Jewly Hight

The image of a family tree is embedded in the country songwriting lexicon, serving as a sort of shorthand for core country values of lineage, rootedness and stabilizing familial bonds. Priscilla Renea is no doubt aware of this. Though only 29, she's already a savvy veteran of the music industry. After a fairly rural Florida upbringing, she's spent over a decade learning how to play by, and bend, the rules in the cosmopolitan capitals of pop, R&B, hip-hop and country music-making.

Katie Herzig's trajectory probably doesn't much resemble what you'd expect a professional Nashville songwriter's career to look like, which seems to suit her just fine. She fell into what you might call commercial songwriting almost by accident, when she discovered that the sort of breathy, intimate folk pop tunes she was already writing for her own albums were an excellent fit for the soundtracks to prime-time dramas like Grey's Anatomy.

Few periods of country music history have received more popular attention (or rock press) than the outlaw movement. Decades later, its towering personas — Willie and Waylon chief among them — remain a subject of fascination, immortalized as leathery, long-haired stoners and speed freaks who operated entirely outside the law of the country music establishment. By the time the movement had run its course, it had become a marketing tool for the industry.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Some relationships in our lives are so vital, constant and ordinary that it seems nearly impossible for any expression of affection to do them justice. Thankfully, immortalizing everyday intimacy is a specialty of Lori McKenna.

It's not surprising when contemporary artists invoke Loretta Lynn as a template. But country icon's younger sister, the urbane country-pop balladeer Crystal Gayle, is a far less likely reference, particularly for an artist like Kelly Willis.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Throwback soul and honky-tonk never seem to go entirely out of fashion. Both breakthrough acts and performers building small followings on the vinylphile fringes have embraced those aesthetics as vehicles for emotional grit and analog authenticity. That hasn't been as true of country-funk, a vintage style far more prone to periods of obscurity, but which is now enjoying a quiet resurgence.

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