7 Songwriters That Will Change Your Life

May 21, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  85 Comments

willy-tea-taylorThere are songwriters, and then there are songwriters; those folks that so effortlessly set words to the moods and moments of life and that can make you weep like a baby or wildly happy to be alive. These songwriters are there for us, creating a soundtrack for our most enduring memories, making the most of the life experience by enhancing it with music.

But the best of the best songwriters can do something even more. They can set our lives on a completely separate path by showing us the way to discovering ourselves. Something that they say can make us quit that bad job, leave that bad relationship, start a new relationship, or rekindle lost love. It’s not always about preaching or teaching, it’s about showing us a new, better path by touching something inside of us through song. He are a few songwriters who are capable of such magic.

Willy “Tea” Taylor

If you only have time for one name of a songwriter that could change your life, I would go with Willy “Tea” Taylor. As a solo artist and the co-frontman for the California-based Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, Willy’s song catalog works like a medicine cabinet for the soul, with a cure at the ready for any type of emotional ailment. Like the antidote or vaccine for the most common and debilitating of human inflictions, it should be an international imperative to spread the songs of Willy “Tea” far and wide. Willy “Tea” Taylor is where your quest to find the best music you’ve never heard ends.

Corb Lund

This Canadian country star is a master craftsman with words, but unlike many of his songwriting counterparts that tend to ace only one aspect of the human condition, Corb Lund can tickle the full palette of human emotions. He has the bone-splitting wit of Shel Silverstein, the cutting emotion of Townes, and the common man understanding of universal struggles of Willie Nelson. And the most unfair part about Corb’s songwriting is that he makes it all seem so damn effortless. Corb Lund is a Canadian treasure the whole world can share in.

Austin Lucas

You want a musical experience that will change your life? Then get your ass front and center at an Austin Lucas show and watch the man spill his guts out right in front of you in an experience that can be one of the most life-altering mixtures of music and emotion. Whether he’s playing for thousands of people like he did on the Country Thunder Tour in 2011, or a last-minute house show for 7 people on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, Lucas and his songs can leave you speechless. It’s not just about the song with Austin, it is also about the evocation of the emotion and inspiration behind it. This Indiana native now living in Nashville is poised to blow up in 2013. Get on the bandwagon now.

Chris Knight

The great thing about Chris Knight is that he’s not some wildly gifted wordsmith who seems to call upon a limitless fountain of vocabulary brilliance to stagger the mind, he’s the everyman poet that works with raw and real language that you can relate to no different than the words of your brother or your neighbor or your best friend. Chris Knight’s authenticity is as real as wood, and when he writes a song, the characters he conjures seem to be culled right from your own world, going through the same struggles, sharing the same simple pleasures. There is a warmth and familiarity of Chris Knight’s music that is unparallelled.

Joseph Huber

Fans of the .357 String Band already knew Joseph Huber was a skilled composer, but when he stripped it all down after the departure of .357 where it was just Huber and his thoughts, a shimmering brilliance emerged, evidenced on his first solo record Bury Me Where I Fall, and the follow up Tongues of Fire. Huber takes an overarching sorrow and impales it with wisdom to the delight of the mournful and yearning ear.

Will Oldham, aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Arguably one of the greatest American songwriters that nobody has heard of, the enigmatic and influential Will Oldham who performs and records under the stage name Bonnie “Prince” Billy is a songwriter that songwriters listen and look up to. Johnny Cash performed Will’s song “I See A Darkness” on 2000’s American III: Solitary Man, but that is just where Will’s songwriting credits and influential clout begin. You’ll struggle to find a song composer in the greater alt-country/Americana world who doesn’t take the Bonnie “Prince” Billy name with reverence.

Possessed by Paul James

If there is one artist who can completely lose himself in the music and let it take over every fabric of their being, and then commune that complete loss of self with the crowd to where the experience borders on the religious, it is Texas school teacher turned music madman and spiritual medium Possessed by Paul James. With PPJ, it’s not just about the music and words, it’s about the entire human experience, the bubbling up of emotion and memory with music simply being the excuse. You will walk away from a Possessed by Paul James experience a changed person.

