20) Town Meeting – “Forget me nots”
-Kicking off our list this year is a fantastic track that, in some ways, embodies the ethos of ETTG’s blend of folk and rock music. Heck, there’s even a gruffness to the track that feels like a lot of artists we’ve covered over the years. The balance between the lead vocal and the harmonies is really well done. Once the track really kicks off into a powerful Americana-rock sound, the room (or your head if you’re using headphones as you should) absolutely fills with chills, memories, and a conquer-the-world energy.
19) Jakob Leventhal ft. Sarah Jarosz – “Greenwich Village Ghosts”
-There’s a soft, tender sincerity to this track that won me over on first listen. Every time I listen, I feel like I pick up another reference. It’s the kind of music that soothes the folk lover’s soul. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous, the lyrics are heartfelt, and the overall composition is deeply entrancing. I love the little details within the chord changes that make it feel so unhurried and intentionally beautiful. It’s a diary entry with a lovely melody.
18) Emma Halpin – “Cupid”
-I love this song. But more than that, I love every LINE in this song. On many occasions I’ve just sat back and enjoyed the tune, but sometimes I just have to pause it and ask, “how can someone write this?” I rarely label songwriters as inherently special because art is a fickle thing, but Emma Halpin is a legitimately talented songwriter. The guitar is sweet, but the lyrics on this song continually blow me away. They are clever, endearing, yet infinitely relatable.
17) Arbour Season – “Rubatosis”
-I could write about this song as a lovely folk duo with endearing harmonies… I could write about this song as an incredible lyrical thought piece about being aware of your own frailties… or I could just say that this is amazing and you need to hear it. I’ve come to love Arbour Season in the past few years, but this track seems to soar to new heights for me. If you’re feeling in a rut (not that anything this year would make you feel that way), this is a good track to make you feel less alone, providing an artful way to confront what can be a stunning lifeless sensation. You are here. This is going to be okay. Hold on.
16) Honeywhip – “Feels good to laugh”
-The crispy stylings of this song keep me coming back for more. In a year without many reasons to smile or laugh, this song has a lighthearted joy that I really crave. I guess you’d call the music pop rock? But it feels soooo dang good. The “la la las” on the chorus absolutely beg you to sing along. Fans of Zoey Deschanel’s feel good pop energy will dig what Honeywhip are doing in this year-defying standout track.
15) Christian Lee Hutson – “Northsiders”
-This track was recommended to me by fellow songwriter Darryl Rahn. At the time, I thought it was a nice tune. Little did I know after many, many listens it would end up on this list. It’s got a gorgeous acoustic line along with a clear, articulate, engaging vocal style. The “nothing’s going to change it” line gets me every time. It’s part nostalgia, part hysteria, and completely absurdly beautiful. It reminds me of my early college days in ways I hesitate to express out loud; it’s just so good.
14) Carmanah – “As I See You”
-I love the lead vocal on this track. Then again, I love the harmony vocals as well. There’s a saucy tenacity to this style that appeals to me in ways that I struggle to put into words. Let’s just say the chill jazzy beat is timeless and the vocal stands out from the crowd. When you put the two together, it reminds me of a time before my time. This one demands a slow dance with the one you love.
13) Robert Chaney – “Breath”
-It’s hard to think of something new to say about Robert Chaney that I haven’t said yet this year. He’s probably my favorite Americana find of the whole year. There’s an authenticity that drips from every line of this exquisite song “Breath.” This is what it’s like to listen to someone express absolutely, complete heartache. You’ll listen to a thousand songs before you’ll ever hear another with this much passion. Chaney says what most of us have experienced and few of us ever found the words to say or sing.
12) Five Islands – “Lonely”
-This is a vintage harmony song that really tickles me. I guess that’s not a very professional way to put it, but it’s true. A dash of country, a little folk, and a lot of adorable timelessness make this song stand out. I appreciate how the female vocal is the lead with some high tenor male harmonies. It stands out as “real music” in a pop music scene that feels entirely too busy with artificalness. The lyrics are quite cute in a crinkle-your-nose flirty kind of way.
11) Noah Reid – “Hold On”
-There’s nothing I could say that would prepare you to listen to this song from Noah Reid. I’ve written in the past about other artists Reid reminds me of, but honestly this song deserves its own well-earned praise. The piano takes center stage, expressing deep sentiments. That lyric everything being okay in the fall smarts a bit given everything we’ve been through in 2020, yet at the same time the composition style makes it work. I’ve always wondered what it was like hearing the great songwriters of the 60s and 70s as they emerged, but I get the impression we are experiencing that with Noah Reid’s sincere salvo with “Hold On.”