Friday, January 2, 2015

35 Favorite Songs of 2014

35) Lera Lynn - "Out to Sea"
  • Six minutes in pedal steel heaven.
34) Nickel Creek - "Destination"
  •  The comeback single was about as good as anyone could have hoped for. Did you know three geniuses playing acoustic instruments could rock this hard?
33) Luluc - "Small Window"
  • The subtlest melodies are the ones that get under you skin the most. Here is (some gorgeous) proof.
32) In the Valley Below - "Neverminders"
  • Classic synth-pop. Every pop chorus should be this good.

 31) Chatham County Line - "Should Have Known"
  • Still one of the most underrated bands in bluegrass. Then again, simply calling them bluegrass doesn't really do them justice. 
30) Prince - "Clouds"
  • Prince brings the straight funk on this track. If it don't get you moving, you ain't alive.
29) Lee Ann Womack - "The Way I'm Livin'"
  • So fun and dark it almost feels wrong: "If I ever get to heaven it's a doggone shame."
28) Kenneth O'Meara - "Before the Drought"
  • Great storytelling. Watch out. The chorus'll get ya:  "A 30 year old photograph still sits upon the chest / Of me in a suit and tie and you in a wedding dress / Before the drought, in a wedding dress."
27) Kacey Musgraves - "The Trailer Song"
  • "You say that you're watching the birds out the window / Well I got a bird you can watch / You ain't gotta act like you're borrowing eggs / Just to see if my dishes are washed / What's it to you if it's Wednesday at noon / And I've traded my iced tea for scotch." Good Lord, I love this woman.
26) Del Barber - "Walking in a Straight Line"
  • Kickass Canadian country music: "Just before dark, the trees turn to silhouettes / The world gets too pretty for my petty regrets."
25) Kelley Mickwee - "River Girl"
  • One of my favorite voices: "People 'round here, they're tougher than most / Oh we wrestle the devil 'til we give up the ghost."
24) Tim McGraw - "Shotgun Rider"
  •  Sounds like good early 00s McGraw. One of his best in a couple years.
23) Goodnight, Texas - "Dearest Sarah"
  • A Civil War soldier writes letters to his beloved about why he feels called to the war, about his "deathless" love for her, and about how his own fate will probably be death.
22) The Seldom Scene - "Wait A Minute"
  • If you're asking me, this is one of the greatest songs ever written (thanks, Herb Pederson). A staple of the Seldom Scene live show--replete with audience sing-alongs and slow dancing--I'm glad we got another version of it on their latest album.
21) The Honey Dewdrops - "Fair Share Blues"
  • Terrific, intricate picking. Perfect harmonies. As if we should expect anything less from this married duo.
20) The Lowest Pair - "Living is Dying"
  • With a gentle double-banjo nudge, this duo reminds us that really living is going by the wayside.
19) Jon Pardi - "Love You From Here"
  • Fiddle, banjo, and steel guitar, all up in the mix on a mainstream country song. And it's a great one.
18) Joan Shelley - "First of August"
  • I've thought this song was amazing since I first heard it on Shelley's folk collaboration with Daniel Martin Moore Farthest Field, and this version gives it new life.
17) Lyla Foy - "Impossible"
  • Discovered this gem during the end credits of an episode of Bojack Horseman. Understated, existential pop music.

 16) Willie Watson - "Mexican Cowboy"

  • Whens someone plays clawhammer banjo like this, it's like my heart feels the capacity love again.
15) Coldplay - "Magic"
  • A Coldplay song for folks who don't think they're Coldplay fans.
14) The Infamous Stringdusters - "Summercamp"
  • The Dusters have always done their own brand of bluegrass, and you won't believe some of the sounds in this nostalgic number are made with bluegrass instruments.
13) Jason Eady - "One, Two...Many"
  • A drinking song that puts everything that modern country drinking songs have become (let's pass out, catch diseases, and do it again tomorrow night!) to shame. Recalls Merle Haggard's best, honestly.
12) Alvvays - "Archie, Marry Me"
  • One of the best pop songs of the year. Is it summer yet?
11) Don Williams - "I'll Be Here in the Morning"
  • I'd never heard this brilliant Townes Van Zant song before, but I can't imagine anybody singing it better than the Gentle Giant.
10) Old 97s - "This Is The Ballad"
  • Perfect representation of how fun this album is, and also contains what is unquestionably one of my favorite lyrics of the year: "This is the ballad of trying to grow flowers / so life will seem like it has meaning and stuff / and finding out all of those beautiful flowers / will never be anywhere close to enough" AND "This is the ballad of drinking rye whiskey / distilled in a barn that burned down around it / Find myself saying what I should be thinking / you're figure is flawless, I'm so glad I found it.
9) Jhene Aiko - "To Love & Die"
  • Everything about this song is a sonic eargasm.
8) Old Crow Medicine Show - "Sweet Amarillo"
  • We need a full album of OCMS/Bob Dylan collaborations already.
7) Sturgill Simpson - "Living the Dream"
  • There was a big hubbub amongst some of Simpson's fans on his Facebook page over his use of the word "goddamn" after he performed this song on Conan. Which is sad mostly because that performance was simply nasty.
6) Sean Watkins - "The God You Serve"
  • The Nickel Creek guitarist gets seriously practical about religion: "You say He's fair and wants everybody there / But heaven won't be home for us all / If you say that there are souls He won't repair / the God you serve dropped the ball." Amen, brother.

 5) Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"

  •  Has there ever been better use of a tempo change?
4) Broods - "Four Walls"
  • Imagine these lyrics sung perfectly: "I wanna make you feel how I feel when I'm listening to love songs / I wanna take you to the peak everything that you are."
3) Copeland - "Like A Lie"
  • Copeland's signature pristine pop-rock, but watch out for that funky-sweet R & B flourish when the chorus hits.
2) Drive-By Truckers - "Grand Canyon"
  • A beautiful, emotional tribute to a fallen friend and road crew member.
1) The Apache Relay - "Katie Queen of Tennessee"
  • Sounds like a wall-of-sound pop song that could have been released in the 60s. Brilliantly catchy and sentimental.
A Long List of Others:

John Mayer - "XO"
Gangstagrass - "Keep Talking"
Eli Young Band - "Just Add Moonlight"
St. Vincent - "Digital Witness"
Ronnie Dunn - "Peace, Love, and Country Music"

