Author: Leon Blair
While many other blogs have already crowned their favorite song of the year, here I am just now announcing the candidates. I guess you can blame it on time, but no, I have not forgotten about this prestigious award. Admittedly, I’m more of an album guy, however this year is truly a great year to write about songs. Heck, trimming down my album of the year candidates was admittedly fairly easy, however when it came time to decide what my favorite songs were, I started with a huge list that I just had to keep trimming down. If anything, it’s been an exceptional year for music, and the proof lies within the candidates that I present to you for Country Music Minds’ first ever “Song Of The Year” award.
Please note, only songs that were released in 2016 are eligible to qualify here. If it was released as a single this year but came last year, it’s not here. Sorry folks, that’s just how I operate. The song HAS to come from this year whether as an album cut, a standalone release or some other way. Get it? Got it? Good.
But first, we HAVE to list some honorable mentions, if only because I couldn’t count these amazing songs out if I tried (I already did that enough as it is). Without further ado, your honorable mentions for 2016 are:
“Just A Dog” by Mo Pitney
“Heaven Sent” by Parker Millsap
“So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore” by Mark Chesnutt
And the candidates are (presented in alphabetical order by artist name) –
“Three Kids No Husband” by Brandy Clark
This song has been battling with “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven” for this spot, and ultimately I chose the other song. There are moments where certain songs will cut through your critical faculties in order to gut you as the person you are. As someone who grew up with a single mother and knows the pain and stress that can come with it, this song cut through to me, and is a breathtaking example of how Brandy Clark is one of the best songwriters in country music right now. Again, you could have picked a ton of songs from her newest album Big Day In A Small Town to be here, but ultimately, I chose this song because it has a special place in my heart.
“Fishin’ Alone” by Erik Dylan
Speaking of being able to relate to a song….yeah, this is another example, folks. So much credit can be awarded for the brutally honest songwriting, especially the framing as this narrator pulls no punches in admitting how wrong he was to take time for granted. However, I also love how the production seems almost spacey, and distanced, as if the narrator is disconnected from reality, unable to cope with the fact that time has finally caught up with him. Of course, it’s rounded out by Erik’s absolutely gut punching vocal delivery, making it a trifecta of goodness. Erik’s still relatively young in terms of his career as an artist, but to be able to write a song as excellent as this makes me think he’ll be around for a long time.
“Leaving Nashville” by Charles Kelley
Even as someone who’s generally been a bigger Lady Antebellum than others, I never expected any member of the band to ever end up on a list like this. But damn it, if Charles Kelley doesn’t earn it here. In fact, he’s even one of the frontrunners. There are two songs on this list that deal with failures trying to make it in the music industry. We’ll discuss the other one soon, but as for this song, holy hell, how can I do it justice? The lyricism is excellent, the delivery is bone chilling, and the production is so perfectly melancholy and haunting. Of course, that’s the clichéd way of putting it. If I had to go for metaphors, hearing this song for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks accompanied by a wrecking ball. We’ve all experienced failure, and this song reminds us of what that’s like.
“The Tin Man” by Miranda Lambert
Okay, so you might have noticed by now that none of these candidates are exactly happy songs, right? Well, I don’t know if I can call this the MOST melancholy song on this list (to be fair, that’s saying a lot), but I can call this the most personal. You see, the theme of this song isn’t so much what grabs me so much as the framing of it. I mean, a conversation with the Tin Man telling him that he’s wrong for wanting a heart! Not only that, but the decision to go further and still trade it for his armor is the kind of bitter, twisted ending we sort of hoped wouldn’t happen. They both get what they want sure, but it’s not what they need. Again, like Brandy Clark, there were a ton of songs I could have picked off of Miranda’s latest album, but this resonated with me the most.
“The Bird and the Rifle” by Lori McKenna
You know, it’s funny. To qualify as one of my top albums of the year, an album really has to have a grand scope or be centered around a main idea. Songs have it tougher though. You see with songs, it’s not so much the idea I’m looking for so much as the framing and the details that encompass it. A song like Lori McKenna’s “The Bird and the Rifle” is about oppression, and abuse (both concerning love of course), but the choice to extend those themes is just brilliant. I mean, this woman isn’t JUST held down by her husband. She’s a bird who needs to fly, and the husband is the rifle who is aiming to pull the trigger and stop her. It’s that attention to detail that make this an elegant poem rather than simply “a song”.
“Dry Up Or Drown” by Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers
Country music has always been a genre that’s embraced many themes – drinking, cheating, heartache, loss….the list goes on. However, when it comes to country songs that tackle environmental issues? Unfortunately the list is short. That’s really what makes “Dry Up Or Drown” stand out in an already crowded field. Of course, it’s not simply the idea that got this band their nomination. No, “Dry Up Or Drown” doesn’t just explain the event, they describe the aftermath and how this town that’s been destroyed by flooding is never coming back, no matter how much praying they do. There’s a defeated tone to this, not only in the lyrics but in Evan Webb’s vocals as well. That tone of defeat ironically enough elevates to a song that just might make you stop and think, “damn, that really happens and wow, we should pay more attention”. Many of these songs are being rewarded for excellent penmanship, but Evan Webb and the Rural Route Ramblers are also being rewarded for having the confidence to tackle something this heavy.
“The Dogs” by Justin Wells
I said before that there was another song besides Charles Kelley’s “Leaving Nashville” that dealt with failures in the music industry, but Justin Wells’ “The Dogs” isn’t merely the “other” song here. This song is definitely coming from someplace personal, and real, unafraid to be unflinchingly honest in how Justin wished things had gone another way for Fifth On The Floor. A song coming from someplace this personal probably doesn’t qualify me to talk about it in any great length. However, it does qualify me to nominate it as one of the best songs of the year, and also qualifies me to say this – the closing of a page in a book leads to a new chapter, and with the release of Justin’s latest studio album, ‘Dawn In The Distance’, I think he’ll be one of the twelve that gets invited this time around.
“Freedom” by Jim and Lynna Woolsey
For those who follow other independent country blogs, most of these names should be pretty familiar to you. However, one (or rather, two) name(s) that may (unfortunately) not is Jim and Lynna Woolsey. In a year where we should have explored more bluegrass music, Jim and Lynna Woolsey were easily one of our favorite discoveries of the year. “Freedom” is such an ironic title for the candidate listed here though, if only because it’s really about the aftermath that war can have on a soldier, and some of the darkness that lingers on instead of passes. The buildup to each chorus, especially when the fiddle kicks in is just heavenly, and an excellent addition to the song’s atmosphere that is just one of many reasons this song is here. Folks, Jim and Lynna Woolsey come last on this list, and not to recite that old cliché, but they are far from least.