On their own, the words "Best," Texas" and "Country" are easy to define, even seemingly innocuous. But put together it's a whole other matter. There's no real definition of what makes Texas Country, certainly not one that the genre's diverse fan base could ever agree on. It's an unscientific calculation that involves a little history, a little geography and a whole lot of intuition.
When you mention Texas Country to Texas fans in the know, it's often synonymous with Red Dirt, a sub-genre especially near and dear to country music fans of North Texas. Red Dirt didn't exist in any codified form until the 1990s, when it got on the national radar after artists like Cory Morrow and Robert Earl Keen caught the eye of Nashville.[jump]
When we talk about Red Dirt, these aren't the Texas Country songs of your Willies and your Waylons. Some of these artists don't even live in Texas, even though they got their start here. Others started elsewhere, in particular Oklahoma, but they made names for themselves in Texas. They sell out shows here and have made Texas their home for years. In fact, Red Dirt is sort of known for giving the finger to the rules set in Nashville. It's rebellious, rootsy and Texas to a fault.
Whittling down a list of the best Red Dirt Texas Country songs of the last 20 years make for an exhaustive task, one that inevitably sparks much debate. Still, these 50 songs rise to the top of what is an outstanding era of Texas music.
50. "Turn On the Lights" - Wade Bowen
In 2010, Wade Bowen offered up this gut-wrenching song dedicated to his wife. The lights he sings about here are the ones that were often shut off as she battled postpartum depression, and Bowen felt helpless at her side. As much as any other song on this list, this track displays a depth in skill and emotion few other current popular artists can achieve.
49. "Oh, Tonight" - Josh Abbott Band
A newcomer to the genre, Josh Abbott has quickly made his mark as one of Texas Country's most promising stars. He's good at packing venues across Texas, after honing his skills in the bars and ice houses of Lubbock. Recorded with Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, "Oh Tonight" is the kind of love song duet that country music needs more of.
48. "Thunderbird (Will Do Just Fine)" - Eleven Hundred Springs
Matt Hillyer and Eleven Hundred Springs have been a big deal around the state, and not just here in Dallas, for many years now. Even with so many great songs under their figurative leather belt, what would an 1100 show be without the crowd yelling, "Roll up another joint?"
47. "Stockyards" - Casey Donahew Band
It's kind of difficult to write a proper ode to a place that smells like cow shit, but Casey Donahew has done a fine job. Everyone who's ever lived in or even visited Fort Worth has a special affinity for the Stockyards, even if they didn't start our music careers there.
46. "Cry Pretty" - Jason Eady
Though Jason Eady's past couple of albums have seen the former military man become one of our finest old-school honky-tonk heroes, this blues-inflected ballad from 2009 is simply gorgeous. We've most likely all run into a former lover after we've moved on, only to bittersweetly remember why they were special to us so long ago.
45. "Black Canyon Boom" - Thieving Birds
This Fort Worth-based group led by Ace Crayton successfully went from a respectable country-rock outfit in its debut album to a grown-ass, greasy rock band for their 2013 album, Gold Coast. This menacing, bombastic tune is likely the least country song on this entire list, but is possibly the best example of a young band finding its own way in the crowded Texas Country field.
44. "I'll Sing About Mine" - Adam Hood
Despite years of toiling behind the scenes in Texas, Adam Hood is starting to get some national attention in Nashville. This song is the perfect antidote to bro-country's pitiful attempts at trying to describe small-town life through the voices of rich superstars. As someone who's paid his dues, Adam Hood is the guy who is singing those small-town anthems that you should be.
43. "Anna Marie" - Whiskey Myers
Whiskey Myers, from Tyler, is a killer Southern rock band that knows its way around a rootsy front porch tune when the time is right. This song about the perfect country girl with the right kind of country love is addictive and makes us want to chew some Red Man ourselves.
42. "Get Away" - Wade Bowen
This revved-up tune is what introduced many of us to Bowen and his mighty pen and signature vocals. There are few more skilled at taking a simple phrase and turning it into an impactful, meaning-filled story.
41. "Lord Loves a Drinking Man" - Kevin Fowler
This is just about as close as you get to church in Red Dirt music, known for all kinds of behavior that just wouldn't be acceptable in the sanctuary. Kevin Fowler reminds us that even though we're all a big bunch of alcoholic sinners, the good Lord loves us. Raise a glass and take solace in this Western-swing-influenced tune