Puss N Boots - Down By the River (live)
Water Liars - "Cannibal"
Robyn Ludwick - "Longbow, OK"
Skyline Motel - "Language of Love"
First Aid Kit - "Cedar Lane"
FKA Twigs - "Two Weeks"
Drive-By Truckers - "Natural Light" (had to throw a Cooley song on here)
Fire Mountain - "Be Your Eyes"
Pat Green feat. Lyle Lovett - "Girls from Texas"
Jim Lauderdale - "Neon Hearts"
Futurebirds - "Power of the V"
The Dirty River Boys - "Down by the River"
Chvches - "Get Away"
Zoe Muth - "Little Piece of History"
Hooray For Earth - "Say Enough"
Doug Seegers - "Pour Me"
Adam Hood - "Whole Lot of Hard Work"
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - "Carousel"
Parker Millsap - "Truckstop Gospel"
The Delines - "He Told Her the City Was Killing Him"
Kelsey Waldon - "The Goldmine"
Foster the People - "Coming of Age"
Eric Church - "Talladega"
Strand of Oaks - "Goshen '97"
Sons of Bill - "Bad Dancer"
Foo Fighters - "Something From Nothing"
Kendrick Lamar - "i"
The Band Perry - "Gentle On My Mind"
The Stray Birds - "Best Medicine"
Weezer - "Back to the Shack"
Frontier Ruckus - "Sad Modernity"
Glass Animals - "Flip"
Cody Johnson - "Holes"
Balsam Range - I Spend My Days Below the Ground"
Wye Oak - "Before"

Red June - "Black Mountain Night"
Phantogram - "Fall In Love"
Robert Ellis - "TV Song"
Eternal Summers - "The Drop Beneath"
The War On Drugs - "Under The Pressure"
Stoney Larue - "Blending Colors"
Little Big Town - "Faster Gun"
I Draw Slow - All Souls"

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

20 Favorite Albums of 2014

20) Garth Brooks - Man Against Machine - 14 tracks, 10 good songs; probably 8 or 9 of which are classic-style Garth that could be hits on country radio. That's a pretty good percentage and--after a truly terrible first single roll-out with "People Loving People" and one of the worst album covers of all time--honestly a lot more than I was hoping for. He's out of his range on a couple tracks, but that is easily forgiven when considering he shows no signs of chasing the current trend of marketable douchebaggery. We know he'll sell out every live show he plays, but it'll be interesting to see if he can once again make a dent in the charts and the industry he once completely dominated. If anyone can change something, maybe it's him.

19) Jon Pardi - Write You A Song - The best mainstream country album released in 2014 is light on "bro" and heavy on simple, good songs. Some folks will probably call his voice an "acquired taste," whatever that means, especially if what they're used to is the stuff you're likely to hear churned out by mainstream radio. But that's just something they're not used to hearing on country radio: Soul.

18) The Honey Dewdrops - Live From Folk Alley - Rules for year ends lists be damned, if the Honey Dewdrops put out anything within a given year, chances are it's going to make whatever list it is I got, whether it be a live album or, you know, like, organic soap or something. They are, for my money, the best thing going in the folk and acoustic worlds today. Beautiful, heartfelt, humbly delivered, and engaging.

17) Goodnight, Texas - Uncle John Farquhar - I came across the album from this string band late in the year. If you like music that isn't just love song after love song (though some of these songs are certainly about love), you ought to hear this album. Every song is a story that takes place at some moment in American history, and some of them are like reading journal entries. Really good stuff.

16) Kelley Mickwee - You Used To Live Here - This Trisha is a fantastic songwriter and an equally if not more brilliant singer. At seven songs, the album is short and sweet, wearing influences from Memphis soul to Texas country. Can't wait for more.

15) Drive-By Truckers - English Oceans - Known for their literate storytelling and ability to spin the absolute shit out of a phrase, DBT always makes a record that's "about something," and that's why they are so beloved. But their albums also, always, ROCK, and this, their highest charting ever, is a mighty fine addition to an already legendary discography. Some say this album is a course correction after the last two albums (even Cooley's not fond of his stuff from those sessions), but I loved those albums too--English Oceans is just a continuation of their typical artistic and musical badassery.

14) Joan Shelley - Electric Ursa - I'm not sure a more perfect record for a lazy Sunday afternoon was released in 2014. There is a lightness to the production that makes all the songs here feel like old friends. Shelley's lyrics are worked over and thoughtful, poetic and contemplative, and at eight tracks and 32 and a half minutes, she stays just long enough to make you wish she'd stay longer.

13) Don Williams - Reflections - The old man's still got it. Every song is a gem. Being able to pick amazing songs written by the likes of Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zant doesn't hurt either. Reflections finds the artist looking back with some fondness and some regret, and he makes it every bit as stately as the album cover suggests.

12) Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music - There's not much more I can say about this Kentucky gentleman. It's all been written in 2014. He's not a self-proclaimed anything, but any article you read about him will call him the "savior of country music." I'll just say he's bringing back the good stuff, that stuff you know is real when you hear it, and he's getting popular, and ... how long do you think it'll be before the backlash begins?

11) Real Estate - Atlas - It was an almost impossible task. Actually, it was a totally impossible task--coming up with an album that could hold a candle to 2011's undisputed classic Days. Are these songs not great? No, they are. Have they changed too much as a band? No, they are exactly the same (not always a bad thing, in my opinion, though some music critics who live in trees would disagree). Could Atlas be considered Days Part 2? Yes, yes it could, which is a fantastic thing, and everything this band's fans wanted. Is this one of the best albums of the year? Sure. Some would even say brilliant. But the thing about Atlas is: Days.

10) Old Crow Medicine Show - Remedy - Old Crow's most complete album to date, even considering the unfortunate departure of Willie Watson in between albums. From songs one to thirteen, you'll find the heart, sincerity, fun, and respect for the music emanating throughout. And it all begins with the band's ringleader,  chief songwriter and extraordinarily fascinating fellow (seriously, read some interviews), Ketch Secor.

9) Del Barber - Prarieography - This Canadian songwriter made the best straight-up country album of the year. I don't remember how I found out about Barber and this album, but surprisingly I haven't seen much else written about it. Prarieography (love that title) contains 14 tracks which stretch out across the wide territory that contains country music's diverse and varied forms, and there's not a single dud in the bunch. Clever lyrics, simple song structures, and deceptively smart. There is a reference to hockey and Mark Messier, just in case we forget he's from Canada, but I won't hold that against him.

8) Alvvays - Alvvays - This album is the closest auditory equivalent to a summer romance as it gets. You will fall into flawless love, you will make out in public, you will go to the water park, and you will get dumped. But you will be okay. Except for that one night when you have a panic-dream about her in ten years.

7) Willie Watson - Folk Singer Vol. 1 - Willie Watson's voice is, to me, the definition of that high, lonesome sound. I'm certainly biased having seen him bring these songs to life at the Master Musicians Fest in Somerset, KY, and on the same day as a local metal band (who actually wasn't terrible), no less. What's perhaps more impressive than even his singing is his picking, whether on the five-string or the six-string. You owe it to yourself to listen to these classic folks songs interpreted as only this troubadour can. Post-OCMS Willie Watson is going to be just fine.

