Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 10 Best Songs of 2015

     Country music as a genre has reached new heights, touched millions of lives, and made millions of dollars.  However, it is nothing without the song.  Without a song, Hank Williams would be just another country boy from Alabama, Johnny Cash would be another Air Force recruit, and Loretta Lynn would be another girl from the holler in Kentucky.  In 2015, we had some great additions to the already illustrious list of music in country history.  While breaking down the best of the bunch was a tough task, it had to be done.  Keep It Country, Kids proudly presents the 10 Best Songs Of 2015.

First, lets give credit to some honorable mentions, presented in no particular order. 
Mr. Misunderstood- Eric Church
Standards- Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
Unfair Weather Friend- Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
Riser- Dierks Bentley (Full single review here)
Gotta Go To Heaven- Josh Thompson
S Lazy H- Corb Lund
Christmas In Huntsville- Jason Boland & The Stragglers
The Cost Of Living- Merle Haggard & Don Henley
While I Was Away- Pat Green
Diamond Rings & Old Barstools- Tim McGraw with Catherine Dunn (Full single review here)
Too High- Blackberry Smoke
El Dorado- Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers
They Don't Make Em Like They Used To- Will Hoge
Country Love Song- Sam Outlaw

10. Where I've Been- Courtney Patton

Courtney Patton's magnificent album, So This Is Life featured any songs that touched on a variety of emotions faced by everyday people.  It takes a great song to stand out among that group, but this one certainly does.  "Where I've Been" tells the story of a woman who has simply had enough of her loveless marriage.  However, rather than just leave for good, she is searching for something more while staying with her husband, telling him "I'll be here in the morning, just don't ask me where I've been."  Cheating songs have been part of country music since day one, but this one offers a new perspective in a poignant way. (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"Cause you ain't been giving me the kind of love I'm needing
and you just ain't living like the man that once knew
so I'm giving up and giving in
taking what I need every now and then
and if you ever decide that you ever want to try again
well I'll be here in the morning, just don't ask me where I've been"

9. Whiskey On My Breath- Love & Theft

When Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson went through some record label shuffling, they were left without a home for their new music.  As is usually the case, without corporate strings telling them what to do, the young artists wrote and released the best song of their career.  "Whiskey On My Breath" is a gut-wrenching drinking/breakup song that has high lonesome harmony that puts you in mind of Vince Gill.  This was one of the best country songs of the year, and a great victory to see this song get a little airtime, even if it deserved to be a much bigger hit.  (Full single review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"Oh I know I'm going to heaven
But I can't go with me like this
I need to pull myself together
Before then
No and I ain't afraid of dying
But what scares me to death
Is meeting Jesus
With whiskey on my breath."

8. Burning House- Cam

Cam did something very rare in country music in 2015.  She took a female-led ballad from a new artist straight up the charts.  "Burning House" is a somber breakup song that has interpretative lyrics and a subtle approach that makes this something very unique when compared to the rest of mainstream country.  "Burning House" will no doubt be all over the award shows on the next go around, and deservedly so.  The jury is still out on Cam, but this song made a great first impression. (Full single review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"I had a dream about a burning house
You were stuck inside, I couldn't get you out
I laid beside you and pulled you close
And the two of us went up in smoke
Love isn't all that it seems I did you wrong
I'll stay here with you until this dream is gone"

7. David- Cody Jinks

Cody Jinks wrote an entire album worth of fantastic country songs titled Adobe Sessions, but none of those songs were quite as impactful to me as "David". This tale of two friends follows the characters through two very different outcomes in life.  The chilling chorus is impossible to just hear.  You have to stop and listen every time this song is on.  (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"I found his truck in the floodplain upside down
it was a hell of rain, I don't know if he drowned
or if he died on impact, he must of rolled 3 times.
The only thing to make matters worse
was his mom was late night E.R. nurse
when he was DOA, she just about lost her mind"

6. After The Storm Blows Through- Maddie & Tae

Maddie & Tae certainly have made a big splash this year.  From their debut hit "Girl In A Country Song" to their traditional-leaning album, they have been winning fans over on both sides of the country fence.  On their debut album, Start Here, no song stood out as much as "After The Storm Blows Through".  This song featured soaring harmonies and heartfelt advice that you rarely hear from any mainstream country artist, much less ones this young.  It would be criminal to not release this to the radio so the masses can hear it.  (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics 
"You know, you and me, we've been thick as thieves
You get cut I feel the pain
We're stuck together, no matter what the weather
And that ain't gonna change
I don't know how long the hurt'll hold on
Or when the sun will shine again
So until then
I'll face that wind by your side
Even take on that rain, I don't mind,
Or give you space or give you time,
If you need me to,
But I'll be here for you
After the storm blows through"

5. Fence Post- Aaron Watson

Are you fed up with the Nashville machine?  Tired of the suits in the big offices dictating what country music should be?  Well, so is Aaron Watson.  Aaron took his independent album, The Underdog, to number one on the country albums charts in 2015.  Furthermore, he took this song, "Fence Post", to the number one spot on the iTunes chart.  Not bad for a guy who isn't on radio.  This song politely, yet forcefully calls out the corporate hypocrisy that has overrun our genre and makes a stand for the underdogs. (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"Cause God knows I'd never sell my soul to rock 'n' roll or rap
Or wear those tight skinny jeans
Cause you know I'd rather sing my own songs
Than be a puppet on a string
I'll wear what I want to wear
I'm gonna sing what I wanna sing
Heaven knows all I need
Is my faith, my fans, my friends and my family
Besides I'd rather be an old fence post in Texas
Than the king of Tennessee"

