Strictly Country releases it’s list of Top Songs of 2015.
By: The staff at Strictly Country.
(This article was printed in the January / February 2016 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
Deep in the heart of the Northwoods there is an archaeological dig that has been going on for nearly twenty-three years. Through the years, this dig has uncovered and discovered a collection of genuine treasures. Treasures range from some that have never been seen before to those who are completely new.
We, the staff at Strictly Country, are like the archaeologists of the 1920’s and 1930’s. We are always on the search to find the buried treasure hidden so deep among the piles of albums. It is our job to bring to you these treasures to cherish and enjoy. The treasure that we so seek is that of a good song.
A good song is one that the listener can relate too. As it progresses, it will take a listener on a journey as it prompts long forgotten memories or even plays a mini story with in the listener’s mind’s eye. When listening to a song, one should not have to try to figure out the song’s message. The lyrics should be carefully chosen to carry the listener through the song with ease while it promotes various emotions. The melody of the song should not be over whelmed with various instruments. The instruments playing the melody should be carefully chosen to compliment the lyrics, thus creating a masterpiece worthy of the listener’s precious time. This is what we look for in our archeology dig among the albums released in 2015.
Our dig into the albums of 2015 did not create a result right away. In fact, it wasn’t until February that we found our first buried treasure. In 2014, Sammy Kershaw released his new album, Do You Know Me? A Tribute To George Jones. The album featured a collection of cover songs of George Jones. However, it also included two new songs. In 2013, Sammy released a single from this album called “The Route That I Took.” This song hit the list of Top Songs of 2014 and earned the Spirit Award for Song of The Year Award. As it was released on this album, we pulled it as well as the title track.
We discovered several songs when we dug into Lonesome River Band’s new album Turn On A Dime. From this album we pulled three gems including a beautiful instrumental called “Cumberland Gap,” and two non-traditional Gospel songs “Holding To The Right Hand” and “Every Head Bowed.”
When we examined a new album from Kacey Jones, we found a new valuable side of this amusing artist. Kacey is known as a comedic entertainer, however she charmed us when she released her new album Amen For Old Friends. The album showed a different, humble side of Jones. From this album we dug up one comedic song called “One Click Away” and two heart felt songs with “There’s A Song In There Somewhere” and the title cut.
Sometimes it takes a while for a treasure to get found. In 2012, known instrumentalist Phil Leadbetter released his latest album called The Next Move. This album is more than a treasure to many people as it is a collection of musicians coming together to celebrate one of their own, who had battled cancer. The songs that we felt were valuable to hit this list is “Baptism” featuring Marty Raybon and Joe Diffie, “Jesus, My Old Dog and Me” featuring Shawn Camp and a beautiful instrumental called “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.”
We unearthed a large cashe of jewels when we dug into John and Judy Rodman’s new album Here We Are. We felt that this was such a huge haul that we had a hard time choosing which songs to hit our list. In fact, the value of this treasure was so great that we pulled this album to nominate for the Spirit Award’s Album of The Year Award. It did not win in that category, but we place it high on our shelf with “President’s Choice Award for Top Country Music Album for 2016.” It was difficult to choose which gems to add to this list, but ultimately we chose “There We Are,” “When The Day Is Over” and “Sweet Dreams.
We were compelled to return to school when Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver’s new album In Session was exhumed. We learned many valuable lessons from this group, but in the end we took from it “Calling All Her Children Home,” “I Told Them About You,” and “You, You, You.”
Just before taking time to paying tribute to America’s real heroes - the soldiers, we excavated several new projects worthy of mentioning...
The first came from Billy Ray Cyrus and his new album The Distance. Years ago, Billy teamed up with George Jones and Loretta Lynn to record a wonderful song called “Country Music Has The Blues.” However, when we turned over a stone we found “Call Me Daddy,” a heartfelt ballad about the lessons of a boy growing up.
It was in March that we hit the mother load of treasures as we opened up a pouch containing Bill Anderson’s new album God Is Great God Is Good. This two disc album featured forty-one of the most beautiful songs. One by one we kept picking out precious songs like “Where Have All Our Heroes Gone,” “Friends,” “Golden Guitar,” “I Wonder If God Likes Country Music,” “Mama Sang A Song,” “Ol’ Doc Brown,” “Po’ Folks,” “Still Believing In Christmas,” “The Farmer & The Lord,” “Touch of The Master’s Hand,” “Trouble In The Amen Corner” and best gem of all “Deck of Cards.” There were so many precious gems in this pouch that we had to nominate it for the Spirit Award’s Album of The Year Award and much to our surprise, it won.
