There's really no rhyme or reason why this song came before that one, or why this song made it and that one didn't, these are simply some of my favorites songs of 2012. I wore out the repeat button on some of them and others I discovered just the other day. The only rule I tried to follow was not to choose more than one song from the same artist (a rule which I broke once or twice), otherwise my top fifty songs would be pretty much be completely filled up with my top five albums. Anyway, hopefully you find a song or an artist on this list that is new to you, someone that perhaps you can be a fan of for years to come. There are surely countless good songs I've yet to hear from the past year, and more that I will probably never hear. But that's a good thing. It's how you know it was a great year for good music.
50) Earl Dibbles Jr. - "The Country Boy Song"
"I fix trees, I widdle sticks, my barbed wire tattoo gets me chicks"
Finally, a cliched song about being a redneck from the country that it's okay to like (ironically, of course). A great parody of the Brantley Gilberts of the world, "The Country Boy Song" is not only hilarious, but has a high production quality that--here's that word again: ironically--would fit in perfectly at country radio. Kudos to Texas country singer Granger Smith for creating a characters that's able to poke a little fun and be genuinely likeable and funny all at the same time.
49) Horse Feathers - "Last Waltz" (from the album Cynic's New Year)
"Call in the doctor, the day may have died/ There's a thimble of light for an acre of sky"
Talk about a gorgeous string arrangement, this song has it. I've known about this band for less than year, but I'm slowly trying to listen to their catalogue of songs. "Last Waltz," with its aforementioned strings, banjos, and the sweetly melancholic vocals of lead singer Justin Ringle, is a stand-out folk-waltz from their latest album Cynic's New Year.
48) Lindi Ortega - "Heaven Has No Vacancy" (from the album Cigarettes & Truckstops)
"Jesus, he don't know me, God ain't answering my prayers/ If they don't let me in, I'll just sit here on the stairs"
Lindi Ortega (who I believe had a small cameo in an episode of Nashville this year) has an indescribable voice, or at least one that can't be described in these short blurbs. (Well, I'll try: organically otherworldly, maybe?) This soulful, slow rumination on post-existential unease even has the narrator taking a trip to Hell and back.
47) B.O.B. feat. Taylor Swift - "Both Of Us" (from the album Strange Clouds)
"I can feel your pain, I can feel your struggle/ You just wanna live but everything's so low/ that you could drown in the puddle"
I first heard this song in a hotel room somewhere in Virginia when the video came on MTV around four or five in the morning (don't worry, I was only watching because I couldn't sleep and was trying to catch up on the latest musical trends). I have no clue why this guy named himself after an Outkast song; regardless, I was pleasantly surprised to actually like it. Nice flows here.
46) Josh Turner feat. Iris Dement - "Pallbearer" (from the album Punching Bag)
"I'm like a lonesome pallbearer, carrying the dead"
The best song on Josh Turner's 2012 album Punching Bag will most definitely never be released as a single, but isn't that usually how it goes? The fact that Turner brought in Iris Dement to lend her vocal talents for harmony purposes shows that Turner has tastes that rise above the occasionally lackluster material he releases. This song uses the image of a pallbearer as a metaphor for the crushing anguish that results after getting your heart broken. It's one of his best, and he wrote it all by his lonesome.
45) Patterson Hood - "Come Back Little Star" (from the album Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance)
"You always had a drink in your hand/ but your liver at what it used to be"
Hood trades in the chunky southern rock riffing of his day job with the Drive-By Truckers for a piano-laced ballad with subtle pedal steel flourishes, a sweet bass line, and beautiful female background vocals from Kelly Hogan (who's also a co-writer; they wrote it about their late singer-songwriter friend Vic Chestnutt, who hails from the same hometown as Patterson Hood, Athens, Georgia). It's a real treat seeing this side of a passionate, multi-talented, hard-working, genuine artist.
44) Gangstagrass feat. R-SON and Dolio The Sleuth - "Bound To Ride" (from the album Rappalachia)
"The sub-zero nature of the words I'm writin'/ will have you hypothermic from all the frostbitin'"
I love what the guys behind the theme song for Justified are doing. Their fusion of bluegrass and hip-hop is absolutely unlike anything you've ever heard, and "Bound To Ride" is a funky, twangy, and--well--gangsta representation of those seemingly disparate elements working wonderfully together. The vintage music video is pretty sweet too.
