you ain’t changing my mind.” Free thought has never sounded so good.
Bandits on the Run, “Now Is the Time”
New York trio Bandits on the Run capture the urgency of the moment with “Now Is the Time,” a harmony-rich new song aimed at inspiring people to action, whether voting or simply doing something magical. “Try to find a reason or steep in the season of now/And be the what not the how,” they sing. With cello providing a low-end counter melody, “Now Is the Time” has a chamber-music quality that adds to the rousing atmosphere.
Maren Morris, “Better Than We Found It”
“Will we sit on our hands doing nothing about it?” Maren Morris asks in this call-to-arms, which makes a pact with listeners to change the country for those who come after us. “America, we’re better than this,” she sings, reminding us all of a harsh truth: that this nation, while never a pillar of equality and fairness, has fallen far below what it thinks of itself.
Kelsey Waldon, “They’ll Never Keep Us Down”
Few contemporary singing voices are as distinctly American as Kelsey Waldon’s — a mix of twang and lilt, it could only originate from the songwriter’s home state of Kentucky. With Vickie Vaughn on standup bass and Rachel Baiman on fiddle, Waldon uses that voice to lobby for the workingman and woman with a fiery cover of Hazel Dickens’ pro-union labor rave-up that doubles as the title track of her new EP.
Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, “Sacrifice”
Twelve-piece band Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar expertly blend Phil Spector’s massive Wall of Sound with the raw singing style of garage-rock in “Sacrifice,” a song from the group’s upcoming album The Reckless One. Beginning with propulsive strums of acoustic guitar, the tune quickly expands to a full-band arrangement with lush strings and harmonies, all supporting the full-throated, soulful growl of leader Martin. In this case, the cinematic flourishes are a perfect backdrop for her to address someone who always tries to paper over his misdeeds with gifts and promises: “It’s not what you’re willing to give me, it’s what you’re willing to sacrifice,” she sings. Sorry, dude, time for you to hit the road.
Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams, “I Wonder Why”
Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton join up with the New Zealand singer-songwriter Marlon Williams for the new album Plastic Bouquet, which comes out December 11th. The project’s first single is the heartbroken “I Wonder Why.” With considerable lo-fi charm, the barely two-minutes tune makes the most of its sparse production, all brushed drums and squeaking acoustic guitar strings. Williams’ otherworldly croon leads the way, blending beautifully with Kacy Anderson’s voice in a winning combination of diverse talents.
Reed Turchi, “I’ve Chosen Love”
Nashville guitarist Reed Turchi and singer Heather Moulder craft an ethereal, swirling piece of music using the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “I’ve Chosen Love” takes its paraphrased title from the civil rights icon’s quote about how he has chosen to “stick with love,” because “hate is too great a burden to bear.” The song’s ethereal production, tied together by Turchi’s dramatic playing, may be moody and shadowy, but the message couldn’t be more comforting and inspiring.