The Best Country Songs (& Videos) of 2016 So Far
As was said in reference to the Best Albums of 2016 So Far, it has been fairly slim pickings for the first part of the year for finding music that really touches the heart, and has the fortitude to last beyond the calendar year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, and 2016 already boasts a number of serious, gut-punching songs that will likely go on to contend for the Song of the Year in December.
One thing 2016 has been good for is some great music videos to coincide with these great songs. In 2015, Saving Country Music suspended its regular rundown of the best videos due to a weak field. 2016 has already topped 2015 when it comes to videos with impact, including one for a Song of the Year contender, “Dry Up of Drown” by Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers.
We’re not looking for songs here that are just enjoyable or catchy. There is a time and place for those songs as well, but Songs of the Year contenders have to make you feel something. As always, your own suggestions and observations of the best songs so far in 2016 are welcome in the comments section below.
Brandy Clark – “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven”
2016 has been an incredible year for loss and tragedy in country music and beyond, and we regularly turn to music as a remedy for the pain. But instead of trying to take a soothing, comforting approach to deal with losing a loved one, Brandy Clark portrays the cutting reality of how life seems to fall apart around us when we lose someone close to us, causing the grief to compound upon itself, and sometimes plummeting life into a downward spiral that in some cases never seems to end.
But instead of reeling you deeper in depression, what “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” does is articulate how hurting and struggling to get straight with life is something most everybody suffers with, which creates its own healing through wisdom and commiseration. Adding to it the all-too-common narrative of general economic struggles, and the very personal perspective of a child losing their parent, “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” has a message most everyone can identify with.
Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers – “Dry Up or Drown”
*Also Best Video contender
Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers released a song and video that delicately, yet accurately portrays the devastation river communities face, and how even when the flood waters subside, things are never the same. From the small community of McClure, Illinois—right on the banks of the Mississippi—Even Webb looked to capture the despondency of living in a dying town. When the Mississippi overran its banks once again earlier this year, life imitated art.
The video for “Dry Up or Drown” was shot in McLure (pop. 400) and the greater Alexander County area, and takes real life footage of the recent flooding to match with Evan Webb’s poignant portrayal of life in a flood plain.
The images are powerful enough. Shot by Reginald, it shows the true life destruction floods can cause, with homes surrounded by water, and the double yellow lines of roads descending into swamped out landscapes where little hope seems to remain. Yet it’s the true life lines of the song like “Hope left here on a prison bus. Guess this town ain’t good enough for the worst of us” about the recent closing of the nearby Tamms Correctional Facility that really set the loss of community the song and video look to portray into stark perspective. (read full review)
Austin Lucas (feat. Lydia Loveless) – “Wrong Side of the Dream”
We are all the products of broken dreams. There are thousands of politicians, but only one can be President. There are 30 major league baseball teams, but only one can win the World Series, while thousands of players dedicate their entire lives to playing baseball, but never even make it to the big leagues. Scores of musicians travel the country making music, but only a select few get to make a decent living at it, and many times it isn’t the ones who work the hardest, or have the greatest wealth of talent.
There is no shortage of songs about broken dreams, and for good reason. From childhood we are instilled with this idyllic sense that whatever we dream, we can do, and told to let nothing stop us. But for every dream realized, there are thousands that are not. What makes Austin Lucas’s “Wrong Side of the Dream” so unique is beyond the excellent composition of the track and Lydia Loveless’s harmonies, is how the song offers a different perspective on an all-to-common theme. It’s one thing to have a dream shattered. It’s a whole other issue to be juxtaposed on the opposite end of it, where glimmers of hope will never let it completely die and allow you to move on. Making the song even more injurious is that you know it’s coming straight from the real life struggles of Austin himself.
Parker Millsap – “Heaven Sent”
You almost have to remind yourself to regard Millsap as a songwriter too while listening to The Very Last Day, but that’s not hard to do when he broadsides you with the cutting “Heaven Sent.” Taking a slight detour off the blues trail, Millsap calls upon his experiences in the devout Pentecostal environment to tell the story of a preacher’s son who is in conflict with himself and his father because of his sexual preference.
