It's dudes only this week — that is, if you consider 13-year-old Greyson Chance a dude. John Hiatt, Mat Kearney, Trace Adkins, and Richard Buckner are digging deep into American music roots and pulling out gold. Or at least shiny objects.
PLAY: John Hiatt, "Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns"
In another world, John Hiatt would've been as well-known as John Mellencamp. Like his fellow Indiana native, Hiatt has spent his life chronicling the struggles and love affairs of everyday folk. For my money, John Hiatt does it with greater grace, subtlety, and dignity. His songs are a sonic version of the Great American Novel, and on his 19th studio album, he writes a loud, ragged chapter about running out of road. Play it while you're winding down yours and wondering where the other great American songwriters have gone.
PLAY: Mat Kearney, "Young Love"
It's a crowded field of thirtysomething singer-songwriters looking for the magic balance of smarts, sensitivity, and acoustic anthemic swagger. Ask Cary Brothers, Jason Mraz, or John Mayer how much oxygen they have to share. Mat Kearney muscles his way in with his fourth studio album. It's full of . . . smarts, sensitivity, and acoustic anthemic swagger. Look, I'll be honest: I can't tell half of these songs apart from the ones by the rest of the other smartly sensitive acoustic dudes, but the music makes me smile, bob my head, and feel like I'm in love with someone I haven't met. That's worth $9.99 or something, right?
SKIP: Greyson Chance, "Hold on Til the Night"
Armed with a painted piano, Ellen's daytime juice, and the spirit of Lady Gaga, Greyson Chance is ready to kick old man Bieber off his tween perch. Our precious YouTube wunderkind has the entire star-making universe on his side. Resistance is futile: you will be his. He's cute, cuddly, has bangs, and knows heartache as only a 13-year-old kid can know heartache. You'd have to be dead inside to not feel the power of Greyson Chance. It's heartwarming, dammit.
PLAY: Trace Adkins, "Proud to Be Here"
Our favorite celebrity apprentice returns with his second album in less than a year, and it's filled with songs for ass-kickers and dudes who scare me. It's my problem. I'm in awe of the flawless execution of the sterling commercial country formula: equal parts love your country and love your mama. I can't even pretend that it's my thing, but damn, I wish I could stand front row at a Trace Adkins show with a Stetson and not get my ass kicked. I so admire the craftsmanship. It's like watching a Mustang come off the assembly line.
PLAY: Richard Buckner, "Our Blood"
When we last saw our despondent, abstract folk hero, Richard Buckner was turning up the guitars and the darkness. Five years later, the sound is quieter, but the themes are the same. A reading of his latest album's nine-song track listing tells the story: Traitor, Escape, Thief, Collusion, Ponder, Witness, Confession, Hindsight, Gang. These are not songs or background music at the dinner party. Play them when you're ready for a reality check. Richard Buckner may keep it a little too real for some. For me, I dig the honesty — and the company.