Others songwriters that can change your life: Billy Don Burns, Olds Sleeper, Joe Pug, McDougall, Charlie Parr, Jason Molina, Justin Townes Earle, Tom VandenAvond, Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage, and….

85 Comments to “7 Songwriters That Will Change Your Life”

  • Joe Pug, Justin Townes Earl, Billy Joe Shaver, John Darnielle just a few more that have had a pretty impact on my life.

    • Good ones! May do something like this, but for older or passed away artists like Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, Keith Whitley, etc.

      • If the list isn’t exclusively underground musicians I would have also included Lyle Lovett, the combo of Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley, Jeffrey Foucault, and Josh Ritter; Ritter’s album “The Animal Years” is one of the most well written albums I’ve ever heard.

        Love the inclusion of Chris Knight. When I listen to much of his music, I envision many parts Appalachia in my home Commonwealth of VA. “A Train Not Running” comes to mind.

        I agree that if you do a list of songwriters who have passed away Townes Van Zandt, and Keith Whitley should be on there.

        Side bar, and this came to mind as I was thinking of great songwriters. Might you consider a belated review of Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams & the Cardinals? To establish a provocative reason for why I think you should: that record was the best country album of the 2000’s, and the competition isn’t even particularly close.

  • Good list! I was surprised you left off Olds Sleeper though. He’s one of my favorites and been a big influence on me.

    • Olds Sleeper is a good one!

  • To be honest, I’ve never had a singer that I could claim they ‘changed my life,’ but Evan Welker would be pretty close. His songs blow me away and I actually may act different because of them

  • Not an attack on the piece, I agree with it for the most part. Just wanted to make a case for JD Wilkes.

    It seems like, for the most part, to gain any credence as poetic songwriter, you need to have a prose-like, Townes Van Zandt or Leonard Coen style of writing. I think JD’s writing is often overlooked, especially due to his stage presence and other things he is most known for.

    His lyrics, when read aloud, stand alone as poetry yet never stray into the heavily tread theme of brooding singer-songwriter. In my opinion (which is all this is) they’re far more creative.

    • Not taken as an attack at all. This is about sharing, and I encourage people to submit the names of folks that have changed their lives.

      I agree that JD Wilkes is often overlooked as a songwriter. The style of the Shack Shakers music and his overwhelming stage presence I think makes it hard for some to listen to the message he is conveying. I think this is one of many reasons that he’s now focusing more on The Dirt Daubers. The more stripped-down sound allows you to focus more on the art of the song.

  • Interesting list. I mentioned him to you a year ago and I bring him up again: Darrell Scott

  • I definitely would have included Evan Felker on this list. He is a musical genius.

  • That would be a great idea. This list did remind how goddamn good Austin Lucas is! Gonna make him a priority at Muddy Roots this year.

  • I agree with most of these. The others I will have to check out.
    Just reading the list the first name to pop in my head was Chris Knight. Glad to see him included

  • Chris Knight for sure will have to familarize myself with the others more. I would add the criminally underrated Chris Wall to this list. His music consistently speaks to me in a very real way.

  • Nice list glad to see Billy Don Burns was mentioned.

  • When it comes to songwriting you can’t get much better than Chris Knight. He has so many stories of life, love, and despair.

  • Great List, I personally love Hayes Carll as songwriter. Just thought he should get a mention too

    • I instantly ‘Ctrl+F’ed Hayes before commenting… There is also an argument to be made for Blaze Foley as a runner-up candidate…

  • Definitely agree with the list. I just want to make sure the comment does not go without mentioning Eric Strickland. Just listened to his new record “I’m Bad for You” today. Excellent song writing, performance, voice, and compositions.

  • Great list. One I’d add is Mike Cooley. Like Chris Knight, he uses common language, but I think he’s phenomenal at turning a phrase and telling a story. Patterson Hood and Jason Isbell wouldn’t be out of place on this list, either.

    • Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley are the definition of life changing songwriters…I lived and went to school in Athens, GA while the Truckers were living there and doing their thing. It seemed like Patterson or Jason were almost always playing a show somewhere…at least once a week it was possible to go see the Truckers as a whole or Patterson, Jason, or Mike. It was a beautiful time.

  • Great list man! Love messin round on YouTube listing to this. My favorite songwriter is Pat Reedy. He’s the greatest.

