It was yet another random conversation on yet another random night that gave Caleb Lee Hutchinson the extraordinary idea to write a song called “Slot Machine Syndrome.” Essentially, it refers to someone who keeps going back for more, even though they know what they are going back for isn’t worth it in the first place.

It’s an idea that Hutchinson has had personal experience with.

“I've seen a lot of people struggle with a lot of different things,” says Hutchinson during a recent interview about the thought-provoking song, which is premiering exclusively on Taste of Country. “I've known a lot of great people, especially as a child, that I looked up to who experienced the pitfalls of addiction and substance abuse. I've seen families torn apart because of relationships that people have had. So, I think to me the core message of this song is that it can happen to anybody, no matter how great you are or how great you think you are. If you don't keep yourself in check, you could lose your entire life chasing something that may never be there.”

He pauses for a moment, seemingly taking in the heaviness of the topic.

“I just hadn't really heard many songs about that, especially from someone who can't grow a beard yet.”

Hutchinson laughs, but “Slot Machine Syndrome” does include in it a mighty big piece of subject matter for a guy that most country fans still remember as the shy kid from Season 16 of American Idol. But now, with the upcoming release of his second EP, Hutchinson is putting his soul into songs that begin to tell the story of a complex man and a unique artist who could be destined for big things. It's a belief that not only Hutchinson’s fans have and a belief that Hutchinson seems to wave off, but it’s also a belief held by Grammy-nominated Americana talent Brent Cobb, who serves as producer on the entirety of the upcoming EP Slot Machine Syndrome.

“I wanted to seem like I was smart and had good ideas, so I just kind of had been saving that title,” Hutchinson remembers of the writing session for the title track of the new EP. “I kind of had the song figured out in my head, but Brent added so much of his Brent Cobb-isms, melodically and stuff. It's one of my favorite songs I've ever written for that reason.”

Sonically, the song opens with a rather dark and daunting chord progression, something that essentially foreshadows the fact that Hutchinson isn’t looking to become country music’s next random pop wannabe.

“At the time, I had rediscovered 'Red Headed Stranger' from Willie Nelson,” Hutchinson remembers of the song, which he began writing in late 2019. “It's an instrumental track, but it's one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever to me. So, I knew I wanted the song to have a similar flavor to that, and Brent was hearing something similar, basically conjuring up all the old stuff we both love. And it was in that moment I knew we were creatively linked up in a way.”

Slot Machine Syndrome certainly sets listeners off on a sonic ride through the many somewhat contradicting sides of Hutchinson at this point in his life.

“There is such a rise and a fall sound-wise on the EP, where it goes from optimistic love songs to songs about those loves leaving,” he says. “It’s about love, loss and acceptance. My favorite songwriters and singers have always been storytellers. It’s the main reason that country music is my greatest musical love. So yeah, I want all my music to have a purpose, to have a story, to deliver a message.”

Top Country Songs of 2021, Ranked

You'll find much more than just the Top 10 Country Songs of 2021 on this list. Enjoy the 21 best country songs of the year, based on Taste of Country staff and country music fan opinion, plus commercial data (sales, streaming, airplay).

To be considered, the song must have been released in 2021 or have actively charted for a portion of the year (see "Wine, Beer, Whiskey"). New artists including Lainey Wilson, Larry Fleet and Morgan Wade crack the top songs list, while hitmakers including Thomas Rhett, Jason Aldean and Luke Combs make the Top 10.

Let us know your favorite song of 2021 on Twitter, or email us at

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