4. Nobody To Blame- Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton blew the doors off the joint at the 2015 CMA Awards.  He took home every award he was nominated for and went straight to the top of the album charts.  He needed a big single to back up that success.  Thankfully, after a few weeks, "Nobody To Blame" seems to have some traction and is climbing the charts.  Not only is this the big single from Traveller, it also is the perfect showcase of how talented Chris Stapleton is.  I don't think its possible to not sing along to this one.  It takes the classic sadness of country music and adds some wit and soul that only Chris Stapleton can do. (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"She fired up my old hot rod
Ran it in the pond
Put sugar in my John Deere
I can’t even mow my lawn
And I got nobody to blame but me
She built her a bonfire
With my old six string
Took all my good whiskey
And poured it down the drain
And I got nobody to blame but me
I got nobody to blame but me
I know right where I went wrong
I know just what got her gone
Turned my life into this country song
And I got nobody to blame but me
I got nobody to blame but me"

3. Something More Than Free- Jason Isbell

It's no secret that Jason Isbell is one of the most prolific songwriters of our generation.  When a guy hits number one on the albums charts with no radio play, you know he is talented.  Truth be told, any song from Something More Than Free could have made the top ten, but the title track was the one that spoke to me the most.  In an album full of stories about real life, this one felt most like something I could relate to.  The song tells the struggles of a man working his life away, but is still thankful for the opportunity.  We all know someone with that never quit, always gracious attitude.  We need more people like that.  "Something More Than Free" is a great song with a great message. (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"When I get my reward, my work will all be done
And I will sit back in my chair beside the Father and the Son
No more holes to fill. And no more rocks to break
And no more loading boxes onto trucks for someone else's sake
'Cause the hammer needs a nail
And the poor man's up for sale
Guess I'm doin' what I'm on this earth to do
And I don't think on why I'm here or where it hurts
I'm just lucky to have the work
And every night I dream I'm drowning in the dirt
But I thank God for the work"

2. Jayton & Jill- Zane Williams

Zane Williams released Texas Like That in 2015, and it featured one of my favorite songs of the year.  I haven't seen this one on many year end lists and I'm not sure why.  Maybe it slipped through the crack, maybe it just spoke more to me that others, but I think "Jayton and Jill" is top notch country songwriting.  The story is simple, the lyrics are plainspoken, but that's what makes it appealing.  Sometimes for a country song to hit all the emotions it is meant to hit, you just need a simple story about a misfit boy and a lost girl.  The love story of Jayton and Jill certainly captivated me in 2015. (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"Jill was the local preacher's kid gone wild

Most the time her daddy couldn't stand his own child
 He'd quote the scripture with an angry shout

And list her all the reasons she would never turn out

She was drunk one night on the fourth of July
, parked in a pasture with an out-of-town guy

He got mad when she said no

And he tore her Sunday dress

She was wanderin' alone on a county road

When the lights came over the hill

That was the moment when Jayton met Jill"

1.The Bird Hunters- Turnpike Troubadours

To me, there are a few specific things that make a song a country song.  First and foremost is the story.  Country music has a long history of telling real life situations in musical form and bringing them to life through lyrics.  Secondly is the music.  Country music is simple. To me, nothing epitomizes country music better than a lonesome fiddle.  Of course, I love the steel guitar, a twangy telecaster, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, all of it.  But there is something about a fiddle that gets me.  The third factor is believeability.  If a song is well written and twangy as can be, but I just don't believe the artist or relate to it, I can't get into it.  Well, to kick of their highly anticipated self-titled album, The Turnpike Troubadours released a fiddle-driven story song.  The Turnpike Troubadours have charisma and chemistry together and always bring every song to life.   Considering all this, "The Bird Hunters" was an easy choice for Song Of The Year.  Set in the woods during a bird hunt, this song tells the tale of a man who chased love all the way to the big city, but is now back home reminiscing with his best friend.  They paint a beautiful picture in your head with the lyrics, perfectly placing you in the setting.  They capture every second of everything a hunt can entail: the comradery, the fun, the reflection, and the thrill.  "The Bird Hunters" is quintessential country music from one of the most talented bands in the business right now.  Congratulations to The Turnpike Troubadours for the Keep It Country, Kids 2015 Song Of The Year: "The Bird Hunters". (Full album review here)

Memorable Lyrics
"The country was cold
With the sun westward sinking
It's good to be back in this place
With my hands around
A Belgian made Browning
My mind on the lines of her face
Well now Danny's my buddy
We grew up like family
Hunted this timber before we could drive
The old English pointer
He once belonged to me
But I gave him up when I moved in '05
Off to the girl, Off to the city
Off on a wing and a chance
Hell I thought it'd play out just like some story
We fell in love at a rodeo dance
She said go on back to Cherokee County
Won't you crawl back with nothing but a razor and a comb
Babe, if you need me, I'll be where you found me
Go on to hell, honey, I'm headed home"