by Julian Spivey
20. "Good at Bad News" by Tylor & the Train Robbers
Since the very first time I heard “Good at Bad News” by Idaho’s Tylor & the Train Robbers this year it reminded me of early, Guitar Town era Steve Earle, and that ladies and gentleman is about as high of a compliment as I could pay a band. It’s a tale of a down on their luck couple who’ve learned to live with being broke and love each other through all the bad. The chorus “It’ll work out fine or it won’t we can’t choose/but me and my baby can handle the blues/she deserves to win, but I’ve been known to lose/me and my baby are good at bad news” is one of my absolute favorite of the year.
19. "House Fire" by Tyler Childers
There isn’t a whole lot lyrically to “House Fire” by Tyler Childers, but musically it’s one of the most infectious tunes of the year with squealing fiddle and an incredible mingling of mandolin, banjo, organ and guitar that works itself into a driving boogie that makes you want to bob your head and slap your knee. Childers’ Kentucky drawl, especially as he enters that much repeated chorus for the final time, is just as infectious. “House Fire” has a helluva lot of replay factor in it.
18. "Troubled Times in a Tribal Town" by Ben Jarrell
Country music and murder songs go back a long way and one of the finest combinations of the two in recent years is Ben Jarrell’s “Troubled Times in a Tribal Town” off his debut Troubled Times this year. The song tells of an outsider named Billy who’s unlike anybody else in his neck of the woods and when he gets bored of having nothing better to do takes a girl out on a date and kills her. It’s not exactly a fun-loving song, but an interesting tale of the dark side that can overtake someone. “Troubled Times in a Tribal Town” is a good sign that the future of “outlaw country” is in good hands. If you don’t yet know the name Ben Jarrell you likely soon will.
17. "Jingle and Go" by Ryan Bingham
There’s a propulsive jingle jangle to Ryan Bingham’s “Jingle and Go” that just makes you want to be inside an old-fashioned bluesy roadhouse while jamming along to it. There’s a special kind of swagger to this song about a musician gigging around small venues just looking for a little money to be thrown his way that few artists could do as convincingly as Bingham. It’s a riot and shows Bingham is at home as much with bluesy-rock as he is country, folk, Americana or what have you.
16. "After You" by Joseph Huber
Joseph Huber’s Moondog is one of the underrated gems of the year – and it’s not the first time Huber has had an underrated gem. My favorite track on the album is the beautifully written and sung love song “After You.” I love the first verse of this song that tells of a man at a bar one night and watching all the other men inside drooling over a woman and how he swoops in to be the knight and shining armor and falls for her just as quickly as they hoped to. The song goes from that first meeting between the two through their entire romance and love all the way until the very end in four riveting minutes.
15. "Country Radio" by Aaron Watson
Aaron Watson’s “Country Radio” is the kind of beautifully written, heartfelt story we once heard on mainstream country radio and wish to hell we still did. The song tells the story about how once a child is put to bed he can hear and see his parents swaying in the living room to the sound of the Grand Ole Opry on the radio and the memories it fills him with. It’s a lovely love song told from the perspective of a child who grows up to experience similar feelings with his own family. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
14. "Be There" by Hayes Carll
I absolutely love the melody to the chorus of Hayes Carell’s “Be There.” It’s a rather simple sounding song of a man who puts more into a relationship than his partner is willing to put in. He continues to hold onto the hope that she might someday give the relationship as much effort as he does, despite the fact he knows that it’s never going to happen. It’s one of those cases where something so sad lyrically just sounds so beautiful musically.
13. "Numbers on the Cars" by Riley Green
Few things in this world seem more devastating than watching a loved one go through Alzheimer’s, as it not only affects the person who has it, but has a horrible impact on all the loved one surrounding them. Riley Green’s “Numbers on the Cars” tackles the issue of watching a loved one living with Alzheimer’s and is potentially the most devastating listen of 2019. The song is inspired by the real-life journey Green watched his great uncle go through in dealing with the disease as it tells the story of a man who’s forgotten his wife has passed away or that the Vietnam War is long over, but can still recall which drivers drive which car numbers when watching races on television.
12. "Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain" by Reba McEntire
I’ll confess something very controversial. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Reba McEntire. Sure, she has songs I love like “Whoever’s in New England” and her cover of “Fancy,” but I can do without the bulk of her discography. That being said, she absolutely knocked me down with her latest album Stronger Than the Truth and especially the song “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain” with its throwback style that makes it one of McEntire’s strongest releases. I’ve also never really been a fan of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” not really believing it to be a healthy attitude to have. “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain,” though I know no disrespect was meant toward the late Wynette, kind of gets at that fact too … sometimes, to quote another Reba classic, somebody should leave.
11. "Highwomen" by The Highwomen
It takes a lot of guts to name your supergroup after The Highwaymen, which included a veritable Mount Rushmore of country music legends in Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. It takes even more guts to take what’s essentially their theme song and recast it through the eyes of heroic everyday women, but that’s exactly what The Highwomen (Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby) did with the help of Jimmy Webb, the original songwriter of “Highwayman.” It works incredibly well in telling the stories of a Honduran immigrant mother, a persecuted doctor and preacher and a freedom rider, in a great guest verse from Yola. It’s a song that could easily bring a tear to your eye upon your first list, but left a smile on my face the first time I heard it because these ladies took something sacred and knocked it out of the park with their take.