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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Worst Country Singles of 2013

Momma always said, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." For the purposes of this post, forget that noise.

The notion that mainstream country radio lacks in quality, especially compared to country or Americana music that doesn't receive mainstream play, is not a new one. Simply put, when an artist (put quotes around that term for some of these jokers) takes a chance and releases something that's actually really good, radio doesn't play it (more on that in the soon to come best country singles of 2013 post). Write a song with the phrase "hey girl" or "beer chillin' in the cooler" or "she did a sexy dance on the bed of my truck and it turned me on so hard" and the chances are likely that you've written yourself a number one hit. And 2013 has proven to be the testiest year yet when it comes to this topic: You can read all about it here: How country music went crazy: A comprehensive timeline of the genre's identity crisis (Entertainment Weekly).

So here's a list of the worst of the worst from what I've heard. It's worth noting that it's comprised of all dudes. Some I forced myself to listen to based on the title alone, knowing I was in for the equivalent of an ear stabbing. Just so you know I don't take myself or this list too seriously, I should tell you there are two songs you may think you'll find on this list that aren't there: Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here" and Florida Georgia Line's "Get Your Shine On." Reason being is that they were the "theme songs" for my family reunion in May and every time I hear them I can only think of fun times drunkenly singing them at the top of my lungs. So when it comes down to it, it's all relative really. (Don't worry, I also introduced them to Randy Rogers Band's "Fuzzy.")

If you like any of these songs, I don't hold it against you. If you like it, you like it; if it makes you happy, it makes you happy. But seriously, though, the songs listed below are terrible, lazy, and borderline offensive. For some unexplainable reason many folks who don't really listen to country radio anymore still care about what gets played there. We hold out hope that one day the tide will turn. Call it torture. Call it nostalgia. Whatever it is, it's fun to call bullshit on songs that continually contribute to the dumbing-down of the mainstream, giving the good stuff a bad name in the process because of the mistaken notion that the two are closely connected.

But I do it for you, the people.

"That's My Kind of Night" - Luke Bryan (Dallas Davidson / Christ DeStefano / Ashley Gorley) - I'm not sure what the worst line of this travesty is: I got that real good feel good stuff/ Up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck or All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown (what is this chick, some kind of wind-up toy?) or A little Conway, a little T-Pain, might just make it rain. Okay, holy shit, the worst line is DEFINITELY that last one. Yes, he just named dropped classic country crooner Conway Twitty and often parodied auto-tune lover T-Pain in the same line. Based on that alone, this song is indeed--as Zac Brown famously said--one of the worst songs ever. In conclusion, I can't decide whether the cheesy faux hip-hop beat makes me want to drown myself in the rain Luke is going to make it do or shoot myself in the face.

"Chillin' It" - Cole Swindell (Shane Minor / Cole Swindell) - Don't let this catchy little ditty fool you, for it totally sucks the big one. Let me tell you why: Pour it on easy now, don't spill a bit/ Nothin' tonight but time, let's get to killin' it/ Long as I'm rockin' with you girl/ You know I'm cool with just chillin' it. I am stupider just for typing that. Did you see that? He rhymed "chillin'" with "killin'" and "chillin'" is a play on "cool" cuz they both mean COLD! Does anybody even know what "chillin' it" means? Do people actually say that? I thought that when I was just hanging out, I was "chillin'." Give credit where credit is due though: The phrase "chillin' like a villain" does not get a shout out, which is a genuine shocker.

"Redneck Crazy" - Tyler Farr (Mark Irwin / Josh Kear / Chris Tompkins) - I mean, you really start to wonder if anyone even cares about lyrics anymore. Please, young people, do not handle a break up the way this douchey narrator does: by drunkenly stalking your ex in the middle of the night and throwing beer cans at her house. Thing is, this concept could perhaps be made into a decent song if there was even the slightest hint of irony or humor. But it's played dead straight, even lines as cringe-worthy as I'm about to get my pissed off on and Nah, he can't amount to much by the look of that little truck. So if driving a little truck means you're a pussy, what does it mean if you drive a Camry (me)? Check that. I don't give a shit. Brantley Gilbert, you have met your match.

"Get Me Some Of That" - Thomas Rhett (Rhett Akins / Michael Carter / Cole Swindell) - I'm not shocked to discover that one Cole Swindell had a hand in writing this turd. If you look at the title again, you already know what this song's about. Shockingly, the production here isn't faux fratboy cock rock or something Luke Bryan could shake his glitter covered ass to, but rather it goes for a softer, more sensual vibe, something I would perhaps call "rapey mid-tempo adult contemporary." The chorus does not, I repeat, does not help: You're shakin' that moneymaker, like a heartbreaker, like your college major was/ Twistin' and tearin' up Friday nights/ Love the way your wearin' those jeans so tight/ I bet your kiss is a soul saver, my favorite flavor, want it now and later/ I never seen nothin' that I wanted so bad/ Girl, I gotta get me, gotta get me some of that. Ladies, if that does it for you, please, for the love of yourself and your future daughters, do a little self-reflection and realize that if any man every truly said that to you at a bar, you would kick him square in the gonads.

"Makin' This Boy Go Crazy" - Dylan Scott (Dylan Scott / Glenn Whitehead) - This song almost isn't worth writing about. I've never heard of this dude, and I'm not sure where I even heard about the song. But it might be the most derivative and boring one on this list. Here are some words that people actually wrote down and thought sounded good together: Never seen a tan look so good ... The way your hair blows in the wind, takes me to heaven and back again ... Oh girl, you make me feel like whoa (I'm not even kidding) ... I can catch a buzz without a drink, that's what your body does to me/ Every kiss is like a sip, I wanna taste, over and over. It's official: rapey is the new trendy down at the Music Row machine.

"Aw Naw" - Chris Young (Chris DeStefano / Ashley Gorley / Chris Young) - Well, it was bound to happen I suppose. One of the last great hopes of country radio gave in to industry pressure. Though I've liked some more than others, I've at least partially enjoyed every single Young has released, but "Aw Naw" leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that I'm not sure I'll ever give him another shot. I barely was able to get through his new album even once (there are maybe one or two decent songs on there, I can't remember and haven't gone back to listen). The story goes, or so I remember reading (you'll forgive me if I do not care enough to do a quick Google search), that Young and his co-writers were sitting around, someone said "Aw Naw," and someone else said, "Hey, that'd make a cool song." Well, two things: one group already wrote that song, and the song Young and Co. ended up writing is one of the dumbest, most pandering, most clumsily produced pieces of music you will ever lay ears on. And it being Chris Young, it kind of pains me to say that. The chorus, for your amusement: Aw naw, somebody just bought a shot of that Patron/ Hang on, I just might have to stay (YOU KNOW, CUZ PATRON!)/ Aw naw, look at the time y'all/ What happened to coats on, long gone/ I should be halfway home, but aw naw. Farewell, Chris Young.

Other 2013 Lists:

Best Country Singles