2010 saw the release of a lot of good country music, very little of which actually made it to country radio. As such, my list will include some of my favorite singles as well as some album cuts that I would have liked to have been released as singles.
10. As She’s Walking Away — Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
On the surface, this is just another one of those positive message songs that country radio likes so much these days, but the tight harmonies and guest vocals from Alan Jackson save this record from being trite. Keith Stegall’s stellar production helps this #1 hit stand out from the pack.
9. From A Table Away — Sunny Sweeney
Sunny’s toned down her twang just a bit in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream tastes. The strategy seems to be working as she is on the verge of breaking the Top 20 for the first time. While this is not my favorite song from Sunny, it’s one of the best releases by a female artist this year. Hopefully she will finally get some well-deserved recognition.
8. Over You — Blake Shelton
This is the best cut of Blake’s career, and it sounds even better coming on the heels of the execrable “Hillbilly Bone” and “Kiss My Country Ass.” Unfortunately, very few people will get to hear it, as it was only available through iTunes as a bonus track with pre-order purchases of his recent Loaded: The Best of Blake Shelton. Hopefully it will resurface on another album sometime in the future.
7. Draw Me A Map — Dierks Bentley
The second single from his bluegrass project Up On The Ridge wasn’t mainstream enough to garner much radio airplay. Stalling at #33, it was Dierks’ worst performance to date on the singles chart. Nevertheless, it’s probably my favorite of the singles he’s released thus far in his career.
6. I’m Over You — Chris Young
This acoustic version of the Keith Whitley classic was released as part of Young’s Voices EP, a project that showcases his powerful voice better than his two full-length albums, and serves notice that this newcomer is one to watch.
5. That’s Why I Write Songs — Jamey Johnson
This stripped-down tribute to Nashville’s greatest songsmiths, recorded on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, is the best track from Johnson’s excellent two-disc collection The Guitar Song.
4. The House That Built Me — Miranda Lambert
In a year when female artists underperformed at radio, Lambert stands out as the exception to the rule with her breakthrough hit, which I reviewed earlier in the year.
3. Highway 20 Ride — Zac Brown Band
I was a little slow to warm up to these Georgia boys, but this heart-wrenching tune about a divorced father coping with separation from his son is the one that won me over. It was actually released to radio in late 2009, so technically it shouldn’t qualify for this list, but I’m including it since it hit #1 in 2010.
2. ‘Til The End — Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack
This remake of Vern Gosdin’s classic is the highlight of Jackson’s excellent Freight Train album, a project that saw two of its weakest tracks released as singles. Why this one wasn’t released is a head-scratcher. It did, however, receive a nomination for Musical Event of the Year from the Country Music Association.
1. I Run To You — Marty Stuart and Connie Smith
The best track from Stuart’s Ghost Train collection is so good, it’s breath-taking. Though not released as a single, it has earned the husband and wife team a Grammy nomination.
Overall, I think 2010 was a better year for country music than 2009, so here’s hoping that things continue to improve throughout 2011.