  • I’m all over Chris Knight on this !! His songs always reach into me, and and take hold. His songs are songs you just have to LISTEN to. Pretty simple, but always powerful.


  • Good list man. I would have liked to see Stevie Tombstone make the cut.

  • Nice list. My personal list would include Sam Baker – amazing songwriting and an amazing personal story.

  • I’ll be checkin’ ‘em out (well the ones I am not familiar with). Agree with Willy Tea at the top of the list. But, I truly believe Tom VandenAvond falls on this list. Of course he’s playin’ at our house and I’ve immersed myself in his catalog.

  • Great list. I am going to add Joey Kneiser of Glossary to that list.

  • If I am allowed a classic songwriter, Tom T. Hall deserves mention.

    Several of his early songs, such as “Mama Bake a Pie, Daddy Kill a Chicken,” about the brokenness that war can bring, or “I Want to See the Parade,” the only country song I know that was directly set at a civil rights protest, are incredibly simple, well-written, and poetic.

    • I mentioned Tom T Hall in the top 100 country songs thread. He is without a doubt my favorite songwriter of all time. Also I need to mention the late Jason Molina, he truly had the power to move me.

      • I was very close to including Jason Molina on this list. Very good and influential songwriter. I was looking for some names of songwriters who people may have not heard of, but that have been big influences on others that they have. Jason Molina certainly falls into that category. I chose Will Oldham because I felt he was easier for country fans to connect to. Not that Jason doesn’t have some of those influences as well. It’s really sad that the world couldn’t figure out how to connect with Jason and keep him around longer.

        • Agree on Jason Molina.

          I always felt that Bill Callahan is oh-so-close to greatness but never pulls together the whole album that pushes him above. He certainly has the voice with the baritone Wille Nelson-eqsue note bending and some songs that just kill. Thoughts?

  • One more quick note.

    The fellow who shot the video of Willy Tea has a very fine collection of very good to great performers he has brought to us on Youtube.

    Check out Kevin Ihle’s work. While your checking it out be sure to give a listen to “The Haunted Windchimes” I think you’ll hear some Americana you may not have been exposed to, yet.

    The ‘chimes are definitely a band that has changed my life. Because of them, and especially Mike Clark, I have been exposed to Willy Tea, Possessed by Paul James, William Elliot Whitmore, Tom VandenAvond, McDougall.

    And, it all started with a music fest outside of Casper WY, where I went to hear Jalan Crossland and The ‘chimes just happen to be there.

    • mike clark and the haunted windchimes are incredible. so much soul.

  • Great choices, Trig, but I must point you in the direction of one Matt Harlan!

  • You could have included Ron Sexsmith, I like him a lot more than Corb Lund. I like Luke Doucet more than Corb Lund. I could list a whole bunch of Canadian songwriters I like more than Corb Lund. My sister likes Corb Lund a lot.

    If Ron Sexsmith isn’t countrier than thou, remember he did record with the Twangtrust (Steve Earl and Ray Kennedy) then perhaps you could include Bill Anderson who wrote most of the originals for the band the Texas Meat Purveyors. I always thought his songwriting was underrated as they seem best known for the covers that band has done.

  • Joe Huber’s “Bury Me Where I Fall” is, for me, the best album ever written. Chris Knight is great as well. I also have alot of respect for Will Whitmore’s early stuff… songs like “Midnight”, “Burn My Body”, “Chariot”, “Sometimes Dreams Float Like Anchors”, I could go on-and-on.

  • Like a few of the folks who already commented, I’m happy to see Chris Knight on the list. I’ll definitely give the others a listen.

    Another +1 on Darrell Scott.

  • I’m pretty partial to the Texas guys like Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, and Ray Wylie (And Townes of course). These guys just crank out the lines that make you wish you’d written them over and over again.

  • Great list! Learned a few new names, which is what I’m always looking for. How about guys like Hayes Carll and Ryan Bingham. Not pure country artists I know, but great song writers. Also Ray Wylie and Guy Clark.

