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.
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
40. "Dreams and Gasoline" - Rob Baird
While he's still a young gun with only a couple of albums to his name, Rob Baird has established himself as a fine writer with a distinctive voice. You know that song you hear on the Range or the Ranch that makes you say, "Dang, who is singing that?" It's probably Baird, and the song is probably this classic tale of what a person needs to be truly free.
39. "Ragged as the Road" - Reckless Kelly
Few have traveled the roads of this country more than the men of Reckless Kelly. In this chugging road anthem, inspired by Woody Guthrie's book, "Bound for Glory," the guys put on a roots-rock clinic.
38. "July in Cheyenne (Song for Lane's Momma)" - Aaron Watson
Over the course of 12 albums, Aaron Watson has been as "country" as Texas Country can get. And there's hardly anything more country than singing about a rodeo hero. This moving ode to fallen rodeo legend Lane Frost immediately shot to the top of Watson's fine catalog upon its release in 2012.
37. "The Old Man" - Jack Ingram
In his earliest, post-SMU days, Ingram was hell-bent on rising above "party singer" status. This story of some sage advice given by an old guy certainly went against the norm for many bands playing Adair's Saloon at the time. And indeed, it has stood the test of time, as drunk frat boys yell for this tune at Ingram shows to this very day.
36. "Trains I Missed" - Walt Wilkins
Narrowing down a list of any kind can be daunting, especially when it's time to look at the work of arguably the state's most gifted songwriter (some say that's not an argument). This 2007 track offers the age-old philosophical question of "What If?" in a rootsy, warm package that few others could provide.
35. "Worth the Fight" - The Departed
When Cross Canadian Ragweed broke-up, Cody Canada got to quick work with the Departed. While the group's first album of original material, Adventus, saw Canada head into a different direction than before, the album's lead single is a blistering rocker with the signature Canada attitude.
34. "Boomtown" - Dirty River Boys
Before this El Paso four-piece became arguably the best band touring Texas, it had to get the word out via mostly empty rooms and a couple of EPs. More than any other song from their early days, "Boomtown" encapsulates the wild nature of this group's thrilling live show and ability to write a song the crowd can sing-along with.
33. "Bad Liver And A Broken Heart" - Hayes Carll
The most rocking song from Hayes Carll's best complete album was written by Scott Nolan. In this fist-pumper, Carll begins tellingly with "Arkansas, my head hurts." Who wouldn't want to hang with Carll on a bender in the Ozarks?
32. "Ten Years Pass" - Sunny Sweeney
Sunny Sweeney is a true honky tonk angel (the kind Kevin Fowler sings about, no doubt), and this song about going back to her hometown after a decade proved she could offer an atmospheric rock-tinged number with the hardcore country of her earliest work.
31. "Carolina Mornings" - Micky and the Motorcars
It's entirely possible that Micky and Gary Braun may never outrun the shadow of their older brothers in Reckless Kelly, but that doesn't mean they haven't produced some fantastic roots rock. Just like their older brothers, the younger set has traveled many a mile, and this melodic, catchy tune covers a lot of that ground.
30. "I Have Not Forgotten You" - Kelly Willis
For younger fans, here's something really cool to know: Kelly Willis hasn't only recorded albums with her husband Bruce Robison. She's enjoyed a fine recording career all her own. For our money, it's hard to beat her 1999 album What I Deserve and this standout track from that effort.
29. "Guinivere" - Eli Young Band
There was a time when it seemed like Eli Young Band would no longer be just a "Texas" act, but full-fledged country stars. They haven't been anointed just yet, but "Guinevere" was their closest glimpse at mainstream popularity. Red Dirt is a genre that does love songs particularly well, and Guinevere and is the right kind of ode to a complicated lady.
28. "Pearl Snap Shirts" - Jason Boland
Red Dirt carries on the classic tradition of drinking songs, devoting entire tracks to extolling the virtues of booze and the process of getting drunker than hell. Which is exactly why we love it. There are not many constants in this world, but there will always be Texas Country music, cheap bourbon whiskey and pearl snap shirts.
27. "Loving County" - Charlie Robison
This detailed story of a desperate man wanting to buy his woman a ring can sometimes seem endless in concert, but when Robison's into it, this song is a sing-along highlight of the highest order.
