These are all incredible songs. If you’re just here to skim, be advised that it’s a mistake. You should really only partake in these tracks if you plan to take them seriously. While several of these artists have been on my radar for a few years, there are some new arrivals here. The list runs the gamut of true indie artists all the way to big label artists. These are the best of the thousands of songs I’ve heard this year. Thank you for everyone who subscribes to the site, submits music for our consideration, and reads our work. Please, support these artists as they try to make our world just a little bit more beautiful.
10) The Young Novelists – “Always Make the Mistake”
-Regular readers of the site will recall that I only recently covered this album. The Young Novelists are supremely talented in their ability to craft loving, thoughtful melodies. This track soothes my soul in ways that words can barely describe. There are several lines to like in the song, but “love is a foolish prize” is one of the better ones. The harmonies and the lead vocal really come together for a delightful song.
9) Dara Sisterhen – “Easy to Fool”
-The comparison to Patsy Cline is almost too easy with Dara Sisterhen. But I’ll tell you what, this here’s a gal who can sing. I love the chord changes and easy, free feeling of this song. We’ve all been in that place in life where we feel like we were easy to fool. Maybe we even wanted to be taken advantage of by someone, then when it happens the guilt just overwhelms us. This is a real, honest country song and it pulls me in every time.
8) Bears of Legend – “Loved (The Chance)”
-Folks who read my reviews on a regular basis are no strangers to Bears of Legend. They are one of my absolute favorite bands and I have no idea why they aren’t getting nominated for Grammys and such. Their music is spectacular high art. The production and performance on each track stuns me. This track specifically wrecks me every time. The solo in the beginning is beautiful in and of itself, and then the full band comes in to fill the sound with gorgeous harmonies. The song itself is a series of narratives that, if you allow it, will sooth you into a fictional-historical trance. In short, the song is an experience.
7) The Harmaleighs – “Colorblind”
-There are three or four tracks on the Harmaleighs album that I considered for this list. Their style totally blows me away. They were one of the most unexpected, beautiful surprises of the year for me. This particular song is all about the perception of reality. While the song is about a relationship, the vivid imagery in the songwriting is startling. It blends gorgeously with phenomenal three part harmonies. The chord progression and performance is on the bittersweet side and it’s pretty much delicious.
6) The Oh Hellos – “Caesar”
-“Caesar” is from the Oh Hellos superb album Dear Wormwood. It’s an orchestral folk track that highlights exceptional songwriting and near perfect performance. What I like about the song is that it’s as much an orchestral piece as it is a folk song. It has all of the elements of folk music that I love, while bringing in a large band sound and substance. Maybe it’s the militaristic imagery, but something about the phrasing and content of the song resonates deeply with me.
5) The Meadows Brothers – “Julianna”
-Harmonica. The song starts with a harmonica solo. Okay maybe it’s not a solo because the acoustic guitar is there too, but GOSH is it lovable. If you long for the days of “real music” in a raw, stripped down, yet still smooth, this is a must listen. The harmonies for this duo are out of this world, yet the delivery of each lyric is nearly recited like poetry. I could listen to this song over and over and over. I’m pretty sure I have (and you should too).
4) Andrew Combs – “In the Name of You”
-Andrew Combs is one of my favorite country artists. I think he is disturbingly underappreciated in the country music world. So goshdarnit I’m putting this class act of a song, “In the Name of You” in my top five. Combs writes with a kind of urgency and bravado that I can’t help but love. He seems to come across like he would do music whether the venue has five people or five hundred. This song doesn’t come across like a typical country song (certainly not like commercial country today), but Combs with a piano and some classic instrumentation behind him allows these deeply romantic lyrics to seep through. It’s sacrificial love done in a style we haven’t heard since the seventies. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
3) Matthew Mayfield (feat. Chelsea Lankes) – “Why We Try”
-One of the things I love most about Matthew Mayfield is his remarkable versatility in songwriting. I could have just as easily chosen a song (like, say, “Nashville”) off of his band The Blue Cut Robbery’s EP, but instead I chose this one off of his solo album Wild Eyes. If the first line of this song doesn’t give you chills right up your spine… well, anyways, it will. Mayfield’s deep baritone (that sometimes soars to high tenor!) works wonderfully with Chelsea Lankes. But more than the harmonies (which are amazing), the song’s message about perseverance in the midst relationship difficulty is just exceptional. It’s definitely a pop song that should find a lot of fans because it’s just so well composed and executed.
2) Tanner Swift – “Wait”
-Tanner Swift, who is rebranding his music under the moniker Jvdas Will Rise, released an EP in 2015 that doubled me over several times. This track “Wait” is poetic and deep, at times even dark, while evoking plenty of emotion. “Some day some lover will show you how beautiful being in love can be; stop looking for someone to complete you, wait for the one who makes you feel complete.” There are volumes of spiritual meaning in a lyric like that, but it definitely knocks on the door of truth pretty profoundly. Swift’s genuine, heartfelt lyrical delivery makes it all the more engaging. I am excited to continue following this rising songwriter’s work.
1) Greg Holden – “I Won’t Forget”
-Some of you will undoubtedly scoff at an “emerging artists” website choosing a Warner Brothers artist for the song of the year, but you know what… this IS the song of the year. Greg Holden leapfrogged from a guy I followed on YouTube to one of my favorite songwriters in the world this year. This track, “I Won’t Forget” is a big reason why. While I can’t personally relate to the difficult family situation Holden sings about in this track, the raw emotion that he captures here is soul wrenching. The total composition, including the guitar part and confident lead vocal, all create a powerfully evocative piece. The harmonies on the bridge… melt me EVERY time. This is a masterful work of art and it deserves to be heard by millions.