20) Weston T. Hine – “Down the line”
-I chose this song as number 20 not because it’s the 20th on the list. It’s because I want you to hear how remarkable this song is and remember that art cannot be ranked. This is just a silly mechanism to order my thoughts about these songs that I absolutely loved this year. Weston T. Hine has written a magical song called “Down the Line” that features his outstanding vocal range. There’s a bluesy style to the acoustic guitar that works really well on the main melody, countering the atmospheric elements in the background that create an almost cinematic effect. The end result is really comfortable and captivating, providing an alternative folk style that’s sure to find a lot of support among our readership.
19) Matthew Thomas Hope – “Our love”
-This is an undeniable love song, after all love is in the title. The acoustic guitar is wonderful on this song. I don’t know the exact genre on this one, but it reminds me of mid 20th century Nashville when artists like Chet Atkins were using country music fundamentals with orchestral arrangements to make deeply moving songs. Hope seems to have captured some of that magic on this song as well, allowing the success of time in the relationship to support. As someone who has been married to my best friend for 16 years, I can say that I relate to the sentiments here. It’s a perfect anniversary song.
18) Tyler Childers – “Old Country Church” Jubilee version
-I can’t not put my favorite song from this album on this countdown. I mean… Tyler Childers is in a league of his own right now. The syncopated energy of this track coupled with the clear gospel influence makes for something truly special. The soulful style here shows an expressive connection with the material. I have no idea how much Childers does or does not have a confessional stake in the lyrics here, but no matter because the song absolutely slaps. As a kid who grew up in an old country church myself, I can relate to this track on a number of levels. It’s also darn good fun to sing along with such a unique production of what is, in essence, a throwback Americana song.
17) Elle Mitchell – “Hold on to Neverland”
-I don’t know why a 39 year old suburban dad connects with songs with Peter Pan imagery so well, but I sure do. I also love the magical composition style that Elle Mitchell presents on this song as well. The intimacy in the vocal is evident; the lyrics discuss a very specific historic moment that transitions to a grasping of innocence. The layered vocals and the piano are absolutely magic; the song ultimately is heart wrenchingly tragic because you can hear the sadness, regret, and loss of innocence in the message. So yes, hold onto that past if you are able to travel there if even in your imagination. This song is much deeper than meets the ear, but it’s a really important song for a number of reasons.
16) Holden Miller – “Watching the moon”
-Well, I just want you to know that this song is on this list because of its ability to move me to emotions on numerous occasions. Miller writes with a sentimentality that works really well. The way the lyrics and melody match is really incredible here. The vocal performance is impassioned and genuine as well. The genre blend is something like pop rock, I guess, but what is more important is that people give the song a chance to move them as well. There’s such a powerful sympathetic sense to the lyrics that will be relatable for a lot of people. If you’ve ever stayed awake all night thinking about someone that you love who is not reciprocating that love, the song will… yeah… mmhmm. Give it a listen.
15) Passion Fruit Boys – “Looking for friend”
-I don’t remember what I said about this song when I originally featured it, but I remember making a big deal out of the line, “livin on liquid bread.” It still tickles me every time I listen to the track. The overall energy of the track is quintessential EarToTheGround, honestly. The harmonies are vibrant and engaging, the Americana base of the song is evident from start to finish. There’s something about the character of the lead vocal that feels really genuine and interesting. This is the kind of song, complete with the well-played sound of the piano, that seems like it was made to capture a moment in time and it does it well.
14) palmboy – “Spaceman”
-This song doesn’t need a genre; it’s a masterpiece of music production, bringing together elements of electro pop, indie pop, and colorful vocal harmonies for some absolute ear candy. If you all promise to keep a secret, actually my most listened to genre this year was electronic; so palmboy’s “Spaceman” might be the song with the closest overlap to what I’m really personally digging lately. It’s a dreamlike, abstract lyrical concept that allows the melody and rich harmonies to go down smooth. This is a song that is about the vibes as much as the message itself; if you listen to this song you’ll feel a lot better. It has a theatrical quality to it as well. It seems like the kind of song that would do well in getting sync licenses for all sorts of pop uses. It’s got mass appeal.
13) Madeleine Mayi – “For a second”
-It’s not an overstatement to say that this song took (and continues to take) my breath away. Mayi writes with a depth and sincerity that I just don’t hear very often. You can hear that she believes what she’s singing; this is a very private message that she’s sharing with all of us. The melody is sweet and inviting, all while unveiling this deep personal love for someone. It’s a heartbroken song, for sure, but it’s not one that laments; it’s a song that sits in the sadness and expresses it with inexpressible beauty. This is quality songwriting and impeccable performance.
12) Abigail Lapell – “Land of plenty”
-If I made genre-specific end of year lists, this might be the #1 song for roots country and Americana. I adore the sincerity of this song. It reminds me of pioneers and salt of the earth travelers. The expressive lyrics on this song pull the listener right into the romance between the lead and “the sailor’s daughter.” There’s an unhurried sensibility to the song that feels like what a quintessential Americana track should sound like. Blending images of spiritual significance with a hope of a better tomorrow, this is a song that reminds us of our forebears and what they endured for us to be able to live our lives the way we do. This is a rich and rewarding recording.
11) Smith and Thell – “Planet Mars”
-There are songs and then there are works of art; very rarely are those two one in the same. This track from Smith and Thell is some of the most beautiful artful folk music I heard all year. The piano work is outstanding, but it’s the vocal duo work that is absolutely phenomenal. When the choral vocal enters, the track really grows with some fantastic dynamics. Both the high and low leads are excellent voices, creating a real sense of dynamism in the performance. The lyrics are in equal parts romantic and emotional. The theatricality of the track helps it to stand out from the crowd; it’s a piece of art with expressive emotionalism and drama, sure to please many audiences. I would love to hear this one live.