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25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Sam Hunt had the biggest song of the year, Ashley McBryde celebrated wrong turns and Carly Pearce persevered through heartache

Never one for in-your-face political declarations, country music took several strides toward subtly addressing the seismic changes and tragedies around us in 2017, while their more Americana-inclined counterparts fired off some direct shots. Performers also declared space for pleasure, whether it was of the carnal variety or simply enjoying one’s good fortunes while they last. Jason Aldean and Tyler Childers offered defiant snapshots of living in red state America, while Will Hoge unleashed torrents of anger over mass shootings in “Thoughts & Prayers.” 

Sam Hunt enjoyed the year’s biggest hit with a danceable tune about the familiar curves of a woman’s body, while Carly Pearce tried to shake off the memory of a traumatic breakup in “Every Little Thing.” Cam and Chris Janson took stands for women, writing bold songs about solidarity and consent, and exciting newcomer Ashley McBryde reminded us that even our wrong turns can offer moments of healing. Here are our 25 favorite country songs of the year.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl”

With the Silence Breakers named Time‘s Person of the Year and the #MeToo movement reaching full steam in 2017, the terrible (and frequently illegal or violent) behavior of men has been the dominant story of the year. Against that still-unfolding narrative, “Buy Me a Boat” singer Chris Janson offered an object lesson in the way men should be approaching consent with “Drunk Girl.” The tender track (from an album with no shortage of sensitivity) features Janson singing about meeting the girl of his dreams at a bar – except she’s totally blacked out. Rather than take advantage, he takes her home, puts her to bed and leaves his number before locking the door behind him. The track is simple and beautiful but tinged with sadness, since doing the right thing now seems like such a noteworthy act. C.P.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Luke Combs, “When It Rains It Pours”

A nice guy finishes first in Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours,” one of the year’s feel-good standouts and the newcomer’s second Number One in as many tries. After getting dumped by his girlfriend, Combs’ protagonist begins a “redneck roll” with a $100 win on a scratch-off lottery ticket and keeps going until he scores his server’s number at Hooters, a used four-wheeler in a Moose Club raffle and more. A big part of the fun is Combs’ down-to-earth charm, plus a catchy, momentum-filled chorus melody. He changes up the words the second time through, tweaking conventional song structure and making this barroom epic all the more triumphant. C.P.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Ashley McBryde, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”

It felt like Ashley McBryde came out of nowhere with “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” a stripped-down master class in how to be informed by traditional country songwriting and style while keeping the perspective fully rooted in the modern world. Anchored by McBryde’s rock-solid belt that rasps as easily as it warbles, it’s about seeing the light when everything else feels dark, particularly with the help of one special song. In Nashville for years before Eric Church brought her onstage and changed the course of her career, McBryde’s no stranger to finding the positive side of things, nor to chasing after her dreams even when things look bleak. In “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” that approach shows: “Here’s to the break-ups that didn’t break us,” McBryde sings. “The break down, wrong turn that takes ya to a little dive bar in Dahlonega. Hear a song from a band that saves ya.” With moments like this, McBryde’s poised to do her own saving too. M.M.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Miranda Lambert, “Tin Man”

Miranda Lambert has long excelled at quiet, devastating songs (see “The House That Built Me”), and yet even at her most revealing, she somehow managed to keep the world at arm’s length. Not so with “Tin Man.” The most vulnerable song from her raw, scar-pocked album The Weight of These Wings, the spare ballad is Lambert at her most honest and effective. She’s sad and sweet, reflective but hardly ruined. Loosely evoking Kenny Chesney’s 1994 song of a similar name, the tune opens with lightly strummed acoustic guitar that melts atop a sea of white noise, as the heartbroken singer laments ever having one in the first place. “Take it from me, darling,” she tells that blissfully ignorant and hollow titular man. “You don’t want a heart.” D.H.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Cam, “Diane”

Country – and rock’s – biggest stars have been covering Dolly Parton for ages. It’s a treasured custom, but nothing new. Cam, however, took things one step further with “Diane,” reviving the tradition of the response song and delivering a message to the woman in Parton’s “Jolene” from the perspective of the one taking the man, not the one losing him. Turns out, Jolene – or whoever the woman was – didn’t know he was married to Diane. Whatever the story, the song from Cam’s upcoming sophomore LP is an absolute blast, full of Fleetwood Mac gloss, a few more Seventies riffs and gorgeous harmonies. Cam’s one of the more playful and imaginative writers in Nashville today, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she can sing most people under the table. “Diane” charges ahead furiously with an infectious, danceable heartbeat. In her hands, repentance has never sounded so good. M.M.

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem”

The Texas trio’s debut single is a prime example of flawless country wordplay and melody. Just listen to that chorus: “People say I got a drinkin’ problem / but I got no problem drinkin’ at all,” sings Mark Wystrach, selling the payoff line with all the despair of one of the band’s heroes, Gary Stewart. But Wystrach and his mates Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy aren’t aping the past, or even winking at it with irony. Rather, they’re reviving it for today. Which is what makes “Drinkin’ Problem,” written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, such a pleasure – and one of the most refreshing singles served up this year. J.G. 

25 Best Country Songs of 2017

Jason Isbell, “If We Were Vampires”

The stunning “If We Were Vampires” makes a ruse of its unusual title. If we were vampires and death was a joke … I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand,” sings Jason Isbell on the most emotionally wrenching song from The Nashville Sound, his Grammy-nominated album with his band the 400 Unit. But death is no laughing matter here, as Isbell grapples with the impermanence of our physical bodies and the inevitable pain of separation from our loved ones. It’s a bold move toward embracing vulnerability and, with it, the fragility of life and love. Beautiful in its sparseness and breathless – practically urgent – in its delivery, “If We Were Vampires” delivers a knockout punch with the brittle harmonizing of Isbell and wife Amanda Shires, as they tell one another, Maybe we’ll get 40 years together, but one day I’ll be gone, or one day you’ll be gone.” If there was ever a year we needed an eloquent reminder to celebrate and love one another in the moment, 2017 was it – and Jason Isbell gave a perfect summation in this tidy three-and-a-half minutes. J.G.