For the fourth year in a row, WPLN News gathered music experts to answer the question: What did Nashville sound like? Writers Brittney McKenna and Andrea Williams were asked to go beyond a “best of” list and look at the themes and ideas that really stood out in the city’s music scene.
WPLN’s Jason Moon Wilkins led the discussion, and he’s crafted a playlist based on the artists mentioned and other great tracks from one of the best — and most eclectic years — in recent Nashville history. Hear the full interview above, including snippets from several songs, or read an edited version below. And then listen to Jason’s playlist of the sounds of Nashville in 2019.
On Lil Nas X’s exclusion from the country music charts
Andrea Williams: It tells me that we have a long, long way to go. It tells me that it is still really hard for people that don’t fit in the traditional box of what country music is — which, to Lil Nas X’s credit, he really showed that ‘OK, well, I can still make this happen. There is a listener base out there. People will get behind this.’ I know black people that listen to country and we know that country music is America’s music and extends so far beyond this narrow idea of who the listener base is and what we can do when we create this music and market this music.
On the Highwomen’s debut album
Brittney McKenna: I believe it’s a very important record. I mean, just musically, it’s one of my favorites this year. But also, four women artists from different corners of country and Americana music saw the importance of coming together with a mission that, at its core, was to tell women’s stories to lift women’s voices up. You hear about motherhood, but not in a treacly, sentimental way. There’s “If She Ever Leaves Me,” which is a an openly gay country song. It’s been done before, but it hasn’t been done often, and it hasn’t been done in a way that has gotten the level of attention that this album has.
On the surprising strength of Nashville’s hip-hop scene
Jason Moon Wilkins: Andrea, you had a profile on Music City’s hip hop scene for Thrillist this year, and you talked about how this scene doesn’t really have a sound, but you see that as a strength.
Williams: I absolutely think it’s a strength. If you consider what’s happening in mainstream hip-hop now, there is a lot of soundalike. If you are a hip-hop fan, I think Nashville is a great place to go out and see live music or to listen to local artists because you can find a Daisha here. And if Daisha is not your thing, then there are lots of other artists who are so different. So you can totally find your niche here.
One of my favorites is Virghost. He’s a rapper who is originally from Memphis. And he’s got these two tracks, back-to-back, “Know You Love Me” and “Disrespectful,” and they go so hard! Like, he is on his grown man stuff. This is a guy who’s been in the game, who’s got a wife and kids, and he’s really doing this for real, for real. There’s this sense that people are kind of jumping into it without really respecting the game or really honing their craft. And I think what he did in these two tracks absolutely shuts down anybody who thinks that they can just wake up and do this.
On female artists leading Nashville’s indie scene
McKenna: Brittany Howard’s new album, Jamie, more than stood out to me. I have worn that album out. I think it’s not only one of the best albums of the year, I’d say it’s one of the best of the decade. The first track is “History Repeats,” which is an incredible song. The lyrics have this kind of really clever, almost double entendre to them where she could be singing about a relationship that went wrong or she could also be singing about current events. And I think once you hear that one, you’re not going to want to hit stop. So keep going.
Jason’s favorite new Nashville artist of 2019
Wilkins: For what it’s worth, I love this band Twen. They are transplants from the Northeast who came in here and made jangly, spacey rock, and it’s a fantastic record.