Now these are the best. Some of these are not only contenders for best songs of the year, but best I’ve ever heard. It was a really good year.
10. Mandolin Orange, “Cavalry”
-From finger-picking melodies to well-delivered lyric lines, the duo harmonies of Mandolin Orange are sweet to the very soul. “No, I’m saving my strength for running.” It’s a simple overall song with a relatable key lyric that helps listeners connect with the moment in a relationship when we stop giving our all, just looking for the exit.
9. David Mayfield Parade, “Goodbye, Farewell, So Long”
-A good folk country melody is difficult to write and even more difficult to deliver. Although this live recording isn’t as good as the album version, it still gives an indication of just how good this song is. While it’s a sad parting song, it’s still delightfully sweet. Capping an album (Good Man Down) with a variety of great country songs, this one provides fitting closure.
8. Penny and Sparrow, “Brothers”
-This album, Tenboom, was so full of fantastic songs that it was really difficult to pick the “best.” That said, the two on this list were just incredible. Not only does “Brothers” have beautiful imagery about a youthful and powerful friendship, but it also instills a deep value of perseverance. It’s rare to find such cultural values in a generally morally-vapid artistic world.
7. Penny and Sparrow, “Bones”
-“No matter the years, my heart is yours…” This is a song about timeless relationship, dedication, and staying faithful. It’s about a deep connection between people, transcendent love, and soulful connection. The repetitive refrain of “I love you” seems genuine coming from these two artists. The word authentic gets overused a lot in the 21st century, but Penny and Sparrow are a truly authentic duo.
6. Bears of Legend, “Catelina Star”
-Every once in a while I run across an album that is so uniquely fantastic, I just don’t know what to say about it. My review of Bears of Legend’s Motherland had a bit of that quality to it. This track starts a bit slow, but it’s worth the payoff. From harmonies to uniqueness, this is not a top 40 hit, but it’s a piece of art that will last among people who really appreciate instrumentation and brilliant songwriting. When the lead vocals come in (2:10), the folksy appeal really skyrockets.
5. Luke Hawley, “My Father’s Favorite Hymn”
-For a complete change of pace, here’s Luke Hawley’s singer-songwriter fusion of the classic hymn “It is well with my soul” with a story about his father’s death. It’s simultaneously morbid and uplifting. The major-minor chord turns make listeners feel connected to the difficult emotions of losing a close loved one. This is not just a song – it’s a glimpse into a deep personal reflection. It’s our privilege to hear such things.
4. Mandolin Orange, “Waltz about Whiskey”
-On an otherwise deep album, this is a a song about loneliness and heartache. It’s a song about wanting to drink and dance the night away. “I don’t need much of nothing except all your lovin’… and a waltz about whiskey on ice.” But here’s the thing – it’s brilliant. It’s beautifully written. The duo bring sweet harmonies, well-written clever lyrics, and just a delightful execution. I can’t listen to it without smiling. It’s that simple.
3. Water Liars, “Linens”
-I originally found this track through Room125 Productions. It has an intimacy to it, both in the lyrics about the person he’s writing about, but also between the harmonies in the duo. It’s a wonderfully-written and performed song. It makes romance seem tangible and real. The reference to Milton just capped off an already powerful track. Love songs do not always have to be quaint platitudes. Love is real, evidenced here.
2. Le Wrens, “Tickets for Teasing”
-Take some great folk country lyrics, mix them with a classic country melody line, and add in brilliant family harmonies – that’s pretty much what makes “Tickets for Teasing” such a great song by the Gundersens via their group Le Wrens. The strong lead vocal from Lizzy Gundersen drives home the lyric, “There are some bridges that just have to burn…” in a way that is believable. It’s a track that should not change at all. Keep it JUST LIKE THIS. Gorgeous.
1. Wood Brothers, “The Muse”
-The best folk music tells a song and/or reflects an emotion that can’t be grasped in mere words. That’s why we need songs. “The Muse” taps into a life I’ve never lived. It expresses something deep in the listener that is both comfortable, mostly through the unique tone of the lead singer, but also feels very adventurous and powerful. It’s a perfectly-mixed track with elements of style and substance that keep listeners questioning its meaning, but feeling… well, inspired.