Discovering the list of Tops Songs of 2016…
By: The Staff at Strictly Country
Way up north, but not to far, there is a major expedition taking place. It began nearly twenty-four years ago as we embarked on a continuous journey to search for little hidden treasures. Now this exploration is not as significant as the one taken by Lewis and Clark in 1804. Nevertheless, it is just as important and it is one that we have taken very serious through the years.
Like the explorers before us, we have adventured into the unknown; where we have encountered bears, porcupines and even skunks. But no amount of setbacks or misfortunes are going to stop this exploration. Through the years, we have trudged through the mud and muck to find our buried treasures. At one point, we thought that we would end our expedition but then we were re-assured that we were on the right path to prosperity.
We, the staff at Strictly Country, are much like the explorers of the past. We are always on an expedition to find the hidden treasures that are buried so deep amongst the recesses of what is called the music industry. These hidden treasures we seek are called songs and they must hold value to us.
So what makes a song valuable and treasured? A treasured song is one that the traveler can relate too. As it takes the passenger on an expedition, it should prompt the adventurer of long forgotten memories as it plays a mini story within the traveler’s mind’s eye. When traveling through a song, one should not have to seek a compass to navigate through the message of the song. The lyrics should be carefully mapped out to guide the traveler through the song with ease while it promotes various emotions. The melody of the song should not overwhelm us with a storm of instruments. The instruments on this journey should be carefully chosen to provide a smooth route that compliments the lyrics, thus creating a masterpiece and successful exploration worthy of the traveler’s precious time. This is what we continue to look for on our expedition amongst the albums we explored in 2016.
It didn’t take long for our expedition to find results as we explored a far away region called The Kruger Brothers when we delved into their new album The Best of The Kruger Brothers. Hailing from Switzerland, this trio of talented guys entertained us with elegance as they brought simplicity back to music. From this album we collected two of their songs; the first is “Carolina In The Fall” which paints a delightful image as the lyrics ride a gentle melody of instrumentals. The second, “The Lights In Our Village,” was the first Christmas song we unearthed on our journey. This song portrays the traditional events held in a little village in Switzerland as it is enhanced with the perfect blend of musical accompaniment.
Our journey took us through a new region called Brothers Osborne when we came upon their album called Pawn Shop. Most of this region w
as quite manufactured, however amongst the fabrication we found a gem called “Greener Pastures.” We pocketed this one as it was performed in a Hank Williams Jr. meets Johnny Cash impression.
As the snow began to melt up here in the Northwoods, we had a little more freedom to explore different locations such as Gospel. We returned to a little known region called Jimmy Fortune when we dug up his Hits And Hymns album. The album contained a well polished gem called “More Than A Name On A Wall” that we learned a lot about. Nonetheless we unearthed a new area called “If I Was God.” In this area we found a simple but powerful message written about how we as individuals wish that we had the capacity to change the bad things that happen in our lives; as for one brief moment we may wish that we could be God.
Next to that region we found two new sites to explore. The first was called Tammy Jones Robinette & The Drive that was inhabited by a person with the same name. From that new region we gathered two new songs to treasure. The first, “The Man In Those Shoes” is a beautifully painted heartfelt ballad about how a wife thanks God for the sacrifices that her hard working husband makes to earn a living for his family. The spring rains came while we were visiting this region, which unearthed “To Be A Kid Again,” a light-hearted fun song that reminds us of our youthful days.
The other new site we explored was called The Day We Learn To Fly owned by Volume Five. We truly resorted to our childhood ways in this region as we found another childlike song with “Color Between The Lines;” which utilizes a story of a child coloring between the lines as a metaphor for a person staying on the right path set by God. Sometimes we come across a region that contains a concealed but elegant area. We found that while visiting this land when we fell upon “Thanks Again.” This one touched our hearts and souls as it tells the life story of a child growing up into adulthood and giving thanks to God for his parents. This song is one to visit again, as it makes for a great dedication song—especially for a wedding dance. We thought that we were done exploring this area owned by Volume Five, until they introduced us to “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore.”
Oddly enough, just as we were leaving we walked right into another new site called Traveler owned by Chris Stapleton. The two sites collided as Chris is the writer of the song “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore.” Both versions of the song are quite elegant, yet are performed with two different personalities. While visiting, Chris entertained us with “Was It 26” and “Whiskey And You.” Although, both songs spoke about alcohol, we were not offered any while we visited.
