Not So Sure and How Good You Are, Joe Pug (from the Lightning Rod Records release Messenger)
Quite simply, I couldn’t decide which of these songs I liked better so called it a draw. Both are shining examples of Pug’s songwriting prowess: thoughtful lyrics, engaging melodies and a captivating performance.
Audio Download: Joe Pug, “Not So Sure” (Live at The Cactus Cafe, Austin Texas on 2010-11-06)
Audio Download: Joe Pug, “How Good You Are” (Live at The Cactus Cafe, Austin Texas on 2010-11-06)
Down in the Bowery, Alejandro Escovedo (from the Fantasy Records release Street Songs of Love)
A touching song from father to son. “I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff they taught you, when it’s all said and done I hope you’re got your own set of rules to hang on to.”
ONOLA, Susan Cowsill (from the Threadhead Records release Lighthouse)
This would be a powerful song even if one didn’t know Cowsill’s personal relationship with the city of New Orleans. Once one knows the story, well, the song is a breathtaking testament to the raw emotional power of music.
Audio Download: Susan Cowsill, “ONOLA”
I Was a Photograph (Blake’s Song), Kasey Anderson (from the Red River Records release Nowhere Nights)
If there were to be any doubts on the intensity of Anderson’s songwriting, he puts them to rest with the opening line, “Sky the color of a match been struck, sun just hangin’ like the noose got stuck.” What follows is a stark commentary on war and how it impacts the soldiers sent to fight. Anderson loosely based, and dedicated the song, to Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller.
Audio Download: Kasey Anderson, “I Was a Photograph (Blake’s Song)”
Something More, Otis Gibbs (from the Wanamaker Recording Company release Joe Hill’s Ashes)
I was thinking about songs and far away places, and I remembered the words I forgot to say, I was thinking about the lord above and why do the good die young and why do the worst of those among us never fail, and I’m trying to believe that there is something more to this world besides keeping score, but, frankly, I’m losing faith as all my friends pass away.
Audio Download: Amy Correia, “Powder Blue Trans Am”
Talking To Yourself, the Russians (from the Moontower Recordings release Crashing the Party)
I’m totally enamored at how this song builds from a laid-back opening to a boisterous finish. It is quintessential pop – catchy enough to stick with you on first listen but complex enough to continuously reward subsequent listens.
Audio Download: the Russians, “Talking To Yourself”
Beautifully Broken, Jon Dee Graham (from the Freedom Records release It’s Not As Bad As It Looks)
The Bard of Austin, Texas takes on the life’s hardships with an attitude that some might call cynical, others realistic. Either way, Graham is a musician who is as true to himself as he is to his music. We need more of that.
Audio Download: Jon Dee Graham, “Beautifully Broken”
The City and the River, The Rescues (from the Universal Republic release Let Loose the Horses)
This quartet of LA-based singer-songwriters slipped under the radar for many. ‘tis a pity, really. They have a tremendous sense of melody and their four-part harmonies are exceptional. The band has been promoting more up-beat tracks but this poignant ballad packs a punch. This video only provides a snippet, but sometimes a taste is just enough…
Passenger Train, the Stone Foxes (from the self-released Bears and Bulls)
A colorful story about outlaws complete with a blues rock accompaniment, heavily punctuated by slide guitar — what’s not to like?
Audio Download: the Stone Foxes, “Passenger Train”
Hurricane J, the Hold Steady (from the Vagrant Records release Heaven is Whenever)
This song captures just about everything I like about the Hold Steady. Chugging guitars and ringing harmonies leading to rousing choruses.
Rogers Park, Justin Townes Earle (from the Bloodshot Records release Harlem River Blues)
This is two songs in one. The solo acoustic is a brilliant folk song. On record, Earle takes the song to another level with a piano and steel guitar highlighting the song’s fragile melancholy. It’s the perfect song for the snowy Sunday afternoon taking place in Boston as I write this.
Happiness Has a Half-Life, Palmdale (from the Oglio Entertainment ep release Get Wasted)
So I’m a sucker for tasty power pop, all the better if Kay Hanley is involved. She finds the perfect collaborator in producer Linus of Hollywood. This song has the sugary melodies and harmonies one would expect, yet with a pensive feel reflective of the title.
Trash Day, Butch Walker (from the One Haven Records release I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart)
Walker is a power pop craftsman extraordinaire, as this song illustrates. Sunshine-powered pop with just a touch of melancholy.
Better Than This, Jason & the Scorchers (from the self-released Halcyon Times)
It’s hard to believe that these guys will be celebrating their 30th anniversary next year. Their sound is still as raucous and intense as it was when they started.
Audio Download: Jason & the Scorchers, “Better Than This”
F*ck you – Cee Lo Green (from the Radiculture/Elektra Records release The Lady Killer)
Even if it weren’t for the smart-ass lyrics (fave line: “I guess she’s an X-Box, and I’m more Atari.”), the melody is infectious.
View Part 2 of Mayer’s Picks: Best Songs of 2010 here.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.