As hard as I am on albums and artists, I am double hard on songs. An album can have it’s low points, a song can’t. And just like with the Best 2011 Albums So Far, the songs so far in 2011 present a weak field. But there a few good ones worth noting from Jason Isbell, James Hunnicutt, Jimbo Mathus, Amanda Shires, Austin Lucas, and Rachel Brooke.
Please use the comment section below to poke holes in my suggestions, offer up your own, and alert me to what I’ve missed!
Jason Isbell – “Codeine” – from Here We Rest
Though Here We Rest has been a 2011 critic’s darling, I don’t particularly care for the slick and safe production of that album, or this song, (read my review) but the theme and story of this song is so pure, it barrels right through any of those concerns by capturing brilliantly the awkward and difficult headspace in the days after a tough breakup.
James Hunnicutt – “99 Lives” – from 99 Lives
It’s about time James Hunnicutt got some more recognition. A stellar sideman who is willing and able to do just about anything to make good music great, but when he really shines is when he grabs his guitar and rides solo. His dark, somewhat rockabilly-esque Misfits-meets-Memphis style never fit better than with the title track of his 2011 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.
Jimbo Mathus – “Cling to the Roots” – from Confederate Buddha
I know it might sound like a cliche, but the beauty of this song is in the simplicity. This is a song you music listen to, not just hear. Pick up on what the “Katfish King” is selling. The forces of nature and man and progress are always working to erode the foundations of “roots” of many forms. What will you do about it?
Amanda Shires – “Ghost Bird” – from Carrying Lightning
From my review: “The music itself holds a lot of emotion, and the human soul is further tickled by Shire’s voice and very well-crafted, subtle but not too abstract lyrics. The amount of mental imagery Amanda is able to create through this song is spectacular. Imagery is the song’s greatest asset. 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.”
Austin Lucas – “Nevada County Line” – from A New Home, In The Old World
There’s a lot of great songwriting on Austin’s A New Home, and a lot of great performances. “Sit Down” could be included on this list as well, but “Nevada County Line” is where performance and songwriting gel the best. Most great songs are inspired by actual events, and no matter how specific the portrayl of those events are, suck us in because of their universal theme.
Best video I could find, give it time.
Rachel Brooke – Various Songs from Down In The Barnyard
“City of Shame”, “The Legend of Morrow Road”, and “Please Give Me A Reason” are all excellent compositions. They may not get your feet tapping, and once again they’re songs that music been listened to and not just heard, but all three are stellar and worth your consideration.