We explored a barren field before we happened upon an area we thought was lost. The area is owned by The Grascals when they added And Then There’s This… to their locale. From this setting we were given three songs to take with us including “Delta Queen” which reminds us of the old river boats that once graced the mighty Mississippi river. Also given to us was a heartfelt ballad about two friends saying ‘goodbye’ at one’s funeral with “Old Friend of Mine.” Sometimes simplicity is more beautiful than complexity and we found that in an instrumental taken from this region called “Autumn Glenn.”
We traveled quite a bit until we came upon a rocky scene that was home to Shane Michael Taylor that he called I Will Stand. Shane’s home contained a very unique concept as he was the songwriter to all of the songs in the area, however, he was not the singer. That job was hired out to various other talented vocalists. We were humbled when he gave us his two songs “Alcohol of Fame” and “Livin’ This Rodeo;” both of which featured an extraordinary vocalist named Mason Douglas.
Just a few miles away we explored a new province owned by Sister Hazel called Lighter In The Dark. From this new realm we took with us a gentle melody called “Almost Broken” and a Texas two-step called “Take It With Me.”
Once we left that area we ran into an old nearly forgotten neighborhood called TG Sheppard. We have visited this area many times before, but this time we unearthed a new place called Legendary Friends & Country Duets. TG shared many stories about his travels as he sang a great deal of songs for us. We were so impressed with the recordings of “Dead Girl Walking” featuring Kelly Lang and the last known recording that George Jones made called “It’s A Man Thing” that we just had to take them with us. However, the true treasure found in this nearly forgotten neighborhood came when we unearthed “The Next One” that TG recorded with Lorrie Morgan. This is perhaps the best creative song that we have heard in a long time. Although most of the songs on the album were not as valuable as these three, we still held them up enough to take the entire album with us.
This year’s expedition led us over a lot of rough and rocky terrain. Amongst the hills we came across a valley known as Little Texas. It has been a long time since we visited this area and we were surprised to find that it was just as beautiful as it once was, especially when we explored a little spot called Young For A Long Time. Little Texas reminded us of the true nature of falling in love with as they shared this message in their song “Take This Walk With Me.” As we sat around the campfire listening to tales of their travels they entertained us with a slightly comedic song with “Rednecks Do Exist.” However, we were overwhelmed when they told us a story about a Soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, in a compelling and influential song called “Slow Ride Home.”
As we left that valley, we knew that we were close to another well explored area called Vince Gill. Therefore we stopped in to take a listen to his new album Down To My Last Bad Habit. Every once in a while we discover a song that contains an unparalleled and unprecedented storyline within the lyrics. We found that in Vince’s song “My Favorite Movie” as it utilizes a movie plot to testify one’s love for their significant other. Mr. Gill takes the time on this album to pay tribute to a long lost legend named George Jones in his ballad called “Sad One Comin’ On (A Song For George Jones).” Out of all the songs that we explored that are dedicated to Mr. Jones, this one truly captures the personification of George as it rides a Jones-esc melody.
Later on this past year we came upon a new region for us as we were introduced to Jesse Dayton when he released his new album The Revealer. Jesse is no stranger to the music industry, nonetheless this was our first time in his neck of the woods. From his new project we unearthed another George Jones tribute song with “Possum Ran Over My Grave.” Unlike other tribute songs, this one shares the story of a fan’s point of view on Mr. Jones rather than Jones’ well lived life.
We were told to explore a new locale by a friend of ours as he told us about his son Matt Leadbetter when he released his debut self-entitled album. Like his father, Phil Leadbetter, Matt is quite the talented musician. From this region we pulled another Song For Soldiers with a song called “A Love Like That.”
As we explored region after region we came across a rocky area we thought was lost as we never really marked it on our maps. The rocky area we are talking about is called Blackberry Smoke. We have often enjoyed the scenes of this area and we were not let down as we listened to their new album Holding All The Roses. We were quite entertained with the entire album, but amongst the songs we found one that shined amongst the rest. “Wish In One Hand,” is a hard core southern rock song that contains an amusing chorus that can bring a smile to those who hear it.
There are so many places we have explored in twenty-four years. Some of which we wish not to explore ever again. Nonetheless, some how we wander into these areas as they release new albums. In 2016, Alan Jackson released a decent box set, Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story, that contained majority of his hits. But when we dug a little deeper into this new album we found a few new songs. From this location we took with us “Ain’t Just A Southern Thing” and “Born Too Late” due to their weight in creativity.