  • Very good list. As someone else mentioned; to say that a songwriter changed my life carries a lot of weight. I instantly agree with Possessed by Paul James, Willie Tea, and Joseph Huber (mainly because .357 band restored my faith in music), but I automatically think of Willie Nelson, Ray Benson, Ray Wiley Hubbard, and Jerry Jeff Walker because their live shows changed/shaped my perspective of music at a young age. I’d be doing an injustice if I didn’t also mention Tim Armstrong. Whether you like him or not the man is a force to be reconed with. Flies just below the mainstream pop radar while embarking on projects like this:

  • Walt Wilkins soothes my soul.

  • Love articles like this, always pumps a fresh adrenaline rush into my music collection!

  • Amazing songwriters out there who are the new breed…..Willy Tea Taylor..Chris Doud..Olds Sleeper..Drew Landry..Joshua Black Wilkins..Soda Gardocki..Tom VandenAvond…Joey Henry,Brook Blanche & Kody Oh..just to name a few..exciting times we live in with the songwriters torch being carried in safe hands !

  • Trigger – Thanks for this article! Besides Chris Knight (one of my favorites singer/songwriters) and Corb Lund, I’m not privy to the other artist. I downloaded Willy Tea Taylor’s “4 Strings” and am currently listening to it. He reminds me of another favorite of mine, William Elliot Whitmore. Are you familiar with him? If not, “Animals in the Dark” is a must listen.

  • I appreciate my own inclusion but I need to argue for the inclusion of John Moreland. His new record In The Throes comes out in June and its literally the best singer songwriter record of the last ten years, in my opinion. Seriously everyone, take note!

  • could I forget Donnie Ray Vietti & Alex Salcido of the Harmed Brothers…

  • Agree with Austin about John Moreland. Really incredible stuff.

    Michael Dean Damron (I Can Lick Any SOB In the House) and Matt Woods too…

  • Well I for one, enjoy and appreciate that it’s a small list, and not seven people I already know of. Good, sort of random list, and not so much the BEST seven. Like just about everyone else, Chris Knight and Corb Lund…I’m familiar with, but the other five are new to me…which is a good ratio. Enough familiarity to interest me, enough unfamiliarity to give me some new stuff to listen to without being overwhelming.

  • You gotta put Jonny Fritz on the list!

  • Kris Kristofferson is probally my favorite.

  • Great list! But I believe Graham Lindsey should be on it.

    • i agree,….graham is a poet. some amazing songs. Soda Gardocki is another writer who is entirely original and influential to me.

  • Another +1 for Hayes Carll. I’m such a sucker for a real storyteller with a sense of humor.

  • I would add Caitlin Rose. I think she is genuis.

  • I know these guys aren’t really country, but you can’t forget Pete Seger, Bob Dylan, and famous folk artist Woody Guthrie.

  • Jason Molina aka Songs: Ohia

    His ability to capture a mood or idea through lyrics and music alike was absolutely unreal.


  • I apologize, I saw that you addressed Jason Molina in a previous comment. My bad.

    I’d also be interested to know your take on Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz.

    • Fritz still remains somewhat of an enigma to me. Not sure if I would characterize him as a “life changing” songwriter, but he’s certainly brilliant in his own way.

  • Just adding William Elliott Whitmore to the list.

  • No one compares to the freight train of mind blowing talent, with a vocal range and guitar skills to match, of this man: Matt Anderson.

  • He’s been at it forever, but Butch Hancock still writes songs that stick in my mind for days.


  • Mickey Newbury, Harlan Howard, Billy Joe Shaver and Kristofferson (his last album killed) for older writers.

  • hmmm, maybe this list should be called “male songwriters who will change your life,” and that said, you must give Steve Conn a listen (

    • Make no mistake, it occurred to me early on that women were being excluded from this list, I just struggled to find the right names to include. This site has always given an unfair advantage to female performers, and something tells me there will be a similar article very soon slanted significantly to the female side…. ;)

  • #1: Lotti Golden–her 1969 album Motor-cycle is amazing, David Eugene Edwards (16 HP), Jay Munly, Melissa Swingle (Trailer Bride, The Moaners) and Dory Previn.

