Four veteran superstars, two of country music’s hottest groups, a couple of up-and-comers, and two debut singles make up my top ten singles list this year. Rather than tell you why it’s a damn shame that radio was unwelcoming toward Alan Jackson and George Strait’s respective singles and how they’ll probably cool toward Kasey Musgraves soon and likely won’t give Ashley Monroe a shot either, I’ll just say that six of my ten favorites were big hits. That’s something. And I’ll tell you why I like these songs.
10. Jana Kramer – “Why You Wanna”
One Tree Hill star Jana Kramer made the actress-to-country-singer leap flawlessly with her promising debut on this fiddle-laced plea. (Take note, future wannabes.) “Out of all of the places in this little town/Yeah, you had to come walking in here and sit down” she mews and wins over millions of country fans, myself included.
9. Kenny Chesney – “El Cerrito Place”
Kenny Chesney hits a sweet spot with medium-tempo ballads like this one, and he’s gotten a lot better at selecting them recently. (See: “Better As A Memory”, “You Save Me”, “You and Tequila”.) This Keith Gattis tune is more evidence of Chesney’s superior skills for selection and delivery.
8. Easton Corbin – “Lovin’ You Is Fun”
This guy has the vocal chops and the strutting neotraditional sound to keep this kind of country alive for a new generation of fans. I really like the rapid fire verses meeting the toe-tapping chorus here.
7. Carrie Underwood – “Two Black Cadillacs”
Underwood’s finest single to date is “Does He Love You” meets “Delia’s Gone” set to an appropriately ominous contemporary sound.
6. Ashley Monroe – “Like a Rose”
As one-third of the Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe and company gave us one of the best albums of 2011. This year, she attempts solo country stardom once more on a sweet song with smart lyrics. The hook is not original, but its memorable nonetheless. And it sticks in my ear just right.
5. Zac Brown Band – “Goodbye In Her Eyes”
Their breezy harmonies and snappy songs have made the Zac Brown Band a perennial favorite for me since their debut. And they didn’t disappoint this year with this slow-burning number.
4. George Strait – “Drinkin’ Man”
Thirty years into his recording career, Strait set a new high-water mark for himself with his Here for a Good Time album. This stunning narrative from a man battling his alcohol demons is one of his best singles ever.
3. The Band Perry – “Better Dig Two”
This song comes from two of my favorite current writers – Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark – with Trevor Rosen, but fits well with Kimberly Perry’s own clever musings on mortality and love. Continued kudos to the band for sticking with this organic sound following their big breakthrough.
2. Alan Jackson – “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore”
Jackson’s first single from his excellent Thirty Miles West album is stone country at its melancholy finest. It’s similar to those early gut punches in Jackson’s catalog like “Here In The Real World” and “Wanted”. Here, he’s taking all the blame for the end of this love affair and even says he won’t pick up if she ever drunk dials him one night. That’s downright decent.
1. Kacey Musgraves – “Merry Go Round”
The Texas singer and former Nashville Star contestant’s debut is a vivid and sometimes startling yarn about small town life and features a light touch of production well-suited to the lyrics and one of the neatest rhyme schemes I can remember.
Listen to a playlist of my favorites on Spotify.