You'll find a Spotify playlist containing all of these songs at the bottom of this post.
1. Old Crow Medicine Show - Sweet Amarillo
While not as timeless as its spiritual forebear "Wagon Wheel," it's nearly as catchy and just as likely to get your foot tapping. Here's hoping Dylan and OCMS do a whole album together someday. Ought to be a hit on mainstream radio, but yeah, well...
2. Pallbearer - Ghost I Used to Be
An outlier to be sure, this doom metal tune is an instant classic of the genre. Sweeping, majestic, epic - the usual descriptors for the more slow-paced brother of heavy metal - but in this case, they more than fit.
3. Don Williams - I'll Be Here in the Morning
"I'll Be Here in the Morning" is something so steady and perfect, you could hear it on a Williams' greatest hits collection and never question its inclusion. Don's voice is still as comforting and just damn manly as ever and he performs this Townes Van Zandt beauty to perfection.
4. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All the Way Down
"Weird" is the least likely term you'd ever use to describe a song this classic-sounding, but there it is. "Turtles" is the faith-questioning/love-championing anthem nearly everybody could get behind this year. Never mind that it denies the importance of religion (all of them) and the veracity of its teachings; even Conservatives loved this bastard child of Waylon and a particularly vivid acid trip.
5. Adam Faucett - Opossum
"Don't you ask me when you don't wanna know" it warns in the opening line. It's a dark, melodic look back at how better past days contrast with the struggles of the now in the lives of former lovers. Or at least that's what I think it's about; this one's a little hard to decipher, but it sounds damn great.
6. Wade Bowen - West Texas Rain
Co-written with my MVP songwriter of 2014, Travis Meadows, "West Texas Rain" is certainly a highlight of Wade Bowen's career thus far. It brings to mind Restless Heart with its soft tones and strong melodies. Another song that ought to be a big hit - in fact, it probably would have been a no-doubter in the 80s or 90s.
7. Caleb Caudle - Drag
A sad-bastard tune warning a potential love of the likelihood of a disastrous outcome, "Drag" is thoughtful, soulful and gloriously depressing.
8. Old 97's - Nashville
A joyously profane return to what made Old 97s one of my favorite bands during my early forays into alt-country. It's vulgar, self-deprecating and hilariously confident despite the subject matter. The guys haven't sounded happier to be rocking together in years.
9. Nikki Lane - Love's On Fire
This duet with Joshua Headley sways like the trees on a spring Sunday afternoon. It's all harmony and good times and fiddle and organ and a damn fun tune that you'll never get out of your head. Modern country rock at its best.
10. Fire Mountain - Traces
A hard-hitting ballad with a sweeping chorus that wouldn't be out of place soundtracking a somber breakup scene in some teen soap. That's not to say it's generic and schmaltzy… okay, it's a little schmaltzy, but it's so damn well-written and just unfair on an emotional level. I would have straight up wept into my cheap beer if this had come out during my college days.
Next 10 (in no particular order):
Marty Stuart And His Fabulous Superlatives – Boogie Woogie Down the Jericho Road
Tami Neilson – Cry Over You
Run The Jewels – Blockbuster Night Part 1
Lydia Loveless – Wine Lips
Matt Woods – Tiny Anchors
Josh Grider – Pontiac
Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition – Hurtin' Songs
Drive-By Truckers – Grand Canyon
The War On Drugs – Eyes To The Wind
Kelsey Waldon – High in Heels
Other Favorites (in no particular order):
Shooter Jennings – The Door
Cory Branan – All I Got and Gone
Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires – The Kudzu and the Concrete
Karen Jonas – Suicide Sal
Beck – Country Down
Parker Millsap – When I Leave
Jack White – That Black Bat Licorice
Stoney LaRue – Still Runnin’
Willie Nelson – The Wall
Bob Wayne – 20 Miles to Juarez (feat. Elizabeth Cook)
Red Eye Gravy – Take Me Back
Rival Sons – Open My Eyes
Cloud Nothings – I'm Not Part of Me
Mastodon – The Motherload
YG – Who Do You Love?
Robert Ellis - Chemical Plant
Schoolboy Q – Collard Greens
Hard Working Americans – Down to the Well
Rodney Crowell – God I'm Missing You
Cody Johnson – Holes
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings – Retreat!
Jimbo Mathus – Medicine
Eric Church - Talladega
Eric Church - Talladega
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
David Nail – Brand New Day
Sundy Best – Smoking Gun
Lee Ann Womack – Tomorrow Night In Baltimore
The Hold Steady – The Ambassador
Mat D. and The Profane Saints – Holyoke
Jason Eady – One Two...Many
John Fullbright – Never Cry Again
Centro-matic – Salty Disciple
Matthew Ryan – Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade
Curtis Harding – Keep On Shining
Lake Street Dive – Seventeen
St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Broken Bones & Pocket Change
Miranda Lambert – All That's Left - [feat. The Time Jumpers]
Spoon – Knock Knock Knock
Dierks Bentley - Riser
Dierks Bentley - Riser
Rosanne Cash – A Feather's Not A Bird
Jeff Whitehead – Pardon Me
Hiss Golden Messenger – Drum
Cahalen Morrison – I've Won Every Battle, But I've Lost Every War
Sunny Sweeney – Find Me
Whiskey Myers – Colloquy