Here they are, my twenty favorite twang induced songs of the year. They are in no particular order of greatness, simply numbered in the order I burned them to disc. Enjoy!
- Wicked Twisted Road, Reckless Kelly (from the album Wicked Twisted Road)
Texas country at its best from the Austin five. A song about regrets and lessons learned from experience. You can’t help but reminisce about something while listening to this song. Willy Braun’s vocals accompanied by acoustic quitar and violin are masterful in this song. A cool, calm melody that keeps playing in my head for days.
- Back to Me, Kathleen Edwards (from the album Back to Me)
I can’t say enough good things about Kathleen Edwards sophomore release this year. Title track “Back to Me” makes it clear that she is in command of both her love life (vengeful though it may seem) and her place in alt-country. I love how her Canadian roots shine through in the first line of the song. Listen closely and you’ll hear it “I’ve got ways to make you sorry / Start my life with someone else”. Edwards has quickly established herself as a favorite of mine and many others.
- Let It Ride, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals (from the album Cold Roses)
Perhaps the best song of the year. There had to be one diamond in the rough of all the music Adams and the Cardinals released this year. “Let it Ride” is the gem though there are some others. I love the line “Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina where they’re gonna bury me / And I ain’t ready to go”. Appropriately, as this is the tale of a traveller particularly that of Appalichia, this song sounds great blasting from the speakers of my car as it has done hundreds of times so far.
- Railroad Man, Eels (from the album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations)
Another traveler’s song comes by way of the band, Eels. Telling the tale of finding comfort while watching life speed by as evidenced by lyric “And i know i can walk along the tracks / It may take a little longer but i’ll know / How to find my way back”.
- Long Monday, John Prine (from the album Fair and Square)
A love song perfect in every way. From the acoustic guitar to the lyrics, Prine finds himself at his best reminding the rest of us to cherish our loved ones with the time we have. The accompaniment by smooth Mindy Smith sweetens the rough but wise sound delivered by Prine.
- Where Am I Now, Shelby Lynne (from the album Suit Yourself)
While many of the songs on “Suit Yourself” sound rushed, “Where Am I Now” shows off Shelby Lynne’s talent as a singer/songwriter as witnessed by lyric “Telling’s just talking that turns into speeches / Doesn’t aid the body with the hand that reaches / Stumble in the void to find there’s no one there.”
- Time, The Greencards (from the album Weather and Water)
What’s with the Aussies and Canadians and their knack for Americana? I can’t imagine that The Greencards are not somehow influenced by Allison Krauss and Union Station. Regardless, they have a sound that they can call their own. “Time” poetically warms both the heart and soul with its beautiful acoustics and vocals.
- Hendersonville, Last Train Home (from the album Bound Away)
In a year dedicated to remembering Johnny and June Carter Cash, this is unquestionably the best tribute. Lead singer, Eric Brace, wrote this song after visiting the Hendersonville cemetery where the couple were laid to rest with Johnny’s grave still showing freshly turned earth. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and still have not tired of it.
- Thunderbird, John Hiatt (from the album Master of Disaster)
Another hark back song regarding love and travel albeit this time the love is a Ford Thunderbird and the travel is a simple joy ride. Makes me wish I had a car I loved enough to sing about it. Somehow, I don’t think I could write a song professing my love for my Accord, however it is a reliable son of a gun.
- Afterglow 61, Son Volt (from the album Okemah and the Melody of Riot)
It was difficult to pick a favorite from Son Volt’s latest album there were so many. I settled on Afterglow 61. It simply epitomizes the best of Jay Farrar and band by a screeching bevy of guitar riffs while lyrically illustrating a roadtrip I’d sure love to be on.
- What I Really Mean, Robert Earl Keen (from the album What I Really Mean)
This is the year that I finally became a Robert Earl Keen fan. He’s piqued my interest before but nothing ever stuck. All I had to do was watch a taped performance and everything changed. Keen is masterful but even more impressive to me is the chemistry he’s developed with his band. The title track is my favorite on this album. You don’t have to be a traveling musician to relate to this tale of being on the road missing a loved one.
- One of the Fortunate Few, Delbert McClinton (from the album Cost of Living)
This song displays it greatness from the very beginning. Singing, “Well, for one thing, there was a whole lot of guys / That would have liked to have been in my shoes / But the upkeep on a woman like that / Will give an old poor old boy the blues” McClinton cooly belts out a tune that is as good as any of his greats. He is truly “One of the Fortunate Few”.
- Lost Again, Todd Thibaud (from the album Northern Skies)
Another album where it was difficult to pick a favorite. “Three Words” was on the top of my list for a long time, but I simply played the heck out of it. I picked “Lost Again”. A mid-tempo melody from one of New England’s best. ” Set a course I’m ready son, I’ve had my fill of here / You say the worst has all been done well that don’t shake my fear / ‘Cause in my deepest darkest nights, I can’t escape my sins / Now my heart lets go sometimes and I am lost again.”
- Hold On, Tim O’Brien (from the album Cornbread Nation)
If you don’t find yourself singing along with Tim O’Brien as he belts out “Put your hand on that plow, hold on”, then you should probably find a new place to read about music. If there were a category of music called Soul Country you would find this song there. While it has a country bluegrass feel to it, it must certainly be rooted in early African-American call and response.
- Calm Before the Storm, Eliza Gilkyson (from the album Paradise Hotel)
“Calm Before the Storm” sung beautifully with harmony provided by Shawn Colvin describes finding sanctuary in difficult times. I was unaware of Gilkyson until this album. Thankfully, once you are aware, you can no longer be unaware.
- Petty Song, Shurman (from the album Jubilee)
It is difficult not to pick “Impossibilities” as the best song on this album. I just love “Petty Song” that much more. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a song about being in a band. “Well I got me a band and we learned some Tom Petty songs / Well we couldn’t get the keys but we sure could sing along”
- Lord Protect My Child, Susan Tedeschi (from the album Hope and Desire)
We have a living legend among us. Her name is Susan Tedeschi. This Dylan remake will blow you away.
- See the Elephant, James McMurtry (from the album Childish Things)
I wish you could have seen the elephant, James McMurtry. Sure seems like you put your time in. Maybe someday you, me, Pete and Johnny will go down to Richmond to the traveling show.
- Mustang, Mike McClure Band (from the album Camelot Falling)
I stumbled upon the Mike McClure Band’s album “Camelot Falling” way to late in the year. This is probably the one album all year that I wish I had payed more attention to. “Mustang” is a fantastic rockin’ tale about a teenager coming of age. Of course, this marks the second song in this playlist about a Ford. Gotta love ’em.
- Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Abigail Washburn (from the album Song of the Traveling Daughter)
This song sounds like it could have come straight from the Civil War. Banjo blues accompany Washburn as she wails out “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. A mandatory lesson of life that too often gets overlooked in these times. A fitting way to end this playlist.
About the author: Washington, D.C. area web designer by day. Music is my muse. I host Twangville‘s weekly Readers‘ Pick.