6) Copeland - Ixora - Let's be real. Copeland is about Aaron Marsh. It's always been about Aaron Marsh. I'm sure even the band members agree, and they are all a better band because of it. You don't come across a man with the gift of voice and melody which Aaron Marsh possesses and not make the band revolve around him. With that said, six years after releasing the brilliant You Are My Sunshine, Copeland has released the brand spanking new and long-awaited Ixora, and it's probably the Aaron Marshiest of the bunch. But when your band is led by Aaron March, that can only be a good thing. Honestly, to my ears, Ixora at times plays almost as a solo record. Aside from a couple songs, the band's touches are more nuanced and intricate than previous records, though just as technically sound and gorgeous. If you have followed Copeland from the beginning, you know they started as what I like to call a "beautiful rock" band, with crunchy guitars lending their sounds to the emotional and lyrical centerpieces of the songs. They've evolved over the years into something more experimental, but just as emotionally resonating, if not more. You can still call them a rock band if you want. Whatever you call them, you have to call them good. Strike that: these sounds are supreme.

5) Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence - While Dan Auerbach was busy this past year letting Ray Lamontagne make the worst album of his career, he was also busy help Lana Del Rey--whoever she is, whatever she is--find herself as an artist. Lush and bombastic, usually in the same song, Ultraviolence is a searing gut shot of overindulgent, dark, sex-drugs-and-rocknroll-laced pop music. However I'm supposed to consume it, I love every minute, and give me more please.

4) The Lowest Pair - 36 Cents - This duo makes legitimate, unapologetic banjo music, but not what you think of when you hear the phrase "banjo music"--and they are also so much more than that. The stories sing, the melodies soar, the harmonies harken you to heaven, or at least to church. With help from producer Dave Simonett, lead singer and songwriter of Trampled by Turtles, they've made an album reminding us to slow down in these hurried times. It's a beautiful, brilliant listen.

3) Broods - Evergreen - A brilliant pop album laced with flourishes of 80s style synths and 90s style R & B. It's been awhile since I've heard an album that was this organically catchy. There's no sense of a bunch of people in a room throwing formulas together in hopes of coming up with some grand algorithm that will magically give them access to the catchiest melodies of all time, which they can then pretend to unassumingly inject into the brain of passive music consumers everywhere. Nope, not Broods. The group's secret weapon is lead vocalist Georgia Nott, who has this almost disgusted lilt to her voice for pretty much the entire affair--but when you mix that with genuine anger, sadness, and fun (whatever emotion the song calls for) you're left with something that is at the very least the opposite of boring. I'd say unique, but I'm sure she's not the first singer to sound that way. Either way, this one is a must-listen.

2) Old 97s - Most Messed Up - The funnest frickin' album of the year, without question. I'm not very well versed in their discography though I've heard a couple of the albums that span their 20+ year career. I've been trying to think of a way to describe Most Messed Up since I first heard it, because something about it seemed instantly familiar. Here is the best thing I've been able to come up with: It's like Good Charlotte--if Good Charlotte had actually been, well, good, but before they got really terrible (and hey, I liked some songs from that first album...but I also watched TRL, so...)--era pop-punk with better, wittier lyrics, more F-bombs, and a God's own boatload of more edge and talent, all played through a kind of Outlaw country auditory prism. Yea, it's good.

1) Jhene Aiko - Souled Out - From top to bottom, this is chilled-out, spacey R & B that is at once relaxing, sexy, and intricate as hell. The hooks get under your skin. The songs flow into one another. Anchored around Aiko's casually excellent soprano and some rather introspective lyrics (Aiko is listed as co-writer on all of the album's 12 tracks), including sultry one-liners like "have you seen my fucks to give?", Souled Out is assuredly the best R & B album of the year, and one of the finest, sonically-pleasing encounters you'll have with a 2014 album from any genre. (Be sure to check this one out if you liked FKA Twigs' critically acclaimed debut full-length LP1, or even perhaps especially if you couldn't get into that one, like me.) Best when listened to in the dark, but that's just me.

Other albums I enjoyed a whole lot but didn't really get around to listening to as much as I would've liked:

In the Valley Below - The Belt - Punsters perfect pop.

Lykke Li - I Never Learn - Passionate heartbreak.

HT Heartache - Sundowner - Music for in between the suns.

Jason Eady - Daylight & Dark - Modern-traditional country music for in between the suns.

Red June - Ancient Dreams - Good folks. Mountains. Happiness.

Phantogram - Voices - Schizophrenic pop shenanigans.

Stoney Larue - Aviator - Straight kickass country, not "Kiss my country ass" poser-country.

Coldplay - Ghost Stories - Branching out. Consciously uncoupled, unnecessarily hated.

Nickel Creek - A Dotted Line - The fire never died.

Luluc - Passerby - Hushed. That voice. Those melodies.

Chatham County Line - Tightrope - Experimental bluegrass. So, not bluegrass.

Kenneth O'Meara - God of Wind - Hardscrabble stories. Wrestling with God.

Lee Ann Womack - The Way I'm Livin' - Queen of country is a Chris Knight fan.

Wye Oak - Shriek - Should be in my top albums. Forgot. Sorry.

Favorite non-2014 discovery: Helen Stellar - I first heard a song by these guys called "Flutterby" on an episode of the television show Friday Night Lights. One Shazam later, I was hooked. This is indie-rock that can truly rock when it wants to but is also dynamic and intriguing and a little experimental. It's epic and beautiful and has just enough of a touch of the 80s. Plus, their full-length album has one of the greatest titles of all time: If the Stars Could Speak They Would Have Your Voice... You should check them out.

I usually get a bit link-crazy with these things, but this year I decided to act like Google exists. If you come across something that sounds like you might dig it, opposite-of-Bing that sucker.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Best Albums of 2013

I don't think there's such thing as a "bad year for music" anymore. There is so much good stuff out there waiting to be found. Of the albums I got a chance to listen to, here are my favorites of 2013.

16) Jason Boland and the Stragglers - Dark and Dirty Mile
 Veteran Oklahoma band keeps the country music coming, with great lyrics and a hell of a lead singer in Boland.

15) Mandolin Orange - This Side of Jordan
This Carrboro, North Carolina duo has stellar harmonies and a great country-folk sound. 

14) Hog Bucket - Old Mustard
An album of great American music with a sense of humor a mile long and a few resonant moments along the way. (My full review HERE.)

13) Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - Love Has Come For You
Martin's sturdy, non-showy banjo picking and Brickell's strong, unique vocals make for one of the most downright pleasurable listens of the year. Hopefully the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

 12) The Proctors - Everlasting Light
Somehow I stumbled on this album and it took me by complete surprise. The absolute definition of beautiful, jangly guitar pop.