As the people back home celebrate the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we were exploring a new territory rich with treasures. This new region was called Slow Bullet created by Shawn Byrne. Very few times do we ever come across a region so luscious, vibrant and exquisite as this. Shawn Byrne holds dear the ebb and flow of what real country music is all about, that we invited everyone to explore this new region when we featured this album on Strictly Country’s Friday night radio show—Around The Campfire. This area is still available to explore on our website. The abundance of wealth found at this locale was so large that we took the entire album with us, more so we were delighted with “Beer Tree,” “Old,” and “Slow Bullet.”
Mid-summer found us surveying a new region called SEMBA (Southeast Minnesota Bluegrass Association) as we finally met up with some close friends as they visited our neck of the Northwoods. There were stories to tell as we presented Trinity River Band with their well deserved Spirit Awards at this location. Nonetheless, we were impressed with their live performance as we delved into their new album Things We Do For Dreams. From their new project we took with us “Between Me And Jolene” and the title cut. More so, we took with us a wonderful experience as we developed a deeper relationship with this talented family.
Fall brought us trudging through the mud and muck as we explored a wide variety of new territories. Amongst the decayed we found several delightful places including one provided by The Spinney Brothers with their new album Living The Dream. At this location we were provided with wisdom as we heard “Letter To Myself.” The Spin
ney Brothers brought us on a wonderful journey as we reminisce of the old days as we listened to “Pocket Knife.” More so we were quite entertained when we found “Pick The Banjo.”
Adjacent to this region we found another area we explored before when we happened upon Hank Williams Jr and his new album It’s About Time. As we visited, we engaged into a subject about the times we lived in when we heard “God And Guns.” After reflecting on the times, we started talking about the good ole days as Hank entertained us with “Those Days Are Gone.” While we were visiting we really made acquaintance with Hank as we talked about himself in “Just Call Me Hank.”
As we were leaving, another nearly forgotten group, Confederate Railroad, stopped by for a visit. Although the visit was brief, we did delve into their new album Lucky To Be Alive. From this album we took the title cut. However, it was “The Man I Am Today,” that really surprised us with its unique message that rides a traditional Texan two-step melody.
Hearing that Texan melody drove us to head south to visit another well known territory to us called Mark Chesnutt. In 2016, Mark released his latest project called Tradition Lives. We did not have to work that hard to find the gems as we explored this new album. Mark shares his opinion about the music industry as we unearthed his song “Never Been To Texas.” On the flip side he brought laughter to us with his whimsical song “Neither Did I.” We were quite amused as Chesnutt sang us an eccentric song called “Hot.” Through it all it was Mark’s simple song “There Won’t Be Another Now,” that pays tribute to the late Merle Haggard that captured us as it closed out the entire album. We were so impressed with this project that we took the entire album with us.
Another album we took with us was Section House—A collection of Instrumentals recorded by Section House. This was our first exploration through this new region and we were quite impressed with its simplicity that brought pure beauty. This album was so graceful, pleasing in a compassionate way that it was so hard to choose the songs that stood out amongst the rest. Nonetheless we chose “Snowflake Reel” and “Dance All Night” to add to our collection.
Speaking of collections, it has been such a long time since we visited a neighborhood called Moe Bandy. However, when we saw the sign for Lucky Me, we just had to stop and explore. We were not disappointed with our visit as Moe proved he still had those pristine vocals and cowboy mentality as he shared his song “Long Live The Cowboy.” We were surprised to find that our good friend Bill Anderson shared a song with Moe in “Everything Hank Williams Did, But Die.” But it was the exquisite and elegant two-step melody that is the backdrop for a message of two people falling in love that we fell in love with in “It Was Me.” We left that region with a deeper respect for the legends who still tour and record today.
This brought us to another new field we wanted to explore called Rebekah Long called Here I Am. We had heard lots of good things about this new field and we were ready to dig in to see what kinds of treasures we could find. It didn’t take us long to find the simplicity of country life in “Ain’t Life Sweet.” It was a haunting find when we heard that unforgettable fiddle moan as we heard “December.” This was one location that we marked on our maps in hopes to visit once again.
As our journey started to wind down, we still had a lot of areas to explore. Before me moved on we re-visited a well known area called Lorrie Morgan when she released her album Letting Go...Slow. In this region we were reminded of the sheer vocal talents that Ms. Morgan still maintains as we unearthed “Lonely Whiskey” to take with us.
