Friday, December 27, 2013

S.E.'s Best of 2013 Songs

It's that time again for the best of 2013!  This is my Best of 2013 CD mix.  Isn't it pretty?  This was a great year for Americana, pop, and rock.  Next year, I fully expect traditional folk to eat everyone else alive with releases from Seth Lakeman, Emily Smith, Julie Fowlis, Malinky, Fiona Hunter, and so many more.

Read one for why I chose what I did!  Of course I always open and close with upbeat songs, like Patsy Cline always said.

“Dance Apocalyptic” by Janelle Monáe
The Electric Lady
Why be miserable the rest of the apocalypse when you can dance it out of here?  As a follow-up to her previous two releases on the theme of a future android traveling to the past, Monáe gives us a glimpse of how much fun the apocalypse could be.  While some are freaking out and doing dumb shit, others are living it up.  I don’t dance when I’m not fueled by alcohol, but this song makes me dance every time, even during those few sober moments.

“Royals” by Lorde
Pure Heroine
Though slow, “Royals” is beat-heavy with words more like that of a rap song.  Lorde’s rich, smoky, Adele-like tone is applied to a more R&B/pop sound.  But its lyrics extend beyond the typical affairs, going as far as to comment on the lifestyles of the rich and famous in a song that brilliantly discusses class and privilege.  Pop music needs more like Lorde.

“Black, Black Water” by The Greencards
Sweetheart of the Sun
Clearly influenced by Pink Floyd in their attempt to create a coherent concept album, The Greencards produced an album with nothing but stellar songs.  “Black, Black Water” was written by vocalist and bassist Carol Young as a sequel to their song “Weather and Water.”  It’s a song from the point of a fisherman’s wife this time.  There, she waits on the shore for his return.  Every person she sees sailing in her direction, she hopes it’s him.  But, alas, it seems he is not returning, for he has died at sea.

“No Forgotten Man” by Solas
Shamrock City
“No Forgotten Man” is the Hope Diamond among a collection of rare gems.  While the entire album is absolutely stellar, “No Forgotten Man” recounts through the story of one man the struggles of a generation living through the Great Depression, World War II, and the effects of both.  It’s heartbreaking, yet touchingly full of pride.  I cry every time.  Solas now must use this album and song as the milemarker standard for any future music.

“That Kind of Lonely” by Patty Griffin
American Kid
Oops.  Two tearjerkers in a row.  I had to put them together, so I didn’t get too down in too many places.  Patty Griffin brings some of the rawest emotion possible to this song with just an acoustic guitar and her voice.  That feeling of utter despair, on the verge of unraveling and falling apart, comes through in her uneven, weak, strained voice.  When she first hits the chorus, you can’t help but feel something that reminds you of the losses in your life.  There’s no end in sight to that kind of melancholy, the kind that you just don’t care or know anyone else is present.  This is one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard without having being a powerhouse singer.

“Two Weeks Late” by Ashley Monroe
Like a Rose
It’s like Loretta Lynn wrote this, and Monroe uncovered it and sang it herself, but “Two Weeks Late” is solely Ashley Monroe, the Hippie Annie.  It’s been a long time coming for her first official solo album.  The previous one she made was never released due to a record label cleanse just before the release date.  It’s such a fun song, despite its “heavy” lyrics of being broke and pregnant.  She gives light to the struggling single mother, something that needs light.

“Spanish Dancer” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
Old Yellow Moon
For some reason, “Spanish Dancer” really got in my head with this album, despite all the songs being outstanding.  The poetic combination of Hispanic sensuality and spirituality of the song contribute to Harris’ vulnerable voice.

“Dearest Johnny” by Heidi Talbot
Angels without Wings
Heidi Talbot’s newest album was heavily advertised by the record label, Heidi, and record stores, spreading like wildfire through social media.  Not much is noteworthy on the album, except for “Dearest Johnny”, a tune that switched key, tempo, and tone throughout.  Talbot’s voice is clear and less airy, blending perfectly with the harmony.  It’s the only song that shows any hint of emotion.  If all of her songs sounded like this, she’d be rising to par with Cara Dillon and Kate Rusby.

“Walking Past the Graveyard” by Hem
Departure & Farewell
In true New Orleans fashion, Hem contributes an unusual song to their album lineup.  They typically don’t stray from the country-folk sound, but the spirit of New Orleans surfaced in this song with the foot stomps keeping beat, the brass, gospel choir, improvisation, and the image of the broken-down beautiful graveyards, perfect for hide-and-seek, providing refuge from the city.  The song is of good memories where two people played in the graveyard but one ended up being in the graveyard, giving a different meaning to the sacred place.  However, those good memoires still surface.  If it should be at all telling, Hem thought it was perfect the first time around.  There were no rewrites; the song wrote itself, foot stomps and all.