11) Steep Canyon Rangers - Tell the Ones I Love
 Top notch picking, singing, and songwriting from one of the best bands in bluegrass, not to mention hooks and melodies galore.

 10) The Avett Brothers - Magpie and the Dandelion
Despite one or two missteps, the Brothers deliver some of their finest songs in years. (My full [kind of] review HERE.)

9) Widower - Fool Moon 
One of the most lyrically rich albums of the year. A pleasure to listen to. (My full review HERE.)

8) Rhye - Woman
Mixes elements of R & B and electronic-pop to deliver hands down the sexiest album of the year. (Sorry, Matt Berninger, I know that's what you were going for.)

7) Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You
This album made me view Clark in the same vein as John Prine. They both make songwriting look easy; it is not. I can't wait to go back and listen through Clark's back catalog.

6) The National - Trouble Will Find Me
The album that made me a fan of The National. Great vocals, great musicianship, great songs. Amazing drumming.

 5) Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
It's still baffling that an album released on a major country label sounds this vital and good. With artists like this getting airplay, maybe in the near future country radio will start having something worthwhile to say again. (My full review HERE.)

 4) Ashley Monroe - Like A Rose
Unapologetic traditional country music. There's fun, heartbreak, weed, and vocal appearances by co-producer Vince Gill and the boy 'round here himself, Blake Shelton (it's worth mentioning that the Shelton duet is nothing like what he shells out to the masses).

3) Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (part one)
This seventy-minute epic finds Timberlake experimenting with different styles and getting a little bit old school. Each song is about seven minutes long, each one changing into something different about halfway through. I love it all, from the opening funk-soul of "Pusher Love Girl" to the song about a romantic getaway in a spaceship ("Spaceship Coupe").

2) Daniel Romano - Come Cry With Me
By just looking at the album cover, you don't know whether Romano wants to be taken seriously. However, one listen of the album makes it clear that he does. Exquisitely produced with an old school touch and with songs that sound like they were written in another era, this is the best country album of the year and one of my favorite new discoveries. And Romano's album cover get-up is pretty stellar.

1) Futurebirds - Baba Yaga
Having seen this album on only one "best of" list, I will go on record as calling it the most underrated album of 2013. Truly an album for any season, any mood, and any medium, from headphones to open windows. It's psychedelic indie country-rock with an exorbitant amount of pedal steel, which every could use a little more of if you ask me. It's an exciting and wonderful album to get lost in. (My full review HERE.)

Other albums I thoroughly enjoyed but that didn't make the list for one reason or another, most likely because I didn't get a chance to listen to them as much.

Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Holly Williams - The Highway

Alan Jackson - The Bluegrass Album

Jars of Clay - Inland

John Moreland - In the Throes

The Black Lillies - Runaway Freeway Blues

Over the Rhine - Meet Me At the Edge of the World

The Steeldrivers - Hammer Down

Phosphorescent - Muchacho

The Tillers - Hand on the Plow

Pilots & Errors - Annex

Red Tail Ring - The Heart's Swift Foot

Zane Williams - Overnight Success

Dawes - Stories Don't End

Other year end lists to check out:

Best Songs of 2013
Best Country Singles of 2013
Worst Country Singles of 2013
Best Albums of 2012
Best Songs of 2012
Best Country Singles of 2012
Best Song of 2011

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best* Songs of 2013

There were so many good songs in 2013, and so many I didn't get a chance to listen to. Here are a few of the best (*my favorite).

39) Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky" - Their whole schtick/persona can get mighty dumb (appearing on shows but not performing, etc.), but there's no denying their talent for crafting a catchy melody. I defy you to sit still while listening to this.

38) Steep Canyon Rangers - "Camelia" (Philip Barker / Charles Humphrey III) - The Rangers' own upright bassist Charles Humphrey III teams up with mandolin player Philip Barker of Town Mountain to come up with one of this Asheville, NC five-piece's best hooks yet: "Sweet Camelia, I'd like to steal ya/ away from all the troubles in your life." Proficient in both traditional and progressive strains of bluegrass, the Steeps color "Camelia" with sweet solos, tight harmonies, and (to some) the blasphemous beat of drums.

37) W.B. Givens - "Back to Church" (Givens) - Brilliant, personal song about how church just doesn't do it for some people. But there's always the chance they could go back one day. "Muddy water, it tastes so good/ Preacher man, he knew it would."

36) Doc Feldman & the LD50 - "Bless This Mess" (Feldman) - Southern Gothic folk-blues out of Lexington, Kentucky. Great, evocative song, with killer lead and background vocals. 

35) Jason Boland & The Stragglers - "Lucky I Guess" (Boland) - Bandleader and songwriter Boland pens a clever and heartfelt tune about how he's done every superstitious thing imaginable to bring bad luck down upon his head, yet he keeps on defying it and has somehow wound up with the woman of his dreams. And hot damn, can Boland sing the hell out of a country song.

34) Alan Jackson - "Tie Me Down" (Jackson) - Jackson brought in some of the best bluegrass pickers out there for his Bluegrass Album. One of the eight Jackson wrote by himself, "Tie Me Down" contains the lyrical gem, "Lookin' back I realize that happy's not what I was/ When you run across a woman that's your true love/ It's stronger than a moonshine buzz," a line that could find no better home than a bluegrass song.

33) Jars of Clay - "Love In Hard Times" (Jars of Clay) - One of the most underrated indie-rock bands out there (due mostly to its inability to get out from under the label of "Christian rock" and all of its cheap and cheesy connotations) came out with one of the most creative albums of their twenty year career in 2013. Dan Haseltine's already unique vocals are especially strong here, replete with some haunting "ooh-oohs," while the rest of the band creates a lush, melancholy soundscape behind him.

32) Zane Williams - "Damned" (Williams) - Upbeat, clever song about temptation and marriage that has some sweet steel guitar licks and will have you tapping your feet all over the place. "I'll be damned if you don't make a man think Hell looks pretty good."

31) Pilots & Errors - "Von Aly" (Travis Wilburn) - With cautiously hopeful lyrics and an insanely nostalgic melody, this might be the best track on the home-recorded album Annex. More great stuff out of Lexington, Kentucky.

30) The Proctors - "Ember Days" (Maraget Calleja / Gavin Priest) - Hopeful and melancholy, bright and dark all at the same time, "Ember Days" is exquisitely played guitar pop that is representative of the entire album from which it comes.

29) Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You" (Brickell / Martin) - A lovely song buoyed by Martin's excellent banjo picking and Brickell's ethereal vocals. I'd never of Brickell before, but her and Martin should definitely continue making music together.

