#10 Wade Bowen -West Texas Rain
The combination of earnest Red Dirt rock lyrics and the incomparable Vince Gill highlights an excellent album for the native Texan. The sprawling message and long harmonies are perfectly worthy of the rainstorms of the region Bowen harkens to.
#9 Old Crow Medicine Show -Shit Creek
A furious cry against a futile relationship, “Shit Creek” features the veteran pickers at their quickest and closest to punk. Not enough can be said about their playing on this song. Really, the whole album is shockingly fresh after the departure of Willie Watson.
# 8 Hurray for the Riff Raff -The Body Electric
Considering how true this political statement is, it’s shocking it hasn’t been made so effectively until 2014. Celebrating the murder of women (or men, for that matter) is not really the best use of music, Alynda Lee Segarra argues brilliantly. The last two lines should forever dispatch the use and advocacy of violence. And the fiddle work is sparse but stunning.
#7 Zoe Muth -Mama Needs A Margarita
There’s still exciting work being done in the world of traditional country and Zoe Muth may be the very best proof of that in 2014. The titular character in this song sings of an escape from her newfound responsibilities over a beautiful background of strumming and steel. The tone is somewhat mournful though, as it’s clear she won’t take off or be able to return to her younger days. Maybe that’s not the worst thing. Maybe singing songs like these are enough of an escape from the mundane pains of everyday life. Listening to them sure helps.
#6 Parker Millsap -Truck Stop Gospel
Millsap’s gorgeous raspy vocals bring to life a quirky character on the road who brings church to truck stops. In a truck, of course. The swinging guitar mixes well with fiddle and piano flourishes and the lyrics are great for a laugh.
#5 Amy Ray -Anyhow
The Indigo Girl’s bittersweet rumination on love, life, death and faith is as devastating as it gets. It’s also shockingly simple. Life can be harsh, but there’s always something to be thankful for. The last verse may have more healing power than any therapist can offer. Also, the dobro playing is exactly what Amy Ray’s voice needs as a compliment.
#4 Miranda Lambert -Bathroom Sink
Overlooked on Miranda’s chart-topping Platinum but not on this list, “Bathroom Sink” picks up where “Mama’s Broken Heart” left off. The mother-daughter conflict is present as is the theme of covering up emotional pain. While not quite as catchy as its predecessor, “Bathroom Sink” runs deeper and cements Miranda’s place as the queen of mainstream country in a way “Automatic” or “Platinum” never could. They might be hits now, but this is the type of song that’ll be relevant for decades.
#3 Lee Ann Womack -The Way I’m Livin’
Epic is probably the only word to describe Womack’s title cut from my favorite album of the year. The vocals are flawless and the orchestra tops what almost any other artist who makes sense with this song would have gone with. The lyrics are unremarkable, but the melody is the best of 2014. The delivery is even better.
#2 Zoe Muth -Annabelle
Annabelle earned Muth a rare second spot in one of my top ten lists by bringing two complex characters to life at once. Annabelle is a wanderer and a rich story teller; her sister loves her but harbors some anger toward her at the same time. The piano and cello dance at the end just as the two do in the lyrics and, even though the moment is beautiful, it’s clear nothing will change.
#1 Angaleena Presley -All I Ever Wanted
By far the most ambitious song on this list, “All I Ever Wanted” lands at number one despite having a few flaws. Religion is a complex topic that most songs address too simply. Presley’s conversation with the devil reveals what Pope Francis has said to be true: Good people do go to heaven regardless of their level of devotion to the church or even God. All Presley ever wanted was ‘a real good time’ and it appears she’ll get it.
Little Big Town -Girl Crush; Eric Church -Give Me Back My Hometown; The Infamous Stringdusters -Let It Go; Mickey Guyton -Safe; Balsam Range -Everything That Glitters; Maddie & Tae -Girl In A Country Song; Doug Seegers -Angie’s Song; Sturgill Simpson -Turtles All The Way Down