The way I look at “best of” lists is this: It’s not so much what I thought was the best from this year. It’s more an indication of the music I am taking with me into next year.
It’s music I know I’ll still love long after the release date’s been forgotten. Those are the ones I cannot go one day without even though I’ve worn them out, lost their CD cases and used their liner notes as drink coasters.
For me, these are those albums from 2014:
1. I’m a Fire, David Nail
I hated the title of this one at first. I thought it should be I’m on Fire or I’m Like Fire. But then I put it on and instantly forgot all about the title. “Burnin’ Bed” is so sexy, “Brand New Day” is heartwrenching, and “The Secret” is so mysterious I’m still trying to figure it out 10 months after the album was released. Then his “Galveston” duet with Lee Ann Womack is like a lesson in country music I wish more artists could hear.
2. 10,000 Towns, Eli Young Band
Whoever inspired the songs on this album must feel pretty weird to have their entire love/hate relationship on such vivid display. There’s the one I assume was in the early stages — “Your Last Broken Heart” — then once they fell deeper in love, “Angel Like You.” Then there’s the saddest breakup song of all time, “What Does.” Lastly, there’s the Texas band’s best-ever reminiscing song and a tune that I like to sing when I stalk ex-boyfriends on Facebook, “A Lot Like Love.”
3. The Outsiders, Eric Church
Sometimes Church does something that makes you wonder how committed he is to country music. Like releasing the heavy metal title cut of this album. But have no fear, this is a country album through and through. And a damn good one. I will listen to songs like “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” “Cold One,” “Talladega” and “Dark Side” about 10 times and then be like, “You know what I’d love to hear right now? Some more Eric Church.”
4. Riser, Dierks Bentley
If I never hear “Drunk on a Plane” again, I’d be totally OK with that. Country radio played it about every five minutes. It was in heavy rotation and then some. But the rest of this album is something I hold on to so, so tightly. “Here on Earth,” “Say You Do” and “Damn These Dreams” are some of the best that country has to offer right now. I don’t know if it’s these three-word titles, the gravel in Bentley’s voice or that chambray shirt he’s wearing on the cover. This album is addicting, and I can’t quit it.
5. Provoked, Sunny Sweeney
Sweeney is the one girl singer on my list. She’s certainly not the only woman capable of crafting a really great country song and then singing it so perfectly, but there’s just something about this album that makes me get a little frantic when I can’t find it. It’s the same way I felt when I first heard Lee Ann Womack’s Some Things I Know in 1998. When I picture myself taking road trips in 2015, I know I’ll be singing along with Sweeney on “You Don’t Your Husband,” “Front Row Seats,” “Backhanded Compliment” and “Bad Girl Phase.”