Compared to albums, making picks of songs is such a tough, arbitrary business. This year seems especially tough, not because the field isn’t strong, but because many of the best moments are coming from unlikely sources, including a cadre of cover songs that despite the spirit of the “Best Songs” approach being about original compositions, seem almost criminal to omit.
PLEASE NOTE: “Best Songs” are not those catchy tunes you can’t take off of repeat, they’re songs that can change your life; legitimate Song of the Year candidates. No order to the list below was intended or should be implied, aside from the first nine highlighted songs being considered strong candidates for Saving Country Music’s “Song of the Year” consideration in six months, though any of the songs listed come highly recommended, and could rise through time to become a contender. Time, as always, is the greatest judge of music. And please feel free to leave your opinions and suggestions about what the best songs of 2014 so far are down below.
Hellbound Glory – “Streets of Aberdeen” – from LV
Hellbound Glory’s Leroy Virgil continues to be America’s most undervalued songwriter, and someday the rest of the world is going to wake up to that fact. While Virgil is known most for his strong wit, weaving moments in songs that touch your heart and funny bone at the same time, this exploration of more in-depth storytelling by Leroy was a big success. And only appropriate that the song and video was cut in Aberdeen, in a building with ties to the story. (read more)
Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning” – from Reflections
Townes Van Zandt and Don Williams team up to deliver one of the most disarming performances so far of 2014, taking a timeless composition, and bringing it to life again through an immortal voice. The warmth this performance coveys is astounding, and as can be seen in the video, it was recorded live. Great song from a great album. (read review)
Sturgill Simpson – “The Promise” – from Metamodern Sounds
It has been my working theory that Sturgill Simpson is not being challenged enough in music, and this can lead to moments of aloofness, almost boredom from the burgeoning artist. Taking a song from 80’s English new wave one hit wonder When in Rome and turning it into a traditional country song of this caliber was certainly a challenge, and one Sturgill accomplished with flying colors. It deserves to be considered right beside 2014’s original offerings. (see video premier on NPR)
Melody Williamson – “There’s No Country Here”
Though country protest songs can feel like a dime a dozen these days, 15-year-old Melody Williamson did it right, and the striking message coming from such a young artist became a viral phenomenon in the first part of 2014.
“As I always say, it won’t be websites, organizations, or awards that will Save Country Music, it will be songs. And Melody Williamson proves why this is true once again with ‘There’s No Country Here’.” (read review & see studio version)
Matt Woods – “Liberty Bell” – from From Brushy Mountain
The question going into Matt Woods’ new album With Love From Brushy Mountain was if he could he match the magic he evoked in his song “Deadman’s Blues” that went on to win him Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year in 2013. The answer turned out to be “yes,” and the best evidence might be this soul-wrenching song that matches “Deadman’s Blues” punch for punch.
The Secret Sisters – “Lonely Island” – from Put Your Needle Down
You’d be hard pressed to find another song that showcases the beauty of harmonizing sisters so exquisitely. If “Lonely Island” was recorded 50 years ago, it would be a standard of the country music song book today. It is simply a masterpiece.
Willie Nelson – “The Wall” – from Band of Brothers
No favoritism or bias being shown here to a legendary artist. Willie Nelson has truly written his best song in years.
“Isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today.” (read review)
Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down” – from Metamodern Sounds
A polarizing song from its seeming questioning of faith and drug laws, “Turtles All The Way Down” speaks to the very core of what the Sturgill Simpson experience is all about: a forward-thinking, challenging approach to enhancing the senses by marking a crossroads between traditional country and a progressive approach.
Kirsty Lee Akers – “Take Me Back”
A timeless sentiment that Kirsty Lee revitalizes in an excellent performance that highlights her unique and inviting voice. This is one of those songs that you get lost in, and makes you take stock. Your sense of perspective is changed after listening.
Other Great Songs:
” Charlie Parr – “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night” – from Hollandale
” Jason Eady – “Whiskey & You” – from Daylight & Dark
” Bob Wayne & Elizabeth Cook – “20 Miles to Juarez” – from Back to the Camper
” Red Eye Gravy -“Hard Livin'” – from Dust Bowl Hangover
” Dierks Bentley – “I Hold On” – from Riser
” First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” – from Stay Gold
” Miranda Lambert – “Hard Staying Sober” – from Platinum
” Karen Jonas – “Thinking Of You Again” – from Oklahoma Lottery
” Zoe Muth – “Mama Needs A Margarita” – from World of Strangers
” John Fullbright – “Write A Song” – from Songs
” Eric Church – “Dark Side” – from The Outsiders
” Parker Milsap – “Truck Stop Gospel” – from Parker Milsap
” Willie Watson – “Mexican Cowboy” – from Folk Singer Vol. 1