  • There are three songwriters who have changed my life. I know a lot of people will name them, but it’s true that they changed my life. It was almost ten years ago I first got Dish Network and there music only channels were Sirius Satellite radio. I quickly discovered the Outlaw Country station. That discovery was what started the change in my life, but there were three artist that stuck out back then Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. With out those thee artist I would not have discovered Heartworn Highways, Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, Larry Jon Wilson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hank 3, Shooter Jennings, Muddy Roots, Farmageddon, and

  • Jamey Johnson is also one of the great songwriters of our time I believe.

  • Now I’m hooked on Chris Knight. Well done!

  • Leroy Virgil, maybe not a life changing songwriter, but one of the top songwriters in country music deserves a nod…

  • Living in Milwaukee I am truly blessed that I get the opportunity to see Joseph Huber play a lot! I live in the same neighborhood as him and it is very common that he plays at the local corner dives or is just hanging out at them! He’s a real cool down to earth guy! I remember a couple months back he opened for the big country band in town Hugh Bob and the Hustle. He gathered a bunch of his buddies and dida rare set with a backing band. It was a great lively set but unfortunately at some points his set was being drowned out by yapping hipsters there to see the headliner, those same hipsters who seem to only like country music when its their indie rock buddies are in the band. He took it all in stride and just kept picking away like the room was quiet. A part of me wanted to get on the mic and scold the crowd for being so disrespectful to one of the best songwriters in Americana!

  • Wait, these people can’t be any good! Where’s the tight pants and Affliction tshirts and phoney cowboy hats? I didn’t see a single smoke machine or laser show in any of those videos. How do I know if I’m supposed to like it if there isn’t a verse rapped by a guest artist? I’m so confused!

    Seriously, this is why I come here. Nearly all of those artists are new to me, good times ahead for my ears.

  • Back in the mid-90’s, just when country was being taken over by the pop world, there was a little known guy named Bob Woodruff, who put out a record, “Dreams and Saturday Nights.” Tremendous album.

  • 2 down 5 to go. Your 2 for 2 so far. Great post!

  • as far as Canadians go, Gordie Sampson is a great singer/songwriter, although you might not like some of the people doing his tunes, but he’s a fine songwriter..

    “Gordie Sampson (born July 30, 1971) is a Grammy award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter and producer from Big Pond, Nova Scotia.
    He has written songs for Carrie Underwood (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”, “Just A Dream”, “Get Out Of This Town”), Martina McBride (“If I Had Your Name”, “You’re Not Leavin Me”), LeAnn Rimes (“Long Night”, “Save Myself”), Miranda Lambert (“Better In The Long Run”), Rascal Flatts (“Let It Hurt”, “Great Big Love”), Hunter Hayes (“Storm Warning”), Eden’s Edge (“Too Good To Be True”), and George Canyon (“My Name”); and produced and sound engineered for Damhnait Doyle, Natalie MacMaster, The Cottars, Bruce Guthro, and Buddy MacMaster.

    That tune one yard by Goodluckthriftstoreoutfit, is really something. willieTea… wow.

    These people I’m finding here are reminding me about music /songs that are played and sung with feeling.

    Thanks for this site!

  • Chris Knight. The best ever. That is all.

  • Huber and Wily Tea are two of my favorites–that I found thanks to this website. Jason Isbell and John Moreland could also be here… Glad to see Schnabel as an ‘honorable mention.’ The new Two Cow Garage disc will be released in mid September…

    …have to say that the first songwriter to change my life was Paul Westerberg. Welcome back to the ‘Mats–now if they could only get Chris Mars back behind the drum kit…

  • John Moreland. Best songwriter writing right now. I’d go with Chris Knight after John.

  • I’m surprised nobody mentioned Jason Isbell. he has shown us some great songwriting in the songs he wrote when he was with the Truckers and his last album “southwestern” is full of some great writing.

  • I would definitely add Chris Wall, Houston Marchman and Brian Burns to the list. Fantastic and hugely underrated songwriters.

  • I like Ben Taylor…James Taylor and Carly Simon’s son. He flying under the radar, but his songs are interesting. Insightful.


    Infinity Hall, Ben Taylor

  • Are there any good female country songwriters out there?

  • I feel you left out a couple. Steve Goodman and Shell Silverstein. Shell is known for his poetry but he wrote songs like “Boy named Sue” and is a literary genius.
    Great BTW!

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