Written by Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne
Everclear is one of the few pop bands that I liked in the late 90s/early 2000s. While a lot of their music sounded similar, their grooves were addictive and their tunes were memorable (“A.M. Radio”, Anyone?).
As a result of enjoying Everclear, I’ll admit that I actually guiltily enjoy Jake Owen’s “Real Life.”
In early February, Zac Brown Band kicked off a brief cycle of Twitter Outrage when they performed a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” which they are rumored to have cut for their upcoming album, during a high-profile ESPN gig. Some of Isbell’s devoted fans were livid that a mainstream country performer had covered Isbell’s song, insisting that it should be Isbell with the multi-platinum stats and sold-out arena tours.
There’s something to that line of thinking, of course: Were commercial music a strict meritocracy, then Isbell would be an international superstar on the strengths of his one-of-a-kind songwriting and intuitive, soulful singing. Isbell, to his credit, responded to the uproar with a level-headed and fundamentally correct statement about how people who clamor for more substance in mainstream country shouldn’t be attacking artists who are interested in cutting songs like “Dress Blues.”
The countdown concludes with our top twenty singles of 2014. Check out the first twenty entries here, and look for our countdown of the year’s twenty best albums tomorrow.
“The Devil is All Around”
Shovels & Rope
LW #5 | JK #13
The soulful husband-wife duo that comprises Shovels and Rope delivers a no holes barred analysis of trials and temptations, which boils down to the idea that the devil is all around, which means that one must do what he can to push against such a devastating force. – Leeann Ward
It sounds like even Jake Owen got bored singing songs about girls and trucks and summer days and nights.
How else to explain the rapid fire delivery and fierce banjo and guitar on “Days of Gold”, which has him spitting out every country summer song cliché as quickly as he can get them out of his mouth?
Truth is, if the exact same lyric was delivered in the typical, mid-tempo, paint by numbers presentation, I’d be ripping it to shreds right now. But the sheer adrenaline of the track makes it work. It would be a terrible cocktail to sip on, but as a quick shooter, it’s pretty good.
If a song has nothing to say beyond what’s said in its title phrase, what’s the point of writing the song in the first place?
Jake Owen’s new single “Anywhere with You” takes a concept many times used before, and does nothing with it. We’ve all heard the country song about the starry-eyed narrator willing to live or travel absolutely anywhere
Owen offers a take that never aspires to be anything more than perfunctory. With a dull-as-a-brick title hook of “I’ll go anywhere with you,” the song lets listeners know what it’s about, and asks them to accept it without scrutiny. The chorus’ listing of random U.S. states in particular feels like an obvious crutch. The thick, un-country, radio-chasing production similarly earns no points for originality.
In light of Owen’s recent successes at radio, “Anywhere with You” will likely be a sizable hit. But it still fails to offer any answer to the fundamental question of “Why does this need to exist?”
Written by Ben Hayslip, David Lee Murphy, and Jimmy Yeary
Coming on the heels of Top 30 debut hit “Wanna Make You Love Me,” Andy Gibson’s new single “Summer Back” continues to build him a reputation as a cliché machine.
Gibson is hardly the first nonthreateningly handsome thirty-year-old frat boy on the radio to be pining over a youthful summer fling. (Incidentally, Jake Owen is currently riding the charts with what might as well be the same song) Like many of its predecessors, the song fails to over any substantial narrative detail to help it rise above the feel of a generic paint-by-number template, while the spit-shine polish of the production likewise fails to lend any semblace of a distinct identity. Why was this romance so uniquely unforgettable? Why is this story even worth relating in the first place?
don’t believe a single thing he says in this song. Nothing about the story feels clever, urgent, revelatory, or sincere in any meaningful way. All I hear is another carefully calculated bid for radio airplay, which is exactly what I’m beyond sick of hearing.
It’s gotta be done with cleverness. Or distinctiveness. Or viagra non prescription sincerity. This fails on all counts, leaving us with a generic summer song that’s as easily forgotten as the love that it documents.
Written by Dallas Davidson, Jake Owen, and Jimmy Ritchey
For nine decades and counting, country music has been defined by the single, with only the format and definition changing over time.
