As the decade draws to a close, the gulf between what’s best and what’s on the radio is wider than ever. Here are our picks for the twenty best singles of 2019.
Best of 2019
“No Stone Unturned”
“No Stone Unturned” manages to sound like it has a thumping, vibrant beat while also feeling organic and tamed. Houser sings of the twists and turns of his life with some resignation as well as with optimism. – Leeann Ward
“Wherever You Go”
Dan Auerbach’s production on Dee White’s debut single recalls the main theme from Justified, and I’m really not a hard sell when it comes to a country blues riff. White’s supple tenor just takes it to an ever higher level. – Jonathan Keefe
“Bluebird” just might be the most zen like that we’ve heard Miranda Lambert ever be. Backed by relaxed instrumentation, Lambert sings of how she has learned to let her trials in life roll off her: “If the house just keeps on winnin’, I’ve got a wild card up my sleeve. / If life keeps giving me lemons, I just mix them in my drink.” – LW
“One Night Standards”
The catchiest single she’s yet sent to radio, “One Night Standards” should be a hit for Ashley McBryde. But let’s see what country radio programmers do with a single on which a woman dictates the terms of a tawdry hook-up: As of the last week of 2019, this had yet to crack the top 40. Imagine. – JK
“The Wheels of Laredo”
With the release of this song and video, the world learned that Tanya Tucker still has a legendary voice that is as nuanced and clear as it ever was. In fact, the song demonstrated that her voice is stronger than we have heard it in years! Tucker’s performance on the wistful “The Wheels of Laredo” was the perfect way to generate the excitement surrounding the buzz for the forthcoming album. – LW
“Soon You’ll Get Better”
Taylor Swift featuring Dixie Chicks
Swift’s stark and haunting ballad of willful self-deception regarding her mother’s battle with cancer is further elevated by the ethereal presence of the Dixie Chicks on harmony vocals. – Kevin John Coyne
“I Don’t Want to Ride the Rails No More”
Vince Gill starts his 2019 album, Oakie, with a gentle song about becoming tired of the hard living and nomad life and being ready to settle down with a family. It is a gorgeous ode to love and commitment. – LW
The Highwomen featuring Yola
Jimmy Webb’s classic tale of reincarnation is brilliantly reimagined as a witnessing of the lives of marginalized women throughout history. Yola’s guest appearance is the emotional highlight of a very powerful record, and the wry observation that “we carry the sons you can only hold” is my favorite song lyric of 2019. – KJC
“The Rock and the Hill”
The weariness of the working poor is captured succinctly: “I’m tired of pushing this rock up this hill. Tired of this rock, tired of this hill.” – KJC
“Old Town Road”
Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus
No, it isn’t purely a country song, nor does it have to be to belong in a conversation about country music in 2019. If we’re going to Google Maps all of this, there’s far more to tie “Old Town Road” to the history of country music than there is to tie Thomas Rhett’s Center Point Road. Leave it to country’s genre purists to try to gatekeep the year’s catchiest song out. – JK
“Like a Force of Nature”
Todd Snider featuring Jason Isbell
Few do self-flagellation better than Todd Snider. “Like a Force of Nature” acknowledges all of his shortcomings while also steadfastly refusing to believe that anything can be done about them. Isbell’s harmony vocal gives an added punch to the resigned chorus. – KJC
Even after she swept the Grammys, country radio ignored this beautiful piano ballad, which found more success at Adult Contemporary in the end. Perhaps even disk jockeys won’t come out from under their umbrellas after the storm has passed. – KJC
With Front Porch, Joy Williams, formerly of The Civil Wars, made a warm rootsy album that hearkens back to a folksier sound than the first album that she made after the duo’s tumultuous split. This warmth of its title track finds Williams sounding relaxed and contented with the simpler life that she now has. “Front Porch” is a sweet invitation of encouragement and support: “If never you find what you’re looking for, come on back to the front porch. / Say my name through the screen door. / Come on back to the front porch. / Whatever you’ve done, it doesn’t matter / ’cause, darlin’, we’re all a little splintered and battered. / But the light is on, what you waitin’ for? / Come on back. Come on back to the front porch.” – LW
“Bring My Flowers Now”