28) Water Liars - "Wyoming" (Justin Kinkel-Schuster) - Really great down tempo song with subtle guitar work and unique and emotive vocals. And the (possibly NSFW, nothing graphic) video, which contains nothing but a stripper pole-dancing, is surprisingly fitting, adding a whole new dimension to the song. And, okay, there's the thong too.

27) Dailey & Vincent - "Steel Drivin' Man" (Jamie Dailey) - This is ferocious, barn-burning bluegrass right here. It's truly amazing how fast these guys can play. They also put on one of the most entertaining live shows I've ever seen, bluegrass or otherwise.

26) Dawes - "Something In Common" (Taylor Goldsmith) - I think 2011's Nothing Is Wrong has stronger songs than 2013's Stories Don't End, but "Something In Common" is Dawes in a nutshell. Poetic, unabashedly earnest, building up to an emotional catharsis, and honest about the heart's affections and darkness in equal measure, it is a surefire classic. "The man who stands in front of you/ is not the sum of all his dreams/ but I'm hoping they've got something in common."

25) George Strait - "You Don't Know What You're Missing" (Al Anderson / Chris Stapleton) - This deep cut from his Love Is Everything album is classic George Strait. Thematically and production-wise, it sounds like something you might've heard on country radio in the early to mid-nineties. That he's still recording songs this good is reason enough to celebrate the fact that he will continue to release studio albums after he hangs his touring hat up next year.

24) Kacey Musgraves - "Silver Lining" (Shane McAnally / Musgraves / Josh Osborne) - It's no secret that in terms of quality songs, the ladies are absolutely crushing the "gentleman" at country radio, and Musgraves is one of the ones leading the charge. First single "Merry Go 'Round" introduced most folks to her, but lead track "Silver Lining" is the perfect introduction to her major label debut Same Trailer Different Park. It lets you know that Musgraves is going to be a talent to watch for years to come, if you didn't already.

23) Della Mae - "Ain't No Ash Will Burn" (James Aldridge) - These female bluegrassers can pick with the best of 'em, but this song shows they also have a damn good ear for a great song and know when to get out of the way and let it say everything that needs to be said. "Love is a precious thing I'm told/ It burns just like West Virginia coal/ But when the fire dies down, it's cold/ Oh, their ain't no ash will burn."

22) Guy Clark - "Cornmeal Waltz" (Shawn Camp / Clark) - I haven't listened to as much Guy Clark as I should have in my life. That will change in 2014. The 72 year old seems to having a blast here. It makes you want to live life in three-quarter time.

21) Over the Rhine - "Called Home" (Karen Berquist / Linford Detweiler) - Over the Rhine are masters of understated elegance. In the same way, even into a 20+ year career, it seems they often fly under the musical radar, even of the Americana music community which should be embracing them whole-heartedly. Look no further than the stunning "Called Home" for reasons why. "Clouds adrift across the sky, like Heaven's laundry come to dry/ You slowly feel it all will be revealed."

20) Phosphorescent - "The Quotidian Beasts" (Matthew Houck) - With a chord progression reminiscent of Chris Issac's "Wicked Game," Phosphorescent delivers a haunting song that draws inspiration from all over the place. Houck's voice sounds purposefully strained yet it gives a deeply emotional heft to lyrics that are the definition of abstract and open to interpretation

19) Holly Williams - "Gone Away From Me" (Williams) - She has musical royalty in her blood, but if there was any question as to whether or not she could hang on her own, this song (and her album The Highway) answers it. "They always made us kneel by Grandpa's grave/ Mama was a-wailin' asking God if he was saved/ I never liked to see my daddy cry/ I guess I'll never know how Grandpa died." That might be one of my favorite lines of the year. This is resonant, rich storytelling, and the background vocals from Jackson Browne are a nice touch

18) The Black Lillies - "Gold and Roses" (Cruz Contreras) - This song has three of my favorite things: Superbly played pedal steel (by former Everybodyfields member Tom Pryor), sweet banjo pickin', and great singing. Oh, and it also tells one hell of a story. See 'em live if you get a chance.

17) The Avett Brothers - "Morning Song" (The Avett Brothers) - I debated between this or "Part From Me" from their new album, but gave the nod to "Morning Song" for the performance in the linked video above. Drawing on the biblical idea that "joy comes in the morning," the brothers sing "Even though I know there's hope in every morning song/ I have to find that melody alone." I love the message of the song. Ultimately, it's up to us as individuals to find what gives us hope, to choose the things we let save us everyday. It's a very personal thing that can't be forced upon someone from the outside, and we have to realize that it's going to be different for everyone. The album version is worth checking out for the choir of Avett family members at the end, but you just can't beat this version (Joe Kwon sings harmony on it too).

16) Hog Bucket - "Indigo" (John Glouchevitch) - One wouldn't think you could hear someone sing the words "You're beautiful in sequin booty shorts/ and flashing lights of red a green" and it actually be moving, but "Indigo" proves that it is indeed possible. Then there's the line, "I feel like a fool in my Tuesday suit and tie/ and you're naked on the table, room empty as your eyes," in all its sadness and honesty. And, you know, I just had the thought that this song could be about falling in love with a stripper or escort. The repetition of the line "I don't need to know your name" is also evidence this could be the case. And then "You've got a romanticized idea of this relationship/ Buddy, who do you think you are?" Okay, that sounds like the woman talking to the man falling in love with her, saying "hold up." It literally all just came together for me. Possibly the most moving song ever written about falling in love with a stripper/escort. Seriously, the piano arrangement is gorgeous. Soulja Boy, eat your heart out.

15) Widower - "Grasp" (Kevin Large) - One of those songs that knocks you out with a wave of nostalgia and heartbreak as soon as its laid back and sturdy classic rock groove begins. And it has some of the most creative alliterative lyrics of the year: "You took my grief with a grain of salt"; "They say the safest place is a basement in a storm/ Well darlin during downpours, you were my cellar door"; "Time will tell if the hand you're dealt is worth a damn." Damn.

14) Jason Isbell - "Live Oak" (Isbell) - "Elephant" seems to be majority pick for the best song from the album Southeastern, but mine is "Live Oak" simply for the line, "I carved her cross from live oak and her box from short leaf pine/ And buried her so deep she touched the water table line." Such evocative imagery that brings another level of meaning to the song. Isbell's voice has never sounded better.

13) City and Colour - "Two Coins" (Dallas Green) - Green's ethereal vocals bring this tale of a man wandering through his days to life. It has one of those very emotional chord progressions and colorful instrumentation. "I've always been dark, with light somewhere in the distance.

12) John Moreland - "Your Spell" (Moreland) - John Moreland is man who's been head over heels in the throes of love in the twilight of his youth and he's neither afraid nor ashamed to tell you about it, as well as how losing it did a bit of a number on him. There's a sort of silver lining, however, when he sees the popular couples from high school, now in their late twenties, in the Wal-Mart checkout line with babies in tow. They don't look like prom queens and kings anymore. "You were the queen of my condition, I was the king of the ignored/ Talked just like east Texas, looked like an angel from the Lord."

