One of my pet peeves is when people say “music was better in…..” It is normally some time or age where they have either ignored, or time has eroded the memory of, the awful music that also came out. This is probably a ranting post for another day but needless to say there is still great music being made. People have given 2016 a hard time because of celebrity deaths, Trump, Brexit, my previous blog, etc. but it was not all bad. So here are ten of the best songs I heard in 2016 to show you that it was not all doom and gloom. I have also put them together in a playlist on Spotify (aside from one which is not available yet), but please give them a listen and let me know what you think. Hopefully you find something new in the bunch so in no particular order.
Hard Working Americans - Ascending into Madness
I think this is my most played song of 2016. Todd Snider has been playing this solo in his sets from 2015 but it was released in 2016. I was hooked on the opening lines of this song and yet it keeps getting better and better as it builds. The band do such a good job in emphasising the lyrics and creating the perfect atmosphere for this song. I’ve heard Todd Snider play this on his own, and as you may have gathered by now I like to hear a song stripped back to nothing because it lets it stand or fall on nothing but its own strength. However, I prefer the full band version of this track and can easily recommend this one to anyone.
Joe Purdy - Kristine
Very similar style to the songs of the great John Prine. With a bass plodding along like a Waylon Jennings song, this is a stripped down country song. I am not sure why I enjoy this song so much other than for the honesty. Nothing particularly fancy - just a down on his luck songwriter driving across the country with his dog.
Metallica - Atlas Rise
This is full-on Metallica. The first time I heard it I recognised it as Metallica within a second of it blaring into my ear. Metallica can be hit and miss for me, especially over the last decade or so. Sometimes it seems like they are trying to be “Metallica-ish” and it can sound like they are trying too hard. But this song holds up against any of their great songs.
Lydia Loveless - Longer
A song written from about the death of a guitarist and friend of Lydia. The chorus “Just give me a little bit longer to get over you” over the guitars gets stuck in my head for days. If you have not heard any of her stuff before, it’s kinda heart on the sleeve southern rock music. I first heard of Lydia Loveless last year when I heard her 2011 album Indestructible Machine. The new album is a lot more polished sounding, which I am not sure on just yet. I like the rougher edges of the older albums but Longer is still a cracker.
Futurejack - Wish I Was Beautiful
Completely different from anything I had heard from Futurejack before. Alicia normally writes very strong powerful songs but this one has a lot of vulnerability in it. I remember first hearing it at the Courtroom Cafe and when everyone had left I asked her to play it for me again. I like the version that is on the EP, but the version I heard in an empty cafe late at night was perfect.
BJ Barham - Unfortunate Kind
For those unfamiliar with him, BJ Barham fronts a band called American Aquarium and in 2016 he released a solo album of quieter, acoustic-based songs. I think this is the quietest one of the lot. It reminded me of Jason Isbell’s Speed Trap Town although this one is even more ‘down to the bones’ of the song. You can tell how much I love a story in a song by how pissed off I am when it ends because I want to hear more from the characters involved. Heartbreakingly beautiful song.
Guy Clark - Just to Watch Maria Dance
This song was written and recorded, I believe, in 2009 and did not find its way to release until 2016. The version that made it out sounds like a demo recording of just Guy and his guitar. Some of you may know that Guy Clark is a big influence on how I try to write a song and I think there is a definite difference between songs that came before and songs that came after my first hearing of Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues. This song sounds so simple, yet the phrasing and the lyrics roll together so nicely. He died in 2016 and left behind great songs and I would love to hear more demos come out over the next few years. One of the best songwriters I have ever heard.
Wynonna & The Big Noise feat. Jason Isbell - Things that I Lean On
“God's grace when I’m walking down a dangerous path/12 steps when I need to find my way back.”
This is the first and so far only Wynonna song I have heard. I have not been able to get much further into her stuff because I keep getting pulled back to this. Jason Isbell’s backing vocals add so much to the soul of the song.
Mondegreen - Life Goes on
Another local one to me and I may be a bit biased as one member of this band plays with ourselves but I stand by it. I remember sitting in Claire’s living room as she played this for the first time and I was blown away. As soon as she finished I asked her to play it again. I must have asked her to play it 4 or 5 times repeatedly. Hearing all three members of Mondegreen sing it together is even better. An absolute gem of a song and I hope they release it soon so that you all can hear it. Luckily for me I have a version recorded from a live set and it resides on my phone so I do not have to ask them to play it over and over again anymore.
The Record Company - Off the Ground
This is a little different. I do not know that much about The Record Company other than they sound like a kick-ass jam band. The song comes bursting in on a great riff which carries on through the song. The lyrics bounce over the top of the drums and it sounds like something from a different time. I am normally stuck on how good the words are for a song but this is all about the music and the catchiness and the dirty jams.
So there you have it. 2016 might have been a rough year but there are 10 reasons why it wasn’t all bad. There were plenty of other great songs put out in 2016 (hint, give our music page a look) but those ten were the pick of the bunch for me. Give them a listen and let me know what you think.