Jewly Hight

Since new release season is rolling on while the Nashville music community and the rest of us remain holed up at home, here's another round-up of music that shouldn't be missed.


The arrival of the coronavirus to Nashville came early in March, but Joe Diffie's passing yesterday, at the age of 61 — just two days after releasing a statement about his diagnosis through his publicist — marked the first reported loss of a country star to coronavirus-related complications.

The fact that Nashville's famously bustling live music scene has temporarily gone silent — first partially interrupted by the March 3 tornadoes, then halted altogether in response to COVID-19 — makes this an opportune time to catch up with the loosies, EPs and albums that either went overlooked in the crowd of early 2020 releases or won't be getting signal boosts from now-canceled promotional performances.

One of the more remarkable features of Bobbie Gentry's recordings is their lavish embroidery of down-home sensibilities.

The circumstances of David Olney's death have been widely reported, not least because people were struck by what seemed like a poetic end for such a poetic presence. Onstage last Saturday during the 30A Songwriters Festival in the Florida panhandle, Olney reportedly paused mid-song and bowed his head to his chest, suffering another heart attack.

It's common practice for chart-topping Nashville songwriters to see their accomplishments celebrated with lawn signs in front of industry offices, but Jenee Fleenor arrived at Sound Emporium Studios for her NPR interview to see a banner congratulating her on a different kind of milestone. This November, she became not only the first woman to win the Country Music Association's Musician of the Year award, but the first fiddle player to be honored in more than two decades.

In any given year, Nashville's splashiest releases invariably benefit from name recognition and multi-pronged promotional muscle — so a lot of the music bubbling out of scenes that are slightly less visible, or more self-sufficient, might not get its due. In the interest of fairness, then: Here are seven strong debut projects from Music City this year that shouldn't escape notice.

Joy Oladokun and Mercy Bell grew up trying to exist as members of multiple communities whose boundaries, organized around race, culture, region, class, religion or sexuality, didn't always overlap. For them, contemporary folk music made self-expression and a sense of belonging not seem mutually exclusive. From opposite sides of the country — Arizona in Oladokun's case and Massachusetts in Bell's — they embarked on journeys to become singer-songwriters who close the gaps between the particulars of who they are and what they've lived and the potential for broad connection.

Behind the microphone in a club a fraction of the size of her usual venues, Miranda Lambert was nervous. "We always get a little jittery when we play in Nashville," she admitted briskly, "'cause the energy is high and the expectations are high."

Girl group vocal pop has evolved across many generations, without always getting its due as a legitimate musical tradition. Thanks to gendered, rock-centric notions of artistry, people have tended to overlook the creative labor and performing precision it takes to not just polish a multi-voice sound and repertoire, but present a cohesive and engaging group identity.

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