It’s so often that the sons and daughters of preachers and others who grow up in devoutly religious households become embittered and angst-filled about religion later in life. Sometimes these sentiments go on to define them as people, or artists, and sometimes it does so to their detriment. This was a slightly underlying concern when Parker’s “Truckstop Gospel” took off. Was he trying to tell an entertaining story about a funny character, or was he mocking the church in his own sly manner? “Heaven Sent” convolutes this question even more as Parker is willing to use story to expose hypocrisy on an issue that also carries political implications. It’s a little risky, especially when “Heaven Sent,” just like “Truckstop Gospel,” could be so defining of Parker’s career from the quality of the effort.
Parker Millsap does not come across as the wildly rebellious, angry, and judgemental preacher’s kid in total, though many of his songs, like the title track of this album, draw from his own religious experiences. But will that be how he is defined by religious listeners of a touchy nature, or will they heed the deeper message Parker is trying to convey, or just enjoy the music for its aesthetic value defined by his dynamic blues voice and good storytelling? (from the review of The Very Last Day)
Ryan Scott Travis – “Someday”
It’s hard to put into words how ell composed this song is.
Other Notable Songs:
- Jeff Shepherd and the Jailhouse Poets – “Son”
- Dori Freeman – “Go On Lovin'”
- Dori Freeman – “You Say”
- The Cactus Blossoms – “Change Your Ways or Die”
Best Video Contenders:
Lew Card – “Condo Town Rag”
Gentrification within America’s artistic communities and entertainment corridors is one of the greatly overlooked and fundamentally underlying reasons that music and other artistic expressions are under siege in the modern age. Affordable housing and friendly, inspiring environs are as significant of factors into the fostering of of the creative process as anything. The two major epicenters for American country and roots music—Nashville, TN and Austin, TX—are both going through eerily similar and equally sweeping changes to their urban landscapes, and it’s affecting the music directly.
Lew Card took his song “Condo Town Rag” and teamed up with Seymour.tv to create a brilliant depiction of how when a city’s identity changes, so do our memories and sense of home and place. Using historical photos matched up with modern-day perspectives, it shows the troubling way the Austin skyline has been retooled in recent years by people who move there to take advantage of the artistic community, but ultimately become the catalyst for its demise. (read full review)
Chris Stapleton – “Fire Away”
Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away” is wetting tissues and disturbing workdays all across the country with its candid and gripping portrayal of suicide and mental illness in the see-saw world of a bipolar reality. We already had a good sense that Stapleton’s “Fire Away” was about heartbreak, but the heartbreak portrayed in the video directed by Tim Mattia takes it to an entirely new level. The manic, then depressive moods are evidenced with biting, ghostly accuracy in a well-crafted short where Stapleton plays a bartender early on, and then lets the professionals do the rest. It’s hard not to get pulled in as the drama unfolds from the very real recollections we most all have of when mental illness resulted in tragedy in our own lives.
Fearlessly the “Fire Away” video meets a very real issue head on—an issue that seems to have no governor on who it affects: rich and poor, men and women, and individuals from stable homes with ample love, concern, and attention surrounding them. It also delves into how even the purest love can be a flimsy firewall for the destabilizing, and sometimes catastrophic effects of mental illness, and re-imagines the trope of the first responder having to come to grips as personal and professional lives collide. (read full review)
June 16, 2016 @ 9:02 am
Nice list. I admit I hadn’t heard the Evan Webb song until now but wow, what a song. Definitely a contender for me as well.
Here were my contenders for this honor:
Doug Bruce – “Nothin’ Yet”
The Honeycutters – “Blue Besides”
Brandy Clark – “I Cried”
Cactus Blossoms – “Change Your Ways Or Die”
Dori Freeman – “Ain’t Nobody”
Robert Ellis – “California”
Robbie Fulks – “Never Come Home”
Charles Kelley – “Leaving Nashville”
Margo Price – “Hands Of Time”
Not to be an ass or anything because it’s a phenomenal song but wasn’t Ryan Scott Travis’ song from 2015? I’ve been trying to track down the release date for his album and all I can find is 2015.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:29 am
Ryan Scott Travis’s “Guadalupe Breakdown” was released in December 2015, and wasn’t reviewed here until February. If an album was released right before the end of the year and wasn’t included in that year’s lists, I’ll include it the next year to make sure it doesn’t get overlooked. For many, the end of the music year is actually December 1st because that when a lot of the industry stops tallying numbers for the calendar year.
