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Strictly Country Magazine Top Songs of 2017 title

Fishing to catch the list of Top Songs of 2017.


By: The Staff at Strictly Country


   Way up north, but not to far, the land is covered with many lakes and streams.  Although Minnesota is the land of ten thousand lakes, it is Wisconsin who can officially claim more.  You see up here, in the northwoods, we have lots of lakes and streams to choose from.

   Now we don’t claim to be experienced fishermen like those you see on television.  Our fishing gear is not the top of the line. Our poles are old, ragged and warn; but they’ll do the trick.  It’s all in the bait, isn’t it?

   Our boat is small and old.  Like us, it has seen better days.  The paint is pealing off the hull, but she floats and that’s what matters most.

   We have bobbers, life jackets, lures and more!  Yes, there is a first aid kit just under the seat there.  The motor, well she’s as old as the boat.  But she still runs, if you can get her started.

   Winter you say?  Well, I guess we don’t need the boat after all.  We’ll just dress warm for the walk out on the lake.  Don’t forget the auger, we’ll need that to cut a hole in the ice.  We’re in the northwoods you see and fishing doesn’t stop for any season!

   For twenty-five years we have cast our lines in order to catch some great music.  We, the Staff at Strictly Country, are much like the vast array of anglers who eagerly cast their lines in the lake called The Music Industry, in hope to catch the big one!

   So what makes a song “the big one?”  The Big One is a song that the angler can relate too.  As it takes the fisherman on a journey, it should prompt the angler of long forgotten memories as it plays a mini story within the angler’s mind’s eye.  When trolling 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 angler 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 fishing trip worthy of the angler’s precious time.  This is what we continue to look for while fishing amongst the albums we fished from in 2017.

   We didn’t start fishing until February of last year, as we were so busy with the Spirit Awards.  In fact, the first three lakes we fished at we had to release our catch as the fish were bit small. 

  However, when we approached our forth lake we were inspired to set up our ice fishing house and stay a while.  We had been at this lake called Mark Collie before, but it had been a long time since we fished here.  It didn’t take us long to get our first catch with “Dead Man Runs Before He Walks.”  Performed in a live setting from a prison, Mark captures a great story of breaking out of said prison in this memorable tune.  Shortly after catching that tune, we cast our lines again in the same spot and caught “Do As I Say.” This one also contains a catchy melody mixed with lyrics filled with wisdom and a bit of humor.

  Soon after we left that lake we came upon another lake, known for its vast array of big ones.  Known as Charlie Daniels, this lake has produced more than we can count of great catches.  We were walking around this lake, when we found a new little cove called Night Hawk.  Drawing from life on his ranch, Charlie provided us with many great catches including “Running With The Crowd.”  In this beautiful ballad, Charlie steps into the role of an ole’ cowboy as he shares words of wisdom, which many can relate to today.  The second catch we pulled from this lake is a remake of a classic song that dates back to the 1870’s with “Old Chisholm Trail.”  We were just about to pack things up when we caught the biggest catch  with “Yippie Ki Yea.”  In this end of the day song, Charlie paints an elegant scene of a child who is tired after playing cowboy.  It also paints a wonderful picture of time spent between a Grandfather and his grandson.  This song would make for a great video, but more so it is the perfect song to share with a young one.

   As we were driving away from this lake we found a new little pond named Jenny Gill.  This pond came in the form of an EP called The House Sessions.  This EP was a great introduction to Jenny, especially when we pulled “Whiskey Words.”  With the taste of a gentle heartfelt ballad, this song gives us an aroma of elegance that we hope Jenny will build on.

   Just down the road a bit, we found another beautiful lake.  Although we have heard many great stories about this lake, we can not remember if we fished from it before.  Of course we are talking about the lake named Jeannie Seely.  Just off shore we found a spot on this lake called Written In Song.  This portion of the lake featured fourteen of the songs that she wrote over the years.  When we cast our line out, we immediately caught “Were Still Hangin’ In There Aren’t We.”  In this duet, Jeannie teams up with Jessie Colter, as they capture a time in their lives and share it with us in this amusing ditty.

   As we loaded up our gear to head out to find another lake, we spotted a warn path through the woods.  This path led us to a little creek called Wilson Fairchild.  Langdon and Wil, the sons of Don and Harold Reid of The Statler Brothers, came together to form this duo. We were first introduced to this duo last year when they released their latest project Songs Our Dads Wrote.  The album featured a collection of songs that Don and Harold wrote while part of the Statler Brothers.  Although majority of the songs were cover songs, there was one song that the boys created called “The Statler Brothers Song.”  Performed in a melody that is very much like those sung by the Statlers, this song pays tribute to the group with honor and respect.

