Just keeping the year on Track has been a challenge in more ways than one – but one of the things about 2020 that can be slightly celebrated is that there has been so much new music. That this is due to a lot of people who had planned to be on tour, or gigging locally or in the studio cutting a new album finding themselves at home and mostly alone is less to be celebrated. However, the daily Track feature has been so overwhelmed with great music that for many days in any week there would be two Tracks, even on the rare occasions of a big surprise release as many as three Tracks. That’s a lot of Tracks and it would not be surprising if you, the valued reader, had missed one or two. Or several hundred. No matter! This is an opportunity to hear what you may have been missing, and to reflect on which Tracks were the most popular with the readership of Americana UK. We’ve crunched the numbers, and we’ve left out all the Dylan previews and Track releases that also double as News stories about Bruce Springsteen and left out old songs from the ongoing Chain series. And finally after much elimination and manipulation we have it, a full year of the best Tracks. As Track Editor there’s my favourite of each month, there’s your favourite of each month and one or two “honourable mentions” – songs that were good, but not quite the Track of the month by either measure. We take you now back through the mists of time to a time before Covid itself – December 2019. What a month.
So many good songs, even with the then usual slow down of offerings as Christmas loomed. But the finest of those featured was Beth Bombara ‘Growing Wings‘ The balance between slow ballad verses and a country-rock chorus – sublime.
Honourable mentions: many good songs, but Union Duke‘s ‘Atlas Of Love‘ was particularly fine. We said “It’s a superb indie-folk-rock construction, plenty of banjo, pedal steel and soaring vocals but it cuts deep into that anxiety with puzzling lyrics“.
Readers’ Choice: And we couldn’t be more pleased – the most listened to Track was a cover of Yoko Ono’s ‘Listen the snow is falling‘, recorded by Mad Crush. What good taste you all have.
The new year opened with plenty of choice song choices, but the best was surely the premiere of Darling West‘s ‘Make it Last.‘ With a sunny West Coast vibe and gorgeous harmonies to it, ‘Make it Last‘ blew some much needed warmth into a cold month.
Honourable mentions: They’d go on to give one of the gigs of the year, Bonny Light Horseman‘s ‘Bright Morning Stars‘ is a perfectly balanced masterpiece which stayed true to its source and gave it a modern makeover at the same time.
Readers’ Choice: it was the folk-Americana stylings of Liverpool based Fawn that took your fancy in January, with ‘Burden.’
With the joy of AmericanaFest just behind us everything looked promising for the rest of the years and the songs of quality just rolled on in. A real standout was Avi Kaplan ‘It Knows Me‘ , a song which “brings a dark and deep baritone to the wilderness folk dominated by drums and echoes – it has a high mountains at night fall feel to it.”
Honourable mentions: and already it’s getting hard to pick just one, Bee Appleseed‘s ‘That Cosmic Feeling‘ was a luminous glory, Kim Richey‘s ‘Come Around‘ was a lovely acoustic re-imagining of the song originally on ‘Glimmer‘.
Readers’ Choice : It was Craig Gerdes’ tale of the travellin’ musician’s life ‘Only The Road Knows‘ that hit the spot with the readership in February. You outlaws you.
Forever Honey gave us the bouncy Mazzy Star-ish jangle of ‘Christian‘ which worried about the future. And in the one “cheat” of this round-up there was also an equally superb – but far more down tempo – song from Lucinda Williams in the form of ‘Lost Girl.‘ That’s it – no more double favourites (honest!).
Honourable mentions – Kellen of Troy‘s album ‘Vanity Project’ was a real joy of self-deprecating songwriting and ‘Heaven Online‘ took a typically skewed look at the world. And Liv Greene merged Bluegrass and folk to great effect on ‘New York’s Arms.‘
Readers’ Choice : Not a great surprise that the premiere of a new song from Great Lake Swimmers would be popular, and ‘Getting To The Heart Of It‘ certainly was.
Zach Aaron brought a lonesome feel to his ‘Fill Dirt Wanted‘, which we were lucky enough to premiere. It’s a song that takes acceptance for all of the mistakes a life can throw up.
Honourable mentions – Ally Evenson impressed with her new release ‘Not So Pretty‘ and ‘Burning Room‘ was not the least of the songs from it. Mavis Staples gave us one of the first Covid songs with ‘All in it Together‘. Jeff Tweedy helped out on that one.
Readers’ Choice : ‘The Ridge‘ is a great album from Julian Taylor and you liked the title song a lot.
Banjos and strangeness are the main – and compelling – constituents of The Lowest Pair‘s ‘Shot Down the Sky.‘ It’s a song of too late for regrets.