11) Mandolin Orange - "The Doorman" (Andrew Marlin) - Not sure how I stumbled upon it, but this is the first song I ever heard from this folk duo, and it instantly hooked me. Understated and beautifully played instrumentation combined with Marlin and the stunning Emily Frantz's vocal harmonies makes for traditional music that couldn't be more timely.

10) Rhye - "The Fall" (Mike Milosh / Robin Hannibal) - I don't know how else to describe Rhye's music other than just plain fucking sexy. The grooves and melodies of "The Fall" have a way of digging themselves into your bones until they almost start twitching, especially that piano line. Also, it's super impressive that a dude (Mike Milosh) can sing like this.

9) Mando Saenz - "Breakaway Speed" (Saenz / Kim Richey) - Both Saenz and Richey released versions of this song on their 2013 albums, and though Richey's has Jason Isbell and Trisha Yearwood singing stunning harmony with her, I think I prefer Saenz's simply because he's got such a unique voice and his is a little more rocking (Richey also sings harmony on his version). Whichever you prefer, it's an excellent song that has one of those choruses you will be singing at the top of you lungs at stoplights. It's just got a great hook.

8) Red Tail Ring - "Katy Came Breezing" (Michael Beauchamp / Laurel Premo) - Another brilliant Appalachian folk duo. Premo's fiddle playing, as well as the chorus, will haunt you late at night. The video linked above is amazing and criminally under-viewed. Just beautiful.

7) The Steeldrivers - "Lonesome Goodbye" (Mike Henderson / Chris Stapleton) - This rambunctious group is known for its hard-driving progressive bluegrass, with wry lyrics and characters who often wind up buried under six feet of soil, but they also know when to dial it back a bit and let the song do the work. Penned by former founding members of the band, "Lonesome Goodbye" allows the group, with newly acquired bluesy-throated vocalist Gary Nichols, to lay the lonesomeness on heavy, with a "twist ending" that's just as heartbreaking as it is liberating for the narrator.

6) The National - "Sea of Love" (Matt Berninger / Carin Besser / The National) - The first single from their 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me was a huge turning point for me and The National, because, you see, I used to absolutely loathe them. When I heard their song "About Today" at the end of the fantastic movie Warrior, I figured I probably needed to go back and give them another shot, and then when I heard "Sea of Love," I did. It was one of those moments where it all just clicked for me, and I'm now a huge fan. Plus, they made without a doubt one of the best music videos of the year (linked above).

5) Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors" (James Fauntleroy / Jerome Harmon / Tim Mosley / Timberlake) - Simply put, this is the best mainstream pop song of the year. The last three minutes of this seven-plus minute long epic is just pure ear candy. The dude can hit a falsetto. It is supposedly a love song written for his grandparents, and it also has great music video (linked above).

4) Ashley Monroe - "The Morning After" (Lori McKenna / Monroe / Liz Rose) - My God do I love a weeping steel guitar, as played to perfection in this song. I'm not sure there's anything Monroe can't do with that voice, but one of the best things she does with it is honey-throated heartbreak. Here also is a terrific sepia-toned solo acoustic video.

3) Daniel Romano - "He Lets Her Memory Go (Wild)" (Romano) - A absolute behemoth of a country music song. Expertly produced with old school instrumentation, stellar background vocals, killer guitar work, and tweaked with a touch of reverb, this perfectly written song would have a dishonest title with out the parenthetical. That parenthetical is everything on this song. I wouldn't call Romano's voice an acquired taste so much as I would say that he dares to do things with it that nobody else does, and it makes the kind of music he creates that much better.

2) The Tillers - "Willy Dear" (Mike Oberst) - What can I say, I love a story song that includes explosions and nooses and ghosts. It's based on something that, as legend has it, occurred at former Newport, Kentucky music venue The Southgate House. As always, this three-piece string band proficiently go to town on their instruments, while Mike Oberst's lead vocal lends to the song the emotional heft it deserves.

1) Futurebirds - "Heavy Weights" (Futurebirds) - Truthfully, any number of songs from the Futurebirds' 2013 release Baba Yaga could claim this number one spot. But "Heavy Weights" was the first song the really stuck out to me on it, and the rest of the album just sort of formed this cohesive whole around it before my very ears. I think it's about living life to the fullest and all that good and inspiring stuff, and somebody has never made me feel so good singing "when you die!!!" at the top of their lungs to me. For my money, this song is the eargasm of 2013.


Here are some other songs I highly enjoyed but did not include on the "countdown" because that would make a really long list of best songs of the year for one person to make. Suffice it to say, you should check all of them out, and the respective albums they come from, because you're bound to find something you really, really like. I'm not including links to videos or places where you can purchase or listen to the album because you have the internet. But please, do go discovering when you get a chance. I plan on doing that too, because there's still so much I didn't get to check out this year. Enjoy!

John Mayer - "Waitin' on the Day"

Chris King - "Better Answer" - Love the melody and all around sound of this one.

Amos Lee - "Stranger" - Sweet banjo line.

Son Volt - "Angel of the Blues"

Alan Jackson - "Precious Memories"

The Mavericks - "Lies" - I don't know what style of guitar is played on this, but it's awesome.

Jimmy Eat World - "I Will Steal You Back"

Leagues - "Spotlight"

Underhill Rose - "Drives Me to Drinking"

Houndmouth - "Come On, Illinois"

The Hawk In Paris - "Beg for Love"

Ryan Bingham - "Until I'm One With You" - Theme song for new television show The Bridge which takes place along the Texas/Mexico border. Perfect fit.

Toby Keith - "Last Living Cowboy" - He's still capable of writing a fun little gem.

Eminem - "Rap God" - The days when I really enjoyed Eminem (high school and a couple years after) are largely over, but I love this track, and he raps so fast toward the end of it that I had to include it. It's amazing.

The Wild Feathers - "Left My Woman"

Sam Palladio and Chris Carmack - "What If I Was Willing" - The music on the show Nasville is pretty good. The songs written for the characters who are "mainstream" are better than just about anything you'll hear on FM radio.

Sam Palladio - "Just Can't Get It Right"

The Carper Family - "Boxcar Blues (Hello Sunshine)"

Charlie Robison - "Patty McBride"

Treetop Flyers - "Things Will Change"

Javi Garcia - "The Sound"

Carolina Still - "Black Lung, WV" -

Little Chief - "Somewhere Near the River" - "If Heaven sent me an angel, I've gotta find the place where/ I can see her again."

We/Or/Me - "My Father" - Excellent finger picking.

