Unsurprisingly the month of November slowed down in terms of new music. Most of the country music industry has turned their eyes towards the CMA Awards and holiday releases. But we still got a lot of really good music worth noting and there was certainly enough to compile a worthy top ten list of songs. This is probably the most mainstream populated top ten list I’ve done this year, as nine of the ten spots are occupied by a mainstream act. There was one surprise album that dominated this month, as it takes up much my list. And we all know who it is…
- Eric Church – “Record Year” – You know you’re hearing a special song when you get goose bumps upon the first listen. After listening to Mr. Misunderstood for a couple of weeks, his best record to date, I can say this is the best song Church has ever penned and performed too. Combining heartbreak with a rediscovery of music through a stack of vinyl, Church creates a song that I believe will go down as one of his signature songs. This was hands down my favorite song in the month of November.
- Eric Church – “Kill A Word (feat. Rhiannon Giddens & Andrea Davidson)” – That being said there were other really good songs on Mr. Misunderstood and this one is not too far behind “Record Year.” A lot of times when a country artist does an anti-bullying song, it comes off really cheesy and clichéd, lacking in true emotion and feeling. But here Church avoids these pitfalls and produces an anthemic song that is easy to connect with and enjoy. What takes this song to an even higher level is enlisting rising Americana artist Rhiannon Giddens on the song, who’s vocals blow me away every time. Unlike a lot of country music, Church recognizes Americana and this song is solid proof.
- Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” – The album I was expecting to be the best of November was Tim McGraw’s brand new album Damn Country Music. Even though it didn’t live up to this expectation, it’s still very solid and has a lot of good songs. The best though is the closing song, “Humble and Kind.” Written by Lori McKenna, it’s a soft ballad about life and the advices we should all heed as we encounter the various obstacles throughout it. The song fits McGraw perfectly and shows he hasn’t lost a beat in the vocals department.
- Eric Church – “Knives of New Orleans” – Despite feeling this is just the third best song on Mr. Misunderstood, I’ve seen many consider it the best and I don’t blame them for thinking it. This is the kind of song that immediately draws you in and holds your attention. Many crime-related country songs can be dark, but this one is adventurous and dare I say upbeat. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t end up a single.
- Tim McGraw – “Don’t Make Me Feel at Home” – Now this is country music. One of the classic song archetypes in the genre is a heartbreak ballad, except this has a different twist. The husband cheating is doing it proudly, with seemingly no regrets, as he no longer feels any love at home from his wife. After he explains feeling empty for so long, you empathize with him, which is strange, yet feels appropriate. McGraw sings of his love of country music throughout his new album and I think this song best exemplifies it.
- Maren Morris – “My Church” – This budding, young pop country artist really grabbed my attention with her new EP. And it starts off with the EP’s best song, “My Church,” a gospel, bluesy filled song where Morris proudly sings about her love of country music and it’s religious-like influence on her. Not only is the instrumentation engaging and fun, but her vocals sound seasoned beyond her years and shows a ton of promise. Hopefully we get a full album from Morris in 2016.
- Tim McGraw – “Here Tonight (feat. Gracie McGraw)” – This song grows on me more each time I listen to it. Joined by his daughter Gracie, Tim McGraw delivers an entertaining song. What really though stands out about this song is the amount of influence from Celtic folk and Old World-style music. I would love to hear more music in this vein from McGraw in future projects, as it’s different and seems to suit him well.
- Eric Church – “Mixed Drinks About Feelings (feat. Susan Tedeschi)” – Church really hit a home run in terms of guest artists on Mr. Misunderstood. This song is no different, as this bluesy love song fits each artist perfectly. This is another potential single.
- Maren Morris – “I Wish I Was” – I fully expect Maren Morris to release “My Church” as her lead single, but this should definitely be the sophomore single. “I Wish I Was” is about a woman in a relationship realizing it just isn’t going to work, even though on paper they seem great together. She knows she’s not her man’s true love, but she wishes she was, making it even more difficult to end it.
- Jeff Crosby & The Refugees – “Emily” – The lone independent act on my list rounds out my top ten list for November. It’s easy to pay attention to all of the great mainstream releases, but don’t overlook the rock solid album from Jeff Crosby & The Refugees. The standout song from it is “Emily,” a part love song, part heartbreak song. The man in the song knows he loves this woman named Emily and she’s perfect for him. But she’s married now and he’s forced to move on wondering what if for the rest of his life. It’s a haunting, yet beautiful song.
- Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”
- Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With A Beer”
- Jeff Crosby & The Refugees – “Water Shapes and The Canyons”
So the month of October was even better than I expected for country and Americana music. When putting together my top ten list at first I didn’t think there were a lot of candidates. Then I fully looked back through all of our reviews (it can be hard to keep up with all of the music sometimes!) and I realized that there a lot of releases competing for the top ten. From mainstream to independent there was plenty of music to satiate your tastes. Figuring out this top ten list was difficult and I changed my mind multiple times before finally coming up with the ten. It was especially difficult on the last couple of spots. For those songs that missed out, I give them a shout out in the honorable mentions. So without further ado here’s my top ten country and Americana songs for the month of October…
- Hailey Whitters – “One More Hell” – This will probably be a surprise to many of you readers, as I haven’t talked about this at all. If it wasn’t for Derek’s great review of Hailey Whitters’ new album Black Sheep I wouldn’t have even known about it. I finally got around to giving it a good listen and this song immediately stood out to me. It’s a personally emotional song for Whitters, as it’s about the death of her brother and how her family and herself are dealing with it. Everything about this song is so well done and even made me a little teary eyed. I can’t wait to hear more from Whitters in the future.
- Corb Lund – “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” – The new album from Corb Lund, Things That Can’t Be Undone, was a completely different sound than many expected and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This song is about Lund dreaming about losing his rock star life and being forced to work in a factory again. Not only does it tell an interesting story, but it also has some wry humor that will bring a smile to your face. The bluesy guitar licks throughout make it even better.
- Hailey Whitters – “Low All Afternoon” – Whitters’ second song of the top ten is a heartbreak ballad with an interesting perspective. It’s told from the perspective of the “other woman,” as she had been cheating with a married man for a while and expected to become his woman. Instead he ditches her and sticks with his wife, leaving the other woman to lament the situation. Whitters shows great emotion in her voice throughout this song.
- Jake Worthington – “This Damn Memory” – After many months of waiting Jake Worthington finally released his first original music via his self-titled EP and it didn’t disappoint. It was full of great, traditional country and the best of the bunch was definitely “This Damn Memory.” It’s a heartbreak song very much in the vein of the neo traditional country of the 80s that suits Worthington’s voice perfectly. He’s another one I’m anxious to hear more music from.
- Carrie Underwood – “The Girl You Think I Am” – Her new album Storyteller has proved to be divisive so far amongst fans and critics, but one song most seem to enjoy is “The Girl You Think I Am.” For good reason too, as it’s an emotional song about parents being proud of their daughter and the daughter trying to be as good as they say she is. I’m hopeful this song gets released as a single.
- Corb Lund – “Sadr City” – Here’s a song I think many have wrongly overlooked. “Sadr City” is about a man’s military life and not wanting to relive the memories he has experienced. This one of those songs where you need to just sit and listen, as it certainly isn’t the catchiest song in the world. But it’s a real song with a real story and that’s why I enjoy it so much.
- Hailey Whitters – “Late Bloomer” – Whitters sings about how it’s okay to be a late bloomer, whether in life or in your career. As Derek mentions in his review, this seems to be autobiographical for Whitters as her career took a while to launch and get going. It’s definitely one of those songs where I think anyone could relate to the theme at one point in their life.
- Carrie Underwood – “Choctaw County Affair” – This was without a doubt the most interesting song on Underwood’s new album. Written by Jason White, this song tells the tale of a murder and I’m a sucker for a murder ballad. Underwood’s sassy vocals go well with the lyrics and the harmonica play of Travis Meadows is icing on the cake.
- Jason Boland and The Stragglers – “Fat and Merry” – My October top ten closes out with two songs from the Red Dirt mainstay Jason Boland and The Stragglers. I have to say I haven’t listened to their new album Squelch as much as a I would like, but I’m changing that as you read this. “Fat and Merry” is a sarcastically upbeat tune that mocks suburbia life and features plenty of fiddle and steel guitar. The political commentary may go a little overboard at times on this album, but it’s just right here.
- Jason Boland and The Stragglers – “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole” – I have no other explanation of why I enjoy this song other than it’s just flat-out fun and gives me a good chuckle.
