The state of country music has often been a hot topic of discussion among fans and those in the country music community. Artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, and Sam Hunt have become flag bearers for the current ‘bro-country’ themes that are dominating country radio. At the same time, they are also contributing to the lack of creativity and diversity within the genre. Rarely can you turn on the radio without hearing a song about driving down backroads with a girl in short cut-off jeans that ends up shaking it on the tailgate under the moonlight.
However, thanks to a few artists like Cam, Jana Kramer, Little Big Town, and Carrie Underwood, songs of a high caliber of quality were able to reach the pinnacle of the country charts in 2015. In addition, artists like Ashley Monroe, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, and Kacey Musgraves were releasing music of an even higher quality that gave fans the hope that country music will once again be about real life themes and stories that take place outside of the small town backroad fields.
Luckily in 2016 there are several songs that have the potential to be commercial successes without giving into the current trends defined by country radio. Here are a few of my personal favorites that you should keep on your radar for 2016.
Brandy Clark, “Girl Next Door”
The latest single from singer/songwriter Brandy Clark keeps inline with the style of songwriting she displayed on her debut album. Clark’s wicked sense of humor can be found in lines like “sorry I ain’t sorry, but I ain’t your Marcia Brady” as she defiantly warns potential partners that if they “want the girl next door, then go next door.” This single is easily leaps and bounds better than anything currently at country radio. Though previous singles from Brandy failed to garner any attention at country radio, I have a feeling this latest one will be her best shot at climbing up the radio charts.
Brothers Osborne featuring Lee Ann Womack, “Loving Me Back”
With “Stay A Little Longer” reaching number one this week, it’s unclear what will be the next single from Brothers Osborne. However, if I had it my way, it would be this incredible song featuring one of the best female vocalists in country music, Lee Ann Womack. On the surface, “Loving Me Back” could be seen as a song about finding someone that loves you back. However, dig deeper into the lyrics, and you’ll find this is a song about how music and performing is the narrator’s true love. Meanwhile the production masterfully fuses traditional country elements with southern rock to create an atmosphere reminiscent of a smoke filled honky tonk. The beauty of this song isn’t in its lyrics or the production, but in how superbly the duo’s voices blend with that of Womack’s traditional, soulful country voice. Let’s hope this song shakes up country radio at some point in 2016.
Ashley Monroe, “The Blade”
“The Blade” uses a metaphor involving a knife to create one of the most heartbreaking songs in today’s country music. Monroe uses the metaphor to explain to her former partner just how their breakup has affected them differently. “You caught it by the handle and I caught it by the blade,” she sings as she explains that she’s the only one who seemingly got cut during the relationship’s ending. Monroe delivers the explanation with a sense of grace and maturity that only elevates the emotional undertones of this brilliant song. This was easily one of my favorite songs released last year, and I’m hoping 2016 will be a breakout year for this Grammy nominated artist.
Mickey Guyton, “Why Baby Why”
Mickey Guyton should have been one of 2015’s biggest success stories, but once again the discrimination against women at country radio kept that from happening. However, after being prominently featured during an American Idol audition, “Why Baby Why” has the potential to be Guyton’s signature song. This tale of heartache tells the story of how difficult it is to move on from an emotional breakup and easily one of the most accessible songs for listeners to relate to. Mickey’s vocal range is on full display here as she gracefully delivers the opening verse before soaring into her higher register once the chorus hits. After receiving a boost from being featured on Idol, her label needs to hurry and capitalize on that momentum because there’s no reason why an artist of this caliber shouldn’t be a household name.
William Michael Morgan, “I Met A Girl”
“I Met A Girl” is a nice, refreshing love song that’ll warm hearts of his female fans all over the country. The song’s slow, quiet production will be a nice refreshing break from the over produced pop songs dominating country radio. Overall, it’s an average debut single for a young artist. However, I will say that what excites me most about William Michael Morgan is how at just 22 years of age he knows exactly who he is as an artist. You won’t find him following trends to fit in at country radio. Instead, you’re guaranteed to hear nothing but modern traditional country music reminiscent of what artists like Easton Corbin and Chris Young have had success with in recent years. I have yet to hear a male artist that I’ve been this excited to follow.
Miranda Lambert, “Scars”
History has shown that true artists are the ones who aren’t afraid to use their life’s experiences and hardships to create stunning country music. That said, I think Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s divorce could potentially be the best thing to happen to country music this decade if this song is any indication of what to expect from Miranda’s next album. “Scars” is a stunning ballad written by Lambert’s longtime bandmate, Scotty Wray, explaining the importance behind the various scars we may all have. “Looking back I’m glad I took my chances, cause they were worth at least enough to leave a mark” says the song proving that every scar has a meaning. Though this was just an impromptu performance of the song, Miranda pours every bit of pain and hurt from her personal life’s shakeup to bring this incredibly moving experience to life. It’s unclear whether this will be recorded for her next album, but here’s to hoping we get more songs like this from Lambert this year.