by Julian Spivey
100. TIE - "Feelin' Haggard" by Dale Watson & Ray Benson, "He Won't Ever Be Gone" by Willie Nelson & "No More Haggard" by Pete Schlegel
The amount of tribute songs penned for the legendary Merle Haggard has been truly impressive, but it just goes to show how important of a figure he was in country music. A trio of songs written in tribute to him really stood out this year. “Feelin’ Haggard” by Ray Benson and Dale Watson covers the sadness of learning about such an icon’s death. Pete Schlegel’s “No More Haggard” takes on the bigger picture of how many of country’s legends are leaving us and really a part of the genre traditionally is leaving with them. Willie Nelson’s “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” is perhaps the most personal of the three, though it should be noted was written by Gary Nicholson and not himself, as the two were close friends.
99. "The Wurlitzer Prize" by Kacey Musgraves
A couple of years ago a bunch of country music’s finest got together for a tribute concert to Waylon Jennings. The show was recorded for the tribute album Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings and released this year. The album features many great and faithful covers, but my favorite was Kacey Musgraves’ jaw-dropping take of “The Wurlitzer Prize,” perhaps Waylon’s best weeper about playing the same song over and over on a jukebox to remember, and not forget, a lost love.
98. "You Don't Know Me" by Alison Krauss
One of the most beautiful songs ever written was Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me.” My favorite version of the song is and will always be Ray Charles’ take featured on his iconic and historic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962), but Alison Krauss’ performance on her Windy City album of classic covers is a close second. The angelic voiced Krauss really hits the tragic love story of “You Don’t Know Me” perfectly.
97. "Tulsa Time" by Pistol Annies
One of country music’s unsung heroes Don Williams died this year at 78 leaving behind a legacy of hits with his silky-smooth vocals. Months before his death in September a bunch of country and Americana’s finest artists got together for a tribute album. My favorite track from this collection was the Pistol Annies (the fabulous supergroup of Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe) doing perhaps Williams’ most known hit “Tulsa Time.” The threesome sounds perfect on this track and it leads to the hope that we may see more original music from the Annies in the future.
96. "All I'm Asking" by The Band of Heathens
I’ve seen Band of Heathens, led by the amazing duo of Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist, a couple of times in concert over the last few years, including earlier this year after they released their impressive Duende. They are one of the best live bands to come out of Austin in a while and play a nice rocking brand of Americana that relies on country-blues and roots jam-rock. “All I’m Asking” had Rolling Stone saying, “has enough rhythmic swagger to loosen up even the stodgiest critics,” and this song of a man wanting to win back a woman he’s done wrong will definitely make you want to groove.
95. "My Boots" by Whitney Rose
Whitney Rose name drops Loretta Lynn in her song “My Boots,” about staying true to herself no matter what crowd she’s in. It’s a fitting name to drop because the song sounds like something that could’ve come out of Lynn’s discography in her heyday. It’s a feminist manifesto performed in country twang. The country stomp, which will have you wanting to step out on the dancefloor with its fantastic steel guitar and fiddle, is proof that Rose is one of the up-and-comers to keep an eye on in the non-mainstream world of country music.
94. "Wheels" by Steve Moakler
I’ve always been drawn to songs about trying to break free and make something of one’s life. I think this is a big reason why Bruce Springsteen is my all-time favorite artist. Steve Moakler’s breakthrough album Steel Town features a great song about this in “Wheels,” which he compares to life in general and how sometimes they lead you back to where you came from – “they don’t slow down/the speed picks up/you start wishing you were young as soon as you grow up/and the farther you roll/the faster they spin/they drive you away and bring you home again/I swear sometimes it feels/like life’s just a set of wheels.” It’s so simple, but also so true.
93. "Mama I Tried" by Angaleena Presley
92. "Ern & Zorry's Sneakin' Bitin' Dog" by