Jason Aldean, "Rearview Town"
To Jason Aldean’s credit, his stoic, rough demeanor can work incredibly well for a song, given the content. For “Rearview Town,” there’s a brooding sense of nihilistic fury as the narrator leaves his nowhere town behind. For once, too, there’s a deeper subtext to the situation; Aldean may be leaving because of a breakup, but the decision comes from years of watching rusted plows and a general decay of a place he used to love. - Zackary Kephart
Brooks & Dunn feat. Luke Combs, "Brand New Man"
An electric cover that is actually superior to the original. Combs adds a massive dose of energy to the track, and blends perfectly with Ronnie Dunn's always-excellent vocals. An exhilarating track that exceptionally blends the past and present of country music. - Markus Meyer
Parmalee, "Be Alright"
I certainly didn't have 'Parmalee covering a pop smash and making my year-end list' on my 2019 country music bingo card, but here we are. It's a very well-done version of an already good song, with Matt Thomas coming off as immensely sincere and the production adding a layer of regret to the track. Parmalee is pretty hit-or-miss (emphasis on the miss, lately), but "Be Alright" is a great effort that deserves credit for its earnestness and emotional depth. - MM
Riley Green, "In Love By Now"
I’ll forever wish this could have been the hit over “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” It’s Green’s sunny disposition that sells this track – a lighthearted, yet mature. reflection of wondering where a former lover is now and wishing them the best. The tones are rollicking enough to support the song’s brighter atmosphere, and the general optimism surrounding how both parties will be alright in the end makes this one of the funnest breakup songs in recent memory. - ZK
Brantley Gilbert feat. Lindsay Ell, "What Happens In a Small Town"
There a lot of problems with Fire and Brimstone as an album, but the hit lead single represents a lot of what Brantley Gilbert does well. The hook is memorable, the melody effective, and the production relatively restrained. What really makes it click is the chemistry between Ell and Gilbert, an unlikely combo but one that ultimately succeeds with flying colours. An excellent return to form after a handful of poor radio releases. - MM
Carly Pearce feat. Lee Brice, "I Hope You're Happy Now"
After the unfortunate mess of “Closer To You,” it’s refreshing to hear Carly Pearce return to a sound comfortable for her with “I Hope You’re Happy Now.” The real gut-punch of the track comes in both lovers thinking they’re doing the other one a favor by saying goodbye, and deep down neither one wants that. Lee Brice hasn’t sounded this good in years. - ZK
Midland, "Mr. Lonely"
The title character may be sleazy as hell, but when the song is an exercise in lighthearted fun, it’s more than forgivable. Beyond feeling like a literal blast to the past, “Mr. Lonely” excels for its top-notch energy and clever one-liners (how did no one come up with “I’m the number that you know by broken heart” yet?). - ZK
Ashley McBryde, "One Night Standards"
For as much as I enjoy every song on this list, very few of them explored dark, uncomfortable territory. Granted, Ashley McBryde isn’t getting the radio airplay she deserves anyway, so she might as well deliver “One Night Standards” - a blunt, painful exchange of rules for a one night stand, where the focus is less on the deed and more on the subtle implications of how badly damaged the narrator to not care anymore. McBryde’s performance is what truly sells this track. - ZK
Maddie & Tae, "Die From a Broken Heart"
A damning sign of the times more than anything, Maddie and Tae’s team thought pushing “Friends Don’t” over this song last year was a good idea. Now, more than a year later, the momentum behind “Die From A Broken Heart” has faded, but the song remains a wonderful return to form for the duo. Despite stemming from a younger perspective, the narrator’s pain never feels oversold, and instead tells its story from the questions she asks to her mother. It’s a genuine expression of pain that’s heartfelt and relatable in any scenario. - ZK
Randy Houser, "No Stone Unturned"
The revival of Randy Houser is one of the most noteworthy storylines of 2019 for country music, and "No Stone Unturned" epitomizes this development. It's a refreshing, lively record that enbodies the carefree spirit it details, He's in top form vocally, and the production is a perfect blend of contemporary stylings and traditional influence. A superb effort from a former victim of the bro-country influx. - MM
