It’s that time of year again when we look back and ask ourselves “another year over and what have you done?” and the answer in this context is run five to ten tracks per week, for I suppose a total of around 400 offerings of new music that’s at least worth a try. Needless to say not everyone who hangs out here at Americana UK will have heard everything (I suspect that it’s just myself and Mark who achieve that), so this is an opportunity to catch up on some of the more notable releases of the year. How to measure that? Well, there’s my favourite track of each month from last December to the end of November this year, maybe a couple of near misses from the top spot and just as a reality check there’s the Readership favourite of each month – leading to a final revelation of the readers’ favourite track of the year.
What is it like to sort through the songs that come our way in order to have some new – or at least new-ish – music to share with the fanatically loyal readership of AUK? Or, to phrase the question in a slightly more often-heard way “are you doing that stuff again?” It’s true – we get sent a lot of music, and that’s generally a great thing. Ok, a little time could be saved without having the non-genre offerings – heavy metal, ambient electronica, near tuneless piano tinkling – but in truth that’s the easy stuff to sift out. The real difficulty is which heartbroken gruff vocaled acoustic guitar picker should get the spotlight – and which of the dozen or so to pick from should be put on the perpetually growing “possibles” list. Ah…’tis ‘ard work and no mistake.
So sit back dear reader as we travel through the mystical portal back to December 2021 – covid is running rampant but there will be no more lockdowns. Track and Trace is going frantic of course – so we stop doing that because only a few billion was spent developing it to do exactly what it is finally doing. And as Christmas approached we had no idea that within 12 months we’d have cast off not one but two Prime Ministers, and be heading into a record breaking 12th year of austerity. Those were simpler times…
There really was only one sensible choice this month, Aoife O’Donovan‘s ‘Age of Apathy‘ elicited the comment “can you actually drown in beauty?” and it was a serious enquiry as this was just achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful music.
Honourable mentions: Holding up a pretty lonesome flag for kicking guitar based music was The Nervous Hex with the totally fuzzed up ‘Wash‘.
Readers’ Choice: Clearly dreaming of a getaway, the readerships’ choice was Becky Kapell‘s ‘Idle Down‘ which equated travel with…ahem…romance. You know what we’re saying.
Another wonderful voice graced the song of the month in January, this time Erin Rae with a single from the new album ‘Lighten Up‘. We noted that ‘Cosmic Sigh‘ is a “song full of gentle hope and optimism.” Things we would be in need of in the months to come.
Honourable mentions: It may have produced a little light heartedness but Eric and the Soo‘s ‘It’s OK to be Beautiful‘ was also noted as probably being “the best thing we’ve heard from the band to date.”
Readers’ Choice: Clearly still in a rocking mood the song of choice was ‘Love & Guilt‘ from Aaron Skiles and Matt Patton.
It’s no secret that there’s more than a little admiration for the Nordicana-scene bands, and the supergroup Silver Lining are one of the best bands in that scene – and ‘The Dream‘ was another great song from them.
Honourable mentions: Paula Boggs shared a notable song drawing on her own family history with ‘King Brewster‘, whilst Banditos rocked the joint with the ass-kicking ‘On My Way.’
Readers’ Choice: And we find that in February the suggestion of an REM-ish blended with country song brought the readership to Dusty Wright and ‘Lonelyville‘, the title track of his latest album.
Mary Gauthier would release a lot of great songs through the year taken from her new album, but ‘Amsterdam‘ was a real winner of a song. Just so beautiful and full of the joy of love (remember those emotions – joy and love?).
Honourable mentions: Another great song from Silver Lining of course, and Sadie Gustafson-Zook had some wistful folk on the questioning ‘Maybe I Don’t Know.‘
Readers’ Choice: Spring brought a new point of view, and a hankering for some retro-country with Roxi Copeland’s ‘I Come From Crazy‘ the song of choice.
Some delightful sounds on the new release from Belle and Sebastian, ‘Young and Stupid‘ which looked back sympathetically on the foibles and follies of youth.
Honourable mentions: Another Mary Gauthier release pleased everyone of course – especially you dear reader. And Jackie K‘s ‘Dandelions Everywhere‘ had a pleasingly retro sound.
Readers’ Choice: The Mary Gauthier songs were coming thick and fast with the new album on the horizon, and the one that resonated most with the readership was ‘Fall Apart World‘ – which is definitely a great song.