   As the snow finally melted and the lakes were free from the ice, we put away our ice fishing gear and got the boat out of storage and made it ready for the season.  This season was sure to be a big season with all of the new albums being released.

   It was while we were loading up with gear, gas and snacks, that a local bait shop owner reminded us of a lake we had not visited in a while.  A lake well known in the area by the name of The Oak Ridge Boys.  In 2003, The Oak Ridge Boys released their patriotic album called Colors.  The album features twelve beautifully created songs with a patriotic mentality including the song “G.I. Joe & Lillie.”  Written by Joe Bonsall, this is a wonderful heartfelt ballad that shares the story of two people who served, fell in love and married.  With this song we caught the book, of the same title, which elaborates more on this heartfelt American story contained within the lyrics.

   Just a hop, skip and a jump from there we found a new pond called Nothin’ Fancy.  This was our first introduction to this pond when they released their latest project called Where I Came From. This group of talented Bluegrass musicians is made up of Mike Andes, Mitchell Davis, Caleb Cox, Chris Sexton and Tony Shorter.  The boys hail from an area that has seen its share of blood shed from the American Civil War.  This band does their best to capture many of the stories from that horrific time in our history within their music.  One song we captured that truly relayed a powerful story was “To Lay My Weapon Down.”  Another song we caught from this part of the pond was “Bus Fare.”  In this beautiful two-step ballad, the boys share with us a introspective biography of a homeless Veteran.  The final catch from this pond came when we caught “Daddy Made Moonshine.”  Riding on a delightful melody is a tale told by a son about his moonshine making father.  This song is quite playful with it’s feel-good mentality.

   Later on in the year we returned to this pond, much to our delight, we found it to be much bigger.  As we explored this pond called Nothin’ Fancy we found a little cove called It’s A Good Feeling.  Like the album before it, this one was filled with cleverly written songs.  From this side of the pond we caught our first catch with “The Golden Rule,” a gentle ballad filled with words of wisdom.  Again the boys pay tribute to our greatest heroes—the soldiers—in “Guitar, Suitcase and A Bible.”

   Mid-summer brought us to a vast array of lakes, streams and ponds.  One lake we had not visited in a while was the lake named Bobby Bare.  Just this past year, Bobby released his latest project called Things Change.  The album features a collection of songs including a remake of his 1962 hit song “Detroit City.”  However, when we dropped our bait into the lake we pulled up two new songs including “I Drink” and the title cut “Things Change.”  Bare captures the drama behind the life of an alcoholic in “I Drink.”  While in “Things Change,” Bobby reminds listeners that life is all about change and how we should be open to the outcome.

   We never know where we will find our next ‘big one.’  Last  year we explored so many new lakes and ponds, many of which ended up devoid of fish.  However when we came upon a pond named Breaking Grass, we were utterly surprised.  Many of the fish we caught ended up being small and we had to release them back to the water.  Just as we were about to leave, we casted our lines out one more time and that’s when we caught “Nobody Knows.”  This song contains a haunting tale performed in a very enigmatic style.  We cast our line out one more time and found “Waking Up With You.”  Performed in a lazy, New Orleans style melody, this is a beautiful love ballad to enjoy.

   There is nothing like going back to a lake that you know so well.  It’s as if you are visiting an old friend.  This past year we returned to many lakes we know including one named Loretta Lynn.  It was while trolling around this lake that we found a new location called Full Circle.  Although this portion of the lake contained many well known fish, we did catch a new one called “Who’s Gonna Miss Me.”  Performed in a heavenly Appalachian melody, Miss Loretta delivers a melancholy message within the lyrics.

   Sometimes we forget about a lake for a while, then out of the blue that lake returns to our memories.  It has been six years since we visited the lake named Charley Pride.  It was really lovely to hear Mr. Pride’s distinctive vocals again as this past year he released his latest project called Music In My Heart. From this lake we caught two songs with “Standing In My Way” and “It Wasn’t That Funny.”  Performed in a soft and gentle melody, “Standing In My Way” is a classic country song with lyrics filled with life’s lessons.  However, it was “It Wasn’t That Funny” that really hit the heart strings with it’s authentic storyline about the mistakes we make and the regrets we have in our relationships.

