The Saving Country Music 2023 Song of the Year

See the Saving Country Music Song of the Year Nominees

Perhaps the best barometer of how people are doing boils down to one very simple question: Are people living, or are people dying? When it comes to life expectancy in the United States, the answer is that people are dying at a historic rate, and trending in the wrong direction. In 2022, the average life expectancy of an American fell to 76.4 years, which is the shortest average life span in over two decades. Forget trying to prolong life, we’re in a tailspin trying to preserve it.

There are numerous causes for this life expectancy decline, but drug addiction is a major one. This isn’t like the crack epidemic of the ’80s, or the meth issues of the early ’00s. The United States is a nation of sick people, and it’s the medicine that’s causing it. And when the prescriptions for opiates are curbed but the addictions still remain, people end up on the streets searching for Fentanyl. For some, it’s a cycle that started from a routine injury or elective surgery, and has ended in hell.

A Saving Country Music Song of the Year is not just something to simply enjoy. That is what the Single of the Year is for. A Song of the Year must endeavor to change a life, to change the world, or to change our perspectives on the world we live in, or awaken us to certain truths. Though the song must fit within the roots music world, genre is secondary to the impact of the writing.

“King of Oklahoma” by Jason Isbell is a perfect example of what the “Song of the Year” embodies, as well as an exemplary specimen of Isbell’s gift for character study and storytelling that has ensconced him as one of the preeminent songwriters of our generation. It’s not just what Jason Isbell says, but what he doesn’t say, and what doesn’t even need to be said. He sets the parameters of the story, and the rest fills itself in from the friends, loved ones, and second hand accounts we’ve all experienced in our own lives, if we haven’t lived through them ourselves.

Though it’s the emotional impact that makes “King of Oklahoma” exceptional, it’s an involved and enriching listen as a musical offering all unto itself. The half time shift in the chorus drives home the intensity of this song, and makes for a propulsive performance irrespective of the writing’s impact. The fiddle compliments the rootsy nature of the setting. It’s not crazy to think of “King of Oklahoma” as Isbell’s foray into Red Dirt, which is known for combining country with rock, and emphasizing songwriting indicative of folk.

The best art and the best artists know how to reflect the times in which they live through, to train our attention on the calamities unfolding that for whatever reason the rest of society or our elected leaders seem to be overlooking, despite the concern being nearly universal.

Jason Isbell doesn’t compel the audience to do anything. “King of Oklahoma” is not a political song. It simply tells a story. But it’s a story that comes across as powerful enough to the audience to inspire action. It’s an era-defining anthem that speaks to the struggles of our era better than most. That is why it is Saving Country Music’s 2023 Song of the Year.

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“King of Oklahoma” is taken from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s new album Weathervanes that is also a nominee for Album of the Year.

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Song of the Year runners-up:

4. Lori McKenna – “Happy Children”
3. Joe Stamm Band – “Dollar General Sign”
2. Brent Cobb – “When Country Music Came Back to Town”

© 2023 Saving Country Music