2019 – what a f-king year (and that word is being censored for you daily digest readers). Sometimes music was the only respite there was from the sheer abject misery and terror of the outside world. Sometimes nestling down with a mug of cocoa and some good americana was the only thing that blotted it all out (spiced up with about 5 shots of vodka). These are the ten songs that kept my sanity intact throughout the last 12 months.
10. Darlingside ‘Rodeo’ I cannot believe it’s only last year that I discovered Darlingside – they’re one of those bands that feels like they’ve been around in my life for donkeys years. The Boston, MA quartet didn’t release a full album this year, just an EP called ‘Look Up and Fly Away’ which was a tempting command. They did hardly any PR for it, despite the fact it contains gems like this track, the opener on the record and every bit as good as, well, everything else they do. A full album beckons next year.
9. The Avett Brothers ‘Tell The Truth’ In fairness it was difficult to pick one track from such a stellar album, despite the grief heaped on it by Trump supporters (and our own Steven Rafferty – hey, we’re a broad church!) ‘Tell The Truth’ is one of the least overtly political tracks on their ‘Closer Than Together’ record but what a melody, what an arrangement.
8. GospelbeacH ‘Bad Habits’ Beachwood Sparks are dead. Long live GopselbeacH. There’s something absolutely timeless about Brent Rademaker ‘s LA band who of course counted the late Neal Casal as a member periodically. ‘Bad Habits’ is the opening track from their latest album ‘Let it Burn’, one of the last recordings Casal featured on, and it’s astonishingly atmospheric, with echoes of The Band or Grateful Dead.
7. Erin Durant ‘Highway Blue’ Brooklyn based Durant apparently refuses to perform on a keyboard, and instead schleps her 232-pound stand-up piano to shows around New York City. Her stripped-down sound is evocative of Laura Cantrell, and this track is a quite lovely introduction to one of the records of the year.
6. Bombadil ‘Pillows and Prine’ Bombadil is a three-piece Americana, folk-pop band from Durham, North Carolina who’ve been around for ages now but this song taken from their most recent album ‘Beautiful Country’ is infuriatingly moreish although I’m still not sick of it three months in, which is pretty good going. I change my favourite flavour of Monster Munch every 6 weeks.
5. Josh Ritter ‘All Some Kind of Dream’ Wishing as I write this that the last week has been all some kind of dream too but alas, life is more frightening than fiction these days. Ritter’s Isbell produced take on Trump’s US is arresting and acerbic, with lyrical echoes of Loudon Wainwright’s classic ‘Pretty Good Day’.
4. The Goat Roper Rodeo Band ‘Unwrap My Bones’ North Wales’ Goat Ropers are three of the nicest boys you’ll meet in this genre, and their most recent album ‘Tall Grass’ apart from being beautifully packaged (just look at the cover below!) was just a joy from start to finish – this opener from the album has echoes of The Sadies at their ballady moodiest.
3. Che Apalache ‘The Dreamer’ The very existence of this band is a giant Fuck You to Trump – when people say (as some did last week to me) stop pushing your politics down my throat – bands like Che Apalache are a living testament to the lie that you can separate the two when you’re an Argentinian-American string band fronted by an openly gay bluegrass fiddle player. Undoubtedly one of the videos of the year too.
2. Purple Mountains ‘That’s Just the Way That I Feel’ When David Berman died earlier this year, for me it felt like we’d lost someone as important as Raymond Carver was to literature, although Carver never managed to rhyme “Australia” with “genitalia”. That he left us with something as quirkily majestic as the first and last album under the Purple Mountains moniker is something to be treasured.
1. Drew Danburry ‘Mediocrity, For Micah Dahl Anderson’ Utahn (which is what people from Utah are apparently called) Drew Danburry’s return to the world of music is one of the nicer things to happen in recent years, and the opening track to his ‘Pallid Boy and Spindling Girl’ EP is not just my favourite track of his ever, but my favourite song of the year by a country mile. At a time when the world is choosing tyrants, the humanity and humility of this song is a striking comfort. “And that’s mediocrity something most of us are sharing, and our insecure comparing yields pain. Cause there’s always someone else who has more or less than we do, so we scratch and claw to feed our black hole.” Oh and the melody is awesome too. Dedicated to Micah Dahl Anderson, but Danburry is also amazing and not mediocre.