Sunday, December 21, 2014

The 10 Best Songs of 2014

     2014 saw a noted increase of quality from the country music mainstream.  Country music is nothing without great songs; songs that touch our hearts, make us laugh and cry, make us feel something.  It is very refreshing to be able to turn on country radio and actually hear some decent, heartfelt music.  We still have a long way to go, but baby steps are important.  These 10 songs come from mainstream country, independent artists, bluegrass artists, and everything in between.  Here are the 10 Best Songs of 2014.

First, some honorable mentions:
"Hard Staying Sober"- Miranda Lambert
"Damn These Dreams"- Dierks Bentley
"Dark Side"- Eric Church
"Whiskey And You"- Jason Eady
"Like A Cowboy"- Randy Houser
"Diamond Rings And Old Barstools"- Tim McGraw
"Dirt"- Florida Georgia Line (Full song review here)
"Gentle On My Mind"- The Band Perry (Full Song Review here)
"Middle Of America"- Will Hoge (Full song review here)
"Nashville From Afar"- Shooter Jennings (Full song review here)
"Automatic"-Miranda Lambert (Full song review here)
"Voices"- Sturgill Simpson
"What I Can’t Put Down"- Jon Pardi (Full song review here)
"Hard To Be An Outlaw"- Willie Nelson

10. Somewhere Down The Road- Jake London

“Somewhere Down The Road” is a folksy blend of country, rock, Americana, and whatever else you want to call it.  This song blends different genres seamlessly, and I don’t mean the rap-country slop on the radio. Jake London is a new player to the scene, and if he keeps putting out songs like this, he will be around for a long time.  (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
Let's go get lost
somewhere down the road
ride the wind and see where it may blow
let's turn a house, a house into a home
we don't know what we don't know, so don't you wanna go
somewhere down the road

9.  Girl In A Country Song- Maddie & Tae

Maddie & Tae have taken country music by storm in 2014.  Their debut single, "Girl In A Country Song", has been all over the radio for the past few months.  These girls put to music what everybody was thinking: women in country songs are not treated right.  Maddie & Tae may not be the "country music saviors" that some want them to be, but thats ok.  They called out Music Row, and at least got some people talking about women in country music.  Plus, they were the first women to hit number one not named Carrie, Miranda, or Taylor in 10 years.  Impressive. (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
We used to get a little respect, Now we're lucky if we even get
To climb up in your truck, keep our mouth's shut and ride along
And be the girl in a country song
Well shaken' my moneymaker ain't ever made me a dime
And there ain't no sugar for you in this shaker of mine

8. Carolina On The Line- Sunny Sweeney
This one wasn't a radio single, but it still was a fantastic song just the same.  A classic love-gone-wrong song that fits in the modern world and features Sunny laying down some oh-so-sweet notes with that magnificant voice of hers.  "Carolina On The Line" is a song that may have flown under the radar, but to me, it was one of the best of 2014. (Full Provoked album review here)

Memorable Lyrics: 
So before you say I love you
I need to say goodbye
I know you're hanging on
So I'm hanging up before you change my mind
Texas over and out
Carolina still on the line

7. Lonesome, Down, and Out- Jason Eady

This song may not have been well-known to a lot of people, but it was more than just a good song on a good album.  "Lonesome, Down, and Out" is a perfect example of what country music could and should sound like in 2014.  A lot of people talk of "evolution" and "progress", but they essentially want that to mean "not as country".  "Lonesome, Down, and Out" is as country as a turnip green and as relevent as could be in today's world.  Take notice of this song, Nashville, and get more like it out there in 2015. (Full Daylight & Dark album review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
Well I started runnin’ after the stayin’ failed to work 
Got used to livin’ a little heart broke and hurt
Might seem reckless ‘cause I’m livin’ a lil’ loud
When the truth is I’m just lonesome down and out

6. Falling- Jennifer Nettles

Jennifer Nettles released her first solo album, That Girl, early in 2014.  While some of Sugarland's act was beginning to wear thin, Jennifer proved that with the right set of songs, she was still among country music's best.  The best song from her album was "Falling", a song that told the tale of young love, lost innocence, and bittersweet memories.  The simple story-telling element mixed with the polished piano made for a song that didn't sound out of place in 2014, but still had a timeless feel to it.  Jennifer Nettles' one-in-a-million voice really shines through on this track as well, as she cuts through the noise with emotion and power.  "Falling" is simply a fantastic song. (Full That Girl album review)

Memorable Lyrics:
I stood out on the road 
and I watched as you were leaving. 
The leaves were dancing oranges and reds 
and they circled all around me like confetti on fire. 
They were nothing when compared to the burning in my head.
I was lost, I was gone, 
I was falling for you.

5. I Hold On- Dierks Bentley

Sometimes, a song really connects to you and makes it mean so much more.  "I Hold On" is an excellent song that really stood out on mainstream radio.  It's heart and honesty made it one of the best tracks in recent memory, and it became a huge hit.  It would be on this countdown regardless.  But, in 2014, my dad passed away.  One of the earthly possessions I have that reminds me of him is the Dodge Ram that he and my mother bought for me when I was in high school.  He helped me customize it, repair it, and make it my own.  I can never get rid of it because I feel that same connection to it, and my dad, as Dierks does with his truck.  That first verse almost tears me up each time I hear it; I think of my dad and smile.  If that isn't a representation of what country music is truly all about, I don't know what is. (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
It's just an old beat up truck,
Some say that I should trade up
Now that I got some jangle in my pocket.
But what they don’t understand
Is it's the miles that make a man.
I wouldn’t trade that thing in for a rocket.
What they don’t know is my dad and me–
We drove her out to Tennessee
And she’s still here and now he’s gone
So I hold on.

