Jimmie Allen hustled for years in Nashville, even living out of his car at times, before he got the opportunity to prove his approachable country-pop abilities with 2018’s Mercury Lane and its pair of No. 1s. He builds on that success—and his heightened awareness of his place in the lineage of mainstream country's too few Black stars—with his Bettie James EP, named for his father and grandmother. Allen co-wrote more than half the tracks while he and his long-time co-producer Ash Bowers assembled an array of guests to join Allen in regretful, romantic pining (Mickey Guyton in "Drunk & I Miss You" and Noah Cyrus in "This Is Us") and freewheeling small-town fantasies (Nelly, hip-hop's frequent country emissary, in "Good Times Roll" and Brad Paisley in "Freedom Was a Highway"). But the two tracks that are meant to carry the most heft are gently searching in sentiment and stacked with strategically cast singing partners: "Why Things Happen" unites Allen with his predecessors Darius Rucker and Charley Pride, and "When This Is Over" features Rita Wilson along with the agile licks of current Christian pop star Tauren Wells and the harmonies of veteran quartet The Oak Ridge Boys.