Jim Allen

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.

From its very beginnings, country music has scarcely lacked for songs about Jesus — you could fill several box sets with them and barely scratch the surface. But thanks to rising Texan alt-country songsmith Jason Eady's "Barabbas," the shadowy figure whose presence is crucial to Christ's tale is getting a rare shot at the spotlight.

If Buddy Holly is somehow still capable of hearing the sounds emanating from this mortal plane, there's a good chance he's sporting a broad grin upon encountering "Tip My Heart." The title track from the debut album by Sally & George bears a Spartan sparkle not far removed from the kind that marked the late rock 'n' roll pioneer's venerated output.

Don't be misled — the rugged, timeworn quality of the vocal at the center of this song from Michael Chapman's latest album, 50, has nothing to do with the fact that the veteran British troubadour is 75 years old; he already sounded like that when he was in his 20s.

As partners in marriage and in the rootsy duo Shovels & Rope, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent used to think there was no way their worlds could get any more intertwined. Then they had a kid.

With nearly seven decades in the rearview mirror and some of the finest songs in the English language under his belt, John Prine can do whatever tickles his fancy. As septuagenarian status looms, the celebrated singer-songwriter's muse has moved him to release an album of country duets.

"If I had to live in L.A., I'd be building pipe bombs. It drives me bats," says David Crosby, who — between co-founding The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash — is more commonly associated with the place than 99.9 percent of the musicians on the planet. But he's not just railing arbitrarily against his hometown; he's wryly comparing it to New York City, the object of his affection in "The City," a sinuous song from his new solo album, Lighthouse.

There's a muffled snare beat, like a throat-clearing cough at the start of a speech, and then a gentle cascade of guitar arpeggios before Kayla Cohen starts to sing. The bucolic vibe is the ideal complement to her warm, aqueous tones, as she begins to spin a tale as pastoral as the production on "Buddy."

To borrow from a Jack Kerouac album title, the lyrics to Dana Falconberry's "Cormorant" feel like an amalgam of blues and haikus. The Dearborn-bred/Austin-based troubadour is adept at using natural imagery, and on this stand-out track from her new album, From the Forest Came the Fire, the themes and concision of haikus blend with the simple AAB format of traditional blues within Falconberry's personalized indie-folk and chamber-pop framework.

Sometimes silence speaks loudest. That certainly seems to be the case with "Bed Down" from Penny & Sparrow's Let a Lover Drown You. Like most of the other songs on the Austin folk-rock duo's third album (and Thirty Tigers debut), "Bed Down" is delivered with the most sparse production possible, utilizing only those sonic elements absolutely necessary to get the point across.

On "Ain't No Grave," a track from his new solo album, the singer-guitarist Luther Dickinson stares death right in the face, quite literally.

"I could drop dead in the middle of this conversation," says Graham Nash. "But on the other hand so could you, no matter how old you are," he adds with mordant evenhandedness. Don't worry, the folk-rock elder statesman who's been one-third of Crosby, Stills & Nash since 1968 is just fine. "I have no intentions of leaving," he assures, "my health is pretty damn good. But you know what I mean."

It is said that there are more sheep and deer on the remote Scottish island of Jura than there are people. Improbably enough though, there is a recording studio.

Jim Lauderdale is a notoriously eclectic songsmith who's been incorporating soul influences into his Americana sound since his 1991 debut, Planet of Love. On his latest release, Soul Searching, Lauderdale dives headfirst into classic R&B, with the first half of the two-volume double-album recorded in Memphis.

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

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

Digging into a musician's early, unreleased material is a little like looking at a loved one's old family photos—if you're lucky, you gain a greater understanding of the person in the pictures. Such is the case of Iron & Wine fans that explore Sam Beam's Archive Series of DIY recordings, a glimpse of his initial steps as a recording artist. Like the series' first installment, Vol. 2 predates the release of the Iron & Wine debut, 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle.