Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Country Singles of 2012 (#20-11)

20) Josh Thompson - "Comin' Around"  (released December 2011, peaked at #31 in June)
Songwriters: Josh Thompson, Rodney Clawson, Kendell Marvel
This is a song about a narrator who's coming to see things in ways he never thought he would when he was younger. With plenty of banjo and pedal steel to go around, I personally enjoy this more than songs of his like "Way Out Here," which is just a little too off-putting with its countrier-than-thou-ness. There's none of that in "Comin' Around," which, in the specifics of its story, comes out as something quite universal.

19) The Mavericks - "Born To Be Blue" (released in May, peaked at #46 in August)
Songwriters: Raul Malo, James House
If you're my age and grew up watching CMT (back when they actually played videos, of course), having The Mavericks creating music together again is just damn nostalgic. Raul Malo is one of those gents with a voice that can literally be described as "smooth as honey." Add in some fantastic electric guitar work, wailing harmonies, and an accordion solo, and, well, this song about coming to terms with the fact that a life of heartbreak is your fate sounds like nothing but a bunch of talented dudes at the height of their craft having a hell of a lot of fun.

18) Tim McGraw - "One Of Those Nights" (released in November, currently at #15 Airplay and climbing)
Songwriters: Luke Laird, Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins
Even with a little bit of hip-hop swagger/faux-rapping in the verses, "One Of Those Nights" is a song I just can't help but love. From the first time I heard it there was nothing really to dislike about it: it's catchy, nostalgic, and sounds much more like old Tim McGraw than whatever the hell he was thinking with songs like "Felt Good On My Lips" and "Truck Yeah." It's been awhile since McGraw has sounded like he actually enjoyed singing on record, but he sells this one by managing to seem like he didn't even have to try.

17) Gloriana - "(Kissed You) Good Night" (released end of 2011, peaked at #2 in August)
Songwriters: Tom Gossin, Josh Kear
What can I say? Yes, this is somewhat cheesy country-pop. The theme (the "first kiss") is not new, but they explore it in a no-holds-barred sort of way; they just go for it (no pun intended). The best part of the song, and the part that hooked me, is the chorus, which is bombastic and soaring in a way that reminds the listener of something they may just be too cool to still admit: the first kiss is always a big deal. If this is a guilty pleasure, I voluntarily offer myself up for conviction.

16) Don Williams feat. Alison Krauss - "I Just Come Here for the Music" (did not chart)
Songwriters: John Ramey, Bobby Taylor, Doug Gill
This is quite simply traditional country music at its best. Two people, perhaps older, meet at a bar which they both frequent only to hear the "lonesome fiddle" and "good singer" in the band. They might talk, they might dance, they might buy each other drinks, but anything further is too risky. There's been too much pain in their pasts. But it's always nice to share a talk and a drink with a stranger. Williams' classic laid back delivery doesn't diminish the loneliness he conveys, and as always Krauss' harmonies are heavenly.

15) Alan Jackson - "You Go Your Way" (released in September, peaked at #39 Airplay in October)
Songwriters: Troy Jones, Tony Lane, David Lee
Country radio isn't and never will be the same without Alan Jackson. And honestly, I'm kind of shocked at their refusal to play any of his new singles. It seems like it all happened so suddenly; just four short years ago Jackson was tasting massive radio success with his album Good Time. Things never were the same after that. Thankfully, he still puts out fantastic albums, "You Go Your Way" being from his last, Thirty Miles West. It's classic Jackson, and if you can hear him singing the line, "I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup/ it's been too long since I drank too much," in that way that only he can, you know you're in for a treat. Go ahead and stop reading and click that link above.

14) Toby Keith - "Hope On The Rocks" (released in November, currently at #32 Airplay and climbing)
Songwriter: Toby Keith
I wasn't as impressed with "I Like Girls That Drink Beer" as much as some were, but I was quite impressed with "Hope On The Rocks" the first time I heard it. It's certainly got that old-school traditional country vibe, but I honestly couldn't picture anyone else singing it besides Toby Keith. That's saying a lot for an artist. The verses tackle some serious subjects but only on the surface, which there is nothing wrong with in a song like this. Being overly partial to songs about drinking the pain away, I am quite naturally a fan of the chorus, and really like how the whole things is framed with "hope": "They're in need of a mind bender, I'm a bartender and at the end of the day/ I'm all they got, hope on the rocks." (Edit: I had no idea Keith wrote this by himself as I was writing this blurb. That makes me like he song even more.)

13) Kenny Chesney - "El Cerrito Place" (released in September, peaked at #10 Airplay in late December)
Songwriter: Keith Gattis
Kenny Chesney followed what is perhaps the most boring single release of his career ("Come Over") with what might be one of his ballsiest: a six-minute epic with ambiguous lyrics about searching for something or someone who seems unobtainable. As a single release it feels similar to "You and Tequila" in terms of its stand-out quality and its uniqueness in the country radio landscape, but don't get me wrong--"El Cerrito Place" is produced to the max, so don't expect the minimalist guitar strums of "You and Tequila." That said, a good song is a good song, and this one is great.

12) Lady Antebellum - "Dancin' Away With My Heart" (released December 2011, peaked at #2 in May)
Songwriters: Hilary Scott, Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood, Josh Kear
I'm not the biggest Lady Antebellum fan. When they hit it big I wondered why it wasn't Little Big Town, who did the male/female group thing first, and did it better (and more country, for that matter). But I have liked a few of Lady Antebellum's songs: "Looking For A Good Time," "American Honey," and "Dancin' Away With My Heart." This is pure sugary pop, to be sure, but it's pure sugary pop done well and with genuine emotion. It's a song that takes you on a trip back in time, when love was less cautious and able to be expressed--perhaps even encapsulated--in the simple act of a slow, intimate dance. "To me you'll always be eighteen, and beautiful/ And dancin' away with my heart." It's fun to go back once in a while.

11) Eric Church - "Creepin'" (released in July, peaked at #5 Airplay in late December [kinda like molasses]) 
Songwriters: Eric Church, Marv Green
This song is what it sounds like to get hit with a hammer over and over again in the face while getting doused with nastysauce. Also, it contains a contender for line of the year: "Like a honeybee beatin' on my screen door, I got a little buzz and my head is sore." Hell of a way to start a song, much less an album, I'd say. I did a full single review on "Creepin'" earlier this year. You can read it in its entirety here. Something I didn't address there: the music video is extremely well done, but the video/radio edit exchanges the lyric "your cocaine kiss and caffeine love" for "your caffeine kiss and nicotine love." Not only does the edit make no sense, but it sounds terrible. I don't think I mentioned this in that review either (maybe I did): releasing this song as a single was pretty ballsy. It sticks out like a big, beautiful sore thumb on the radio waves.

Best Country Singles of 2012:
Numbers 40 through 31
Numbers 30 through 21

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