It’s been over two weeks since I’ve done one of these. Between the massive amounts of albums and singles I want to cover to other life commitments, I just haven’t been able to commit the time I’d like to this feature. Originally I had plans to look back at 1987 since Kyle of Kyle’s Korner requested it, but until the smoke clears in terms of my schedule, I’ll be looking back on some more recent years until then.
I don’t know what pops into your head when you think of 2013, but for me, I remember the emergence of a little thing called “bro-country.” While it did have its bright spots, for the most part, this year really accelerated the load of mediocrity we’ve been handed from interchangeable male artists.
Still, no year is without its bright spots, and believe it or not, 2013 had quite a few of them, even if we’re just looking at the big hits.
Speaking of, as always, I’ll be using Billboard’s year end list to help me frame this, so without further ado, let’s look at some honorable mentions.
Jason Aldean – “Night Train”
The nighttime imagery has always helped (somewhat) of a level of detail to this, but the lighter rock feel to this helps to add an easy-going feel as well.
Taylor Swift – “Red”
It’s catchy as hell, the chorus is punchy, and sadly, we didn’t get too many more moments like this where Taylor Swift found a happy balance between Pop and Country … sigh.
Eric Church – “Like Jesus Does”
It’s a little dry overall, but there’s still a lot of heart to it.
Charlie Worsham – “Could It Be”
For as much as I do really enjoy Charlie Worsham’s music, this is probably my least favorite song by him. Still, if it’s what helped him attain even a little bit of success, it’s alright in my book.
Keith Urban & Miranda Lambert – “We Were Us”
What I said for “Red” basically applies here (more or less). On another note, notice how there’s some actual instruments here, with the banjo feeling light and airy enough to provide a friendly feel. Hey Urban, get back to this instead of that “Coming Home” crap!
Onto the list!
10. Carrie Underwood – “See You Again” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 15)
While I don’t think this cuts as deeply as other “death” songs do, this came as a single at a time when I lost a dear friend of mine, so in a way, actual experiences helped to make this hit harder for me. I’ve always like Carrie Underwood’s songs for their big production moments, and when the huge chorus hits, there’s a lot of believability here. I had to put this here.
9. Little Big Town – “Tornado” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 40)
Speaking of songs with big production moments, we have this. In a nutshell, what makes this work is its willingness to go all in with its impending doom. The tornado is obviously just a metaphor for wrath, but it still feels like some actual danger is heading this way for some poor guy. It’s a natural fit for me to like.
8. Kip Moore – “Hey Pretty Girl” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 8)
While the song does come across as a little boring overall, Kip Moore does a pretty good job selling this story. Actually, the song featuring a story at all already helps it to rise above the competition, following the relationship from the start until the sad ending. An okay song turns into a good one thanks to some great execution.
7. Brad Paisley – “Beat This Summer” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 21)
Wheelhouse obviously hasn’t aged well for Brad Paisley, but I still thought it was a wild, entertaining listen minus that one particular song. Anyway, considering that the song features some blocky production, there’s still an odd warmer feel to this that makes it feel like a summer song for some reason. Sure, summer songs are nothing new by any means, and this won’t beat Keith Urban’s similar tune from years before, but Paisley’s charisma helps to give the song the sense of urgency it needs.
6. The Band Perry – “Better Dig Two” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 29)
Remember when The Band Perry had a unique place in Country music as that rootsy band with a Pop and Rock appeal? Those were good times. I won’t throw any insults their way for what they are now (even though they’re deserved), but it’s hard after hearing how awesome this was. The rootsy aspects are there, with the fiddle playing a prominent role. Plus, the overall Gothic feel to this helps compliment the extreme nature of the lyrics. I want this band back like they were here.
5. Carrie Underwood – “Two Black Cadillacs” (BIllboard Year End Peak: No. 37)
Speaking of darker Country tunes …
Hearing this again just reminded me how much I like the Blown Away album, with its ability to go a little darker with Carrie Underwood’s songs and show a different side to her. This murder ballad has a better story than it got credit for, and that sinister outro just proves why Underwood is a master of blending Country and Pop.
4. Lee Brice – “I Drive Your Truck” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 34)
Lee Brice’s catalog has certainly had its weaker moments, but there’s many underrated moments in Brice’s catalog such as this. No, it’s not Brice’s story directly, but he’s always been excellent at pouring his heart and soul into his performances, and it shows here. In a year where many singers used trucks to show how macho they were, this used that same item to paint a bigger, more meaningful picture.
3. Gary Allan – “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 44)
To this day, I still don’t understand how this was Gary Allan’s big comeback hit, but I’m certainly not complaining. I mean, no offense, but how did we even get any songs with actual depth to them this year ascend to the top? Regardless, the message is certainly poignant, and after years of fighting his own personal demons, it’s hard not to see this track as a cathartic experience for Allan as well. It’s another reason why Allan is one of the best at handling songs like this.
2. Zac Brown Band – “Goodbye In Her Eyes” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 55)
While I’m conflicted on the Zac Brown Band these days, the 2012 version of the band was absolutely excellent. Uncaged remains a masterpiece, and this song remains a gut-punch. It’s about a relationship sputtering out of control, and the choice of whether to end it or keep going. While it’s a fairly basic theme lyrically, the juxtaposition of well-played acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and fiddle works here.
1. Brad Paisley – “Southern Comfort Zone” (Billboard Year End Peak: No. 52)
While quality is always the most important indicator for what ascends to the top with these lists, if a song can manage to speak directly to me, you can bet it’s going straight to the top. For as much as I do love those songs by Gary Allan and the Zac Brown Band, this track is something I loved from the first time I heard it way back when. As a New Yorker, I can’t emphasize how much I hate the regional barriers placed in Country music, as if you have to be a hunter from Alabama to know and appreciate or even dare like Country music. Granted, while those stereotypes from both sides of the argument aren’t as strong as they once were, they are still out there, and very rarely do we get songs that try to bridge the gap well (in other words, Aaron Lewis failed miserably years later with “Northern Redneck” to try and capture this sentiment.
Brad Paisley’s “Southern Comfort Zone” speaks from another perspective though – the Southern man experiencing life outside the South and realizing that it’s alright to a.) accept other cultures, and b.) be different from everyone else. Not everyone who loves Country music is driving trucks. Of course, Paisley is honest. Those experiences feel weird at first, but it’s also not long before he realizes that it’s normal for people to just be who they are instead of living up to stereotypes placed. This isn’t a knock on the South either. Paisley mentions multiple times that he misses home, and that’s true for all of us I think at times. Still, the chance to go out and experience new things ultimately helps us grow as people, and this song speaks to that sentiment.
Along side that, the spacious production with the faster rhythm just makes this feel like an anthemic whirlwind that has gone down as an all time favorite of mine. 2013 brought a lot of bad elements to the genre, but it also brought us this song, so I certainly can’t complain.