Nominees for SCM 2011 Song of the Year

Good songs are fun to listen to. Great songs change lives. If I was selecting my “favorite” songs of the year, it wouldn’t even be a race, Lucky Tubb’s “That’s What I Get” from his album Del Gaucho would win hands down. But for this list, I’m looking for songs that were penned to change to world, to offer a deeper sense of perspective or understanding. And they have to be enjoyable to listen to.

With the lack of a clear frontrunner, or a gaggle of frontrunners, the race for the Song of the Year for 2011 was thrown wide open. A total of 8 songs made my list, and any one of them could win, making feedback from you folks especially important. The two common threads that run through most of the candidates this year, is a progressive approach to the music, and poignancy in the message. These are changing and troubled times, and the songs that speak to us the deepest will act as the soundtrack for our 2011 memories for years to come.

Scott H. Biram – Victory Song – from Bad Ingredients

It’s not common an artist pens his best song some 10 years into his career, but that is exactly what Scott H. Biram did with “Victory Song.” While searching for a little of a new sound, or maybe some spice to shake his Bad Ingredients album up, Biram penned a masterpiece by taking a wide, adventurous, progressive, and bold approach, but still somehow managed to stay grounded deep in the roots of what Scott Biram does.

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Amanda Shires – Ghost Bird – from Carrying Lightning

There’s a tangent to the argument defending the emergence of country rap that insists that country must evolve, that it cannot be hamstrung by tradition and idealistic attitudes about what country music should be. My reply would be that country has been trying to evolve for years, but those evolving elements have been pushed into the indie, Americana, and underground realm as the mainstream devolves and looks outside of country’s big tent for commercial viability.

An excellent example of evolved country flying under the radar is Amanda Shire’s song “Ghost Bird.” Great songs are able to have universal appeal by the message of the song morphing to fit one’s unique life experience. In “Ghost Bird”, this isn’t just an attribute of the song, it is the foundation the song is built from. (read full review)

And not only may this be the song of the year, it might be the video of the year as well.

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Rachel Brooke – City of Shame – from Down in the Barnyard

“Legend of Morrow Road” and “Please Give Me A Reason” from Down in the Barnyard could have been included here as well, but “City of Shame” gets the nod for being the best example of the classically-elegant style embodied on Down in the Barnyard; the album that if I had to add a fourth nominee for Album of the Year, would’ve received the nod.

“City of Shame” illustrates Rachel’s excellent control over her voice that conveys pain with an unfair effortlessness, and is complimented by layers of masterfully-arranged fiddle.

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James Hunnicutt – 99 Lives – from 99 Lives

Despite my fervent efforts, James Hunnicutt continues to be the most underrated man in underground country, and has no peer from a technical standpoint when it comes to singing. His dark, somewhat rockabilly-esque Misfits-meets-Memphis style never fit better than with the title track of his late 2010 release. In the glut of music these days, to make a good song great, it must have originality, and Hunnicutt does something most artists struggle with: composing a song that highlights his vocal and performing strengths.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Codeine – from Here We Rest

The former Drive By Truckers member finally quiets a lot of his second guessers by penning songs whose greatness is undeniable. “Alabama Pines” is another good one from Here We Rest,  but the theme and story of Codeine is so pure by capturing brilliantly the awkward and difficult headspace in the days after a tough breakup.

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The Boomswagglers – Run You Down – from Bootleg Beginnings / Outlaw Radio Comp.

This song first appeared on the Outlaw Radio Compilation Vol. 1 a few years ago, and then found it’s way onto an officially-released bootleg from Hillgrass Bluebilly. Now, I’m not sure where to say the song lives, or what year to attribute it to, but pick whatever year or project you want, it is still one of the best. It embodies the Boomswagglers’ deceptively deep style, and their authenticity.

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The Goddamn Gallows – Y’all Motherfuckers Need Jesus – from 7 Devils

I swear years ago I floated the theory that Jesus and God would soon be replacing a lot of the devil references in grungy country songs, and I can think of no better example than this. Don’t let the hard language scare you or fool you, this song by Mikey Classic and The Gallows is a master stroke of the pen, and not just from its wit, but for its fluidity. Depending on the perspective of the listener, it can be ironic, or it can be honest. It can speak to the Christian just as much as to the Agnostic. And it illustrates that the traditional ideas of good an evil are not far apart with a lot of gray area in between. Good and evil are right next to each other, with the gray area surrounding them. Perspective can turn good to evil, or vice vera, in the flicker of an eyelash.

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Willy Tea Taylor – Life Is Beautiful – from 4 Strings

2011 will go down as the year of the “laundry list” or “checklist” song in country music, where imbecile, adolescent compositions stringing together well-recognized elements of country life like “ice cold beer” and “dirt roads” and “biscuits” beat us over the head to the point of submission.

The “laundry list” song formula doesn’t have to be used for the dark purpose of creating a corporate culture based on artifacts and behavior. Naming off artifacts of the country can be a great way to convey the beauty of life through illustrating it’s simplicity. Without question Willy’s “Life Is Beautiful” is a laundry list song; a laundry list song that schools all of it’s counterparts by simply being honest, and thankful. (read full review)

I as easily could have included “Hummingbird” from 4 Strings as well, but the poignancy of “Life Is Beautiful,” from the laundry list perspective, and the perspective of it’s message puts it over the top.

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