Morgan Wade's debut single "Wilder Days" leaves you a special kind of breathless. There's an urgency to the rock-inspired love song that's rare on Top 40 country radio. This newcomer proves that you don't need to sacrifice depth to get a great hook and strong melody.

A dozen comparisons come to mind as you play "Wilder Days" on repeat, and all of them (a hardened Sheryl Crow, perhaps) are generational artists. There's an immediate longing to scream, "you said you hate the smell of cigarette smoke" in front of some moonlit festival stage soon, but it's in pondering the remainder of the chorus and each verse that Wade (and co-writer Sadler Vaden) gets you. The song is complex, with chords and a melancholy shuffle that shouts heartbreak, even if her story is at worst hesitant and thoughtful.

"And who were you before I knew your name / Were you drunk at midnight waiting for the train / You could have been anyone back then / Just another kid reaching for the wind," she sings during a second verse that, thankfully, wasn't shortened, as is popular in 2021. As producer, Vaden proves as essential to Wade as Jay Joyce is to Eric Church. It's possible the singer's broken-in, made-for-Yellowstone voice would identify her in any mix, but this song — and others on her Reckless album — proves the edges of art are still worth seeking.

Did You Know?: Morgan Wade's Reckless album made Taste of Country's list for the 10 best albums of 2021.

Morgan Wade's "Wilder Days" Lyrics:

Hand in my hair and you said I looked pretty / You're so devious, rolled in from the Windy City, yeah / I ain't got a clear view / Tell me what you want me to do / And you tell me every single secret in your mind / Come on, baby, we got nothing but time / You say I am too young for you / You're scared I'm too right for you.

Chorus:
You said you hate the smell of cigarette smoke / You only used to smoke when you drank / When you lived in Chicago / Unsure where the wind blows / I wish I had known you in your wilder days / And here we go / You got me falling in love again / You got a secret, I wanna keep it / I wish I had known you in your wilder days.

The way you move your hands across my body / I'm kissin' you in a hotel lobby / Baby, I don't wanna lose this feeling / You're giving me something to believe in / And who were you before I knew your name / Were you drunk at midnight waiting for the train / You could have been anyone back then / Just another kid reaching for the wind.

Repeat Chorus

What were you like when you were a little wilder / Why don't you show me / Why don't you show me / What you were like when you got a little higher / Just for tonight, just for tonight.

Repeat Chorus

I wish I had known you in your wilder days / I wish I had known you in your wilder days.

Arista Nashville

Best Country Albums of 2021 - Critic's Pick

There have been many creative country albums in 2021, but not all have hit the mark. Artists are more than ever toying with distribution methods and packaging as much as they are new sounds, so you get double and triple albums, Part 1 and Part 2, and digital EPs in lieu of a traditional 10 or 11-song release.

The bar for an EP on this list of the best country albums of 2021 is higher than an LP, but one project did crack the Top 10. Too much music proved to dampen other artist's efforts, although Alan Jackson's first album in years was filled with country music we couldn't turn away from. Where Have You Gone has 21 songs, but somehow no filler.

More than ever, this relied on staff opinion and artistic merit to allow for some parity among major label artists and independents. The 10 albums listed below are not ranked, although the year-end list published in the fall will crown a true best album of 2021.