Bigfoot is Real (lonesome, on'ry, and mean)
June 16, 2016 @ 10:21 am
Pretty sure Cactus Blossoms “Change Your Ways” was originally released prior to 2015 on Live at the Turf Club. Still a great song though.
June 16, 2016 @ 1:02 pm
It’s also on a 2016 release. There is plenty of room to include an older song if it’s worthy and fits the criteria. I think Sturgill’s “Life Ain’t Fair” was runner up for Song of the Year two years in a row.
June 17, 2016 @ 3:25 pm
The Bo Burnham “country song” should definitely be included in this list!
June 16, 2016 @ 9:12 am
“Dry Up or Drown” gave me chills. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Thanks, Trigger.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:33 am
Yes. It becomes more apparent each day that its over for good for Middle America.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:24 am
Very nice list… I’d add Hayes Carll’s The Love That We Need. I also agree with Zackary on Never Come Home. My favorites on your list are Heaven Sent and Since You’ve Gone To Heaven. Both of those were instant standouts on their albums for me. A few on there I haven’t heard… I’m excited to listen.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:35 am
“Brandy Clark – ‘Since You’ve Gone to Heaven'”
As much as I enjoy Brandy’s new album, I’d say this and maybe “Three Kids and No Husband” are the only ‘Big Day…’ tracks I’d put right up there with “I Cried” on ‘Southern Family.’ 🙂
June 16, 2016 @ 9:36 am
Wow, that Chris Stapleton video brought me to tears. Very powerful. Scary topic to cover.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:49 am
Lots of strong candidates from Robbie Fulks’s Upland Stories.
June 16, 2016 @ 9:59 am
I don’t know why I can’t figure this out but who is the woman on the bottom right in that photo montage. The blond one.
June 16, 2016 @ 10:04 am
June 16, 2016 @ 10:50 am
Thanks, I’m going to check her out.
June 16, 2016 @ 10:16 am
“I’d probably go for “Condo Town Rag” and “Fire Away” for #1 and #2. Sadly the Brandy Clark video, doesn’t run here in Sweden I’d really like to see it… I do like the song..
June 16, 2016 @ 1:10 pm
The Bandy Clark player is just an audio player, no video for that song yet, but it would be a perfect candidate for a video similar to the Stapleton one. Here’s hoping we get on in the future because that all deserves all the promotion it can get.
June 16, 2016 @ 1:53 pm
“would be a perfect candidate for a video similar to the Stapleton one.”
Yes I agree, that song has real good lyrics and someone should be able to do a nice video of it…I also think verse 3 has something in common with “Condo Town Rag”…. And I’ve been working in a sawmill that was shut down a couple of years ago…There are also other parts of “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” that I can relate to.
And also: I do believe you forgot one video…. 🙂 🙂 🙂
But dont take it too serious…. It’s not really a music video. It’s made by an Australian photographer who followed FAK on their last US-tour…
June 17, 2016 @ 7:39 am
Here is a short interview with Brandy talking about the song “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven”:
June 17, 2016 @ 3:40 pm
Wow, just listening to the song for the first time. Brilliant!
June 18, 2016 @ 5:23 am
Well, I still haven’t heard it and I tried several places, and the odd thing is I been able
to find a video for all the other songs from that album and they all work…It’s only with this particular song I get this: “Sorry this video doesn’t run in your Area” or something similar on the screen…
Chris Lewis "Louie"
June 21, 2016 @ 10:10 am
June 21, 2016 @ 2:35 pm
Thanks Chris 🙂
Six String Richie
June 16, 2016 @ 11:37 am
Not a song but an album for me, but I absolutely love Cheryl Desere’s album! This site is the only place I’ve seen it mentioned and I wish it would get more press.