Often than it should, treasures can be hidden among other treasures. This was the case when we excavated an album from John Conlee called Classics 2. This album featured many of John’s former gems including “A Lot of Things Different” and “Stuff That Works.” Within the bag of gems we also found “Pocket Full of Crosses” and a very powerful song of the times called “Walkin’ Behind The Star.” With so many precious gems, this album was also nominated for the 2016 Album of The Year Award.
Last year we dug up several gems from the Trinity River Band. This year we were delighted when we unearthed three more from their new album Heartstrings. These brightly colored gems include “Fences,” “Rusty Old American Dream” and the title track.
Sometimes it takes a little coursing to find that one buried treasure. After years of living hidden behind the careers of her sisters Barbara and Louise, Irlene Mandrell finally released her debut single called “We Will Stand.” This precious and powerful song pays tribute to the events of 9/11. Shortly after our article about this single, Irlene shared with us another gem in a Christmas song called “One Holy Night.”
The older generation is always notorious for hiding treasures. Appropriately named Goldmine, John Anderson’s newest album was just that. Amongst the solid rocks of songs we found “Back Home,” “Don’t Forget To Thank The Lord,” and a powerful message in “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
One of the most known treasure holders is found in Bluegrass by the name of Dr. Ralph Stanley. Dr. Stanley released his latest project Man of Constant Sorrow that preserves thirteen different gems recorded with eleven friends. We hold dear “Two Coats” with Robert Plant and “Hills of Home” as precious treasures.
Some treasures can be lost for years before being discovered. Then some treasures become treasures because those who created them have passed on. On December 16, 2013, Ray Price passed away. In April 2014, his last album was finally released. Although we did not get to it until 2015 - it contained many buried treasures including “An Affair To Remember” with Martina McBride, “Senses” and “No More Songs To Sing.”
Some treasures are meant to be shared with those around us. On November 10, 2014, Jim Ed Brown announced that he would celebrate his 51st anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry with a new album. The album, In Style Again, was released the following year on January 20th. Jim Ed had shared so many of his treasures that we had to pull the entire album to nominate it for the 2016 Album of The Year Award. Some of the more precious gems in this box we found “It’s A Good Life,” “Older Guy,” “The Last One,” “You Again” and the title track. Jim Ed passed away on June 11, 2015.
Another box of treasures left behind was left by Lynn Anderson when she released her final album Bridges. Fans were enjoying the spoils of her album when word came that Lynn Anderson had passed away on July 30, 2015. From her goods we took a powerful song called “Fishin’” and the title track.
We explored a new location when we received the self entitled, debut album from a new group of veteran Bluegrass entertainers by the name of The Band of Ruhks. We were so excited with the takings of this album that we nominated it for the 2016 Album of The Year Award. From our haul we took “Good Time Mountain Man,” a powerful song with “Rendezvous With Danger” and a song for soldiers with “Between The Devil And The Deep.”
There are times when we must scavenge in to new territories to find our plunder. In a territory that we sometime adventure in we discovered a new group called The Boxmasters. The two-disc album featured a wide variety of songs based on a territory called Rockabilly. As good as all of the songs were, the two songs that stood out as gems were “Was That My Only Ride” and “What Did You Do Today.” What surprised us most about this album is that at the helm of this ship, was a captain named Billy Bob Thorton.
Sometimes during our dig for buried treasure we unearth an album filled with dirt. But among that dirt can be that one tiny gem worth polishing. This was the case with several albums. The first came in T. Graham Brown’s new album Forever Changed when we pulled “Which Way To Pray” with Sonya Isaacs. The second was found in Larry Stephenson Band’s new album Pull Your Savior In when we found “Come To Jesus Moment.” Another gem was found among Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out’s latest album It’s About Tyme when we found “Had It Not Been For The Train.” The final hidden gem in the dirt was found in The Oak Ridge Boys latest project Rock of Ages: Hymns And Gospel Favorites when “Time Has Made A Change In Me” was unearthed.
