by Julian Spivey
60. "Too Much Is Never Enough" by A.J. Hobbs
“Too Much is Never Enough” by A.J. Hobbs is just a fantastic honky tonk rocker. “One is too much and too much is never enough” goes the chorus about having one too many at the bar, but also doubling for life on the road as a musician. The twangy guitar with the driving piano throughout really makes you feel like you want to get out on the dancefloor. It’s the kind of rousing track you could have expected to hear from somebody the likes of Waylon Jennings or Johnny Paycheck, who Hobbs name drops on the song.
59. "Living in the City" by Hurray for the Riff Raff
Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra took a major gamble this year when she basically changed the entire sound of her popular Americana group and got back to her Puerto Rican roots on the concept album The Navigator. The gamble paid off and Hurray for the Riff Raff are one of the groups at the forefront of potentially changing what the term Americana music truly means. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard to select a track off a concept album for such a list, but I love the throwback sound of “Living in the City,” which has sort of a girl groups of the ‘60s flavor to it. It’s a sound I love and glad to see someone bring it back if just for one track. Also, I’m not sure there’s a more enchanting line this year than hearing Segarra sing the line: “Mariposa’s singing love songs/All in her dark apartment.” I can’t even explain why I love it so much, it just rolls of her tongue so nicely.
58. "Change My Mind" by Josh Ward
Josh Ward is a man who evidently came up in the wrong era. Had this been a decade or two ago I think he’d be a massive country star with his perfect country voice and traditional country sound on songs like “Change My Mind,” which found itself on the Texas Country chart this year (initially released on his 2015 album Holding Me Together). It’s an old country theme, but Ward makes going to a bar down on one’s luck only to find the woman of his dreams sound as good as it ever has.
57. "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone" by Lee Ann Womack
“The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” is a terrific title for a heartbreak country song. Womack sings about how all the old country songs about broken hearts always make it sound somewhat cool, but really the only thing a heartbreak will leave you is “lonely, lonesome and gone.” I love the distinct image of how Hank Williams never sang about watching a Toyota Camry pull out of an apartment complex parking lot. It’s no longer a lonesome whippoorwill or a crying train whistle. It’s a modernized version of heartbreak, but still country as hell. Womack sounds as good as ever too.
56. "Black Jesus" by Jason Eady
“Black Jesus” by Jason Eady is a perfect example of how even though we have our differences depending on what culture we come from or what we look like, deep down we’re all the same human race. It’s not a political song by any means, but in some ways, becomes one of the most important songs of the year with its friendship between an older black man and a young white man bonding on a road construction crew over musical tastes and religion. In the end, it’s just going to be “him and me and Jesus.”
55. "Freight Train" by Robyn Ludwick
There is a lot of pain on Robyn Ludwick’s This Tall to Ride and her raw, raspy voice brings this hurt out perfectly. It’s also a big reason why much of her music reminds me of Lucinda Williams. “Freight Train” is my favorite song on her latest release and it’s a song where the rawness in her vocals shines the best. I particularly like the lyrics about circus freaks being the only ones she can believe, as all her heroes have failed her. The backing music and her soulful vocals give “Freight Train” a nice country-blues vibe.
54. "Arkansas Farmboy" by Glen Campbell
We’ve known for a few years it was a moment that could come any day, but the legendary Glen Campbell lost his battle with Alzheimer’s on August 8. A couple of months prior Campbell’s final album came out aptly titled Adios and featured the heartbreakingly sweet “Arkansas Farmboy,” a biographical song written in the ‘70s by Campbell’s bandmate Carl Jackson about a story Campbell had told him of growing up in The Natural State. The song had been recorded sometime between 2012 and 2013 and Campbell’s voice still sounded great, though he’d already been suffering from Alzheimer’s and had to record the song line by line because he could no longer remember lyrics. One of my favorite aspects of the song is how it incorporates Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” a song Campbell remembered being taught as a child by his grandfather.
53. "Pontiacs" by John Baumann
John Baumann’s nostalgic reflection of childhood in “Pontiacs” is a song I believe you must be at least around 30, which I turned this year, to truly feel. It’s about how not everything in life works out the way you planned for it to and the times you wish you could go back to the days of playing baseball with the neighborhood kids or losing your virginity in the first car you ever owned. Baumann sings, “I’d give anything for one more day of being young” and it’s a statement I believe a good many of us feel at certain times in our lives.
52. "Sunday Morning Paper"