It was a tough choice to make, but in the end the Drive By Truckers took the plaudits with ‘Every Single Storied Flameout‘ which just burned with scorn.
Honourable mentions: A looping dreamy meditation on ‘Fate‘ from Triptides was a folk-rock joy, whilst Jaws of Brooklyn showed how to do full on strutting garage rock with ‘Sugar, Sugar.’
Readers’ Choice: A track that seemingly split opinion, and yet it is the instrumental ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald‘ by Mike Stevens that got the most readership spins. Great choice.
Things were really hotting up both in the real world and in the music stake come June, but the exquisite Laurel Canyonism of Bonny Light Horseman‘s ‘California‘ was a real stand out.
Honourable mentions: Kyshona produced a powerful clarion call for supporting and working together on ‘Rise The Tide‘ and Simon Flory did a great thing bluegrassing ‘Don’t Shake Me Lucifer.‘
Readers’ Choice: It’s no real surprise that Dr John hit a chord with this first single from his last studio album, and the wise advice ‘Sleeping Dogs Best Left Alone‘. We miss you Mac.
Julian Taylor dreamt of a better society with ‘S.E.E.D.S‘, which again was infused with joy and optimism.
Honourable mentions: Well, again Bonny Light Horseman delighted the ears, and Cahalen Morrison brought some haunted Americana to the party with ‘The Month of May‘.
Readers’ Choice: We trailed it as something special, and you agreed making Gretchen Peters’ ‘When You Are Old‘ your track of the month.
Angeline Morrison attracted some passionate support from Americana UK writers this year, and it’s pleasing to say that we were somewhat ahead of the game there. From her superb album ‘The Sorrow Songs’ the track ‘Unknown African Boy‘ was a delicate shocker, in the most appropriate sense.
Honourable mentions: Only downgraded from the song of the month really because it was a new version of an old song, but Allison Russell‘s new interpretation of ‘You’re Not Alone‘ was mighty.
Readers’ Choice: A song from an album that’s making a lot of end of the year lists – Bonny Light Horseman offered up ‘Exile‘ and you accepted it willingly.
A dreamy epic from Bill Callahan, ‘Coyotes‘ was a song that insisted on repeat listens. So good.
Honourable mentions: Also somewhat dreamy was Wayne Graham‘s ‘Taking You In‘. Nicholas Mudd offered us yet another genre subdivision – neo-traditionalist country style of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s – on ‘A Lover and a Drunkard.’
Readers’ Choice: Jonas Fjeld had such a blast recording with Shirley Collins that he made his next album an English language offering – and you showed your appreciation by making ‘Dust In My Wallet‘ your song of the month.
‘Proof of Life‘ from Gold Dust ticked so many good boxes – “with hints of the band Charlemagne, and, maybe a little Cosmic Rough Riders. What it is, all the ways through, is memorable and excellent.”
Honourable mentions: There was some laid back Californian rock perfection on ‘Stone Throat‘ from Glen Phillips.
Readers’ Choice: Clearly moving into an Autumnal mood, it was the glorious ‘I Tried To Keep On Loving You‘ from Moon Shine that kept you captivated.
And so another year of tracks comes to an end, and again we turn the spotlight on Nordicana with Darling West coming up with their own Fleetwood Macisms on ‘Oh Love.’
Honourable mentions: Fruit Bats returned, Eric D. Johnson not having been busy enough with Bonny Light Horseman. And it’s a good thing they did as ‘Waking up in Los Angles‘ was one of the finest songs of the year. And My Politic cast a scornful eye on the judgemental inhabitants of small town America with ‘Buzzards on a Power Line.‘
Readers’ Choice: And the final month of this twelve month span found a return to an appreciation of twangy rock on ‘Staring At The Sun‘ from Sarah Lee Langford and Will Stewart. It is good.
It was another great year – hey, musically they all are, right? But it is a tradition that at this point I reveal the Readership Song Of The Year. And it was….and you can take another listen right now…. Jonas Fjeld. Recording that English language album was clearly another good move.
Here’s looking forward to another few hundred songs in 2023 – and if you feel that some particular favourite from the Tracks feature has been overlooked then feel free to let us know your top songs of the year. The astute will have noted that The Delines do not feature at all here – we’ll probably be needing the video summary of the year for them!