Well here they are — the best songs of 2017 according to editor Greg Jones. These are, of course, subjective choices. But honestly, after listening to over 5000 demos this year, we really need to give these artists credit for their literal “outstanding” work.
10) Pacific Range – “Santa Monica (Through the Canyon)”
-Classic rock will always be something that runs in my blood. The Neil Young style on the lead vocal for Pacific Range continues to be one of the most exciting finds of the year. The harmonies on the chorus are, as the 70s rock sound indicates, excellent. The relaxed Pacific coast vibe of the song is a perfect match to the song. Even this Rust Belt guy can recognize that this is about as Cali as a surfboard.
9) Morningbird – “It Takes a Woman”
-If you look at the stats on this track, you’ll see that these guys are flying wayyy under the radar and I honestly can’t figure out why. They are exceptionally talented. This song feels like a Queen deep cut from back in the day. There’s magic in the chords, the lyrics, and the overall recording. Having done an interview with these guys this year, I know they’ll be successful in the industry. I just hope making this list will get these talented young men some well-deserved listens.
8) Alexander Wolfe – “I Can’t Get to Sleep”
-I am almost running out of things to say about Alexander Wolfe because I’ve been writing about him so much lately. His style is infectiously good, with a kind of epic orchestral folk sound that keeps us coming back for more. The songwriting is fabulous, calling on dynamics and vibrant imagery that matches the lyrical content really well. He’s one of those artists that you would pick if you had to pick a composer for your life’s sound track.
7) Canyon City – “Firework”
-I’m cheating a bit here since “Firework” technically came out in 2016, but since it missed last year’s list I want it here. AND I’M THE EDITOR darnit. No but seriously I love this song. It’s about love and trying to make relationships work. But it’s also about the uncertainty of living life with other vulnerable people. I love both the guitar and the subtle vocal style of the artist. The whole sound is absolutely lovely.
6) Janileigh Cohen – “Sister”
-I’ve written about Cohen a few times and I always compare her to Joni Mitchell. Then the next time I listen I think the same thing. She’s a superb talent with both piano and vocal that comes through with a gentle sweetness. The vibrato on this vocal is literally pitch perfect. Cohen might is in that elite class of songwriters that I’ll be watching in the coming years. She has the potential to be a voice of her generation of indie artists.
5) Evan Bartels – “Tattoo”
-When I clicked on this song to cover it, I just said what you might call a flattering curse word. That is to say I know what the song does to my spirit, the way that it breaks me, and I just… shook my head and cursed. If that doesn’t sum up the significance of a single song, I don’t know what does. Bartels is the next generation of gruff, emotional rock songwriters. I’ll tell you this it opens with a nice acoustic part, but you sure as shit better stay for the 1:20 mark and hear that breakdown. If you click away from the song after that, we aren’t even friends. Get the hell out of here with this song, man. I don’t even know what to say about it anymore it’s just so good.
4) The Arcadian Wild – “Envy Green”
-I loved this song from the first time I heard it. It captures the wilderness and the whimsy of young love. There’s an adventure to it that I can’t quite describe, but I admire more than words. These three artists are incredibly talented songwriters, to say nothing of their philosophical and reflective lyric work. It’s the harmonies, though, that show a choral core with bluegrass instrumentation and art folk finish. Did I mention I love this?
3) Mac Ayres – “Easy”
-It took me an awful long time to get to the first soul song on this list, but throw on your headphones and listen to this one. This is the best soul track I heard all year without doubt. More than just the sum of its parts, a chill beat and clever lyrics, is the actual soul of the thing. That’s right; it has spirit and the heart of the artist comes through perfectly. It’s about a relationship that fell apart and you know what we all been there bro. We. All. Been. There. But damn boy keep singing this tune because you are going IN.
2) Jeffrey Martin – “Billy Burroughs”
-Oddly enough, Jeffrey Martin’s song “Time Away” could have just as easily made it to this place on the list, too. But this song. Good night. This is one of the most powerful songs I’ve EVER heard. I don’t mean this year. I mean EVER. Martin’s precision in songwriting is probably once in a generation. He’s in very elite company when it comes to the ability to match a folk song ethos with cathartic, sometimes chilling lyrics. The lonesome quality in his vocals helps to punctuate the tragedy of Burroughs’ life as expressed in the song. This is truly exceptional work.
1) Cale Hawkins – “The Ferryman”
-Every year some artist comes out of seemingly nowhere to absolutely floor me with new music. This year, Cale Hawkins was that artist. This song, “The Ferryman” has some of the most sophisticated songwriting and lyrical content that I’ve heard in years. This is poetic and moving, deeply stirring far beyond what any genre convention could explain. This is seriously in the Leonard Cohen or Paul Simon territory. The lyrics are obviously open to interpretation, but the line “Mr Preacherman won’t you please exaggerate my eulogy…” wrecked me in an existential way that few songs ever have. This… this is the song of 2017.