   Very few times will we come upon an area that consists of a collaboration of lakes in which we are able to catch any fish.  Most collaboration albums are filled with cover songs that we refuse to acknowledge. Nonetheless, there are some joint efforts that need to be celebrated.  One vocal collaboration that comes to mind is when Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt came together to form Trio in 1987.  Just this past year, we were reminded of this elegant blend of vocal unity with the release of Trio: The Complete Trio Collection.  This box set featured three discs that included all of the songs that these three talented women recorded.  It was on the third album—Unreleased & Alternate Takes, ETC.—that we found a great rendition of The Chordettes ever popular 1954 hit song “Mr. Sandman.”  However, we threw that fish back.  When we cast our lines out again, we hooked on to “My Blue Tears.”  Written by Ms. Parton, this is a beautiful composition performed to a simple acoustic guitar.  We were sad to leave this lake as we found out that we would probably never return as we learned that due to medical issues Ms. Ronstadt can no longer perform.

   Another group of lakes we thought that we would never visit again is a group called The Highwaymen that included Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.  We were surprised when we came upon The Highwaymen Live: American Outlaws four disc box set.  This box set includes three audio discs with the fourth a DVD of one of their live concerts.  We would have loved to keep many of the fish we caught from this collaboration of lakes, however, we felt we needed to throw them back for all to enjoy.  Nonetheless, at the last minute we dropped our lines one more time and caught “One Too Many Mornings.”  Performed in the genuine personality that we have come to know these four talented musicians, this one captures each individual musically as well as their near perfect vocal collaboration.

   Some ponds we come upon almost look like there are no fish to find within them.  Then again, you never judge a book by its cover!  This was the case when we came upon a pond called Karling & The Kadavers when they released their latest project called Curse On Me.  Nonetheless, we found this EP quite enjoyable with its Rockabilly melodies mixed with Gothic style lyrics.  It was a fish called “Ruby” that really caught our attention, especially with the Gothic storyline within the lyrics.

   While on our fishing expeditions, we often come across a creek that snakes its way through the terrain all the while connecting to various lakes.  One such creek that we know all to well is one named Phil Leadbetter.  Phil is an exceptional Dobro player who has played amongst many fine musicians.  Just this past year, we followed Phil to a lake called Flashback; when he teamed up with Stuart Wyrick, Curt Chapman, Richard Bennett and Don Rigsby.  In this lake we found a little area called Foxhounds And Fiddles.  When we dropped our line into the water we came up with two fine fish called “Hag Song” and “Two Rivers.”  Musicians have always honored each other through song and Flashback honors  Merle Haggard in this biographical song.  Where as “Two Rivers” is a beautiful heartfelt ballad that rides a gentle Bluegrass melody.

   As the season was about to wrap up for the year, we did our best to get as much fishing in as we could.  It felt like we were skipping ponds as we delved into lake after lake.

   We returned to a lake we know well by the name of Nu-Blu.  We were quite disappointed in their latest project, Vagabonds, as majority of the songs were cover songs.  Through the years, this multi talented Bluegrass group has entertained us with a good collection of original songs. So we questioned why they released an album filled with covers. Nonetheless we could only keep one from this fishing trip with “640 Battlefield Drive.”  Performed in a gentle, but bold melody this song tells the story of two brothers who go off to war.  One brother returns home, while the other returns in a wooden casket.

   After that almost disappointing fishing trip we went on to the next pond called Deer Creek Boys.  This was our first visit to this pond and it too was some what of a disappointment as we visited a place called Midnight & Dawn.  Although this project conceived four covers, it was when we moved away to find the heart of the album that we found two keepers.  In  “The Real World” the band sings about how the real world gets in the way of the life we wish we could live.  Where as “The Cowboy” is a moody song that captures the misery of living with a cowboy.

   One lake we have come to dread fishing from is a lake called Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.  Sure this lake is quite beautiful and elegant when it comes to abilities.  However, it is the choice of songs that pollutes this charming lake.  This lake tends to scour through previously recorded songs, changes the names and records them.  In our book, covers are covers and unless you can record the song better than the original—then don’t record it at all!  Amongst the covers from their latest project, Life Is A Story, we found “Life of A Hard Working Man.”

   They say that a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work.  Nonetheless, what if you have a great day of fishing? What is that compared to?

   Every once in a great while we come across an area of a lake that is overflowing with fish just ready to be caught.  This past year we came across four such lakes.