4. She Don't Love You- Eric Paslay

One of the bright newcomers in 2014 was Eric Paslay.  His first two singles were fairly forgettable, but man he found his stride with his third single "She Don't Love You".  The song is a tender ballad that really tugs at the heartstrings.  It tells a tale of a woman who is simply looking for someone to help heal her loneliness, rather than find love.  The end of the song takes a little twist that makes you feel for the character in the song.  Everyone can relate to this; we've all either been in this spot or had a close friend who was in this spot.  Eric has a real gem on his hands here, and he is establishing himself as a strong singer-songwriter in the mainstream world.  His debut album has some other pretty solid songs, but this one is by far the best of the album and one of the best of the year in country music. (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
She don't love you, she's just lonely
She don't know another way
To break free from what's been broken
Too many cowboys rode away
So, forgive her if she's distant
She can't tell her heart to lie, no
You'll never be her one and only
She don't love you, she's just lonely

3. There's No Country Here- Melody Williamson

Who would have thought that the most damning song to bro-country would come from it's target demographic?  Melody Williamson is a 15 year old girl who sings in her family band.  She was tired of the so-called "country" music she was hearing on the radio, so she did the same thing her heroes did when they were upset about something: she wrote a song about it.  "There's No Country Here" put Melody on national radio shows, where millions of listeners could hear her song.  This song is special for two reasons: First of all, it calls out mainstream country without being mean or disparaging.  It gets the message across in way you can't really debate.  If it simply made fun of or trashed pop-country, it wouldn't have the same effect as "There's No Country Here", which eloquently states it's case.  Secondly, the song is coming from the youth that the slop on radio is directed at.  A lot of people (cough, Blake Shelton) accuse the bad-mouthing of country music as coming from "old farts".  This isn't an old fart.  This is a young girl who sees the issues with the directions country music is heading.  Melody Williamson is a very talented and very special young lady who has already left a postive mark on country music.  "There's No Country Here" was a no-brainer for the top 5 of this list, and was seriously considered for the top spot. (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
I turned on the radio tonight
and I realized that something wasn't right
I heard the banjo, and the guitar strum
but it didn't sound like anything my heroes would have sung
wheres my country music gone, I just don't know
there's no feeling in our songs where did it go
when all we sing about is tractors, trucks, and beer
oh I know there's no country here

2. Sweet Amarillo- Old Crow Medicine Show

One of the most important factors of this list was the ability that a song could to be heard many times and still connect to listeners.  If you look at my most played songs of 2014, "Sweet Amarillo" would be the top song.  This song came from Old Crow Medicine Show's fantastic album Remedy. The song is a well-written story song that they co-wrote with the legendary Bob Dylan.  It is instantly like-able and catchy.  This song will get stuck in your head and remain there for the next week.  This isn't some song that will change the world, or fix the issues in country music, but it's a song that is decidedly country, it is fun, and it is a treat to listen to.  That's what it's all about. (Full Remedy album review)

Memorable Lyrics:
So I drifted on down from the iron old range
Across the wide Missouri, where the cool waters flow
When I got to Topeka, I looked up your name
But they said you rode off with the last rodeo
Sweet Amarillo
Tears on my pillow
You never will know how much I cried
Sweet Amarillo
Like the wind in the willow
Damn this old cowboy for my foolish pride

1. What We Ain't Got- Jake Owen

Jake Owen's "What We Ain't Got" was an easy choice for the Song of the Year.  This song is extremely well-written.  Travis Meadows and Travis Jerome Goff wrote an absolute masterpiece.  The song deals with loss and heartbreak with a stark honesty you just don't hear anymore.  Rather than really go all out on the dramatic scale, this song is pretty "tell it like it is".  Jake Owen gives the best performance of his career in this song, as he totally nails it.  He has one of the best pure voices in country music, but its hard to show that off with "Beachin'" and "Barefoot Blue Jean Night".  The arrangement is sparse, and it lets the lyrics do the talking.  Jake is able to squeeze every amount of emotion as humanly possible out of the song.  But, while this song is absolutely perfect, that isn't the only reason it is in this spot.  This song is good for the direction of country music.  Over the past decade, songs with substance and heart have been on the way out.  Songs about partying and drinking are all the rage.  While 2014 saw a significant bump back to the right way, with a lot more substatial songs, none took the risk that this one did.  The arrangement and pacing are unlike anything else on radio right now.  In the late 90's and ealry 2000's, this would be the biggest hit of the year.  In 2014, he was lucky to even get it played.  Jake understood this risk, but he released it anyway.  Not only did he release it, he owned it. He has made many public claims that this song is much bigger than himself; it's about country music as a whole. “It’s showing every other songwriter in town that you can still write great songs like this and have them be heard on the radio, I’m just thankful this song is opening up doors for songwriters in town, is opening up doors for artists in town … I’m just happy to be the messenger of the song,” he says about the song.  That's pretty cool.  "What We Ain't Got" is helping get substance back on country radio, it is helping songwriters get motivated to write about real life again, and most of all, it is a damn good song.  This is country music at it's finest.  Congratulations, Jake.  "What We Ain't Got" is one of the best songs in country music, and the easy choice for the Keep It Country Kids 2014 Song of the Year. (Full song review here)

Memorable Lyrics:
All I want is what I had,
I'd trade it all just to get her back.
She's moving on, but I guess I'm not.
We all want what we ain't got.
I wanted the world until my whole world stopped,
You know a love like that ain't easily forgot.
I guess we all want what we ain't got.
Yeah, we all want what we ain't got.

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