If, a few years ago, anybody had asked me about country music, I’d have bowed out of the conversation, with a vague idea that I quite liked Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton in small doses, but had no time for thigh-slapping “yee-haw”s. But then, having a husband who eats, sleeps and drinks country music – modern and classic – has meant I’ve slowly, through a form of cultural osmosis, absorbed some knowledge of the genre and its biggest hitters, and put to rest some of my misconceptions.
It started with innocent comments such as, “I quite like this song,” to developing into the time-honoured fashion of mix tapes. Pip compiled a monthly smorgasbord of the latest country music for me to listen to on my commute. By the end of the year, I was accompanying Pip to live country gigs. Country is a pure form of story-telling. That’s what I really enjoy about it!
Whilst I still wouldn’t describe myself as an aficionado, knowing the depth and breadth of devoted fans’ knowledge, I’ve been persuaded to compile my outsider’s top 15. I was happy to do this, knowing what a friendly and welcoming bunch the country crowd is. So, for what it’s worth, here’s a list of my favourite tracks and artists selected from the monthly mix tapes. Apart from my top three, which are the ones I’ve played the most, they’re in no particular order.
15. Shaky Bridges – Sean McConnell
A great voice and a great songwriter whose album I really enjoyed. Lovely bit of harmonica, too.
14. Raised on Country – Chris Young
A feelgood, bombastic slice of country – the kind of track to sing along to in the car, preferably with the windows down.
13. Tenille Townes – Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Asking)
What an amazing voice. This reflective song is a bit of a tear-jerker, and full of heart.
12. I Don’t Love You – Lindsay Ell
An incredibly emotional song with a great chorus – I saw her perform it live and then had it in my head for days afterwards.
11. Pretty Shiny Things – Kassi Ashton
I love the slight drawl in Ashton’s voice. It’s a beautiful delivery for a song that packs an emotional punch.
10. To Hell & Back – Maren Morris
Another in the list that a live performance helped to crystallise in my affections. There’s a lot to choose from in Maren’s catalogue, but this one captured a mood for me.
9. Road with No Lines – Rob Mayes
Several Rob Mayes songs appeared dotted throughout my playlists, and I always liked them. I enjoyed the strength of the imagery in this one. A beautiful song.
8. I Wish Grandpas Never Died – Riley Green
This is certainly sentimental, but the sweetness of the song makes it immediately likeable.
7. Beer Drinkin’ Weather – Canaan Smith
This is the sort of song I associated with country before immersing myself more fully in the genre. It’s the kind of tune that makes you feel good to be alive, crave a beer, and wish the weather was better in the UK.
6. I Hope I’m Stoned (When Jesus Takes Me Home) – Charlie Worsham
As with the selection above, this kind of song is exactly what I expected from country. This is a witty spin on traditional subject matter, and one it’s hard to resist singing along to.
5. There’s a Drink for that – James Barker Band
Only now that I’ve come to compile the list have I noticed how many beer-drinking songs have made the final cut. This is another that can’t fail to put a spring in your step.
4. Ocean – Lady Antebellum
Lady Antebellum is another group whose songs I generally always like, though I found it took me a while to recognise their sound, as it’s varied. Ocean appeals to me as I love the combination of strong vocals and piano, regardless of genre.
3. I’m Standing With You – Chrissy Metz
This is an amazing song and performance. It’s easily the one I found the most moving out of all of the many entries on the playlists.
2. My Heart is a Bar – Old Dominion
Old Dominion is another band I’ve listened to entire albums, especially after seeing them perform live. This is a favourite of their newer material.
1. God’s Country – Blake Shelton
This sums up everything that is great about country music. It’s powerful, raw and compelling. Impossible to listen to this without getting completely drawn into the world of the song and singing along.
I hope you like my choices! Who knows, maybe next year I won’t be an outsider any longer. Here’s to 2020 and another twelve country playlists…