Thomas Rhett, "Remember You Young"
"Remember You Young" encompasses Thomas Rhett's best traits: a magnetic performance, a tight, coherent production, a compelling melody and hook, and a mature, reflective outlook on life. It's a dynamic record that is both memorable and accessible. Center Point Road was a lot of what Rhett does poorly, but this track is undoubtedly a career highlight for him. - MM
Eric Church. "Some of It"
A list song, but the good kind. "Some of It" expresses a sense of wisdom and reflection backed by an effective production and melody, fostering both unbound optimism and melancholic reflection. It's somewhat of a sonic diversion for Church, but once again exemplifies that he's the most compelling star in mainstream country music these days. - MM
Blake Shelton, "God's Country"
Let’s be honest – Blake Shelton hadn’t released an interesting single in nearly a decade. Then comes along “God’s Country” - a dark, southern-Gothic-inspired track that found Shelton in top form, vocally. Even if it’s little more than a salute to the character’s rural land, it avoids the typical pandering and cliches by coming across as a mystifying reverence for the world around him. It’s one of the biggest singles of the year, and for once it’s for a good reason. - ZK
Kelsea Ballerini, "homecoming queen?"
In what is by far her best effort to-date, Kelsea Ballerini demonstrates a sense of vulnerability rarely seen on country radio these days. A stunning empowerment ode that balances exceptional songwriting with a tender pop-county backdrop. Remarkable stuff. - MM
Tenille Townes, "Jersey on the Wall (I'm Just Asking)"
What this single demonstrates is Tenille Townes' ability to blend an intricate storyline with a broader thematic arc, making for a compelling listen. The performance exudes equal parts regret and wonder, with a production that only amplifies those sentiments. Townes is maybe the most exciting young talent in the genre these days, and "Jersey on the Wall (I'm Just Asking)" only reinforces that. - MM
Kacey Musgraves, "Rainbow"
Fresh off her Grammy Award sweep, Kacey Musgraves should have had one of the biggest hits of the year when “Rainbow” was released. Instead, like pretty much any of her singles outside of “Merry ‘Go Round,” the song floundered within the top 40 at radio. It’s all the more sad given that the song’s message of hope and resilience, wrapped in an understated, poetic elegance, was among the songs we needed in 2019. One of her best in any capacity, though. - ZK
Luke Combs, "Even Though I'm Leaving"
Sure, the song basically goes overboard to tug at the listener’s heartstrings, but it works. The bond between the father and son begins and ends with a promise to protect, and even if that ending is fairly predictable, Luke Combs effectively underplays the track to make sure it connects anyway. Plus, I’m a sucker for that mandolin. - ZK
Eric Church, "Monsters"
A masterful blend of faith and humanity, made accessible by Church's earnest performance and the largely acoustic backdrop. Maybe his best written song to-date, and an effort that demonstrates his continued artistic growth and maturity. The hook is both powerful and melodically competent. Church continues to outdo himself. - MM
Ashley McBryde, "Girl Goin' Nowhere"
In a just world, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” would be Ashley McBryde’s signature song – a personal victory lap where the triumph comes in just being able to play music. With her recent recognition from the Country Music Association and Grammys, Ashley McBryde may not have the radio hits, but she’s proving she doesn’t need them to get somewhere. - ZK
Ingrid Andress, "More Hearts Than Mine"
An essentially flawless record from a dynamic young talent. The songwriting is raw and unique; the melody and hook flow wonderfully; the production expertly blends traditionalism and modern stylings. The highlight is the vocal performance, as Andress is both a uniquely capable technical vocalist and an impactfully expressive performer. Country radio's apparent embrace of "More Hearts Than Mine" may be their best decision in years, and if there's any justice, Andress will be a mainstream staple for years to come. - MM