In July we put together a playlist of bluegrass songs for summer vacation and once the inspiration was flowing, it was difficult to stop! We thought we should return to the theme, but slightly zoomed out, to include songs from across the roots music landscape. With the summer still shining, enjoy these 17 folk, Americana, and country songs perfect for your road trip playlist.
“Ride Out in the Country” – Yola
Yola was a 2020 Best New Artist nominee at the Grammys and she’s just returned with a new, full-length album on Easy Eye Sound, Stand For Myself. The entire project is lush and resplendent, like the glory days of orchestral, big-sound country-pop in the ‘60s and ‘70s. For this playlist, though, we return to her prior release, Walk Through Fire, and the perfectly country track, “Ride Out in the Country.” Take the scenic byways and crank the volume!
“I Like It When You’re Home” – Della Mae
One of the nicest silver linings of vacation is missing home – and that delicious feeling of returning to your own space and your own bed after being away. And your loved one(s), too! Della Mae captures that sentiment in this jammy, rootsy track from their album, Headlight. Take the day off, drive north, sit by a lake.
“A Little Past Little Rock” – Lee Ann Womack
A truly quintessential driving song. A must-add even if your vacation route comes nowhere near Arkansas. The baritone guitar intro, the shout-along-with-the-lyrics chorus, the whimsically late ‘90s production. A banger. A bop.
“Sunny and Warm” – Keb’ Mo’
Keb’ Mo’ is a master of vibes. His single “Sunny and Warm” showcases the acoustic blues musician in a more traditional R&B light – and the impact and result are simply golden. This track will have you craving your happy place, wherever that warm and sunny locale may be.
“Heavy Traffic Ahead” – Bill Monroe
Look, we’re The Bluegrass Situation! We’ve gotta get our bluegrass kicks in somewhere – bluegrass is roots music, after all. Given that we left this classic by the Big Mon himself off our Bluegrass Songs for Summer Vacation we felt it was worth inclusion here. And worth a mention so that you’ll go check out the entirely bluegrass playlist, too!
“Country Radio” – Indigo Girls
Finally a country song about country radio – and cruising around aimlessly listening to it – that is enjoyable and free of the guilt associated with the false nostalgia, conservative politics, authenticity signalling, and post-2000s country. Especially the kind most often played on the radio! This Indigo Girls track is testament to all the folks out there who love country music, even if it doesn’t always love them back. Don’t worry, it will. Eventually! (Read the BGS interview.)
“White Noise, White Lines” – Kelsey Waldon
If you catch yourself daydreaming, in a dissociative or meditative trance as you keep it between the lines, Kentucky-born singer-songwriter Kelsey Waldon has the exact soundtrack for you. “Whie Noise, White Lines,” the title track of her most recent album, speaks to that near-trope-ish phenomenon of losing oneself amid the countless miles traveled while living the life of a traveling musician. Waldon, as in most of her music, accomplishes this motif without stereotypes or clichés, and the result is a song that will be a staple on vacation playlists for decades to come.
“Table For One” – Courtney Marie Andrews
A variation on the same theme, this time from Courtney Marie Andrews, “Table For One” is gauzy and lonesomely trippy. “You don’t wanna be like me / this life ain’t free,” the singer pleads, seeking a sense of reality in a life almost entirely abided within liminal spaces. Find peace in the redwoods, but try to hold on to it. You might lose it twenty miles later.
“Two Roads” – Valerie June
Cosmic and longing, Valerie June distills Kermit the Frog’s “the lovers, the dreamers, and me” into album form with her latest outing, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers. Whatever bug you’ve been bitten by – rambling, restlessness, cabin fever, listlessness – let this song and this album scratch that itch. And as you let the miles fade behind you, on whichever of the two roads you take, don’t forget to look up… at the moon and stars and beyond.
“Christine” – Lucy Dacus
Whether or not you’ve experienced the beautiful, transcendent, and heart-rending forbidden love of being queer — on the outside looking in on love that society has constructed to which you’ll never have access — Lucy Dacus’ fantastic, alt/indie roots pop universe will give you a crystalline window into this very particular iteration of unrequited love on “Christine.” The song feels almost as though you’ve woken from a warm, sunny, time-halting afternoon nap in the back seat of a car yourself.
“It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” – Darrell Scott
Darrell Scott goes two for two, landing on both our bluegrass summer vacation round-up and our rootsy list, too! “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” is THE song for the moment you realize you’re out of the office, away from your chores, without a care in the world — whether you have rice cooking in your microwave or not.
“Hometown” – Lula Wiles
For those summers when all you can muster is a trip home. Lula Wiles don’t just trade in nostalgia and hometown praise, though, they take on the subject with a genuine, measured perspective that picks up paradoxes, turns them over, and places them back down for listeners. It’s a subtly charming earworm, too.
“Heavenly Day” – Patty Griffin
“Oh heavenly day / All the clouds blew away / Got no trouble today…” The exact intention to be channeling during vacation! Don’t let your summer getaway be one of those vacations from which you end up needing a vacation. Leave your troubles behind, have a heavenly day.
“Midnight in Harlem” – Tedeschi Trucks Band
Your travels may not bring you even within the same state as Harlem, but this song had still better be on your road trip playlist. There’s almost no song better to put on at midnight, wherever you may be roaming, than Tedeschi Trucks’ “Midnight in Harlem.”
“Outbound Plane” – Suzy Bogguss
Every time I step into an airport my anxiety seems to sing, “I don’t want to be standing here with this ticket for an outbound plane.” It’s always true. This writer has not yet returned to the jetways post-COVID, so we’ll see how that goes. At least there will be the security and comfort of this jam (composed by Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell) from Suzy Bogguss’ heyday.
“455 Rocket” – Kathy Mattea
There are plenty of modern versions of muscle cars available and on the road today, but not a single one is an Oldsmobile 455 Rocket! Kathy Mattea represents the rockabilly/Americana tradition of paeans to automobiles and gearhead culture with this loping tribute to a 455 Rocket, an early cut for Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. If you happen to take your country drives in a muscle car, regardless of brand, this track is for you.
“Take the Journey” – Molly Tuttle
What better way to conclude our playlist than with this always-timely reminder from Molly Tuttle? It might be a cliché, though it really is true: It’s about the journey, not the destination. So take the journey! Enjoy its twists, turns, and be in the moment. And take some clawhammer guitar along with you.