10) Adam Melchor – “The last song on earth”
-This is an incredible song. I love everything from the melody to the voices and lyrics. I… have listened to it so many times throughout the past few months that I’m not entirely sure what else to say. There’s a glorious energy to the track that inspires people to be aware of the problems in society. It really focuses on the “aha!” moment that the pandemic has been for so many people who were just trudging through life. Everything’s different now, we know this. But Melchor’s song is an eloquent expression of an awakening so many of us are experiencing… and the harmonies on the bridge are (please pardon this pun) to die for.
9) Morningbird – “Nice to need you”
-Oddly, this might be the only pure rock song on my top 20 this year. But the timeless (can we even say “classic?”) rock energy of this track definitely made me feel good. The energy is like a cross between the Beatles of yore with modern folk rockers (like Ivan & Alyosha). The guitars are clean, with well written lines. The lyrics are relatable without being cliche. The whole composition is radio ready, with a polish that I rarely hear in rock these days.
8) Augusta – “The feeling’s gone”
-I’ve written about Augusta a few times this year and I have to say… every time I write with a smile. It’s like Augusta has this ability to bring me joy in my soul. Everything from the vocal tone to the development of the melody all speak to me on this track. The lyrics are actually kind of sad and definitely connect to a moment in my own life. That said, the charming presentation make it so enjoyable even though it is sad. Augusta reminds me a little of Anna Tivel… and books by Annie Dillard. These are compliments and I adore this one.
7) Ivan and Alyosha – “You that carries me”
-There’s an energy to this track that I absolutely love. The song SOARS. The harmonies are incredible and the production of this mix is next level. The inspiring lyrics make me feel a sense of joy. I can’t quite figure out if the lyrics are spiritual or romantic (or both), but it’s definitely a powerful track. I just love any song that can pick you up into the energy of the track like this does… and it’s super fun to sing along.
6) Mona Lisa Tribe – “Fly”
-This is a gorgeous piece of music… and then singing starts, making it even more beautiful. I wish I could put into words the way my soul feels when I hear these harmonies. It’s otherworldly, honestly. I love how the lyrics make you feel rooted while vocals soar. It seems like a song perfect for a graduation, encouraging people to focus on where they came from but dreaming of what is yet to come. Mostly I just find it wonderful to hear. It’s one of those songs I don’t sing along because I don’t want to mess it up. This is so delightfully well written and recorded. I love it.
5) The Other Favorites – “Sittin on top of the world” Doc Watson cover
-It’s rare to have a cover on my top 20 list at all, let alone so high. Why is it here? Click play. I love having Doc Watson represented here in the first place, but to have him represented by Carson McKee and Joshua Turner… well, that’s just special. Turner’s guitar work here is outstanding (as per usual). I love how the guitar captures the harmonics of an era and a style so incredibly well. This song makes me feel like I’m listening to a story, but not just my story, it’s OUR story. It’s the story of American music and, by extension, America herself. In a year so divided, maybe sitting on the porch eating some peaches thinking about the woman you love (even if it is a blues tune)… could help? It’s a great lesson in the simple things… and it sounds REALLY good.
4) Jeff Pianki – “Song About”
-I’ve written several times about Jeff Pianki’s music, so let’s make this about the song itself. Listen to the lyrics. That’s what the song’s about… it’s a song about what the song’s about. It’s also about depression and anxiety. It’s about mental health and art. It’s about love and acceptance. It’s about sadness. It’s romantic to the enth degree. The composition is clear, with a folk rock energy that emerges in a satisfactory way. It tells a story of a feeling that many have had, but most people don’t know how to express. This song is a gift.
3) Jeremiah Daly – “Purple Flowers”
-Some of the songs on this list are songs, but this one… this is not just a song. This is a masterclass. This a masterpiece. This is almost like a mini-musical. First of all, who writes with this kind of beat? It’s so interesting. Then… the lush arrangement makes the track feel incredibly full and rich. Yet, despite all the production, Daly’s vocal still cuts through the sound. The incisive lyric, “it’s a cold damn world out there without you” is pointed, Dylanesque, and seeringly relatable. The imagery of the song reminds me of great rock writing of the 60s, but the production has a modern flair to it that absolutely stands out in the crowd. I love everything about this from the vocals to the composition to the lyrics.
2) Jake Etheridge – “Rock and roll”
-From the first time I heard this song, it was one of my favorites of the year. There’s an approachable sincerity to this song that is quite visceral. For any of us who love music (and let’s face it if you read music blogs you’re in pretty deep), this is a song that connects deeply. The lyrics are deeply honest, confessional even. The music itself has a folk rock edge to that feels like the expression of pain, joy, sorrow, and triumph… it’s all there. This song has snippets of Springsteen and Cash, Dylan and Guthrie, and I’m absolutely here for it. Plug in, rock out. Thank you Jake.
- Ben Rector – “Doxology”
-In a year that brought so much tragedy, many folks found themselves wrestling with faith. The traditional “Doxology” may not seem like a tune for a hip “emerging artist” blog, but this arrangement from site favorite Ben Rector really hit home. It’s raw, original, and expresses the clear calling out of the artist’s heart. Released in the midst of the initial quarantine and Covid fears, the song felt like it captured a moment by being timeless. I will always think of this song when I remember the tragic days of 2020.