Writers: Nathan Chapman, Hatmaker & Emily Landis
This slightly quirky half spoken/half sung song is an interesting love song to country music. Instead of worshiping the genre, these three songwriters make fun of it, and embrace all the quirks of it. Hatmaker kills the vocals, her raspy voice working well for both the spoken and the belted parts of the song. In a year where defining the genre has become an obsession, this is a must-listen.
Writer: Anna Vaus
This is one of three songs that is a solo-write on this list, three more than we had last year. There's something about a solo write that sometimes produces something more vulnerable than a co-write with many of the best songwriters could produce. "Bathroom Floor" captures the desperation and sadness that comes after a heartbreak, reaching the point where Vaus even hopes she'll "feel nothing so my heart doesn't break anymore."
Writer: Hailey Steele
"Why is it in our nature to hurt somebody who loves us most?" Steele sings in this solo-written demo, speaking of those times where it's so hard to get out of relationships that are hurting us. This song addresses the complexity of love and relationships, and tells the struggle of knowing when to stay, and also finding the strength to run. Out of the songs that discussed love this year (which was a lot), this is one of the most mature.
Writers: Ellis, Josh Kerr & Nicholas Wayne
Hannah Ellis is one of the most overlooked songwriters in the industry, and this song is an example of why people should be paying attention to her. "Never In Love" redefines a lost relationship as something that never was what she thought it was. "You were never in love, just in love with the thought of me," she sings, with incredible conviction, conveying the heartbreak beautifully and painfully.
Writers: Bethel, Melissa Sheridan & Anna Vaus
This song takes a new perspective on lost love, and instead of just saying that the relationship ended, this song asks, where did it go? What did we do to lose it? It's always interesting to hear a different view on a breakup, and this song brings in a question that we've all thought, but isn't discussed in many songs. Pop-country has a bad reputation, but this song is incredible.
Writer: Betsy Lane
Lane has done a lot of writing and demo-posting this year, but this little acoustic solo-written song stands heads and shoulders above the rest. The song is full of questions, speaking of someone that Lane lost. She sings softly, "Is heaven a place you call home?" Death is the hardest thing humans have to deal with, and this song captures the simple things that we wish we could do for who we've lost, and how much it hurts.
Writers: Forest Glen Whitehead & Wilson
Breakup songs are a dime a dozen, but the descriptions in this song are set it apart from the rest. Wilson describes the whole life she and a man had planned to have together, every dream that she had for them, but then sharply ending that fantasy with "You were talking to her / while you were talking to me." Cheating hurts, but not many people are able to capture that hurt quite as well as Wilson does in this song.
Writers: Ashton & Emily Landis
Soul country became very popular in 2016, and no artist has been embracing the sub-genre better than Ashton. Her vocals are soulful and twangy, and this song is sassy, fun, and incredibly well written. The end of the chorus where Ashton sings in her lower register, ending with "I'll stay where I stumble till I leave / I'm a tumbleweed" is one of the best hooks of the year, and seems perfect for radio.
Writers: Morris, Tom Douglas, & David Hodges
Morris tweeted this demo right after the Orlando and Dallas shootings, and it was the perfect way to reflect on the horrible situation. Morris beautifully captures the idea that hate is all around us, but we have the ability to make sure that love does win out. This song is simplisticly written, but this little acoustic demo quickly became one of the most poignant and real songs of the year.
Writers: Higgins & Troy Verges
Life is hard. In 2016, we've learned that life isn't always fair, and it isn't always good. The best demo of 2017 doesn't face those problems head on, but instead, it is from the perspective of a child. A young, innocent child, who sees the drives he takes with his mother as fun, rather than a trip to avoid an abusive father. The beautiful innocence in this song that really speaks of something horrible makes it the demo of the year.