Honourable mentions : Sarah Jarosz‘s ‘Orange and Blue‘ is a beautiful jazzy-ish song with some of the finest vocals you’ll find anywhere. Completely different, and from the first of their two excellent albums this year, Larkin Poe give Americana a rockin’-kick-up-the-ass on ‘Keep Diggin’‘
Readers’ Choice : We said of Danny Schmidt’s ‘2020 Vision‘ that “there will be many songs of this pandemic, but few will capture the feelings of lockdown quite so simply and honestly as Danny Schmidt has.” You agreed.
The singer-songwriter album ‘The Ridge‘ from Julian Taylor offered up a number of superb singles, but the autobiographical ‘Ballad of a Young Troubadour‘ was a stand-out.
Honourable mentions : Three Queens in Mourning gave us perhaps the psych-folk song of the year with ‘Stablemate.‘ Eric Bolander brought a whole new set of metaphors to his song of the search for love ‘Magic Moon‘.
Readers’ Choice : from one of the best of the many covers albums that appeared through 2020, Emma Swift’s excellent (and very quick off the mark!) cover of Dylan’s ‘I Contain Multitudes‘ was a popular choice.
Terry Ohms ‘Sadness’ was a master-class in melancholy. We love a good bit of melancholy.
Honourable mentions : from their ‘American Bardo‘ album Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz brought a mystical edge to ‘A Home the I can’t Know.’ Meanwhile The Gabbard Brothers had a message to share with ‘Too Much to Feel‘, and Courtney Marie Andrews continued to impress on ‘How You Get Hurt.’
Readers’ Choice : it’s laid back protest from Kristina Train on ‘We the People‘ where Kristina reminded us all that this is the 21st century, not the 1950s.
Rapidly becoming a favourite singer-songwriter, VanWyck delivered an emotional remembrance of a friend with ‘Your Favourite Tune.‘
Honourable mentions : with the kind of Nordicana we can’t ignore, The Northern Belle brought a summery breeze to the lovely ‘Late Bloomer‘. There was a glorious rock noise from Jerry Lehane on the resurrected recording ‘Run away with You.’
Readers’ Choice : Well good reader you didn’t let anyone down this month – what an inspired multi-listen to the song by Wonky Tonk ‘Wonk On.‘
Could it have been anything else? Really, no. What a joy of an unexpected release from The Long Ryders with ‘Down to the Well.‘
Honourable mentions : Co-written with Steve Van Zandt, ‘Jesus and John Lennon‘ by Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts was a smart roots-rocker. Austin Lucas has had a hell of a year, with one of the finest albums of his career and ‘The Times‘ was typically excellent. And Samantha Crain delivered perhaps the most emotional Track of the year, really memorable, ‘An Echo‘ deserves another listen.
Readers’ Choice : Well, we’re in complete agreement this month – we all love rock and we all love the Long Ryders. Readers’ choice was of course the superb The Long Ryders ‘Down To The Well.‘
Remember how tense the run up to the American presidential election was? It certainly fired up the Americana scene to let the world know where they stand and one of the finest of all the protests was Mike Stockdale and ‘Build the Wall.‘
Honourable mentions : not an easy listen but Mimi Gilbert‘s ‘Dark Storm‘ was quite memorable in its bleakness, and memorable is a positive thing. And Jim White‘s own personal nightmares made for a great listen on ‘Smart Ass Reply‘.
Readers’ Choice : the Track Premiere of Josh Merritt ‘The High‘ really made a connection with the readership of Americana UK.
By now Americana UK was really drowning in submissions for the Track feature, and naturally more and more of these were excellent. However it has to be said that Natalie D-Napoleon‘s ‘Thunder Rumour‘ was something really special.
Honourable mentions : for a protest song in the traditional mode there was no need to look further than Chris Pierce with ‘American Silence is a Crime.‘ And protest was in the air with Tim Grimm as well, with ‘Gone‘, as well as a nod to those we’ve lost this year.
Readers’ Choice : Was it the Dylan or the Nick Cave connection, or just the excellence of Ratso Sloman’s version of ‘Skeleton Tree‘ ? Whichever or whatever this was what the Readership was looking for in November!
That’s it – the highlights of the last 12 months – a few dozen songs from more than 300. And all of those songs were worth a listen – some more than others perhaps but it’s the pursuit of new music that keeps this Listening thing worth doing. Hopefully these were worth revisiting – and if you didn’t before try a song or two not on the list, it could be your next favourite song is already out there. If not then there’s always 2021 to look forward to.
And the very final question is – what was the Readers’ song of the year? Well, the best thing since sliced and fried Halloumi was….. Josh Merritt ‘The High.‘ So now we know.
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