Best Songs of 2012 So Far

June 14, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  38 Comments

Some confusion always seems to dog my lists of top songs, because I’m not just looking for that catchy tune you can’t take off of repeat, I’m looking for the song that changes your world. For a song to qualify, it must be original, and barring exceptional circumstances, it must be composed by the performer. These are songs that take you somewhere. Any thoughts on additions, omissions, and your own individual lists are encouraged below in the comments section.

Turnpike Troubadours – Gone, Gone, Gone – from Goodbye Normal Street

The Turnpike Troubadours have now officially arrived. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, sniffing at them from afar, waiting to see what happens before you drop a Hamilton on one of their albums, it’s time to jump in. There are a couple of Goodbye Normal Street songs that could have made this list, “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Wrecked” were possibilities, but “Gone Gone, Gone” raises to that special quality by slowing it all down and really speaking to the soul.

Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man – from Wreck of a Fine Man

What’s curious about this song is that Tom V usually composes such autobiographical material, yet this one feels so outside himself, it gives it an unusual aspect. And Tom’s songs usually drone, but this one is strong and defiant despite it being about a dissolving and disillusioned life. Any song that can work in referencing The Ryman is going to get bonus points. Aside from VandenAvond’s signature song, the anthemic singalong “Brick By Brick,” this might be his best composition to date.

Justin Townes Earle – Unfortunately, Anna – from Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Justin Townes Earle may be the best pound for pound songwriter in music right now. He’s not prolific, but his profoundness has no peer. As much as the story and words of “Unfortunately, Anna” are enough to tear at your heart strings, it is the arrangement, the music and the stripped-down approach that really sends this song over the top.

Justin Townes Earle – It Won’t Be the Last Time – Nothing’s Gonna Change…

Self-realization is such a biting, dirty, and difficult exercise. We expect our songwriters to charge down into the depths of the inner soul to regions we ourselves are too scared to explore, to mine the sacred gold of truth to tantalize our senses, and this is what Justin Townes Earle does with haunting honesty in this song. “It Won’t Be The Last Time” is about Earle’s always-fragile sobriety. Listen to me folks and listen good; Justin Townes Earle’s sobriety is not just his own responsibility, it is all of our responsibilities as a music community.

Shooter Jennings – Daddy’s Hands – from Family Man

When I wrote my review for Shooter’s latest album I was under the impression this song was about Waylon. Since then we’ve learned it was in fact about Shooter’s fiance Drea DeMatteo’s side, which makes it even more cool in my opinion. As I said in the introduction, to be the best song all year, you have to move people, and many times songs that move us come from real life instances when an artist was moved themselves.

Olds Sleeper – Bigsky/Flatland – from New Year’s Poem

There were a few other songs I could have picked off of Olds’ New Year’s Poem album, including the title track and the excellent “Born To Lose,” but this is the one that has moved me more consistently, whose spell refuses to wear out. No it’s not that I like this album so much I had to pick one song from it to include on this list, it’s that this list would be woefully incomplete without the simplicity and soul Olds Sleeper evokes in this heart-wrenching and easy-to-relate-to story told with the perfect sonic accompaniment and inflections.

Ray Wylie Hubbard – New Years Eve at the Gates of Hell – Grifter’s Hymnal

I say that Song of the Year candidates cannot just be viscerally enjoyable, they must move you, make you a better person, communicate wisdom. Well in the case of this song, it is both a physical and intellectual uplift. The song is strikingly simple in its structure, really no more than rhythm and a few simple chord changes. But that is what makes it so potent. It awakens your primal nature, at the same time the words challenge your intellect and inspire your spirit. It’s unfairly witty.

Eric Strickland – Drinking Whiskey – from Honky Tonk Till I Die

Eric Strickland so far is 2012’s biggest surprise. It may take a little fudging of the rules to put this song in 2012 contention since it has been released as a different version before, but it’s too good to be an omission. The best part about this song is how on the surface the subject matter seems so plaintive. It’s the way Eric squeezes the soul out of the words and story that take this song from great to something special.

McDougall – The Travels of Fredrick Tolls (Part 2) – from A Few Towns More

I’m afraid McDougall’s latest album is becoming the greatest overlooked album of 2012 so far, which is unfortunate for so many reasons, including that it includes this resounding, life-altering, wisdom-imparting epic of a song that starts of like a Celtic frolic, and ends in a soul-shaking repatriation of the human spirit. “If known what it’s like to be the one who went hungry, now will you be the one that feeds?” is the line that inspires me to redouble my efforts to reach the musically-hungry masses who if they could only hear songs like this, could be uplifted with the inspiration of music and lead more fulfilling lives.

– – – – – – – – – –

NOTE: There are no female artists on this list, thought I’m sure the feminine side of things will rally by year’s end. A few songs worth checking out that almost made the list were Rachel Brooke‘s “Lonesome Turns Boresome” (written by her fiance Brooks Robbins), Kellie Pickler‘s “The Letter (to Daddy)” (written by who knows), and Kara Clark‘s “Southern Hospitality.”

38 Comments to “Best Songs of 2012 So Far”

  • Glad to see TVA on the list!!! Though I think I prefer “Busted Knuckles”


  • Great to see Scott McDougall making the list, “A few towns more” has been one of the best albums I have heard this year, every song is gold.


  • Seeing Justin Townes Earle do Unfortunately Anna live just took my breath away.


  • Corecdan Bottle on Grifters Hymnal is my pick from this project solid album from RYH. FYI everybody check out his live show he is the consumate entertainer as well as a helluv a poet.


    • Then there’s South of the River and Lazarus. Those first four songs just knock me on my ass.

      Going to see him next Wednesday in DC. First time.


