#10 – “Not With Haste” – Mumford and Sons
I’m usually a fan of the popular songs from albums and I certainly understand why those songs are chosen as singles, but I love the lesser known tracks so much more. Mumford and Sons sophomore release, Babel, certainly had plenty of lesser known tracks to pick from. “Not With Haste” stands out musically and lyrically, with stunning harmonies, those classically Mumford banjo sounds, and lines like “I will love with urgency, but not with haste.”
#9 – “Rain in the Valley” – The Steel Wheels
The Steel Wheels really surprised me this year by making one of the most interesting folk/bluegrass albums of the year, Lay Down, Lay Low. The gem off of the album is the almost entirely acapella “Rain in the Valley” featuring a little drum and a powerful lead vocalist. An incredible base line and two more harmonies fill out what is undoubtedly one of the year’s most eye-opening tracks.
#8 – “The Divide” Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Grace Potter is a force of nature. Her incredible voice soars over her awesome guitar and piano work and helps her to break out of the traditional roles of female vocalists and become one of the most unique and talented women making music today. This track off of The Lion, The Beast, The Beat shows off her songwriting skills and the band’s ability to write a song that builds and builds. “If I don’t go, how will I ever know what’s on the other side?”
Incredible version of the song begins at 1:32.
#7 – “Home” – Green River Ordinance
The masterpiece of a masterpiece of an album, be sure to look for it in my top albums list, is “Home”, a song about going home and not looking back. It’s a song that slowly builds from background music to soft drums to heavy drums to a full band over a minute and a half. It’s a song about love, about determination, about everything that’s good. Just close your eyes and listen to this one.
#6 – “Swansong” – Andrew James and The Steady Tiger
South Africa’s Andrew James and the Steady Tiger may be the most impressive duo out there right now. The amount of sound that these two guys can make is incredible. This song, the first track off of their debut album, Red in Tooth and Claw, is a phenomenal way for them to show off their musical abilities, but it’s message and lyrics are even better. “A warmer planet, that is fine. It’s the greed in our hearts that I mind.”
#5 – “Lonesome Dreams” – Lord Huron
One of my favorite albums of the year, Lord Huron burst onto the scene with an ambitious project, an album based on the Lonesome Dreams series of Western stories by George Ranger Johnson, a character and series that frontman Ben Schneider created to inspire the album, which is nearly flawless.
#4 – “Big Parade” – The Lumineers
The Lumineers need no introduction. Having literally perfected the idea of minimalist folk, this band has taken the world by storm, garnering 2 Grammy nominations on the heels of The Lumineers. This song, one of the lesser known tracks, tells a few stories all of which are small microcosms of American life, a candidate in a parade, a priest who has fallen in love and decides to leave the church, a man falling in love. It’s an incredible song from an equally incredible band.
#3 – “Chain on Love” – Delta Rae
Delta Rae is unique, using four part harmonies in every song. They all have Broadway caliber voices and they’re not afraid to show it. This song is a plea from the band, and all of us that agree, to see how ridiculous it is to hate someone or refuse rights to someone simply because of who they love. “Someone put a chain on love,/ because right now there’s just far too much of it./ And Jesus taught it, but now we’ve caught it/ and we won’t let it run wild again/ because love doesn’t know when it’s a sin.”
#2 – “Ain’t It Enough” – Old Crow Medicine Show
OCMS has been making stellar bluegrass music for a long time. Often that music has been traditionally bluegrass and still is, but this song borrows a page from Bob Dylan’s book. Or maybe John Lennon. Reminiscent of songs like “Imagine” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Ain’t It Enough” is a perfect song lyrically and has the music to match. It’s bluegrass and definitely OCMS, but it’s something more. It’s a mantra, a thing to constantly remind yourself when things are bad. “Ain’t it enough to live by the ways of the world? To be part of the picture whatever it’s worth? Throw your arms each other and love one another. For it’s only one life that we’ve got and ain’t it enough?”
#1 – “Harmony” – Goodnight, Texas
Some songs can perfectly capture a moment or a feeling. There are even fewer songs that can perfectly capture a moment that you have no idea how to put into words. Avi Vinocur has done exactly that with this song, one about love and what happens when that love gets out of control. One of the most impressive things about this song is that the tone, the melody and the title say one thing, but the lyrics say the opposite. “Harmony, I’m gonna let you down so easily. I’m gonna break your heart and make you see that we just can’t be together any more.”