Songs are the most important unit of measurement in music, and the specific moment a life can change, a perspective can shift, a deep emotion that has gone dormant is re-awakened, and life is enhanced positively henceforth.
When we talk about potential “Song of the Year” nominees, were not looking for the toe tappers or ditties, but the songs that can be transformative to ourselves and our world. That is the benchmark. But since music is also entertainment, Saving Country Music also added a “Single of the Year” distinction in 2021 to also give the infectious boot scooters and opportunity as well. Both the early contenders for these distinctions are highlighted here.
To be honest, 2022 feels a bit down at the moment for clear candidates for Song of the Year, or Single of the Year. But there’s still some important stuff worth highlighting here at the half way point. You can also check out the Best Country And Roots Albums of 2022 So Far.
49 Winchester – Russell County Line
The chemistry of this band, the exuberance and infectiousness of their live performances, and the hometown hero aspect of their story makes makes 49 Winchester fun to root for. Bounding out from Russell County, Virginia—which sits in the crux between Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and North Carolina—49 Winchester is truly the local band done good. But really, it’s the effortlessly soulful voice of frontman and guitarist Isaac Gibson that makes 49 Winchester so much more than just another cool country band, exemplified at its best in this song about being homesick for their origin point.
Ian Noe – “Ballad of a Retired Man”
Ian Noe is a master craftsman of character and setting, manifesting men and women that feel as real as rain in the mind’s eye, and casting them in scenarios that make you materially and emotionally invested in them, all within a three minute interval. Perhaps the most powerful moment of Noe’s new album River Fools and Mountain Saints is born off the simple, fingerpicked melody and background organ of “Ballad of a Retired Man,” where a Vietnam vet and former road worker resolves himself to his fate in a way that makes us all ponder our mortality and the passage of time in an inescapably unsettling, but still strangely gorgeous and inviting manner.
Caroline Spence – “Scale These Walls”
It’s Caroline Spence’s lyrical imagery, her sense of melody, her absolutely adorable voice, and subtle but sincerely effective chorus hooks that steer you toward serial listens of some of the songs on her new record True North, and will have you humming along for the rest of your day and into the next. This is perhaps most indicative in “Scale These Walls,” with the steel guitar mimicking the tugging of heart strings, and Spence admitting to the building of emotional barriers, but only for them to be compromised by someone who cares enough to win her heart, resulting in a come hither message, but one as complex as actual human relationships.
Lyle Lovett – “12th of June”
Lyle Lovett may be most famous for bringing his large band approach into the country music space, but ever since the earliest portions of his career when he was hanging out on a porch in College Station, TX with Robert Earl Keen, songwriting has been his foundation. “12th of June” was the first new music we’d heard from Lyle in 10 years, and it was worth the wait as he took the inspiration from the birth of his twins, and memorialized the date in this memorable song.
Tami Neilson with Willie Nelson – “Beyond The Stars”
Giving you chills bumps from the eerie similarities to Patsy Cline—of whom Willie Nelson wrote the iconic song “Crazy” for—with just a hint of Marty Robbins as well with its Western wind-swept air and Countrypolitan approach, “Beyond The Stars” was inspired by the passing of Tami Neilson’s dad. The song works to help remedy all loss, giving hope for a reunification someday in the future in the eternal dwelling of the cosmos, delivered via the timeless tones of Willie’s guitar Trigger.
Tami Neilson actually debuted the song live at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion in March as the first single from her new album Kingmaker to be released on July 15th.
Kaitlin Butts – “jackson”
There’s just a confidence behind the voice of Kaitlin Butts that puts her in her own elite league, paired up with an emotional expressiveness that takes it far beyond some sort of athletic display. So many singers shy away from the sweetest, and most challenging notes of their register, worried they will falter. But Kaitlin Butts is fearless, charging forward, full volume in the mix so her words penetrate far past the rib cage and leave the internal organs and mortal soul stirred well past the expiration of the music itself. The well-written “jackson” playing off the story of Johnny and June veritably squeezes the emotion out of moments to the point where once you get to the end, you’re chilled to your core.
Co-written with Angaleena Presley.
Willie Nelson – “Dusty Bottles”
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that at 89, Willie Nelson can’t have much left in the tank. As he proves time and time again on his latest album A Beautiful Time, he’s still one of the best at writing songs, as well as picking ones. Written by Jim “Moose” Brown, Scotty Emerick and Don Sampson, “Dusty Bottles” is just about the perfect song for the perfectly-aged Willie Nelson to perform.
Molly Tuttle – Crooked Tree
Molly Tuttle’s new album Crooked Tree is her going, “Oh, you want a bluegrass album? We’ll then here you go …” and then melting faces in 13 straight original tracks that embrace many bluegrass traditions, while still offering a uniqueness of perspective, and a personal connection to Molly. But it’s the title track that conveys a lasting message about a tree left to grow wild and free since it won’t fit in the mill machine. It’s this moment where Molly mixes her brilliant instrumentation and composition with songwriting that will withstand the test of time.
Zach Bryan – Half Grown
If you’ve been sitting back, munching on a bowl of Orville Redenbacher, watching this whole Zach Bryan thing pop off, and wondering what the hell is really behind it all, the one song from his new album American Heartbreak I would advise you consider is “Half Grown.” It really exemplifies the way Zach Bryan’s writing distinguishes itself from other contributors in how the verses all interplay with each other, how he takes a few simple ideas and phrases, and makes them evolve and fold on top of each other until he’s describing an indescribable experience of the human condition.
BEST SINGLES SO FAR
Ellis Bullard – Biloxi By Two
Ellis Bullard is no hipster that just blew in from east Nashville or Echo Park, CA. He’s the latest honky-tonker to emerge out of Austin’s bar scene ready to bring shit kicking country music back to the forefront. Field tested on A-Town stages such as The White Horse and Sam’s Town Point, Ellis Bullard and his band of seasoned Austin A-listers make a strong case for national attention with their debut record, Piss-Hot Freightlining Country Music, led by this kick ass little country trucker tune.
Joshua Hedley – Neon Blue
Simply put, “Neon Blue” is a blast of a listen. It’s not just the nostalgic joy you get from a sound that comes straight out of the Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn era. Just as expertly attentive and intentional in getting every single detail to the era exactly correct as his previous album that embraced country’s Golden Era, Joshua Hedley delivers a transportive and immersive experience in “Neon Blue” like few others, spiriting the listener to a country music era decidedly cooler than our current one. 90s country also happens to be really hot at the moment as both the beneficiary of the 25-year retro/nostalgia cycle, and the era many listeners are seeking refuge in as modern country continues to underserve the public.
David Quinn – Down Home
You queue up David Quinn’s new album Country Fresh, and you immediately know you’ve made a smart decision with your country music time and attention. “Down Home” is one of many songs from Country Fresh that finds that 70’s Outlaw country groove that’s hard to not fall for. Get your ass a heaping greasy skillet full of this funky country goodness. David Quinn’s been one of the best kept secrets in independent country for the last few years (despite SCM’s best efforts).
Molly Tuttle – “She’ll Change”
Ryan Culwell – “Colorado Blues”
Arlo McKinley and Logan Halstead – “Back Home”
American Aquarium – “The First Year” and “Waking Up the Echoes”