PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The Best Country Music of 2013

Dave Heaton, Jerrick Adams, and Steve Leftridge

What's going to be most often said or written about the year in country music, 2013? That it was the "year of the woman" in a Nashville that's still a man's world after all.

5 - 1

Artist: Vince Gill and Paul Franklin

Album: Bakersfield

Label: MCA Nashville

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/v/vincegill_paulfranklin_2013cdcvr_h.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List Number: 5Vince Gill and Paul Franklin

In a year when we were treated to reissues of long-lost Buck Owens and Don Rich recordings, Vince Gill and pedal-steel ace Paul Franklin pile on the Bakersfield love with this ten-song set of gratifying recreations of the record's namesake sound. Gill's silky tenor lacks the Buckaroo bite we're used to with these songs, but the hermetically sealed harmonies and impeccable playing lend the tunes fresh beauty. Split between Buck Owens and Merle Haggard classics, these are tunes you know by heart, but these two exemplary musicians breathe new life into them while paying close homage to classic country music. They're honoring two titans of the genre, but with Gill's best-ever singing and snapping Telecaster breaks and Franklin's crying steel finery, these two offer further proof that they are master inheritors of the form. Steve Leftridge

Artist: Robbie Fulks

Album: Gone Away Backward

Label: Bloodshot

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/bs211_rfulks_cover.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List Number: 4

Robbie Fulks
Gone Away Backward

Country music didn't begin with Hank Williams, Sr., although that remains to this day the dominant reference point. Robbie Fulks, being one of alternative country's smartest singers and songwriters, knows that very well. Sonically, Gone Away Backward hearkens back not to the honky-tonk of the 1950s, but to the music of what Greil Marcus famously called "the old, weird America". The form defies description. Not quite folk and not quite country, eerie, strident, and pulsing with seemingly ancient hurts, the songs here fit so easily into that unspeakable tradition that you'll check the liners to make doubly sure that Fulks did indeed write them. If that's not a testament to the man's gifts, then what is? Jerrick Adams

Artist: Kacey Musgraves

Album: Same Trailer, Different Park

Label: Mercury Nashville

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/k/kacey-musgraves-same-trailer-different-park.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List Number: 3

Kacey Musgraves
Same Trailer, Different Park

With what has to be hands-down one of the finest country album titles of all time (so brazen, so cheeky, so sad all at once), you had to wonder whether anyone this side of Loretta Lynn had the talent and sheer nerve to pull it off. Such concerns proved moot. As a vocalist, Kacey Musgraves doesn't lean on the phony twang that proliferates on mainstream country radio. She doesn't have to -- she's the real deal. Oh, and did I mention the songwriting? She just so happens to be one of the best working today in any genre. On cuts like "Merry Go 'Round" and "Blowin' Smoke", Musgraves renders the desolation and beat-down-to-your soul desperation of rural American life as vividly as any country artist in recent memory (and I'm measuring the recent here in decades, not years). Simply put, a stone classic. Jerrick Adams

Artist: Ashley Monroe

Album: Like a Rose

Label: Warner Bros.

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/a/amonroe.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List Number: 2

Ashley Monroe
Like a Rose

Country fans and critics have been paying attention to Ashley Monroe for a good five years now, waiting for her moment. In 2013 it came. Along with a second great album by Pistol Annies and opening spots on superstar's tours, she released an even better album that her first (the delayed and quietly released 2009 album Satisfied). Like a Rose has a stunner of a title track, which tells an epic tale of survival in a carefully quick way. The whole album has an economy to it which might trick those with short attention spans into thinking it's lightweight when it's the opposite. Monroe's songs are smart, funny, and sad at once; the rebelliousness she carries is a quiet and the sadness elegant. The characters she voices are in desperate places; she communicates that desperation without over-selling it or under-conveying it. As the album closes with a goofy, Dolly-and-Porter-referencing duet with Blake Shelton, we're reminded of the versatility at work within a basically 30-minute effort. Dave Heaton

Artist: Brandy Clark

Album: 12 Stories

Label: Slate Creek

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/b/bclark.jpg

Display Width: 200

Display as: List

List Number: 1

Brandy Clark
12 Stories

The country album of the year goes to an openly gay 35-year-old woman's debut record. Those factors themselves don't make 12 Stories the year's best country album, but for Nashville, Clark is an invigorating anomaly among the stud-boy spring-break country prevailing on the radio. However, 12 Stories tops our list because, quite simply, it's the best-written set of country songs of 2013: a dozen perceptive, subtly-arranged stories about familiar struggles -- loneliness, regret, cold comforts -- all sung in Clark's warm, poised alto. Drinking and Jesus songs are here, too, but they're the old-fashioned kind: gut-punch subjects expressed through unforced melodies, intelligence, and shrewd wit. Clark had already struck it rich by writing smash singles for Miranda Lambert, the Band Perry, etc.; turns out she was saving her best material for her own superb arrival. Steve Leftridge

Prev Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.