I haven’t been listening to tons of country this year so that’s one of the only new albums I’m really into.
June 16, 2016 @ 6:13 pm
I agree Richie. Great album. I just covered it this week but I wouldn’t have known had it not been for Trigger.
Six String Richie
June 17, 2016 @ 7:34 pm
Nice review! I’m glad there are other writers who are checking out her album!
December 19, 2018 @ 12:15 am
Thank you, Richie. I appreciate the kind words. Be sure to check out my latest release, “Dreamy”, available now. Happy Holidays!
June 16, 2016 @ 11:46 am
Hello, Trigger. So far, I think it’s actually a pretty good year for music. I think Craig Campbell’s Outskirts of Heaven would be a great addition for this list.
June 16, 2016 @ 12:19 pm
I’ve been a reader off and on for the last year, and now only started posting. I love this site and have been able to find some really great new music. The older I get the twangier my music seems to get. I agree with about 90%(ish) of the time, so keep fightin’ the good fight.
Anyway… if it was my list, I’d definitely include Hayes Carll’s “The Love that We Need” – it’s so raw and honest. It took me a while to get into the album as it’s such a different take of life from Hayes compared to Trouble in Mind and KMAG YOYO (you’re much harder on the latter than I was!) but it’s so good. I like seeing him a little softer around the edges.
110% agree with “Fire Away” – I had to take a minute after watching it the first few times.
I hadn’t heard the Evan Webb track – holyshit, that’s good stuff!! I’ve listened to it at least a half dozen times. Mind is completely blown – been listening to the whole album the last hour or so. If you haven’t had a chance to review it, I’d pretty good. Has a mid/late ’90s alt-county (Whiskeytown/Uncle Tupelo) feel with elements of traditional sprinkled in.I love the slide guitar in “Clinchfield”.
June 16, 2016 @ 7:36 pm
I agree with “The Love That We Need” as one of the best songs so far. That one almost hits too close to home. I don’t really love the whole album but that song is a standout.
June 16, 2016 @ 12:38 pm
I cried when first heard “Since you went to Heaven.” Powerful song to move a hard ass like me. Then I heard “Daughter.” And laughed out loud. Great album.
June 16, 2016 @ 12:48 pm
I cried when first heard “Since you went to Heaven.” Powerful song to move a hard ass like me. Then I heard “Daughter.” And laughed out loud. Great album.
Correction: Since you’ve gone to Heaven. geessh…
June 16, 2016 @ 2:37 pm
Right on! “Daughter” totally cracked me up, too. 🙂
June 16, 2016 @ 12:41 pm
I appreciate you, Trigger, and the everyone else for their lists. A few if these songs I’ve hear and most I haven’t. This is a great way to keep us aware of what radio isn’t playing or isn’t playing regularly. Thank you!!!
June 16, 2016 @ 12:48 pm
Please check out Western Centuries new album, Weight of the World. I have really enjoyed it.
June 16, 2016 @ 1:12 pm
There might be a review of the Western Centuries album soon.
June 18, 2016 @ 6:31 pm
Listening to it now. Something else to buy. I love these lists, I always find something new that just blows me away.
June 16, 2016 @ 1:16 pm
I am way behind and have to check out a lot of these songs and artists, especially Brandy, my favorite. Ah!
June 16, 2016 @ 5:35 pm
So I know it isn’t the best song of the year, but it is probably my favorite – Merle Haggard’s “Kern River Blues”.
June 16, 2016 @ 7:56 pm
Love that Parker Millsap record. Thanks for sharing
June 16, 2016 @ 10:41 pm
I’ve been totally digging the Sam Outlaw record Trigger turned us on to a while back . Its one of those records that is great from first listen and gets better and better as you live with it . He’s a helluva writer and trad to the bone. ” Thanks Trigger “
June 17, 2016 @ 6:58 am
Couple songs that have stuck with me personally:
Brandy Clark has made my list, but the song that has really hit me is “I Cried” off Southern Family.