- Charles Kelley – “The Driver” (feat. Dierks Bentley & Eric Paslay)
- The Bottle Rockets – “Building Chryslers,” “Big Fat Nuthin'” & “I Don’t Wanna Know”
- Corb Lund – “S Lazy H” & “Weight of the Gun”
- Jana Kramer – “Last Song”
- Jake Worthington – “That’s When”
- Carrie Underwood – “Church Bells” & “Like I’ll Never Love You Again”
- The Yawpers – “9 to 5” & “Walter”
- Hailey Whitters – “Black Sheep”
- Jason Boland & The Stragglers – “Heartland Bypass” & “Christmas In Huntsville”
October proved to be a solid month of country music releases across the board. A couple of mainstream releases from Nashville, two impressive debut records, Canadian Country Music, and Red Dirt Country all contribute to my top ten list this month. It’s nice to have representation of great songs from many of country’s sub genres on a list like this. I could easily have any of my top four songs in the top spot this month; they’re all excellent songs.
- “Low All Afternoon” by Hailey Whitters – I ended up choosing this as my top song over the other three simply because I was blown away listening to this song the first time. It’s a third person narration of a woman who’s struggling to move on after her love decided to end their affair and settle down with his wife. Whitters’ lyrics and rhyme schemes are spot on and her vocal delivery is the icing on the cake. “Low All Afternoon” is one of the standouts from Black Sheep.
- “Fat and Merry” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Boland’s newest album, Squelch, is full of political and social commentary and “Fat and Merry” is my favorite of the bunch. A sarcastic delivery making fun of the suburbia lifestyle combined with a fun, upbeat country production full of fiddles. The lyrics get the point across without getting too far. It took a few listens for this song to grow on me, but “Fat and Merry” has become one of my favorites this year.
- “This Damn Memory” by Jake Worthington – Jake Worthington caught a lot of attention on The Voice because of his traditional country approach to the competition, and his long-awaited EP only proves his dedication to making traditional country music. As Josh said, “This heartbreak ballad has everything you want in a country song from the sharp lyrics to the thick pedal steel guitar play.“
- “One More Hell” by Hailey Whitters – Hailey Whitters wrote this song about coping with the passing of her brother. The personal nature of the song is evident throughout the whole track. Whitters’ lyrics strike a chord that allow the listener to share in the sorrow and confusion of the situation – that’s what great writing can accomplish. “One More Hell” is a quiet, powerful song.
- “The Girl You Think I Am” by Carrie Underwood – Carrie Underwood rarely digs into personal songs like this, but this song from a daughter to her parents is a touching song. I think every child wants their parents to be proud of who they’ve become and can connect with the slight vulnerability and doubt that this song brings. My favorite song off Storyteller.
- “Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – A love song about finding freedom on the road with a fitting driving production, the parts work together wonderfully. The country instrumentation of steel guitars and fiddles are great on this song, and Boland’s baritone is excellent on this track.
- “Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues” by Corb Lund – I love the rock ‘n roll blend with country on this song’s production. The guitar lick is fascinating. The unique story of a singer returning to his old factory job work great here, too. Corb Lund is a great writer, and only a great writer could make a subject like this work in a four-minute song. This song stood out the most to me from Things That Can’t Be Undone.
- “Christmas in Huntsville” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers – A traditional country tune with an ironic upbeat production underneath some dark lyrics. The story details a man’s last day on death row before he dies as an innocent man for a crime he didn’t commit. This song stood out to me after my first listen of Squelch. Storytelling at it’s finest.
- “Choctaw County Affair” by Carrie Underwood – A song written by Jason White, this is sharp murder ballad that Carrie sings so well. I personally think her vocals are great on this track and the production work well to help tell this murderous tale.
- “Sunbeam” by Corb Lund – As commenter Curt pointed out to us, Corb Lund wrote this song about the passing of his niece. It has a great bluesy production and is simply a beautiful song.
- “Seven Spanish Angels” by Stoney LaRue – In a solid month of releases, I opted not to include any songs off LaRue’s cover album Us Time, but this Willie Nelson cover he sings with Cody Canada is excellent.
