Year in Music 2015's 10 Best Country Songs of 2015: Critics' Picks

Kacey Musgraves
David McClister for Billboard

Kacey Musgraves photographed at David McClister's Studio in Nashville, Tenn. on May 6, 2015.

2015 was filled with impressive country songs -- ranging from newcomer Kelsea Ballerini and Kacey Musgraves' girl power message to Chris Stapleton, who broke out in a major way this year. And tracks filled with pure heart and emotion made an impact in the format. Here are the 10 best country songs of 2015.

The Year in Country 2015: Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood & Kelsea Ballerini Lead the Way

10. “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Kelsea Ballerini  
It had all of the basic ingredients for a springtime hit -- a bouncy melody, hook-filled lyrics, and the intoxicating personality of one of the format’s top newcomers. Sometimes, a hit song is not supposed to make you think or go to a deep spot -- just roll down the window and enjoy. This was one of those times!

 9. “Like A Cowboy,” Randy Houser
It takes a lot for a ballad to get noticed in the middle of a summer tour with Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. But, Randy Houser is not your ordinary vocalist. The stark and laid-back nature of the song made for a performance that brought fans to their feet every night – and the recorded version is just as good. Note for note, Houser just might be the best male vocalist in the business, and he shows it here.

8. “Die A Happy Man,” Thomas Rhett
The success of “Make Me Wanna” tilted his career in more of an R&B direction, but Rhett found out that the quickest connection between two points is always a straight-up love ballad, and this one -- inspired by his relationship with wife Lauren -- continues to hit the mark.

7. “Better Than You Left Me,” Mickey Guyton
Power. Passion. Talent. This Texas native has it all. Hopefully in 2016, radio will open up their playlists to her, and give her the success that she deserves. Guyton is one of the top vocalists of this year -- or any year, for that matter!

6.“Buy Me A Boat,” Chris Janson
One of the biggest feel-good stories of 2015 was the emergence of one of Nashville’s top live acts, who struck a chord with fans with this song – which started with just his wife/manager Kelly promoting it. Programmer Bobby Bones knew the appeal of the song, and Warner Brothers came on board pretty quickly thereafter. In this era of bro country, it’s refreshing to see a newcomer who keeps it true.

5.“One Hell Of An Amen,” Brantley Gilbert
Partially inspired by the loss of a longtime friend, Gilbert’s emotional tune definitely pulled upon the hearts of many -- and could be an anthem for America’s fallen military heroes. The song is proof of the multi-layered talent of the tattooed singer.

4.“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
It was the most talked-about song of the year, and for more than just any salacious aspect of the composition that some might have thought was hidden in the song. Karen Fairchild delivered a lead vocal for the ages on the track, and the Grammy-nominated song (a contender for song of the year, best country group/duo performance and best country song) served as a reminder of the magic that can still happen on Music Row. 

3.“Burning House,” Cam
The newcomer hit country radio with the power of a freight train chugging along the track at 120 miles per hour with this evocative ballad. The range and the emotion made the California native's song -- also a Grammy nominee for best country solo performance -- a slam dunk to be on this list! Simply put, a star is born.

2.“Tennessee Whiskey,” Chris Stapleton
It takes guts to cut a George Jones song alone, let alone to do it in your own style. But, while Stapleton's pure power would have made the Dean Dillon classic work regardless, this blues-drenched tip of the hat to “The Possum” did go down quite as effortlessly as a glass of Jim or Jack.

1. “Biscuits,” Kacey Musgraves
In her typically irreverent style, the singer delivered a song with enough sass and attitude to make Loretta Lynn proud.

Honorable Mentions: Though they didn't make the top 10, a trio of the most dependable male artists in the history of the format also released new music that proved that they just might have yet to reach their artistic peak: Alan Jackson’s “Jim and Jack and Hank,” George Strait’s “Cold Beer Conversation” and “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” from Tim McGraw each served as evidence that talent -- and great songs -- are timeless.