I did this last year, for the first time.
I enjoy it, so that is good enough reason to do it again. Here are my favorite music videos of the year. There is a mix of mainstream artists (Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw) and alternative artists (Turnpike Troubadours, Lindi Ortega, Whitey Morgan, Sam Outlaw).
There are ten videos below. I did not include Chris Stapleton’s CMA performance because I already blogged about it and provided the videos there. This was the year of Chris Stapleton and nobody saw it coming. For that matter, nobody would have predicted that a traditional country album would be the #1 album in the land — with zero radio support.
Enjoy the goodness that awaits…
“Ghost Town,” Sam Outlaw
With his debut album, Angeleno, Sam Outlaw has single-handedly marked the revival of the Southern California country scene, where Merle Haggard and Buck Owens originate and the Academy of Country Music was born. At least, we can only hope that this is something of a revival. Sam Outlaw (“Outlaw” is his mother’s maiden name) has a deep intuition about what makes country music special. I highly encourage you to watch the CBS This Morning feature on Sam Outlaw: Saturday Sessions.
Also, be sure to read the brilliant review of the album at Saving Country Music — “It’s the haze that creates a sepia hue over everything in the city; it’s the way the streets are so full of electricity and desperation all at the same time.”
“Down Here,” Turnpike Troubadours
“A gritty, country-leaning roots rock band out of Oklahoma, the Turnpike Troubadours at their best synthesize the populist, political folk of Woody Guthrie and the outlaw-styled honky tonk of Waylon Jennings with doses of bluegrass, Cajun, and straight-out rock dynamics…the group celebrates and explores modern rural life with a full awareness of history, delicately avoiding being ornate revivalists,” Steve Leggett writes. That’s well said. Their fourth studio album debuted at #3 on the US Country Albums chart. Also, if you haven’t seen “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” do yourself a favor and click on the link.
“Talladega,” Eric Church
Eric Church is a native of Granite Falls, North Carolina, in the heart of NASCAR country, so it is only inevitable that he would release a song like this. “Talladega” reached #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay this year, and it is well-deserved. It was also nominated for CMA Single of the Year, though losing to Little Big Town.
“Ashes,” Lindi Ortega
This Canadian native — and now Nashville resident — has some of the most captivating vocals in country music. Faded Gloryville is her fourth album with Last Gang Records, and I recommend all four albums. Once again, her voice is her calling card. Sultry. Yearning. The video was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, a perfect setting.
“Waitin’ Round to Die,” Whitey Morgan
This is what happens when a Townes Van Zandt song is covered by one of the great honky tonk heroes of our generation: Whitey Morgan. I was privileged to see Whitey Morgan in concert this year, and I was stunned. His talent and the talent of his band (“the 78’s”) is not worthy of my words. Trust me. This is as good as it gets.
“Smooth Sailin’,” Leon Bridges
This has been Leon Bridges’ breakout year, beginning with his first single, “Coming Home.” There are obvious comparisons to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, which is like comparing a breakout country artist to George Jones and Waylon Jennings. As such, the shoes he hopes to fill are intimidating to say the least. In my opinion, there is still a lot of room for growth. He needs to make his own distinct stamp upon the noble r&b tradition. But, he has all of the fundamentals right, and he’s only 26 years old! We will hear much more of Leon Bridges for a long time to come.
“Smoke Break,” Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood is the reigning vocal virtuoso of country music. She obviously tends toward the pop side of country, but she has consistently (as of late) released singles with substance. “Smoke Break” is her latest offering, and it is a welcome relief on the radio. The song recalls the long-standing tradition of working class songs in country music.
“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw is already classified as a “legend.” With two decades under his belt, he is still releasing chart-topping singles. “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” did not quite reach the top of the charts (at #3 on Country Airplay), but I consider it as one of his best singles in the entirety of his career. This is everything a straightforward country song should be, and Tim’s delivery is pitch perfect. This is a live performance, and it sounds almost identical to the studio version.
“Overdue,” Jillian Jacqueline
Jillian Jacqueline is a fairly new songwriter in Nashville, and “Overdue” is her first single. Her debut album, an EP, is “coming soon” according to her website. This is a lovely, simple song — beautifully sung. I hope to hear and see more of Jillian in the future. Since she did not make an official video for “Overdue,” somebody else made this unofficial video with clips of her recording. It’s so well done that it might as well be designated as the official video.
“Send It On Down,” Lee Ann Womack
Few things are more embarrassing than when an established artist chases the trends in order to reclaim past radio glory. Lee Ann Womack is not one of those artists. Instead, her music is a reflection of her age and maturity, as it should be. And as a result, I am confident that her place is secure in the history of country music, alongside Kitty Wells and Tammy Wynette.
Honorable Mentions (the ladies):
Miranda Lambert, “Storms Never Last” (Grand Ole Opry)
Honorable Mentions (the gents):