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25 Best Country Songs of 2014

Little Big Town’s shocker, Keith Urban’s rocker and more of the songs stuck in our heads this year

Blake Shelton Ashley Monroe Lonely Tonight The Voice

Ashley Monroe and Blake Shelton perform "Lonely Tonight" on 'The Voice'

NBC Universal

Little Big Town professed a provocative crush. Trisha Yearwood came out of retirement swinging. Kenny Chesney made us all feel 16 again. And Nikki Lane made good of being bad. Our picks for the top country radio releases of 2014 include the predictable love lost, love found and love-to-drink story lines, but it also dives into delectable, largely uncharted country territory.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Sweet Amarillo”

It's one thing to get Bob Dylan's seal of approval — it's another to actually have the folk legend dial you up, hand over a song fragment and say, "Go to town, boys." Those may not be his words verbatim, but it sums up what happened on "Sweet Amarillo," which was built around a leftover bit from Dylan's 1973 Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid sessions and continued the trend of Dylan letting Old Crow finish what he'd started long ago (case in point: "Wagon Wheel," which has become a near-traditional). "Sweet Amarillo" is crafted to be the same kind of collective chant-along, anchored by Ketch Secor's lyrical fiddle and illustrative metaphors, topped with a subtle wink to these unconventional co-writes as he sings, "I was blinded by glory with a half-written story." Those half-written stories sure do sound glorious, though, when OCMS is done with them.

Eric Church

Eric Church, “Give Me Back My Hometown”

The centerpiece of Eric Church's acclaimed album The Outsiders is a stadium-ready sing-along written with as much poetic nostalgia as his breakthrough hit, "Springsteen." Penned with Luke Laird, "Give Me Back My Hometown" is a small-town American anthem for the age of endless suburbs, chain stores and strip malls couched in the standard country narrative in which everything in the narrator's town reminds him of a long-lost ex. The key moment? When Church slips in the oddly poignant detail that the local Pizza Hut was his go-to high school date spot: "All the colors of my youth, the red, the green, the hope, the truth," he sings in his most truly Springsteen moment to date, and also his most moving.

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson, “Turtles All the Way Down”

Psychedelic country is nothing new, but the proudly illicit consumption in the lead track to Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music surely helped attract some early buzz to the album widely heralded as one of the best of 2014. "Turtles All the Way Down" is many things. Part twisted travelogue ("Met the devil in Seattle and spent nine months inside the lion's den"), part half-baked philosophy seminar ("Our souls must roam to and through that myth we call space and time"), "Turtles" serves as Simpson's grand mission statement for the rich storytelling and sentimentality that define this promising new artist.