20. Travis Meadows, 'First Cigarette'
"When you're young, you don't think about getting old," sings Travis Meadows on "McDowell Road," a moment on First Cigarette that's about taking stock of how quickly life passes us by, and how delicate each breath is. Meadows would know – he's fought addiction, overcome illness and pulled himself out of desolation to become one of country's most treasured songwriting weapons (called in by Eric Church and Dierks Bentley to give their albums a potent punch). Meadows sings like a man who's felt the pull of the darkness but chose to find the light: With a raspy imperfection to his delivery, he illustrates his stories through details that penetrate, from the kiss of some Coppertone on the skin to the deep, dangerous satisfaction of the morning's first cigarette. It's in the minutiae that Meadows finds the universal moments, coming out with an album that's equal parts hurt and healing, and one that may linger long after the smoke has cleared. M.M.