The consensus among country bloggers and critics alike seems to be that 2009 was one of the weakest years in country music history. I admit that I didn’t have to whittle my list down as much as I did last year, but it was still easy enough to find ten top-rate songs to call my favorites of the year. My biggest problem was where to rank them, since I love all these songs. I kept my list to songs that were released as singles this year – whether they charted or not. Here’s hoping some of these are your kind of country too.
10. ‘Toes’ – Zac Brown Band
The feel-good hit of the Summer of 2009, the Zac Brown Band really won me over with this fun release. I had already bought the album for ‘Whatever It Is’, but this third single from the group made me a huge fan. It’s just not often we hear a fresh sound in country music these days, or acts willing to take chances with their lyrics. With ‘Toes’, the Zac Brown Band did both, and delivered a mighty fine tune.
9. ‘Need You Now’ – Lady Antebellum
With its infectious melody and oh-so relatable lyric, Lady Antebellum had their biggest hit of the career so far with this song. I’ll agree with the consensus that there’s not anything traditional about it, but country music has always had a place for the adult contemporary sound. And I have too, as long as it’s quality music. And this is quality music.
8. ‘Consider Me Gone’ – Reba
Reba’s 23rd Billboard #1 hit – and 34th overall – is a throwback to the classic 90s hits that made her a superstar. The theme is a little tried and true, but the chorus still gives us some great lines and Reba delivers nothing less than a brilliant vocal. This has fast become one of my favorite songs in her immense catalog.
7. ‘Reconsider’ – Charlie Robison
This dark chronicle of a relationship crumbling, which finds the narrator wondering if he’d done things different, would his lover still be with him comes from Robison’s ‘divorce album’, Beautiful Day – he was married to Dixie Chicks member Emily Irwin-Robison. Though this track never charted on the country charts, it was released, and it’s a shame radio wouldn’t play it. We sorely need deep, cerebral songs like this to balance out the top 40 playlists.
6. ‘Sing’ – Wynonna
The title cut, and only new track, on Wynonna’s most recent covers album, this Rodney Crowell-written tune sounds like it was written specifically for the singer. It’s message of hope and looking on the bright side fits Wynonna’s daily platitudes for living lifestyle perfectly, while lines like ‘Sing it like you hear it/Like you have no need to fear it now’ remind us it’s from the pen of a master.
5. ‘Keep The Change’ – Holly Williams
Everybody loves ‘Mama’, the universally-acclaimed track from Williams’ critics-favorite Here With Me album. I have to admit I was highly impressed and very surprised that I liked the album so much. I just didn’t expect this much in the way of an alt.country album from the granddaughter of Hank Williams. Guess I shouldn’t have underestimated that Williams bloodline. Getting back to the song at hand, I was drawn more to this track than any other on the set because of its message of I’m-hitting-the-road. The entire chorus is worthy of quoting, but I’ll just leave you with ‘It’s been a long time comin’/I’m jumpin’ off this reckless pity train‘ and hope you want to hear more.
4. ‘Even Now’ – Caitlin & Will
I just knew these two were destined for stardom when Sony released ‘Even Now’ to radio. It was smart, well-performed, and had actual adult fare. Before it had a chance to climb, the duo was out on a radio tour promoting the single, when radio programmers supposedly flipped over the song ‘Address In The Stars’ a syrupy three-act story song about, you guessed it, death. This prompted the label release that instead. Too bad, since ‘Even Now’ was one of the best singles of the year, and one I think could have really made a name for the Can You Duet-winning duo. Fate wasn’t on their side I guess, as even the second single – the one radio programmers flipped over – didn’t get any airplay either, and thus ended their recording career. We haven’t heard anything from them since – and a quick glance at their website and MySpace page shows no news.
3. ‘Drunk Dialer’ – Miss Leslie
Miss Leslie has been one of my favorites since I got my copy of her last album, Between the Whiskey and the Wine. This year, she didn’t release an entire album of new material, but she did give us this excellent tune about the friend who always calls you up, repeatedly, ‘begging you to join her at the local dive’. Some of us relate as the dialing friend, and some as the friend on the receiving end of the calls. Either way, it’s a great listen, and one of my favorites of the year.
2. ‘If You Want Fire’ – Terri Clark
Terri gave us one of the best albums of the year, so it’s only natural one of the singles from that release would find its way to the upper reaches of my singles list. This melody-driven tune, released only in Canada, is just a real lyrical treat with a great hook. Spoken like someone who’s been burned a time or two herself, Terri imparts a bit of wisdom she’s picked up, ‘If you gotta have it, all that madness and passion, then you’ll learn/If you want fire, it better be worth the burn.’
1. ‘Breaking Apart’ – Chris Isaak (with Trisha Yearwood)
The ‘rock star next door’ released his 13th album this year, titled Mr Lucky. The finest track on that set is a sweet duet with Trisha Yearwood called ‘Breaking Apart’. This also got zero love from country radio, but is as fine a country song as I’ve heard the past 12 months. Yearwood’s smooth and always pitch-perfect harmonies compliment Isaak’s own, whether he’s in tenor or falsetto. As the pair take turns trading lines on the verses, we find Yearwood in the company of the best duet partner she’s ever taken on IMO, and I’m sure the same can be said for Isaak.