- “Holy Relic Sale” and “Do You Love Me Any Less” by Jason Boland & The Stragglers
- “Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood
- “That’s When” by Jake Worthington
- “Black Sheep” and “Late Bloomer” by Hailey Whitters
- “Sadr City” and “Weight Of The Gun” by Corb Lund
As I’ve pretty much come to expect with each month, September has brought us some great country music releases. Red Dirt bands from Oklahoma, country legends, rockstars and more all contributed to a great month of country music.
Disclaimer: due to George Strait’s Cold Beer Conversation’s limited release availability, I haven’t had the chance to purchase or even listen to it yet. Unfortunately, that means I can’t include his music on this month’s list. I’m sorry for delivering an incomplete list, but I trust that my list would be adjusted to accommodate for a couple of Strait’s songs. With that said, I’m still able to fill out ten songs that still represent the best of September.
- “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours I have a hard time believing that this song would be moved from the top spot even with Strait’s inclusion. The Turnpike Troubadours absolutely deliver on this song from the soaring fiddles to Evan Felker’s vocal delivery. “The Bird Hunters” captivates you with its story and holds that attention throughout. Their new album is without a doubt a top-5 album for me this year and “The Bird Hunters” is probably a top-10 song for me this year as well.
- “When I Stop Dreaming” by Don Henley (feat. Dolly Parton) Don Henley and Dolly Parton harmonize together beautifully. This duet is a great addition to country’s many male-female collaborations. The instrumentation is fantastic and Dolly sounds great. Henley collaborated with many other country artists on Cass County but this duet with Dolly Parton takes the cake.
- “The Man in the Mirror (The Girl On the Plane)” by The Damn Quails This song intrigued right away as I listened to it. The lyrics of this break up tune are very well thought out and brilliantly delivered. The song’s production does a great job carrying the listener through the song with a fitting mood.
- “Easton & Main” by Turnpike Troubadours This is a re-release of a song from Turnpike’s debut album, but this new recording sounds even better. The Turnpike Troubadours do a great job with the musical delivery and the production of this song sets a great mood for a country dance number.
- “The Cost of Living” by Don Henley (feat. Merle Haggard) A song about the physical and emotional costs of living sung by two old, wise men is just about perfect. Haggard sounds excellent on this track, better even than some of the songs on Django and Jimmie if you ask me. Great lyrics and great production. This is the type of song everyone can relate t0.
- “You Still Get to Me” by Clint Black (feat. Lisa Hartman) Clint Black and his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, have a history of great love song duets and this one is no different. Their harmonies are still great, the mid-tempo production is well done, and the lyrics tell a story of long time lovers still feeling the passion and joy of love. It’s a familiar story not written or presented in a fluffy, cheesy way.
- “Song of Home” by The Damn Quails “Song of Home” is a beautiful song about a musician and his family. The production rises and falls in a way that helps the song move at a nice pace. It’s a great country music story song.
- “7 Oaks” by Turnpike Troubadours This is one of the most fun songs off their new, self-titled album. “7 Oaks” depicts the rough life of a farmer who has the government breathing down his neck for money. Before complying, the farmer burns down his house and ruins his land before moving onto an Indian Reservation to avoid this problem in the future. Fun, unique lyrics and good up-beat instrumentation.
- “Dead Bury the Dead” by The Legendary Shack Shakers The Southern Surreal is an album full of great, unique instrumentation on every track. “Dead Bury the Dead” is just one example of the band’s great guitar work. The vocal performance is worth noting as well.
- “Faster Than You Think” by The Damn Quails I was really impressed with The Damn Quails’ newest album. Josh does a great job describing why “Faster Than You Think” is one of the noteworthy songs from the album: “It’s a song about the world changing around you faster than you think. Everything about this song is catchy, especially the songwriting. It’s well done and it’s easy to get stuck in your head.“
- “The Driver” by Charles Kelley (feat. Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley)
- “Long Drive Home” and “How Do You Fall Out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
- “Waiting Tables” by Don Henley
- “Oklahoma Blue” and “Out of the Birdcage” by The Damn Quails
- “With a Straight Face” by Mac McAnally
September was like pretty much every other month this year: mainstream country gave us mostly crap, while the other country scenes and Americana gave us absolute gold. Coming into the month there was only one album I expected to deliver big time and it certainly did. But then we got a surprisingly fantastic album from an iconic singer and a surprise album from a legend too. These three albums dominated the month of September and I’m sure all of you enjoyed at least one of them. Unfortunately for some independent acts who put out really solid albums this shut them out of the top ten for the most part. But it’s never a bad thing to have too much great music! So without further ado my top ten best country and Americana songs for the month of September.