While I’m Livin’ closes with this modern reimagining of the Carter Family standard, “Give Me the Roses While I Live.” Tucker’s sober and appreciative look back on her own life and accomplishments is deeply satisfying. – KJC
“Big Boss Mama”
Tami Neilson leans into the unapologetic tone of Sassafrass! on her first follow-up single. “Rules? I make ‘em and I break ‘em / Fools? My mama didn’t raise ‘em,” she belts before announcing herself as a working mother who will not have her choices questioned. – JK
A breakthrough single that had both the indier-than-thou and traditionalister-than-thee sects apoplectic with rage, Tyler Childers’ “All Your’n” is a slice of country soul that captures all of Childers’ idiosyncratic gifts. There’s the holler-speak translation of peak Jason Isbell– “We ain’t leavin’ this room / ‘Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom” becomes, “I’ll love you ‘til my lungs give out”– and the internal rhyme worthy of peak Jay-Z (“God is in my Day’s Inn pen/The muse, I ain’t refusin’”), all delivered with Childers’ ragged drawl, and it’s exactly what country music should sound like at the close of this decade. – JK
“Stronger Than the Truth”
Reba McEntire joins other female veterans of country music who have made a splash in 2019 by returning to what they do best rather than trying to chase current trends or hop genres. “Stronger Than the Truth” is as strong and poignant as any of McEntire’s vast catalog of country weepers. After having the simple life that she had dreamed of with her husband, “A little money in our pockets, ‘You’re my husband, I’m your wife’”, it all falls apart when “standing in the grocery line / I overheard my name and yours and one I did not recognize.” And the song makes its most impactful punch when McEntire mournfully sings the chorus that wallops with “There’s not a sound, a sound louder than silence.” – LW
Our Native Daughters
A masterclass in intersectional feminism cast as a traditional gospel song, “Black Myself” finds the Our Native Daughters collaborators proclaiming ownership over their personal and musical identities. It’s a song about power that actually sounds powerful, a dare to anyone to utter the phrase “identity politics” as a pejorative. – JK
For those of us who come from large, close-knit families, the image is so familiar that it’s a surprise it’s taken until 2019 to have a country song built around it. While “The Highwomen” sets the tone and outlines the themes for this one-of-a-kind collaboration, “Crowded Table” is no less a mission statement for the group. The Highwomen project is fundamentally about creating intentional community: When they sing, “I want a house with a crowded table,” it isn’t just a nice sentiment. It’s something they’re putting into action, with inspiring results. – JK
“Girl Goin’ Nowhere”
A celebration of resistance and perseverance in the face of open discouragement. McBryde’s songcraft is so eloquent that it’s almost hard to believe that anyone could talk down her talent and her potential for success. She emphasizes her gratitude but allows an undercurrent of “I Told You So” to pulsate throughout her vocal performance. “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” was the best evidence of a truth that this list repeatedly demonstrates: the redemption of mainstream country music is already here, if the powers that be will just clear some room at the crowded table. – KJC
there’s far more to tie “Old Town Road” to the history of country music than there is to tie Thomas Rhett’s Center Point Road.
That’s not a high bar to cross.
As I said at the time, I heard “Old Town Road,”and it sounded to me like your run-of-the-mill hip-hop song. Which is fine, it’s just not my thing. But I don’t think it’s a country song any more than Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam” was a country song back in 1991.
(WIMR was also a great song back in 1977, back when it was recorded by Merle Haggard and called “Ramblin’ Fever.”)
Allison, Ashley, Joy, Kacey, Miranda, Reba, Rhiannon, Tami, Tanya, and The Highwomen all deliver quality singles in 2019. The one single that stood out to me the most on the list was Taylor Swift’s Soon You’ll Get Better. Having The Dixie Chicks on the song elevated it even more. It was so refreshing of hearing their voices again. Lover was a very good album.
Sorry, but I’d knock “Old Town Road” off in favor of either “The Wanting” or “Same Kind of Crazy as Me” by Cody Jinks, and I’d have to get rid of Taylor Swift, Dixie Chicks or not, in favor of something from a TRUE country artist like Jinks, Cody Johnson, or Dallas Moore. Otherwise, good list. Just discovered this site yesterday, and I’m enjoying what I’m reading.