A continuation of the Best Singles of 2013, this set offers the middle 10 songs found on my top 30 singles of the year. Any guesses on who the final 10 will be? Am I missing any songs so far? Let me know!
20. Sara Evans – Slow Me Down
Sara Evans returns to country radio in 2013 with this lovely sounding song about a relationship that’s on the verge of ending. In the song, Evans offers her almost ex the chance to stop her saying “the wheels are turning in my mind, don’t wanna leave but I think I might…if there’s something you still need to say, you need to say it now, hurry up and slow me down.” The production includes plenty of stellar dynamics that offer a range from quiet (the orchestra’s beginning lines) to over-the-top (in the bridge and choruses). Sara’s solid vocal performance remains at the forefront of the song, even as the production comes ever so close to drowning her out. This is a solid return to radio from the singer.
Hunter Hayes is a great asset to country music. Not only is he extremely talented and can play any instrument known to man, but he is also always reinventing the wheel and delivering fresh music. This duet with pop vocalist Jason Mraz is no different. The light, infectious production sticks to the instrumentation we’ve become used to hearing from Hayes. Both Hunter and Jason deliver fun, laid back vocal performances that turn this song about being lonely into a toe-tapping sing-a-long. Hunter has grown tremendously since he charted with his debut single “Storm Warning,” and it’s clear this talented youngster has a long career ahead of him.
Kellie Pickler has blossomed into one of country’s most country artists. This remake of a Kenny Rogers tune is a continuation of the traditional leaning productions that are found on Pickler’s stellar album, 100 Proof. Kellie delivers the story lines with such heart and emotion that you can hear every ounce of pain in her voice when she delivers the somber lyrics of the song. The production suits those lyrics to pure perfection by never becoming bombastic or overbearing, but rather remaining soft, and subtle, keeping Kellie’s stellar vocal performance the center of attention. As Kellie continues to grow from that young woman we saw on American Idol, she is proving to be one of the truly great female country artists.
A couple years ago this group gave us a great single with “Hell on Heels” and this year they delivered another fantastic ditty with “Hush Hush.” Group members Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley deliver this clever and witty song about drinking behind a recent rehabber’s back with an enormous amount of sass and attitude. The production shows how the group’s roots are firmly planted in country with hints of steel guitar that can be heard under the electric guitar’s catchy melody. Each member delivers solid vocals during their verses but the single’s highlight is the harmony between the three ladies. I’ve said before these girls are like a modern day Dixie Chicks, and I’m sticking to that statement. Country music needs more groups like this.
After missing the mark on nearly every single choice since her Grammy award-winning song, “The House That Built Me,” Miranda finally hammered the nail on the head with this impeccable ditty. Miranda delivers this country rocker with her usual attitude and sass that would make most men fear her. However, the single’s highlight is not the vocal performance, but the cleverly written lyrics. Written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally, the lyrics paint a disturbing picture of what could happen after a breakup including lines about cutting ones own hair to drinking your sorrows away. This trio of songwriters, in my opinion, is the best in country music which is why they (either collectively or separately) appear on our list several times.
Ladies and gentlemen, bow down to the new rulers of pop-country music. Since the genre has traveled down the pop road no one has been able to get it right like the sibling trio, The Band Perry. The group had huge crossover success with “If I Die Young,” and kept that momentum with the first two singles off its sophomore album, Pioneer. With “Done,” the group took over country radio with an up-tempo record that would have you fist pumping in the crowd at a TBP show. The insanely catchy melody is backed by an incredible production that is meant to fill stadiums and sold-out arenas. It’s loud and bombastic, but it’s never overbearing and manages to walk that fine line between “just right” and “over-the-top.” Kimberly Perry’s vocal performance encompasses plenty of sass, fire, and attitude that could match the likes of Miranda Lambert. It’s no wonder this song became another number one single for the group.
There is no other word that better describes “Better Dig Two” than interesting. This Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally (here are those two songwriters again), and Trevor Rosen penned song brings us an interestingly unique love song that leaves you feeling a little creeped out. On the surface, this is a love song about a woman wanting to be buried next to her husband so they’ll be together forever. However, dig deeper into the lyrics and you find interesting lines that lead you to believe that she’s either confessing her eternal love or threatening to kill either herself or the husband if he ever stops loving her…you be the judge on that one. Nevertheless, the production is unique, dark, and haunting and, interestingly enough suits the lyrics to perfection. Factor in Kimberly’s sassy, emotion-filled vocal performance along with harmonies from the brothers Perry, and you got yourself a fantastic number one smash hit from this year.
The past couple years we’ve been treated to some incredible gems by Dierks Bentley and the lead single off his upcoming album is no different. “Bourbon” sticks to one of the themes country music is most known for: drinking through heartache. Lyrically, the song doesn’t offer much of anything new but simply retells an already told story of there not being enough alcohol (in this case Bourbon) to fill the void left by a failed relationship. What makes the song a stellar gem is the fantastic and unique production. The acoustic introduction brings a dark, haunting feel to the song all the while escalating into a bombastic, U2-esque feel during the middle part. The stadium-rock feel is something that stands out at country radio (well should have stood out…the song peaked at no. 45). The song’s highlight is definitely Dierks’ aggressive, emotional vocal performance that is boosted by the stellar harmonies provided by Kacey Musgraves. It’s extremely unfortunate this masterpiece failed to make any impact at country radio.
Normally I am extremely reluctant in giving pop artists who go country a chance just because I feel like most of them are using the genre to reignite a failed career. However, that’s not how I feel about Kelly Clarkson joining the country music genre especially after this sensational single. “Don’t Rush” is a throwback to the sounds that filled the country radio in the 70s and 80s including a beautiful guitar melody provided by Vince Gill and outstanding sounds of an organ. The sensationally sweet love song is delivered with just the right amount of tenderness, vulnerability, and purity that prove Clarkson belongs in country music. Not only does Vince Gill offer his impeccable guitar playing, but also his usual brilliant harmony vocals. This is an incredible song that could only have been pulled off by the fantastic collaboration of Kelly and Vince.
Okay, okay…I know what y’all are probably thinking…”Britney’s little sister on a list of best country singles, are you crazy??” I can assure you that no, I am not crazy. In fact, this song has one of the best productions I’ve heard on country radio all year. The almost acoustic ballad’s foundation consists of a fantastic acoustic guitar melody and the beautiful cry of a pedal steel. Mixed together with a light drumbeat, the three elements blend perfectly to create a backdrop that is smooth, easy on the ears, and incredibly refreshing. The subtle production allows for Jamie Lynn’s vocal performance to be at the song’s forefront. Spears delivers the accessible lyrics with an incredible amount of sincerity and heart that show maturity beyond her 22 years of age. Written by Spears along with Rivers Rutherford, “How Could I Want More” is an outstanding introduction to country music and hopefully offers a glimmer of hope that we’ll hear more songs like this from the budding female vocalist.