- Don Henley (feat. Dolly Parton) – “When I Stop Dreaming” – The release of Eagles’ frontman Don Henley’s country album has been hyped up for months and based on the people he had involved with the project, I expected a good album. Instead he delivered a fantastic album in Cass County. There are a lot of great songs on it, but the crown jewel to me hands down is Henley’s duet with Dolly Parton on “When I Stop Dreaming.” The vocal performances by these two are out of this world and bring out the best in each other. This is what makes for a memorable duet like this one. It may just even be a candidate for Country Perspective’s Song of the Year.
- George Strait – “Everything I See” – I almost put this song at #1 and went back and forth on it for a while before deciding to slot “Everything I See” in at #2. Nobody saw Strait delivering a new album this year, let alone only announcing it four days before the actual release. It’s a really good album that has many classic Strait moments, but the best to me is this song. Strait sings about losing a close friend, probably referring to his father who died not so long ago (shout out to reader southtexaspistolero for pointing this out). It’s an emotional song and yet another example of why Strait is one of the all-time greats in country music.
- Don Henley – “Waiting Tables” – Henley proves to be a great storyteller throughout Cass County. But the best example of it is arguably on “Waiting Tables.” He sings about a young girl who has made mistakes early in life and is now stuck waiting tables and hoping for an opportunity to get out of her dead-end situation. This song not only tells an interesting story, but it’s catchy too. Plus, Jamey Johnson is on the background vocals!
- Turnpike Troubadours – “The Bird Hunters” – It had been three long years since the Turnpike Troubadours had released a new album, which is too damn long. The waiting paid off though, as their new self-titled album is one of the year’s best. The Oklahoma band deliver a variety of marvelous songs throughout the album, but the opener “The Bird Hunters” may just be the best on it. Like “Waiting Tables” above, this song tells an interesting story about heartbreak and left wondering about past decisions. And when you put arguably the best instrumentation in country music behind poignant lyrics, you get memorable songs like this one.
- George Strait – “Even When I Can’t Feel It” – This was the closer to Strait’s new album and it was the second emotional heartbreak song on it. In another era, this song would be released to country radio and easily reach #1. But instead all of us traditional country fans will just enjoy this album cut.
- Turnpike Troubadours – “Long Drive Home” – When I did my first listen-through of the Turnpike Troubadours’ album, this song was one that immediately caught my attention. The harmonies and instrumentation blend together so well and make for an enjoyable experience. It’s the kind of song that makes me want to see this band in-person.
- Don Henley – “Take A Picture of This” – This is one of the most interesting songs on Henley’s album, as you’re led to believe through the first two-thirds of it that it’s just a romantic love song about a couple reflecting back on memories through the years. Instead it turns out to be a song about a man realizing he no longer loves his wife and their nice memories are just in the past and there are no more ahead. This is what you call the opposite of a cliché.
- Turnpike Troubadours – “Easton & Main” – This immediately follows “Long Drive Home” and it’s one of a string of strong songs that closes out the album for the Troubadours. This song has plenty of fiddle and something that’s right at home at the dance halls in Texas.
- George Strait – “It Takes All Kinds” – Any time George Strait does some Western swing, it’s a good thing.
- The Legendary Shack Shakers – “The Buzzard and The Bell” – I think I changed this spot five different times before posting this. I ultimately went with this song because it features some of the most bizarrely cool instrumentation I’ve heard this year.
*Note: Strait’s songs will not appear on the Spotify playlist below, since his new album is not available on Spotify. So I filled out the playlist with some independent bands that just missed out on the top ten and deserving of more attention. Check them out!
- The Damn Quails – “Oklahoma Blue,” “Faster Than You’d Think” & “Woody Guthrie”
- Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots”
- The Legendary Shack Shakers – “Cold” & “MisAmerica”
- Patrick Sweany – “Back Home” & “Afraid of You”
- Turnpike Troubadours – “7 Oaks” & “Ringing In The Year”
- George Strait – “Cheaper Than A Shrink” & “It Was Love”
- Don Henley – “Praying For Rain”