All this week, Country Universe will be counting down the fifty best singles of the year. It’s been a great year for country singles, and this is the most diverse list compiled yet for this site. Some of these songs were given great reviews from the start, and some grew on me over time. Today, we’ll get things started with #50-#41. Check back every day for ten more entries, culminating in the top ten on Friday.
Tracy Byrd, “Better Places Than This”
Back in his heyday, Byrd turned in some of the funniest – and silliest – drinking anthems you could find on country radio. With this single, he shows he can keep the humor while drinking away the memory of the woman he still loves. As he says to the bartender, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.”
Hal Ketchum, “In Front of the Alamo”
One of country music’s smartest singers returns with a ballad about a woman taking back control of her life and leaving her man behind. She throws her wedding ring out the window of her car, right in front of the alamo, which of course is “a pretty good place to make a stand.”
Pat Green, “Dixie Lullaby”
How do you write a song about your childhood memories of your parents dancing to the radio late at night, then turn it into a requiem for a parent that has died, and not end up drenched in sap along the way? It helps to have the understated, gravely voice of Pat Green, who honored his father with dignity here.
Faith Hill, “Red Umbrella”
Sweet as cotton candy, bursting with personality and soda pop hooks. Nobody fuses pop with country more skillfully than Faith Hill. Don’t let the sing-a-long fool you. There’s a lot more to the lyric when you dig beneath the surface.
Montgomery Gentry, “Lucky Man”
Humble is a coat that this duo wears well, and they’d do well to wear it a bit more often. This is a deep and meaningful self-evaluation, a reminder that the little things that bother us from day to day only get under our skin because so many big things that could be going wrong are humming along nicely.
Bomshel, “The Power of One”
Nice little history lesson here, weaving the stories of everyone from Rosa Parks to Anne Frank to remind the listener that yes, one person can really make a difference. They whitewash Jesus a bit in the second verse – he did indeed do some judging – but the sentiment is there, and it’s beautifully presented.
Sarah Buxton, “That Kind of Day”
I really didn’t like this song when I first heard it. Then I saw Buxton perform it at a Songwriter’s Night, and after being charmed by her infectious back story and the enthusiastic performance that followed, I was hooked. This really is who she is, and there’s something gloriously unfiltered about it.
Elizabeth Cook, “Sometimes it Takes Balls to Be a Woman”
It’s the kind of title that would make Loretta Lynn proud, so it’s no surprise that her and Dolly get a shout-out at the end. But to her credit, Cook doesn’t depend on that eye-popping line to prop up the entire song. “Sometimes looks can be deceiving, when you’re quietly overachieving” captures more of the challenge of the modern woman than the titular line, really.
Jack Ingram, “Measure of a Man”
It’s tempting to roll your eyes at the start, as it sounds like another tired example of the country-rock rebel guy who leaves home because he doesn’t see eye to eye with his old man. Mellencamp redux. By the end, however, father and son are reconciled when the narrator becomes a father himself. He doesn’t suddenly believe his father was right all along, mind you; he just doesn’t want to deny his dad from being in his grandson’s life.
Miranda Lambert, “Famous in a Small Town”
One of the charms of this song is Lambert’s sincerity. You can tell that she really does value her fame in her own hometown more than her place in the spotlight in Music City. She sees the connection between where she came from and the characters she sings about in her songs. That, and she just gets a kick out of the small-town gossip.