26. "Alabama" - Cross Canadian Ragweed
Cross Canadian Ragweed has always been a blend of Southern rock and Texas Country, a sound that is prominent in "Alabama." It's a hard-rocking love song, which is sort of rare, but that's exactly why it's so distinct. If Cross Canadian Ragweed were to get back together and go on tour, we can almost guarantee that this song would be their No. 1 requested tune — even before that song about the quality of Oklahoma's joints.
25. "God Bless This Town" - Wade Bowen
Bowen's a small-town guy, as many fans of Texas Country are. So in this hard-charging tune, when he sings about the behind-the-back chatter one endures in said small town, it's easy to understand what he really means when he sings, "God bless this town."
24. "Corpus Christi Bay" - Robert Earl Keen
Living in this concrete city, it's easy to forget that there are Texas beaches. Some days, it's easy to want to just slip away and become a beach bum in Corpus Christi Bay. All of our fantasies about skipping out on our jobs and moving down south have Robert Earl Keen's voice on "Corpus Christi Bay" in our ears, even if we're not really listening to Keen warn us about the consequences of beach life.
23. "Kiss Me in the Dark" - Randy Rogers Band
It's hard to write a song that is as equally at home on a honky-tonk jukebox as your gettin' it on playlist, but "Kiss Me In The Dark" is the best of both. This is a thoroughly country song that is unapologetically about having passionate, mind-blowing sex, and that's something we can all get behind.
22. "Down In Flames" - Stoney LaRue
He's not a Texan by birth, but Stoney LaRue has plenty of Texas Country cred. "Down In Flames" isn't necessarily LaRue's biggest commercial hit, but it is certainly one of his best tracks. It's the perfect kind of song for jilted exes and pissed-off girlfriends, and may or may not have been the impetus for a keyed car or two.
21. "Freeze Frame Time" - Brandon Rhyder
Brandon Rhyder's vocals might be the technically strongest in Texas. He's a talented songwriter as well. Combine his ability to nail a soaring chorus with goosebump-inducing lines about enjoying the seemingly small but hugely precious moments of family life, and you have a fine example of how emotionally deep Red Dirt can be.
20. "Gin, Smoke, Lies" - Turnpike Troubadours
Okay, these guys aren't technically from Texas either, but their sound is certainly borrowed from our great state. They've since made a home here, because that's where the people who love Turnpike Troubadours are. This song of betrayal and love may not ring familiar if you've led a boring life, but you'll still enjoy listening to this on a honky-tonk jukebox.
19. "Everclear" - Roger Creager
In the earliest days of the Red Dirt boom, a few songs stepped forward to become anthems that anyone in a Texas dancehall would know by heart. There is probably an entire generation of frat boys who have scars that can be directly attributed to this song. When Creager sings about pumping a watermelon full of Everclear at a baptist picnic, it makes us all want to go to church.
18. "George's Bar" - Pat Green
It's got a reputation as a frat boy anthem that isn't too far off, but that doesn't take anything away from "George's Bar." Everyone has a bar that they call home, and hopefully yours is a place that is as awesome as George's. And you'd probably still go, even if you won a million bucks selling computers.
17. "Hard Man to Love" - Kevin Fowler
There are plenty of songs about shitty relationships, but even fewer where the singer is actually taking responsibility for screwing it all up. We can all appreciate the occasional grace that our partners show us when we're acting like assholes, even if there is a little of that old "Stand By Your Man" stodginess in the mix.
16. "Snake Farm" - Ray Wylie Hubbard
Every once in a while, you have to acknowledge the more redneck elements of country music. It's just a rite of passage. This song, of course, is not about an actual zoo that features reptiles, but an actual strip club where the guy is in love with a counter girl named Ramona with a python tattoo on her arm. We agree, Ray Wylie, that the snake farm just does sound nasty. And that's kind of what we love about it.
15. "She Likes the Beatles" - William Clark Green
He's relatively new to the Texas Country scene, but William Clark Green has already made his place as one of the genre's most talented artists. While mainstream country relies on stereotypical views of women, "She Likes the Beatles" is an honest look at making it work with someone you love, quirks and all.
14. "Nashville Blues" - Cory Morrow
While we've all moved on (sort of, anyways) from the "Nashville Sucks" anthem that Morrow helped propel in the 1990s, there's little to disagree with or move on from in this ode to the sounds and artists that made Nashville great and for it to be a place where aspiring dudes from Texas take their best shot.