  • a marty stuart tune would have been nice but eric strickland’s ‘drinking whiskey’ works just fine.


    • There’s not a bad song on Marty’s “Nashville Vol. 1″ but when I searched long and hard through the track list, I couldn’t find that one song that matched the depth of the others listed above. It doesn’t mean there no deep songs, they just didn’t reach into that other stratosphere. Conversely, when it come to cranking up the guitars to 10 and bringing the twang, none of these songs can hold a candle to Marty.


  • Ghostwriter – Smoke & Diesel
    GravelRoad – Goin Down That Road Again
    Johnson Creek Stranglers – I’m Leavin
    Johnson Creek Stranglers – Where There’s a Will
    Aran Buzzas – Always Something in the Way
    Ten Foot Polecats – Moonshine & Mud
    Jayke Orvis – Crooked Smile
    Restavrant – Bev D
    Lone Wolf OMB – Bored

    And Munly’s 2008 album “Jimmy Carter Syndrome” has been in my ears at least 5 times a week since I saw him perform live a few months ago. Incredible stuff.


  • You need T Junior’s song “This Guitar” on there from T Junior’s “Man in Gray” Album. One of the best songs I heard all year.


    • Oh wow, that is a great song. Thanks for the recommendation, hill billy.


  • Wade Bowen – Battle Won
    Rob Baird – Same Damn Thing
    Jason Eady – Longer Walk in the Rain


  • -Shine Down On Me (Eric Stirckland)
    -Blame The Bottle (Modern Earl)


  • Luke Bryan’s – Like a Virgin
    Jason Aldean- Mmmbop
    Kenne Chesney -Is it in Yet
    Brad Praisley – Hit me Baby One More Time

    and the best this Year
    Keith Urban- Torn Between 2 Men.


  • Bigsky/ flatland is a great song. Its one of those songs where i try not to sing along and just listen.


  • A few cuts off of Channing Wilson’s debut. Namely: “Dont Tread On Me”. And deep songs, his “Centerline”



    Don’t Tread On Me:



  • Marty Stuart & Hank 3- Picture from lifes other side
    Bob Wayne- Get there when I get there
    Shovels and rope- Gasoline
    Justin Townes Earl- Am I that lonely tonight
    J.B. Beverley- Favorite waste of time
    Graham Lindsey- Old Roger
    Ray Wylie Hubbard- Red Badge of courage
    Carolina still- distiller
    Shooter Jennings- deed and the dollar

    Some of these might not have been released this year but they’re all new to me…and some of them really moved me and some were just really great, well written songs. Trig, since the song of the year candidates are all of the deep emotional variety, I’d be really interested in reading a separate list of your favorite catchy tunes you can’t take off of repeat. The songs that would probably be wildly popular if more people heard them.


    • Yes, maybe a “best of” list, and the a “Song of the Year” list. That is kind of the difference when award shows do “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year”.


  • Not sure how Justin T.’s sobriety is anyone’s responsibility but his.


    • I respectfully disagree.


    • Ultimately it is his responsibility… but I am sure it would help if fans didn’t offer to buy him drinks and illegal substances. I read an interview where he said it has been good for his sobriety to have moved up to bigger venues with a separate dressing room and to have an RV. He is more cut off from fans, but better able to regulate exposure to temptation. He gets offered drugs all the time, apparently. I assume that is the kind of think Trigger is suggesting.


      • ‘thing’ not ‘think’… though I suppose think works in a way


        • emfrank: That makes a lot of sense. From that perspective I get how the “family” of fans can help. Thanks for the clarification.


  • On The Day That I Die – Mark Collie & His Restless Companions
    Gear Jammin’ Daddy – J.P. Harris and The Tough Choices
    Going Going Gone – Marty Stuart
    Longer Walk In The Rain – Jason Eady
    Fade to Gold – Moot Davis
    Alone And Wondering Why – The Boxcars
    The Other Side Of Life – Elizabeth Cook
    Unlock That Honky Tonk – Kellie Pickler
    Rattlesnake In The Road – Chelle Rose

    SCM best blog!


  • Bob Wayne- Hunger in my soul

    and I second Jayke Orvis- Crooked Smile


  • Gasoline is one of those songs that made my jaw drop in awe. Pure perfection.



  • I don’t think there is a bad track on the entire Turnpike Troubadour’s cd.


  • Eric Strickland drinking whiskey is definitely not on the “Honky Tonk Till I Die” album. Anyone know which one its actually on?


    • It’s there. It is on the second half of the last track as a buried track. Or at least it is on my physical version and on the version they are selling on Amazon.


      • thanks trigg


      • thanks Trigger Man i was looking for it too


    • Drinkin’ Whiskey is a hidden track at the end of the last song as a little bonus for those he keep requesting it!! When you get to end of the pause after long song it will start!!!!


  • “Gone, Gone, Gone” is certainly a great song from Goodbye Normal Street. In a more soulful world, “Good Lord Lorrie would be a radio hit. “Call a Spade a Spade” is great one as well. Great album.


    • I don’t think there is a bad track on the whole cd.


  • I agree. I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Recently picked up their Diamonds and Gasoline as well. Very happy with it.


  • I definitely love Eric Strickland’s Drinkin’ Whiskey and wanna give a shout out for Standing in the Headlights also!!! I appreciate the reality that so many people are hearing the noise “sounds” and not absorbing the music and having the balls to say this is what I love, this is what I do and I shouldn’t have to color within the lines when it comes to music when so many are starving for that true “traditional, honky tonk, to the core music and lyrics!


  • Some Were Born To Ride by Billy Don Burns



  • Thanks for enlightening me to Justin Townes Earle

    What an amazing album!!!!!


  • Man, both of those Justin Townes Earle tunes are soooo good.


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