Cody Johnson, "On My Way to You"
While it's by no means a lyrical masterpiece, Cody Johnson brings an incredibly raw, emotive performance to "On My Way To You." Bolstered by a warm instrumental mix, "On My Way To You" is the kind of song that would have fit right in on a country playlist ten years ago. It's a shame it's an outlier now. - Zackary Kephart
Chris Stapleton, "Millionaire"
A strong vocal performance is par for the course when discussing Chris Stapleton singles, and "Millionaire" is no exception. While he can sing the pants off just about anything, it's nice to hear his tender side as well. There's a timeless simplicity to this that ultimately makes it resonate. -ZK
Brad Paisley, "Bucked Off"
Sadly, this song reads as Brad Paisley's admission of his own place in current mainstream country music. On the bright side, Paisley is at least going to go out knowing he did it his way. This is classic Paisley, turning a sad song into a jovial sing-along that also manages to be a tribute to George Strait. The king would be proud that at least someone in this genre cares about their integrity. - ZK
Willie Nelson, "Last Man Standing"
Whatever Willie Nelson is taking, it's working, as "Last Man Standing" is the best he's sounded in quite some time. The rollicking country-jazz fusion parallels the otherwise somber track (lyrically) nicely. If nothing else, this is a sign that Nelson won't go down without a fight. - ZK
Devin Dawson, "Asking For a Friend"
Dawson's sophomore single is equal parts wistful and intense, relying on a lyric that feels clever and yet sorrowful. He's technically very sound, and the production works to enhance the atmosphere. I'm still not fully on board the Devin Dawson train, but this is a unique record with an effective grasp on perspective and emotion. - MM
Cam, "Road to Happiness"
Cam is truly one of the strongest talent in the genre right now, and this is yet another example of it. The performance is restrained yet powerful, the production as delicate as it is strong. The message is one of personal conflict, evoking a powerful sentiment of balancing one's priorities. A truly gorgeous talent from an artist the genre would do well to invest in. - MM
Danielle Bradbery feat. Thomas Rhett, "Goodbye Summer"
Remixes are rarely a good sign for improved quality, but "Goodbye Summer" is a rare exception. This track gets everything right where “Hello Summer” got it wrong. The brighter instrumental mix compliments the warmer tones nicely, and Danielle Bradbery and Thomas Rhett are currently two of country music's most charismatic vocalists at the moment. They play off each other nicely and make a good song even better. - ZK
Brothers Osborne, "Shoot Me Straight"
While the Brothers Osborne cranked it to 11 with "It Ain't My Fault," "Shoot Me Straight" saw them dial back their southern-rock attitude for something more layered and swampier. TJ Osborne’s smokier baritone works well for this sweaty rocker before John Osborne shreds for six minutes to our delight. It’s that kind of bite and muscle that’s been sorely lacking from the charts lately, and thankfully the brothers were here to fill that role. - ZK
Kenny Chesney feat. Mindy Smith, "Better Boat"
It's hard to say exactly what country music is, but listening to "Better Boat" is the kind of track that sums it up damn near perfectly. Kenny Chesney has always been at his best when he taps into his reflective side, and thankfully, this otherwise melancholy tune at least ends with a hint of redemption. Mindy Smith's haunting backing vocals just add an extra layer to an already fantastic song. - ZK
Jason Aldean feat. Miranda Lambert, "Drowns the Whiskey"
The clever twist of the hook was some of the best writing on a mainstream country single this year, and the slightly spacey, restrained feel fits the song well. Like Cody Johnson's "On My Way To You" (which also made this list), this feels like an old friend to the genre. - ZK
Thomas Rhett, "Sixteen"
"Sixteen" is a reflective, charming effort from an artist who has really come into his own sicne bro-country died. It's equal parts lighthearted and meaningful, offering a unique perspective on moving through young life. Rhett delivers it wonderfully, while the production is both fresh and restrained. - MM
Luke Combs, "She Got the Best of Me"
It's rare that you'll find a gloomy song with this much bite to it. Luke Combs’ charisma is on full display for this song about channeling heartbreak into music. It’s a perspective you don’t hear much in mainstream country anymore, and Combs was just the kind of vocalist to handle the job excellently. - ZK
Luke Bryan, "Most People Are Good"
This is Luke Bryan at his best. Charmingly earnest, and convincingly meaningful. It's an uplifiting message of togetherness that doesn't feel sappy, but rather unifying. Vocally he shines, while the acoustic production feels fully country. More of this, Luke. - MM
Cole Swindell, "Break Up in the End"
Cole Swindell, one of the faces of bro-country, continues his image reform with an absolute homerun of a single. Beautifully descriptive, earnest, and heartbreaking, Swindell hits all the right notes. Sonically, it's a breath of fresh air and lyrically, even more so. A career highlight. - MM
Kacey Musgraves, "Space Cowboy"
This Is Country Music's No. 1 single of 2018 didn't even scratch the airplay chart at all, but that didn't stop Kacey Musgraves from having a banner year. "Space Cowboy" was just one of many excellent songs on Golden Hour. True to its name, “Space Cowboy” has a “spacey” atmosphere to it, with booming drums and piano helping to fill in the sound. The dichotomy of the hook is quite enjoyable as well, and overall the mature framing in the writing makes this a truly excellent song. - ZK