December 31, 2013

Write on Music's Favorite Songs of 2013

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.

Crystal Bowersox w/ Jakob Dylan – “Stitches”: About a parent longing to protect a child no matter how young or old, this gem is as heartwarming as a lullaby that’s been around forever.

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.  

Dirty Streets – “Stay Thirsty”: For those who still believe in the redeeming power of the rock-and-roll riff, this Memphis-bred band salutes you.

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.

Kacey Musgraves – “Merry Go ‘Round”: If all you listen to is contemporary country, this song is bound to throw you off guard with its none-too-subtle marijuana reference and lines about marital infidelity. For anyone acquainted with classic country, though, this is just what you call good songwriting.

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.

Kings of Leon – “Supersoaker”: As vibrant and invigorating a single as any Top 40 artists have produced this year, it’s the sound of a band on the ropes harnessing its collective talents while radiating the redemptive influences of classic R&B and soul along the way.

Matt Corby – “Resolution”: Slow to rise and ultimately transcendent, this song (off an EP of the same name) heralds the arrival of this gifted, gorgeous-voiced singer/songwriter from Australia.

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.

Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear – “Cut Me Some Slack”: “I mean, my band’s great, but when you augment it with Nirvana, that’s greater,” so said McCartney earlier this year to Rolling Stone, speaking specifically about performing this monster live in Seattle. The same could be said, though, about the song itself. 

Prince – “Screwdriver”: Every now and then the Purple One likes to remind us of his super-duper funkiness, and with this little jam he even seems to conjure up his all-too-distant dirty mind. “I'm your driver,” he sings before snarling, “You’re my screw.”

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. 

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Ms. Dot”: Simplicity is often deceptive and, as is the case with this trippy little song (off the LP, Fly By Wire), surprisingly moving as well.  

Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Do I Look Worried”: Susan Tedeschi sings with such visceral, soul-burning urgency here that you’d almost be forgiven for not recognizing that one of the electric guitar’s foremost exponents (her husband, Derek Trucks) is on the same track. In the heyday of Atlantic Records amid such icons as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, the pipes on this woman (who is no slouch on the guitar herself) would’ve made producer Jerry Wexler’s jaw drop.