Originally from our neck of the Northwoods, we unveiled a Bluegrass artist by the name of Becky Buller when she released her latest project ‘Tween Earth And Sky. The album contained many valuable finds including “Amos & Sarah,” “I Serve God” and “Make Us To Shine.” A few months later, Becky shared with us another valuable find with her Christmas song “Our Gingerbread House.”
Some treasures take years of development to become treasures. This past year many entertainers celebrated important mile stones in their careers
Among these entertainers, Aaron Tippin celebrated his 25th year in the music industry with his new two-disc album called 25. Throughout his 25 year career, Aaron has enjoyed some incredible spoils. From his plunder we took “That Makes Me Thirsty,” “Without A Kiss” and a new song recorded with his wife Thea Tippin called “Easier Unsaid Than Undone.”
Where as The Bellamy Brothers honored their 40th year in the music industry with their two-disc album 40 Years The Album. Once we excavated through the first disc we found it to contain a collection of hits that made the brothers who they are today. The true riches were found on the second disc when we uncovered “Dyin’ Breed” and “Heaven And Hell.” Later on we discovered another true gem with “Boobs.”
At one archaeological site we uncovered a beautiful jewel with Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White’s new album Hearts Like Ours. Although this husband and wife duo have recorded together on previous projects this was the first time the two were able to come together to share with us the strengths, devotions and infatuation of each other. This beautiful love filled treasure was bigger than the hope diamond, therefore we nominated it for the 2016 Spirit Award’s Album of The Year Award. From this diamond, two diamonds pieces broke off with “Reasons To Hang On” and “When I’m Good And Gone.”
As we began to close out the year we commenced searching for new archeological sites within a territory called Christmas. For the first time in seventeen years we were allowed to return to an old archaeological site called Kenny Rogers. Since 1981, Kenny has bestowed upon us with lavish gifts from his various Christmas albums and tours. For the first time in fourteen years, Kenny released a new gift to us wrapped in white called Once Again It’s Christmas. The gift contained many treasures, however hidden deep among those we have heard before we found “Back To Bethlehem” and “Some Children See Him” featuring Alison Krauss. It is the second treasure that earned the title of 2016 Spirit of Christmas Award.
We were able to re-visit another archeological site called LeAnn Rimes. Among the twelve common artifacts we found a rare find with “I Still Believe In Santa Claus.”
Perhaps one of the most successful digs came from an archeological site called Donna Ulisse. For years, this site has produced many valuable artifacts. But when we were introduced to another part of this site, we became enthusiastic. In 2015, Donna released her latest and best project called Hard Cry Moon. We were so elated as we pulled so many valuable artifacts from this site. There were so many incredible and beautiful gems that we pulled the entire project and nominated it for the 2016 Spirit Award for Album of The Year Award. We were disappointed that it did not win, however our disappointment did not last for this project received the prestigious honor of President’s Choice Award for Best Bluegrass Album of 2015. The true gems from this dig include “As Long As We’re Together,” “Papa’s Garden,” “We’re Gonna Find A Preacher” and our favorite “It Could Have Been The Mandolin.”
It is very rare that we come across an archeological dig site that continues to produced a trove of treasure. In fact on this site we barely have to excavate beyond the next level to find an artifact. Of course we are talking about a site called Dolly Parton. In 2014, Ms. Parton unearthed her latest treasure chest called Blue Smoke. Although we did not unearth this trunk until 2015, it still proved to hold a vast amount of wealth. Perhaps the most treasured gem our archaeologists found was “Unlikely Angel.” This artifact was originally part of Ms. Parton’s 1996 made for television movie of the same name. We found several other diamonds in the mix including “Miss You-Miss Me” and a beautiful gem with “From Here To The Moon And Back” performed as a duet with Willie Nelson.
All of these treasures were polished and put on display for the 2016 Spirit Awards Song of The Year Award. The most priceless and most sought after of these eighty-seven artifacts was “You Can’t Make Old Friends” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, which earned the 2016 Song of The Year Award.
Although we are dirty and exhausted from excavating these buried treasures, we expect to do more digs in familiar sites. We are also looking forward to digging, exploring and surveying new sites in order to find additional incredible buried treasures.
It is our honor to share with you our ‘finds’ and we hope that you have learned something here at our exhibit today. Please don’t forget to visit the gift shop on your way out and remember to come back next year when we host the Top Songs of 2016 exhibit.
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