As we started to make our way back, we came upon another lost but not forgotten sector called Johnny Lee when he released his newest project You Ain’t Never Been To Texas. It has been twenty-six years since we heard from Mr. Lee and well he did not disappoint us. Johnny shared with us his opinion about the times we live in with two great songs called “Bullets First” and “Who’s Left, Who’s Right.” It’s the second song that we all need to take a listen now that the election is over. As strong as those songs are it’s the power of grace found in “Who Did You Love” as it speaks about God’s judgment upon us when we die.
It was while trying to navigate through the quicksand of an album called Room For Roots by Andy May that we found our next gem. Even though this album hit our list of Top Worst Albums of 2016, we did find and pull “Stone Soup” for the elegant way he told this ancient story.
Sometimes on our expeditions we stumble upon a song. This was the case as we bumped into James Robert Webb’s song “Daddy Made A Million.”
Most of the time our journeys take us into unknown territories. Sometimes these new areas are difficult to navigate through. We don’t really want to say this was the case with Sideline’s album Colors & Crossroads. Nonetheless, it was a bit challenging. In the end we did find the title cut to take with us.
Another new, to us, area we explored this past year was an area called Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice when we explored their newest album Poor Boy’s Pleasure. It was a bit of fun to explore this new territory. In the end we found two songs that shined bright in “Walking In The Blue Ridge” and “Hang A Wreath.”
You never know what you will find when you re-visit an already explored area. When we returned to Vince Gill we found that he had teamed up with an incredible array of multi-talented musicians that called themselves The Time Jumpers. After the passing of one of their fellow musicians, The Time Jumpers decided to pay homage with their new album Kid Sister. We rather enjoyed the beauty of this album as we pulled three songs including “All Aboard,” “This Heartache” and the title track to add to our collection.
As we were about to leave, we came across The Kentucky Headhunters and their new album Safari. The Headhunters share the message of love in a song called “Crazy Jim.” But it was when we heard “Governors Cup” that we were totally taken aback as it is very rare for an entertainer or group to include an instrumental on their album.
Before we left this region, we took one more look around and found a lost, forgotten and hidden gem with Sylvia. It has been decades since we explored this area and we were pleasantly surprised to find her new album It’s All In The Family. This album was one of those rare albums that we come across that includes a complete collection of pure enjoyment. Most albums tend to have one or two songs that become known as filler songs. Not this album! It was hard to decide which songs stood out the most amongst this incredible array of music. After careful consideration we pulled “All In The Family,” “Do Not Cry For Me,” “Somebody’s Daughter” and our favorite “Immigrant Shoes.” After our decision was made, we went back and collected the entire album to take with to add to our collection.
It was a mutual friend that told us to explore another new territory called Circa Blue. In this area we found two new albums, one we have yet to review and the second was their new Christmas album called Bells of Home. It was on this album we found the biggest treasure with the title cut, as it tells the story of a soldier during the Battle of The Bulge in World War II. Amongst this large gem we also found two smaller gems with “Candy Cane Sweetheart” and “Snowflake Or Two.”
Exploring the Christmas region can be difficult as we make our way through all of the snow and presents. Buried deep in the snow we found Kacey Musgraves “Christmas Makes Me Cry” and The Gatlin Brothers “Heaven’s Child.” This territory is quite wide spread, nonetheless we also found Loretta Lynn’s new Christmas album White Christmas Blue. From this album we pulled “Country Christmas” and the title cut. Sitting next to Loretta Lynn were The Oak Ridge Boys and their new Christmas album Celebrate Christmas. Amongst the
carols we found “Rest In You Tonight” and “That’s Christmas To Me.”
Underneath all of the Christmas albums that were new to this region, we found Ray Stevens’ Mary And Joseph And The Baby And Me. We are always entertained with the expanse created by Mr. Stevens. From this album we pulled a heartfelt song with “Christmas Bells (In The Steeple)” and a comedic song in “Claws (A Cat’s Letter To Santa).”
As we made our way back after our year long expedition through the music industry we found that we had collected eighty-six songs that we consider gems. Each are a masterpiece within their own design. We have polished each of these songs and put them on a display for the 2017 Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award. The most priceless and sought after of these eighty-six songs was “Claws (A Cat’s Letter To Santa)” by Ray Stevens, which earned the 2017 Spirit Award for Song of The Year Award.
Although we are quite exhausted from our exploration, we are eager to see what treasures we can unearth in 2017. It is our honor to share with you today, this exhibit of our treasures that we found in 2016. If you don’t mind, please visit our gift shop on your way out and don’t forget to come back next year as we host and display our exhibit of Top Songs of 2017.
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