Sturgill Simpson - "You Can Have the Crown" - "They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain/ If you want it you can have the crown." Okay, this should have made the "official" list.

Lorde - "Royals"

Possessed by Paul James - "Hurricane" - Great, great sound, like hyper punk-grass.

CHVRCHES - "The Mother We Share" - Am I still cool if I like Scottish synth-pop?

Camera Obscura - "This Is Love (Feels Alright)" - Same question, minus the synths.

Mike Cooley - "Drinking Coke and Eating Ice" - New one from the this member of the Drive-By Truckers' live solo album.

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - "9,999,999 Tears"

The Civil Wars - "I Had Me a Girl" 

The Gibson Brothers - "The Darker the Night, The Better I See"

The Wild Ponies - "Trigger"

Claire Lynch - "Dear Sister" - Great Civil War story song.

Audrey Auld - "Sweet Alcohol"

Wild Ponies - "Trigger"

Tired Pony - "The Beginning of the End" - The lead singer of Snow Patrol apparently has a new band with a former member of REM? It's quite good.

Willie Sugarcapps - "Poison" - Grayson Capps covers one of his old songs with his new band and it still kicks ass, just as Mr. Capps does live.

Drew Kennedy - "Good Carpentry"

Jack Johnson - "Home"

Mount Moriah - "Miracle Temple Holiness"

Caitlyn Rose - "Only A Clown"- Great song. Still need to listen to the album.

Kim Richey - "London Town"

Mando Saenz - "They Don't Make 'Em Like You Anymore"

Patty Griffin - "Wild Old Dog" - "God is a wild old dog someone left out on the highway/ I seen him running by me, he don't belong to no one else." If that doesn't make you want to listen, I don't know what will.

Chris Young - "Text Me Texas"

Check out the full playlist on Spotify:

Other year end lists to check out:

Best Country Singles of 2013
Worst Country Singles of 2013
Top Ten Songs of 2012
Top Ten Country Singles of 2012
My Favorite Song of 2011

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Best* Country Singles of 2013

*best = my favorite

15) "Songs About Trucks" - Wade Bowen (Brandy Clark / Shane McAnally) Possibly the best song ever released titled "Songs About Trucks" that is not, in fact, about trucks. Country radio is filled with trite songs about how cool and country trucks and dirt roads are, but sometimes you just want to hear a song about drinking alone. Bowen delivers his statement with mainstream sheen but without managing to come off like a cynical jerk with an axe to grind. The rhyming of all the different kinds of trucks country songs are famous for in the chorus is impressive, and the lyric video is one of the best I've seen.

14) "July in Cheyenne (Song For Lane's Momma)" - Aaron Watson (Watson) Beautiful song and heartbreaking story about a bull rider named Lane Frost who died at the age of 25 doing what he loved in Cheyenne, Wyoming. If you've seen the movie 8 Seconds with Luke Perry (I haven't), it tells Frost's story. The song and music video by Texas country artist Watson is a fitting tribute.

13) "Whiskey" - Jana Kramer (Catt Gravitt / Sam Mizell) Following the number one "Why Ya Wanna," Kramer decided to go with a ballad that draws on a classic country theme and includes audible steel guitar, a gutsy move in today's contemporary country atmosphere. It didn't even crack the top 20.

12) "Give It All We Got Tonight" - George Strait (Mark Bright / Tim James / Phil O'Donnell) Despite some fairly cheesy, digitally distorted background vocals in the chorus, Strait redeems this love song with his confident and passionate vocals. A perfect choice of lead single from his 2013 album Love Is Everything.

11) "Blue Ridge Mountain Song" - Alan Jackson (Jackson) You really can't make a debut bluegrass album without including a song that references the Blue Ridge Mountains. This one has the master of simplicity singing a story about mountain love and loss, and never sounding more at home.

10) "Like A Rose" - Ashley Monroe (Monroe / Guy Clark / Jon Randall) When you write a song with Guy Clark and invite Vince Gill to sing harmony on it, it would be difficult if not damn near impossible for the end result to be a clunker. A pleasant melody and understated production are buoyed by Monroe's always stunning vocals on this track about emerging on the other side of tough times.

9) "Tonight I'm Playin' Possum" - Randy Travis feat. Joe Nichols (Travis / Keith Gattis) A simple, glorious tribute to the late George Jones. Drop the needle, drink up, and listen.

8) "Stripes" - Brandy Clark (Clark / Matt Jenkins / Shane McAnally) This might be the cleverest song written this year. It's somewhat in the vein of the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl" thematically (not musicallly--"Stripes" is an excellent example of the old school country sound in a modern day song), except the protagonist in "Stripes" doesn't actually go through with it--you know, killing Dennis Farina and all. And all because her sense of fashion is too high-fallutin for prison. "I hate stripes and orange ain't my color/ If I pull that trigger tonight I'll be wearing one or the other."

7) "Follow Your Arrow" - Kacey Musgraves (Musgraves / Brandy Clark / Shane McAnally) Much has been written about this song's content, which includes lines about smoking a joint and girls kissing "lots of girls, if that's what you're into." That's all well and good, but beyond the social statements, this is simply a great song about something our parents try to instill in us from the day we are born, and something we'd do well to remember over the course of our lives: Don't be afraid to be yourself, regardless of what other people think or say about you.

6) "Tin Star" - Lindi Ortega (Ortega) The smoky-voiced Canadian songstress' ode to struggling to "make it" as a country singer. "If the music wasn't runnin' through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away." Thankfully, her star seems to be rising by the year, as it should be, so hopefully she won't be walking away any time soon. Her rich and evocative voice is too much of a gift. And if you care about such things, she is a delightful follow on Twitter.

5) "Bourbon in Kentucky" - Dierks Bentley feat. Kacey Musgraves (Hilary Lindsey / Gordie Sampson / Ryan Tyndell) Proof that if you try something remotely different for modern country radio, modern country radio will say, "No, thank you, please take your artistry elsewhere and write me something that strippers can dance to and will make me millions." This only made it to #45, which seems rather shocking for an established artist like Bentley and a hot newcomer like Musgraves, until you realize it doesn't sound like anything on mainstream radio. But this song has me stoked for Bentley's new album release next year. It was an excellent choice calling up Musgraves for harmonies--their voices sound really good together. And you've got to love a title as straightforward as this and that name drops my home state.

4) "What Are You Listening To?" - Chris Stapleton (Stapleton / Lee Thomas Miller) The debut single from the co-songwriter of several past country hits (Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More" and George Strait's "Love's Gonna Make It Alright") and former lead singer of rockin' honky-tonk bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. As usual, Stapleton's voice is the standout here. He was supposed to release a major label album in 2013, but the single's failure to chart may have impacted whether that's still happening or not.. I hope it does, because the sweet, soulful ballad by this Eastern Kentucky native, talented songwriter, and one of the best voices in all of music only makes me want to hear more.

