Raleigh Keegan grew up with a piano sitting in his living room.

It served as an instrument that seemed to call out to him even from a very early age, a place where Keegan could sit down and unleash his deepest thoughts through a series of notes and chords, a haven of sorts for the kid who would grow up to become a man with music in his soul.

“I got gifted a piano last year, so I finally have my own piano at my house,” the independent artist boasts to Taste of Country in the days leading up to the release of his debut album, Clocks Roll Forward. “I’ve really been diving into this kind of Billy Joel-ish country lately.”

Indeed, the Cincinnati native says he has often felt as if he was born in the wrong decade. He often wishes he was born before social media, when artists were evaluated on more than just numbers of followers, before the business of music got so dang cloudy.

But he digresses.

With Clocks Roll Forward, Keegan is focusing on today, bringing a sonic kaleidoscope of sounds to the country music landscape and proving that a new artist with an old soul can find himself on the cusp of stardom by not only looking back…but looking forward.

“One of my favorite lines on the record is, ‘We know that our clocks roll forward, but we always find our way back,’” Keegan says of the somewhat heavy line found in album track “Way Back,” a song he co-wrote alongside Kyle Sturrock. “And that theme really runs through the entire album, because a lot of it is telling my story and how times pass and how I've changed.”

Granted, it’s been a long time coming for Clocks Roll Forward, as Keegan originally started to work on the album all the way back in the pre-pandemic days of 2019. He had much to wade through personally to accomplish this professional feat.

“I didn't get to this place without bumps along the way,” says Keegan, whose birth mother was incarcerated on drug-related charges at the time she gave birth to him. “I think just reflecting on my upbringing and reflecting about that time and all that has happened in my life has been a great blessing because I've been able to put that into art. I think people value authenticity more than mystery.”

Indeed, while he knows that his family tree might not look like most — Keegan ended up being adopted by a loving family at just a few days old — he says that most fans who listen to his music can see themselves within almost every song.

“People can connect with it, even though it has nothing to do with their story,” says Keegan of the album, which was produced by Grammy Award-winning Ryan Gore and on which every track was co-written by Keegan. “And that's what is so fantastic about music. I know it’s the same thing that happened to me when I’ve listened to records, you know?”

And while this is Keegan’s debut album and there are a slew of radio-friendly cuts such as “Jealous of the Sun” and “Drink for That,” he wasn’t fearful of already taking some risks.

“’Tell Me Somethin’ I Don’t Know’ goes in a totally different sonic direction that I am used to,” he says. “It's a dark song. It's not about me, but it's true about someone that I'm very close to, so I put myself into that character. It’s something I’m getting more and more comfortable with every day.”

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 staff@tasteofcountry.com.