One of the great joys of being an editor is choosing song and album of the year choices annually. This is my fifth year compiling this list. I think there are some really compelling choices here. I’ve made a few editorial choices I’d like to explain. One, I’ve decided to mix “known” bands with some of the emerging artists we feature. Please listen to the ones you haven’t heard of, not just the famous ones. The point is to find new music. Second, I’ve chosen to blend genres a bit more this year. If you think of me as a go-to for folk music, this year you’ll find a bit more rock and traditional music mixed in. Don’t hate me. Please stick around for the rest of these over the next two weeks.
10) Miner – “Carry Me Home”
-I like this song so much, when it came time to write about it I just sat and listened to it the whole way through. The entire track is so perfectly balanced it’s really hard to put into words. From the harmonies to the overall melody, it’s a work of art. This is the kind of music that defines the ongoing folk music revival. Sure there are contemporary elements to the track, but at the end of the day this is a song that Woody Guthrie could appreciate, too. It’s about a timeless theme (The Odyssey anyone?) of travelling home with a love on your mind. It’s fantastic across the board.
9) Tim Qualls – “I Drink”
-So country music sometimes feels like it’s dying. Sometimes I hate what I hear coming out of Nashville, but sometimes you’ll hear a sound that is just so rich and authentic that it feels like the world is a better place. Tim Qualls writes with a style that is equal parts blues and country, just like it always should. The theme about drinking to cope with a broken relationship is about the most quintessentially country theme ever, but the execution here is fantastic. I find myself coming back to it over and over.
8) Air Traffic Controller – “The House”
-Okay, so this might be where things start getting weird. This song is probably the best college rock jam I’ve heard in five years. I love these guys and the energy on this track. I’ve probably watched the YouTube video of this song about a hundred times. I love the infectious hook, the gang vocal, and the underlying theme of the song. I mean it’s like the most intense Brady Bunch story you’ve ever heard. But at the end of the day it’s probably just a daydream. Sonically, I’ve rarely had as much fun listening to a song (and singing along).
7) Jellyrox – “Enough”
-While we’re on the “did Greg really pick these?” run, let’s go with an electro track. Yeah, that’s right, wicked awesome electro music to boot! I really need to explain how I found this song; years ago I listened to a cool indie rock outfit called Eleventy Seven. In trying to hear what they were up to these days, I found this Jellyrox album (one of the members started this). And holy wow is it incredible. Seriously I know nothing about EDM, but I find the layers on this track to be fascinating. Stick around for the jump because it hits so freaking hard you’ll dance right where you are. I legit turn up the volume EVERY TIME!
6) The Tin Man – “Too Many Lines”
-My love for traditional music really comes through with this pick. This artist is so talented with some amazing vocal blending and great songwriting. The way it all comes together though, with elements of old school country and new school pop, feels authentic. I was hooked by the intro, but love the entire song. If you’re a fan of bands like Needtobreathe or Green River Ordinance, keep an eye out for The Tin Man.
5) Head and the Heart – “Take a Walk”
-Some of the other selections on this list are from “emerging artists” but these top picks come from some pretty established artists. The Head and the Heart have been at the forefront of the new folk revival since day one. But this album, complete with its vintage flair and cool tones, is addictive from start to finish. I found the harmonies on “Take a Walk” to be straight off of Fleetwood Mac’s *Rumors* album. I love everything about this song. The lyrical message about processing reality also resonates personally in this life stage. It’s really an exceptional track.
4) Relient K – “Runnin’”
-I know, I know. How can an emerging artists website possibly rank a Relient K song? They’ve been popular for 15 years! Yeah, well, shoot me. They’re also one of my favorite bands of all time. I love their new album (although I won’t rank the full album), but this song is freaking amazing. The energy in it makes me want to climb Everest or something. The frenetic pace and urgency are perfect. When the piano ballad element enters it reminds me of “Deathbed,” one of their greatest songs of all time. I’m sure this was intentional. The way the band seamlessly bounces between the two sounds and styles is… just… yes. I love them. I love this song. Thank you Matthew Thiessen, you legend.
3) The Avett Brothers – “True Sadness”
-I had a complex relationship with The Avett Brothers’ new album. I’ll leave that discussion for another day, but I can say I love this track “True Sadness.” It captures a lot of what I really like about the magic of this band. The harmonies are that typical atypical style that we’ve all come to love from these guys. But the chorus really seals it for me, where the alt country (or maybe it’s just rock?) style takes over. The lyrics are complex and rewarding. For anyone who knows about the addiction life, this song is a must listen.
2) Matthew Mayfield – “History”
-Seldom do I find myself loving a song from the opening guitar riff, but that’s the case with this song. I enjoy Matthew Mayfield’s music and have for many years, but this song is honestly on a different level. He has the ability to tap into something much deeper. The lyrics are transcendent and they match perfectly with a genuine, honest song construction as well. “Say goodbye we’re history.” This is one of the most heartbreaking breakup songs you’ll ever hear.
1) Joe Purdy – “Cursin’ Air”
-Joe Purdy is a prophet with a guitar. I don’t write that lightly. He just is. You’re going to read more about my opinions on this full album very soon, but for now let’s talk about this phenomenal song. It’s a story that is a metaphor that is a song that is a lesson that is beautiful and it is is sad. It is not any one of those things more than the others. It is many things at once. I might also say that the Truth and the Beauty in this song are, to me, also holy. It’s a man with a guitar making sense of the world for you. I hope he never stops and I hope this song is playing in heaven. I think it will be.