13. "Me And Charlie Talkin'" - Miranda Lambert
Now that Miranda Lambert is a bonafide Nashville star, it's easy to forget that she got her start on the Texas Country charts. Before she was the queen of country music, Lambert's 2005 release is technically a Nashville album, but Texas is more than happy to take credit for our homegrown talent. In terms of sound, "Me And Charlie Talkin'" fits in nicely with a genre that has been otherwise dominated by men since its inception.
12. "Angry all the Time" - Bruce Robison
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are Texas Country's power couple, thanks in large part to how incredibly talented they both are. This sad, heart-wrenching ballad was covered by Tim McGraw, but Robison's recording with Willis on backup will always be the best version of this song, hands down. If you've ever been in a relationship that's gone south, you know exactly what they're talking about.
11. "Biloxi" - Jack Ingram
Ingram's Hey You is a Texas Country Red Dirt must-have album. It's packed with tunes that are still played regularly on regional radio for good reason. But this dramatic, mournful album opening track about Ingram's father skipping town for a new life without him is nothing short of masterful.
10. "Vancouver" - Reckless Kelly
From their stellar Under the Table and Above the Sun, this stirring account of thinking about a lost love no matter where one might be (even on a concrete block in Little Rock) is simple but profound and hits you where it hurts.
9. "Somewhere Down in Texas" - Jason Boland & The Stragglers
If nothing else, songs about Texas are wildly successful in Texas. Unlike Boland's usual upbeat, party-driven tunes, "Somewhere Down In Texas" is a well-written ode to this state that we all love so much. It's a rare tender moment for Boland, the kind that only a place like Texas could inspire. There's a girl, of course, but she's totally secondary to the prettiest lady of all, Texas.
8. "Feet Dont Touch The Ground" - Brandon Jenkins
The Stoney LaRue cover of this song gained the most mainstream appeal, but Brandon Jenkins' original version is the best kind of love song. Written with that same old-school flair that helped Conway Twitty slay the ladies, it's the kind of slow song that brings everyone out to the dance floor. Many a Texas girl has fallen in love with this song in the background.
7. "Tonight's Not the Night (For Goodbye)" - Randy Rogers Band
Randy Rogers has a voice that most people associate with Texas, likely because of this song. Co-written by Rogers and the legendary songwriter Radney Foster, it's what mainstream country — in all its efforts to sound authentic and well, country — should sound like.
6. "Seventeen" - Cross Canadian Ragweed
Anyone who grew up in a small town knows exactly how accurate this Cross Canadian Ragweed classic is. There are plenty of good songs about going back to the place you call home, but there's never been a lyric more true than "you're always seventeen in your hometown." Texas Country is particularly effective in its ability to evoke memories from the "good old days," and this is the best example of that tendency.
5. "Fifty Dollars And A Flask Of Crown" - Bleu Edmonson
If you're getting ready for a night out, this song is exactly what you need to get pumped up, even if you're really not much of a cowboy. Many pints of Crown Royal have been consumed in honor of Bleu Edmonson's most popular track, even though there are many whiskeys that are much better. This is basically the soundtrack to your first arrest, which makes it especially special. There's a little bit of a bro aesthetic, but the song is solid.
4. "Carry On" - Pat Green
This is the track that made Pat Green a household name in Texas, and for good reason. Even the most misanthropic among us can appreciate its dust-yourself-off message, and it's great for listening to while drinking copious amounts of beer. The way Texas Country should be.
3. "Hometown" - Charlie Robison
The most iconic song from one of the true icons of the Texas Country/Red Dirt scene is as wistful as it is edgy. Charlie's brother Bruce wrote the song, but knew Charlie's voice belonged on classic lines such as "Well, we worked 80 hours making time and a half, but LaGrange was too damn hot. We drove back home at the end of that week and we spent it all on pot."
2. "Down the Road Tonight" - Hayes Carll
This gritty juke-joint anthem put Hayes Carll on the map in 2005. With seeming non-sequiturs lined up one after another, a story unfolds. A looking-down-the-rabbit-hole kind of story involving a Hooter waitress, "Duct tape dealers," and how "Michael Jackson peaked at thriller."
1. "The Road Goes On Forever (And The Party Never Ends)" - Robert Earl Keen
If there is a more seminal song in Texas Country than this, I'll kiss your ass. There have been many beers, many fights, and many nights at Texas honky-tonks spent to the soundtrack of this Robert Earl Keen classic. Even today, if you play it at a Texas bar, plenty of people will raise a glass in respect of Texas Country's greatest track, and they'll know every word.
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