As summer quickly approaches, it’s time to reflect on the great music that’s been released this year. From pop-country to Americana, here’s Wide Open Country’s staff picks for the best songs of 2017, so far.
Honest, relatable and poetic, Caroline Spence’s “Hotel Amarillo” transports the listener to a cold, dark hotel room in the middle of Texas. Only a truly gifted songwriter can explain the empty distance of life on the road in such relatable terms, and Spence hits it out of the park. The impeccable production and accompaniment feels plucked out of Ryan Adams’ “Gold” era, adding grit to Spence’s softly soaring vocals. — L.L.
Jason Isbell once again cements himself as one of today’s most prolific songwriters with the cutting and honest track “White Man’s World.” He manages to tackle gender discrimination, slavery and current U.S. politics all in four minutes – and does so bluntly. His bleak and worried outlook on America’s future may be hard to hear, but it’s a narrative that many of us can relate to all too well. — L.L.
In this gorgeous tune off his new album, Beginning Of Things, Charlie Worsham delivers a crafty, sentimental love song without sounding saccharine sweet. Borrowing from songwriting legends like Dean Dillon (“The Chair”), Worsham employs a clever turn of phrase in imploring his significant other to “try something new for old time’s sake.” Capped off by deft finger picking and well-placed production elements, “Old Time’s Sake” is truly a country gem. — J.B
Natalie Hemby spent years in the Nashville songwriting trenches, penning songs for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Lee Ann Womack and more, before finally releasing her debut record. The result was the brilliant Puxico, a tribute to the southeast Missouri town where her grandparents lived and Hemby frequently visited growing up. “Worn,” a stripped-down salute to all that money can’t buy, is a stand-out track on an album full of gorgeous snapshots of small town life. — B.S.
Their first new single since breakthrough debut album, Meat And Candy, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart” is everything that’s right with pop country. An optimistic spin on the big questions, the tune opens with a John Mellencamp reference (“I wonder if Jack and Diane ever made it after the drums and the guitars all faded”). The tune extends the metaphor to a life philosophy that gets both personal and grandiose with an infectious melody and just the right amount of percussive adventure. — J.B.
There hasn’t been a debut mainstream country as solid as Brothers Osborne’s Pawn Shop in a long while. With massive hits “Stay a Little Longer” and “21 Summer” behind them, you wouldn’t blame them for releasing a middle-of-the-road cut as their third single. But “It Ain’t My Fault” shows off the brothers’ rowdier side with unapologetic, anthemic lyrics and a rolling electric guitar riff that will get stuck in your head for weeks. — L.L.
“You took me dancin’, you got me drunk. You kissed me, oh I remember. I was a man needin’ a woman’s touch and that’s all that I claimed to be.” So begins the all-too-familiar one-night stand story of Sam Outlaw‘s “Diamond Ring.” It’s a classic tale of man meets woman, woman falls in love, man dashes woman’s hopes by comparing commitment to “drawing death near.” It may sound harsh, but no one ever accused slow country waltzes of being cheerful. The song had long been a fan favorite at the SoCal singer’s shows. When “Diamond Ring” finally got the studio treatment it deserved on the 2017 release Tenderheart, it further proved that Outlaw is a master of the modern country ballad. — B.S.
If you’re a sucker for simple, sentimental songs, “My Old Man” should be in your rotation. The lead single from Zac Brown Band’s new album, Welcome Home, finds the group returning to the rootsy sound and soaring harmonies that made them superstars. Brown is singing about his father, and towards the end of the track, you can hear his voice start to crack as he thinking about him. You may do the same as you think about your own pop. — M.A.
Above all, country music is about honesty and it doesn’t get more honest than this track from Sunny Sweeney‘s breakout 2017 release Trophy. Co-written with Grammy-winning hitmaker Lori McKenna, “Bottle By My Bed” finds Sunny Sweeney torn between a life she wants and the life she chose. The clever title refers to a baby bottle, rather than a longneck Lone Star. “All my friends are raising babies, I’m still raising Cain,” Sweeney sings. The song is a tender and unflinching look at dreams, life and difficult choices. — B.S.
Stapleton co-wrote this song years before he recorded 2017’s From a Room, Vol. 1, so it’s had plenty of time to mature. “Either Way” isn’t a track you crank up on a Friday night; it’s one you listen to alone with a glass of whiskey. With his acoustic guitar and signature croon, Stapleton doles out heavy emotional power, outlining a romantic relationship at the end of its rope. Stapleton is a master of making the experiences he sings about sound authentic and vivid, so much so that you feel like a wallflower in the loveless home of this song. Hey, the good stuff isn’t always easy. — M.A.