Today, a single could be any one of the following: a CD sent to radio for airplay; a digital download released in advance of an album; a music video released to online websites and dwindling television outlets; and in a lovely throwback, a seven inch vinyl single sold in the indie record stores that have managed to outlast the chain stores that once threatened their existence.
Seven Country Universe editors and contributors each submitted their twenty favorite singles of the year. 59 different singles made the cut, and over the next four days, we’ll share with you the top forty. You can listen to a sample from each song by scrolling down to the bottom of the post.
A musical expression of gratitude from the incomparable Emmylou Harris to her late musical mentor Gram Parsons. Through her lyric and vocal, Harris conveys a wide array of emotions – obviously sadness, along with nostalgia for times past, wonderment and uncertainty, as well as determination to persevere in spite of heartache, while also highlighting the invaluable role of music in coping with a devastating loss.
Above all else, however, “The Road” is a song of thankfulness for having had such a friend in the first place, even if for only a brief time. – Ben Foster
Shut Up Train
Little Big Town
Individual Rankings: Kevin – #13
Far from the first country song to build a train metaphor around a heartache, this one is distinguished by a strong vocal performance and the creative approach of having the protagonist talk directly to the train. – Kevin John Coyne
Let it Rain
David Nail featuring Sarah Buxton
Individual Rankings: Sam – #15; Dan – #19
Nail’s moody streak continues, this time with a ringing cheater’s lament. He’s so appalled at himself that he calls on the heavens to rain down judgment. But it’s Buxton who strikes the gavel in the end, as her voice shreds with the pain of a woman whose world will never be the same. – Dan Milliken
Individual Rankings: #12 – Sam
The pop-country version of Taylor Swift is a bona fide superstar. However, when she strips down the production and shows off her quieter, folksy side like she does on “Ours,” she really shines. Based on the quality of her past singles “Ours” and “Mine,” she’ll have a real winner if she ever gets around to writing “Yours.” – Sam Gazdziak
Individual Rankings: #12 – Jonathan
It’s often hard to separate Caitlin Rose’s music from her Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona– that she sings like Zooey Deschanel with a far better sense of pitch doesn’t help, either– but “Shanghai Cigarettes” makes it clear that she learned a lot about songcraft from her mother, frequent Taylor Swift collaborator Liz Rose. – Jonathan Keefe
Individual Rankings: #11 – Tara
Two parts neo-traditional charm, one part that voice and a dash of breezy sensuality. Goes down smoother than anything since James Otto rode the airwaves. More, please. – Tara Seetharam
Fixin’ to Die
Individual Rankings: #14 – Jonathan; #19 – Dan
One of the elements that distinguishes contemporary country from traditional genre forms is a heavy use of percussion, and G. Love ups the ante in that regard on “Fixin’ to Die.” By marrying a straightforward acoustic blues arrangement to a rhythm section lifted almost entirely from J-Kwon’s “Tipsy,” G. Love effectively thumbs his nose at the idea of a rural vs urban divide. – Jonathan Keefe
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
The Avett Brothers
Individual Rankings: #10 – Sam
The Avetts’ I and Love and You was one of the best albums of 2010, and this song was one of its highlights. For a band that can deliver some raucus punk-bluegrass tunes, they can also put together hauntingly pretty songs too.- Sam Gazdziak
Barefoot Blue Jean Night
Individual Rankings: #7 – Dan
Contrived, utopian visions of Southern partying are practically an entire country sub-genre now. “Barefoot” checks all the formulaic boxes, but for once the formula’s impossible details (“the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold!”) are matched to an equally dreamlike, shimmering production, exposing what a fantasy the whole thing is. You can’t buy the premise, but you grant the underlying escapism.- Dan Milliken
Down by the Water
Individual Rankings: #11 – Sam; #17 – Leeann
As has been noted, “Down by the Water” seems influenced by an R.E.M. sound. However, the brightly placed harmonica and accordion, along with aggressive background vocals by Gillian Welch, make the melodic composition a memorable song on its own merits. – Leeann Ward
We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).
Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”
Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson
Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B
Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”
Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk
Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+
Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”
Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann
Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-
Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”
Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele
Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B
Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”
Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall
If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-