Saving Country Music’s 2020 Song of the Year

The sadder the country song, the sweeter the relief. How and why this is the case is one of the great mysteries of music, and that magic should never be impinged upon by trying to use science to explain it away as simple chemical reactions in the brain or something else. No, these musical experiences are the stirring of the soul in ways beyond explanation.

No year has been more facilitating for calling upon musical antidotes for misery than 2020. One doesn’t need to list off the litany of reasons. We’re all patently aware of them. But along with the usual roundup of 2020 grievances, a mental health crisis of the likes we haven’t seen in generations has been one of the most devastating and pernicious trends because it doesn’t dominate the news cycle, it’s bubbling under the surface. We don’t see the stats of suicides, breakups, and divorces adding up like deaths and infections, but they comprise their own debilitating scourge.

How strange it is that to hear someone else think about the unthinkable, it somehow alleviates our own troubled thoughts? It lets you know that you’re not alone, or however bad you have it, there’s someone out there that has it worse. Dallas, TX-based artist Joshua Ray Walker’s song “Voices” not only has the stuff to be considered the best-written country song releasing all year, it arguably includes one of the most devastating verses.

Might put this truck in neutral, let roll into the lake
But first I’ll finish off this bottle, so it looks like a mistake

But it’s one thing to write a great song. It’s another to sing it in a way that makes it exceptional. Moreover, one of the challenges for even some of the best songwriters is to write in a way that emphasizes their vocal strengths—in a way that challenges them, pushing them out of their comfort zones, and towards the limits of their capabilities where all effort and emotion is expended in the studio performance, and captured eternally.

Joshua Ray Walker is not only one of the most promising young songwriters around. The purity of his upper register, the range and control he shows, and the yodel he can perfect puts the power of an incredible individual performance behind the already stellar songwriting effort on “Voices.” The performance is powerful enough to overpower the young man’s relative obscurity, to the point where the majority of readers of this site affirmed it was the greatest song in 2020 in greater numbers than any other nominee.

If there was a runner up, give it to Arlo McKinley, and his song “Bag of Pills.” Juliet McConkey’s “Hung The Moon” has also gone criminally overlooked. This is one of those moments where it feels like insult and sacrilege to award something over another, just because some of the song efforts in 2020 were so exceptional. That goes for all of the Song of the Year nominees in 2020, which comprised one of the most loaded fields since this exercise was started. But one of the things also benefiting “Voices” as the Saving Country Music Song of the Year is that it’s also ultimately and distinctly country.

Sad bastard songs always make for easy marks for the greatest songs of a given year. But never has a given year been so ideal for them, and rarely if ever has a song risen to the occasion of getting us feeling good by making us feel sad like Joshua Ray Waker and “Voices.”

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“Voices” is from Joshua Ray Walker’s album Glad You Made It.

© 2024 Saving Country Music