3) "Electric Bill" - Jason Boland and the Stragglers (Boland) An humorous ode to true love that can withstand tough times during a bad economy. This couple even tell federal spies to spy on them if they want to see what real love is all about. I admit to not knowing what "kill" was, though I did have an idea (I'm not a complete idiot), until I looked it up in the urban dictionary. The result is an excellent song with one of the best hooks of the year: "If they take away everything, they won't take us apart/ We'll roll some kill in the electric bill, and smoke it in the dark." Boland is an effortless country singer, and the fiddle and pedal steel laid on by The Stragglers makes for one of the best sounding songs of the year.

2) "It Ain't the Whiskey" - Gary Allan (Greg Barnhill / Jim Daddario / Cole Degges) The standout track from his Set You Free album. I was pretty shocked they released it as a single, because it would be a minor miracle if it made any kind of dent in today's charts. In it, the narrator claims that it's something far more lethal than his love of drink that's killing him. At the risk of hyperbole, Allan gives a powerhouse of a vocal performance on this song. He also killed it when he performed on Leno too.

1) "Sober" - Little Big Town (Hillary Lindsey / Lori McKenna / Liz Rose) One of the finest singles ever released by the best group on country radio. Included on their 2012 album Tornado, it was also one of my favorite songs of that year. Karen Fairchild hands lead vocal reins over to Kimberly Schlapman, whose buoyant and delightful personality absolutely shines through on the track. Where Fairchild sings with a throaty confidence, Schlapman sings with an assured vulnerability, as if even on the happiest of songs she could become overcome with emotion at any moment. It really brings this sweet take on the concept of being "drunk on love" to life. If Schlapman's vocals are the festive and colorful wrapping paper on this Christmas gift, the group's always immaculate harmonies in the chorus are the neatly tied bow on top. After the relative floundering of "Your Side of the Bed" at radio, here's hoping that after the holidays "Sober" can gain the momentum of previous hit singles "Pontoon" and "Tornado." A song this good deserves it. "I love being in love, it's the best kind of drug/ Drunk on the high, leanin' on your shoulder/ Sweet like wine as it gets older/ When I die I don't wanna go sober."

Other Singles I Enjoyed:

"Fuzzy" - Randy Rogers Band (Shane McAnally / Josh Osborne / Trevor Rosen) This is how write a fun, accessible party song. An example of the ensuing hilarity: "Who the hell is Heather? And when were we together?/ 'Cause I've got every letter of her name on my chest."

"All Over the Road" - Easton Corbin (Carson Chamberlain / Ashley Gorley / Wade Kirby) As far as the men go, he might be the audible steel guitar on the radio's last great hope. Hopefully he doesn't have an "Aw Naw" somewhere up his sleeve.

 "Another Song Nobody Will Hear" - Will Hoge feat. Wade Bowen (Hoge) The co-writer of Eli Young Band's hit "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" wrote a song about how honest songs aren't popular anymore. Nobody wants to hear them. We want nothing but an unhealthy spoon-feeding of escapism. "I came here to Nashville with a million tales to tell/ The first thing that I found out is that the truth don't always sell/ They want songs about the backroads, tractors, trucks, and beers, while I write another song, another song nobody will hear."

 "All Kinds of Kinds" - Miranda Lambert (Philip Coleman / Don Henry) "At some point the finger let ignorance linger/ if they'd look in a mirror they'd find/ That ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning/ It takes all kinds of kinds." Amen, sister.

"Someone Somewhere Tonight" - Kellie Pickler (Davis Raines / Walt Wilkins) Back when she won American Idol, who would have thought Pickler would be one of the good ones? Integrity, in tact.

"Pieces" - Gary Allan (Allan / Odie Blackmon / Sarah Buxton) The kind of rock song country radio should embrace. Great chorus and, as always, great vocal from Allan.

"The Last Goodbye" - Reckless Kelly (Willy Braun) The Red Dirt veterans are understated in bidding a final farewell to a fool-makin' woman in this ballad penned by lead singer Willy Braun. But you know, the last goodbye is a lot like the last one.

"Helluva Life" - Frankie Ballard (Rodney Clawson / Chris Tompkins / Josh Kear) Lyrical cliches aside, something about this chorus just does it for me. Gives me a good feeling.

"Wild & Lonesome" - Shooter Jennings feat. Patty Griffin (Jennings) If you want your song to stand out, ask Patty Griffin to sing harmony and throw a heavy dose of steel guitar into the mix.

"The Rose Queen" - William Clark Green (Green) I'm not very familiar with Green, but if this song is any indication of his vocal and songwriting talent, I've been missing out. Great country rock.

"Little Too Late" - Zane Williams (Williams) With vocals reminiscent of Radney Foster, Williams maintains his integrity while aiming for mainstream success.

"Days of Gold" - Jake Owen (Jaren Johnston / Neil Mason) Contains a list of country cliches a mile long but is redeemed by its ragged and rugged instrumentation, including banjo and harmonica turned up in the mix and not relegated to the background.

"Drinks After Work" - Toby Keith (Barry Dean / Natalie Hemby / Luke Laird) Not country at all country and a bit corn-pop in the production department, but highly enjoyable if it strikes you in the right mood.

"Hush Hush" - Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert / Ashley Monroe / Angaleena Presley) Fun tongue in cheek tale about family secrets nobody wants to talk about. Ashley Monroe's verse, per usual, stands out.

"Speak of the Devil" - Randy Rogers Band (Sarah Burton / Ashley Gorley / Jedd Hughes) A song about exes that everybody can relate to.

"Wagon Wheel" - Darius Rucker (Bob Dylan / Ketch Secor) OCMS's version is superior in every way, and I feel like it'd already been worn out by the time Rucker released it, but it's such a classic, well-written song. Nice to hear fiddle on country radio again too. And they didn't edit out "toke."

"You Can't Make Old Friends" - Kenny Rogers feat. Dolly Parton (Ryan Hanna King / Don Schlitz / Caitlyn Smith) Grab your tissues, these two still got it. Once you hear it you can't imagine any other two people singing it.

"Back In Your Arms Again" - The Mavericks (Raul Malo / Gary Nicholson / Seth Walker) Nobody makes me want to get up and dance like The Mavericks. Nobody sings like Raul Malo. No other band uses brass instruments so well.

"Brand New Me" - Charlie Robison (Bruce Robison) This country rock jam has Robison slyly ruminating on the man now with his former flame. Great chorus on this one.

"How Could I Want More" - Jamie Lynn Spears (Spears / Rivers Rutherford) Yes, this is Britney Spears' sister. Just listen. Then get back to me.

Listen to the Spotify playlist:

Other 2013 lists:

Worst Country Singles