“Words as Weapons” by Birdy
Fire Within
Birdy’s “Words as Weapons” uses the old idea of the pen as a sword.  Words can cut, but the narrator finds that she cannot be cut, for she does not fear.  She does not allow them to sink in or affect her actions; she will not cry.  This is her weapon: no reaction.  It’s a beautiful and simple song, delivered with a beautiful, soulful, strong, raspy voice.

“Geordie” by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer
Child Ballads
Mitchell teams up with Hamer to produce an EP of Child Ballads, and Mitchell excels at them all.  They are a perfect fit for her, as she has a knack for storytelling.  And that’s what ballads are, after all.  “Geordie” is my favorite, though, due to the sheer willpower of a pregnant woman attempting to free her husband from a death sentence.  She even goes as far as to challenge the judge to a fight with her sword and pistol.  It’s not only a love story, it’s a story of the unfair treatment of the lower class.  It likens to its contemporary “Fields of Athenry.”

“Take Your Gun and Go, John” by Loretta Lynn
Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War
Ashley Monroe provides a mean version of “Pretty Saro”, but I didn’t include it for three reasons: it’s much too similar to Iris Dement’s version from Songcatcher; I already have a Monroe song on the mix; and I wanted to include Loretta Lynn.  It’s Loretta Lynn, everyone.

“Dark Road” by Sarah Jarosz
Build Me Up from Bones
Bones put Jarosz on the map, a major Americana player.  It’s this album that defines her sound, and this song perfectly encases that idea.  The aptly named “Dark Road” is beautiful, haunting, lonely, and dark.

“The Road You Take” by Court Yard Hounds
I’m a sucker for key changes and speed changes, partly because I could really never do it.  I had enough tempo problems as it was when I played and especially when I sang simultaneously.  “The Road You Take” is one such song that starts out mellow but rocks out in the chorus.  Court Yard Hounds are what Sherly Crow could have been after the 90s.  Their music is feel-good and genreless.  Do you define it as Americana, rock, pop, country?  You can’t.  And that’s part of the beauty of “The Road You Take.”  For some reason, this one just sticks in my memory.

“The Wire” by Haim
Days Are Gone
Goodness, Haim is amazing.  “The Wire” is so much a throwback to the 80s with the likes of a Michael Jackson or Prince, even a little Heart thrown in for good measure.  They’re already masters of rock, and “The Wire” is proof; their soft staccato notes lead up to a powerful grooving, rocking edge.  Try not to listen to it twice in a row.  Just try.

“Sakta VI Gå Genom Stan” by Edda Magnason
Monica Z OST
“Walking My Baby Back Home” was covered in Swedish rather famously in 1962 by Moniza Zetterlund and Georg Riedel's Orchestra, but Edda Magnason, in playing Monica Zetterlund in this year’s Swedish biopic, has shown that she has the pipes for that classic bluesy standard.  Magnason is quickly rising in popularity, showing off her ability to sing standards with the best of them.

“Obvious Bicycle” by Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
The complex layers of “Obvious Bicycle” are engaging and enthralling.  The choral-like harmony vocals oddly complement the quiet, soft lead vocals, highly reminiscent of Paul Simon.  If I played this on repeat, I don’t think I’d notice because I get so into the song.

“Joan of Arc” by Arcade Fire
Though it may seem to be about one of Joan of Arc’s soldiers and why he followed her since the beginning, “Joan of Arc” seems to be about a man falling for a lady that suddenly became wanted by other men, whereas he had always loved her, or the idea of her, rather.  She was a rock for him, an aspiration when he was downtrodden and lost.  And he would defend her at any cost, even when she was ridiculed.  But her response to his declaration of love: “No, I’m messed up, I’m not your savior.  Enough, muckmouth.”
“The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit
Pedestrian Verse (Deluxe Edition), originally appeared on The Woodpile EP
Frightened Rabbit strikes again.  No album is quite as catchy as Midnight Organ Fight, but “The Woodpile” returns to that sound.  Tired of the dating scene, tired of being around people, the narrator just pleads to his love interest to find him in the lonely abandoned building, now a pile of wood.  It’s nothing extravagant, but there they can be alone and speak their secret languages.  LOVE.

“Hey Momma/Hit the Road Jack” by Pentatonix
PTX, Vol. 2
I ended the mix on a bang with the always-upbeat Pentatonix.  Their mashup of “Hey Momma” and “Hit the Road Jack” is intense and, as always, complex.

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