   The first one we visited was a lake named Lari White.  It has been such a long time since we fished from this lake, that we thought that we would never fish from it again.  Nonetheless, this past spring we explored an area called Old Friends New Loves.  In this duel album, Lari took us on a journey back in time as she reminded us that she was still creating music in the present.  The Old Friends portion of the album featured eight newly recorded renditions of some of Lari’s most popular hit songs.  From this side of the lake we pulled  new modern versions of her hit songs “Now I Know” and “Eden Before The Fall.”  However, it was when we went fishing from the New Loves side that we hooked several big ones.  The first song we pulled out of the water was “Maybe It’s Love” with its psychotic melody mixed with just the right lyrics to create an elegant love ballad.  However, the biggest catch that we caught all year was a song called “Champagne.”  Performed in an exquisite but elegant jazz melody, this song soon became quite popular around our offices.  So much so, that we honored it with the 2018 Spirit Award’s President’s Choice Award with an additional claim for the best well written song of 2017.  We enjoyed this album so much that we nominated it for the Album of The Year category in the 23rd Annual Spirit Awards.

   Oh, how we hated to leave that lake as the fish there kept biting.  But we had to move on.

  We were so pleased to revisit another lake that we knew very well, a lake named Willie Nelson.  Lately, Willie has been releasing many new projects.  But it was when we found the area named God’s Problem Child, we knew we didn’t need our fishing poles or bait to catch the fish contained here.  There were so many great songs on this album that we had a hard time choosing which ones to pull out.  Nonetheless, we ended up six including “Delete And Fast Forward,” “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” “It Gets Easier,” “Old Timer,” “Your Memory Has A Mind of It’s Own” and our favorite “Still Not Dead.”  This was another album that we enjoyed to the fullest, so much so that we nominated it for the 2018 Spirit Award’s Album of The Year Award.

   Another album that earned that nomination came from an area well known to many called Dolly Parton.  It was in the middle of the season when we visited the area named Pure & Simple.  When we put our bait in the water we came up with “Can’t Be That Wrong.”  In this profound love ballad, Dolly uses various lyrics and song titles to create an elegant mix that will capture your soul while melting your heart.  Another love ballad that we caught from this album is “Tomorrow Is Forever.”  In true Dolly Parton fashion, we found “Never Not Love You.”  It is this song that captures our interest with it’s powerful message of love that is poetically relayed within the lyrics.  This album went on to claim the title of the 2018 Spirit Award’s Album of The Year.

   Just as we were about to pack our gear up for the season, we received word that we should return to a lake named Kelly Lang.  Kelly is one of the most underrated and creative songwriters in country music.  So when we heard she was releasing a new project, we jumped at the chance!  Obsession soon became our obsession with twelve self penned songs.  From this area we pulled “Wonder Woman,” “Last One Standing In The Rain,” “Don’t Play Games With Me (Barbie & Ken),” “What Do You Do When You Don’t,” and our favorite “Under A Tennessee Moon.”  All of these songs are artistically defined and feature creativity that portrays a wide variety of moods.  This project too was nominated for Album of The Year Award. During the 23rd Annual Spirit Awards show, this album earned the President’s Choice Award for Most Creative Album of 2017.

   It was in the middle of summer when we revisited an area that we had not visited in a long time.  In fact we could not remember that we had visited this lake before, that we thought that it was our first time to the lake named Hammertowne.  This band is made up of five talented musicians including Chaston Carroll, Scott Tackett, Bryan Russell, Brent Pack and Dave Carroll.  From their latest project, Hillbilly Heroes, we caught two songs.  Like many artists this past year, Hammertowne pays tribute to their entertainer heroes in the title cut.  However, it was when we pulled “A Day In The Life of The One Left Behind” that we were stunned.  Songwriter David Carroll captures a mournful moment in one’s life when they must go on living after the death of a loved one.  This elegant song went on to earn the title of the 2018 Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.

   As we delve into the recesses of hundreds of albums, fishing is a great analogy to use as we review each album. It is our job to ’catch’ for you the best songs released in the music industry.  Where will we explore and what will we catch in 2018?  Time will only tell.  For now, we can assure you that each of these fishing stories we shared with you today are not tall tales, told Around The Campfire… tune in next year as we share with you our fishing stories of the Top Songs of 2018…


Gone Fishin’...


(This article was printed in the January / February 2018 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)

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