Another song off that album as well (what a good album) was “You are My Sunshine” Morgane Stapleton.
Sturgill’s Breakers Roar is pretty powerful to me, the song and the video.
On a Side note:
Got tix for Whitey Morgan and Cody Jinks today. September show real cool club in Boston. Pretty sweet.
Also friend just hooked me up with Jeff Beck / Buddy Guy tix.
And seeing Walker Wheeler on Thurs!
June 17, 2016 @ 7:48 am
good list, also think Nick Dittmeiers “Ever Since You Left Town” is a strong candidate. Awesome tune.
June 17, 2016 @ 2:42 pm
Rob Baird – When I Go
June 18, 2016 @ 8:04 am
Hmm… well, I’m going to be saving my list of my favourite songs for a bit later this year (and it’s going to be damn hard not to just fill it with ‘Southern Family’ tracks), but if I’m sticking with country…
‘It Ain’t My Fault’ by Brothers Osborne – hell of a stomper and closing track, even if it is more country rock
‘Leaving Nashville’ by Charles Kelley – yeah, I heard the original, but I stand by Kelley delivering a more emotive presence that hits much harder for me
‘Any Wonder’ by Dori Freeman – no explanation required, it’s just a damn great track
‘God Is A Working Man’ by Jason Isbell – how in the Nine Hells does he keep doing this…
‘I Cried’ by Brandy Clark – incredible gut-punch of a track
‘Sweet By And By’ by Miranda Lambert – all the evidence we need that Miranda needs to bring Cobb in for her next album (and I’m praying that it’s the pimp slap that Shelton so heartily deserves…)
‘Mama’s Table’ by Jamey Johnson – because I don’t even need to explain this
‘Sea Stories’/’In Bloom’ by Sturgill Simpson – still up in the air which is better, the cover that’s better than the original or the original with one of the most unexpected instrumental shifts on the bridge I’ve heard all year
‘Three Days In Bed’/’Way Back Home’/’Stupid Girl’ by Jennifer Nettles – why the hell does it seem like I’m the only one talking about how damn awesome this album is?
‘Since You’ve Gone To Heaven’ by Brandy Clark – desolate track, but profoundly powerful
June 18, 2016 @ 6:57 pm
I would love to see some new material from Colter Wall this year. I read your review of Imaginary Appalachia and always intended to check it out and forgot all about it. I randomly stumbled across it recently and he has quickly become my new favorite. Have you heard if anything is expected?
June 18, 2016 @ 10:50 pm
I think Colter is trying to get his label situation straightened out, but don’t quote me on that. It hasn’t been so long since he released his record. It may be 2017 before we see another release from him. If I hear anything I’m sure I’ll be letting folks know.
June 19, 2016 @ 4:49 pm
Dori Freeman’s video for “Go On Lovin'” is quite something. Minimalism at its finest. My favorite album of the past 12 months (granted, it has been a disturbingly weak 12 months).
June 20, 2016 @ 4:25 pm
That’s a nice list so far but I also really like Craig Campbell’s “Outskirts of Heaven”.
June 21, 2016 @ 6:10 am
This article is one day too early.
Elizabeth Cook’s new album is stellar. Dark, but stellar. I’m on the Stapleton bandwagon for sure, even sat through a Braves game to see him lol and am driving down to Tampa to see him again. That said, I think there are at least two songs on Exodus of Venus better than Fire Away.
June 21, 2016 @ 6:12 am
(cont’d) It blows my mind that a talent like her doesn’t sell out a place like Terminal West in Atlanta.
June 21, 2016 @ 8:35 am
Just to clarify, “Fire Away” was included here for the video. The song is great as well, but I would agree there are better.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:30 am
Thank you for this great list. I love all of them. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers new video for Heal Me is being released in July. Maybe it will make your next list!
May 13, 2017 @ 5:22 am
I just discovered this site and Love It! Thanks to everyone for sharing their favorites and new discoveries. One of my favorite “new” country bands is singer/songwriter Mandi Rae and her tune “Gettaway”. Great lyrics, music, and memories it brings back.
Mandi Rae – “Gettaway”