For those who claim there’s no good music anymore, consider these 25 songs–all from this past year (in alphabetical order)–as reasons why you’re wrong.
Alabama – “That’s How I Was Raised”: Nearly a decade after a supposed farewell, country’s all-time most successful band returned to show the youngins how it’s done. One of two new tracks on an otherwise duets-themed reprise of old favorites, it would’ve sounded right at home on any of the band’s classic albums.
Amanda Shires – “A Song for Leonard Cohen”: Smitten with a beautiful loser in a ladies man’s clothes, Shires imagines certain interludes as if beseeching to charm him. “Then maybe we could go for a walk,” she softly sings, “and I’d just listen while you talk.”
Anna Rose – “Electric Child”: This barnstormer of a blues romp, from the singer/songwriter’s excellent second LP, Behold a Pale Horse, showcases an artist with rock-solid swagger and the chops to back it up.
Boz Scaggs – “Love On a Two-Way Street”: On this standout performance on a career-highlight album, Scaggs brings new warmth to this obscure soul classic by the Moments.
Caitlin Rose – “Everywhere I Go”: This is but one vibrant example on Rose’s stunning LP, The Stand-In, which illustrates the expanse of musical ideas within this artist’s arsenal; there are eleven others on the album.
Diane Birch – “Lighthouse”: Birch’s sirenic wail pierces a cavalcade of percussion and reverbed vocal flourishes, sounding like a lost Clannad or Kate Bush production while simultaneously trouncing the expectations of those who had her pegged as merely a soul-pop throwback.
Elton John – “Home Again”: As evocative as just about any ballad the Rocket Man has ever composed to Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, this mournful lament makes it clear that time is fleeting and that there is no going back.
Elvis Costello and The Roots – “Sugar Won’t Work”: The original Napoleon Dynamite and the hardest-working band in late night bring the best of both worlds on this understated, urban groove.
Guy Clark – “Hell Bent on a Heartache”: On an album underscored (or at least inspired) by the death of the love of his life, the Texas legend sounds all too empathetic on this bitter taste of self-doubt and lost opportunities.
Katie Melua – “Chase Me”: Odysseus may have resisted the Sirens as they sang, but he would’ve been a ball of putty upon listening to this lady. Her current album, Ketevan, has yet to be released in the States, but it’s well worth seeking out as an import. The whole thing is breathtaking, this song especially so.
Meiko – “Bad Things”: Meiko is nobody’s docile mistress; this is a lady who calls the shots. Amid swirling techno throbs and spots of acoustic guitar, the singer/songwriter ratchets up the kink factor while still keeping it fun. “When I'm down, I let you know,” she insists. “When I'm done, I let you go.” Any questions?
Paul McCartney – “Queenie Eye”: With his latest album, NEW, the music legend demonstrates a rush of fresh inspiration above and beyond what most mortals could muster at any point in their careers, nevermind after having already penned “Hey Jude” and “Lady Madonna” and “Helter Skelter” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Jet” and “My Love” and “Band on the Run” and, well, you get the idea. He’s written a ridiculous amount of great songs. Here’s another one.
Ricky Byrd – “Foolish Kind”: The former lead guitarist for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts struck out on his own this year with Lifer, an album that packs all of his influences–from Motown to Stax to the British Invasion’s bluesiest, ballsiest bands–into one sweet punch. This cut was the first Byrd recorded for the album, and it’s as good a one as any to check out first.
Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside – “They Told Me”: This feral blitz of electric guitar and frontwoman bravado sounds like it could’ve blasted out of a jukebox in some dingy Memphis bar in the mid-fifties. Some serious mojo and muscle courses through this song.
Shannon Labrie – “Slow Dance”: Intoxicating in its intimacy, this exquisite song about taking one’s time in love ultimately sways listeners to do just that. As an introduction to the music of this burgeoning singer/songwriter, it’s equally rewarding.
Sheryl Crow – “Waterproof Mascara”: Skeptics of Crow’s recent shift from pop to country need but to listen to this song (off her LP, Feels Like Home) to recognize her empathy with the genre and with the genre’s greatest songwriters and singers who, like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette and George Jones, didn’t shy away from decidedly adult subjects and themes. Besides, a great song is a great song, and this one deserves such a distinction.