43) Red June - "Foolish Me" (from the album Beauty Will Rise)
"Wanna pick your red, red rose/ Wanna get to heaven, steady as she goes"
This is folk-bluegrass at its best. I found out about Red June after reading the blog of another band I discovered in 2012, The Honey Dewdrops. The vocals here are unique--not the run-of-the-mill high and lonesome wail of most typical bluegrass--lending to the song a quality that makes it stand out. As if it's simple, well-crafted beauty wasn't enough. I'll certainly be looking into these guys a little more.
42) Chelle Rose - "I Need You" (from the album Ghost of Browder Holler)
"I need something like a mother, 'cause I'm just a child/ I need something like an asylum, 'cause I go wild"
It doesn't get much twangier than Chelle Rose (even more so on her other songs). Pair that twang with the Chris Knight-esque country-rock of "I Need You" (written by Julie Miller), and you get a song that makes you want to see what else this gal's got.
41) Nathan Reich - "Sweet Isolation" (from the album All Night Pharmacy)
"No I don't love her, but she offered me comfort/ Comfort means nothin', if it don't come from you"
I had the pleasure of getting to see Nathan perform at a house show here in Lexington, Kentucky just a few weeks ago. It was excellent. His songs are hushed folk ruminations on home and the road and girls, and every single one of the features some astounding work from him on the acoustic guitar. "Sweet Isolation," my favorite song from his recently released All Night Pharmacy album, is a perfect example. I couldn't get the guitar melody out of my head for weeks. The live video linked above, which looks to be professionally made, is super well-done, and showcases his excellent skills on guitar. Check him out if he's ever rolling through close to where you are.
40) The Stray Birds - "Wildflower Honey" (from their self-titled album)
"And I knew when I laid down to him at night/ I was holding a rolling tide"
Acoustic guitar strumming and delicate electric guitar picking compliment the gorgeous and graceful voice of Maya de Vitry in "Wildflower Honey." When I first this song's title, I knew there was just no way I was not going to like it, and my suspicions were confirmed immediately as the opening chords lead into a voice that grabs your attention like a bee to...well, you know. The lyrics are poetic and the story is affecting; you can't ask for much more.
39) Tift Merritt - "In The Way" (from the album Traveling Alone)
"Sometimes my heart is all I've got/ sometimes my heart gets in the way"
This is a rollicking piano-filled americana number, with an electric guitar that seems to essentially play the same notes over and over. And it works brilliantly. I've never delved into Merritt's albums, but after listening to Traveling Alone on Spotify, reading a few interviews about her devotion to her craft, and realizing what a truly amazing voice she's been gifted with, I can't wait to do so. "In The Way" is a great starting point.
38) Amos Lee - "The Darkness" (from the EP As The Crow Flies)
"Well I know you think you knew me/ Well I thought I knew you too/ I guess I was fool but/ that ain't nothin' new"
Lee's As The Crow Flies EP is possibly my favorite thing he's ever recorded. "The Darkness," the lead track on the album, is a moody and atmospheric meditation on the end of relationship. Truthfully, any song from the EP could claim this spot
37) Shawn Mullins - "Give God The Blues" (from the compilation album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us)
"God don't hate the Muslims, God don't hate the Jews/ God don't hate the Christians, but we all give God the blues"
Singer of the 90's superhit "Lullaby," Shawn Mullins, was recruited by producer Phil Madeira to cut this bluesy and somewhat humorous take on religion and exceedingly fallible humanity's relationship to God. In the description of the linked video above, it states that the compilation album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us (I love that title) is the culmination of an idea "to put out a positive message that perhaps God is just love." Mission accomplished, and "Give God The Blues," the second track on the album, works as a great thesis statement.
36) Dwight Yoakam - "Nothing But Love" (from the album 3 Pears)
"If nothing but love is all there was/ Then nothing but love is there for you and me"
When I saw him perform this song on Leno, I knew I was going to be buying his new album. Sweet guitars, sweet harmonies, classic Yoakam.
35) Father John Misty - "Hollywood Cemetery Forever Sings" (from the album Fear Fun)
"I laid up for hours in a daze/ Retracing the expanse of your American back"
Come for the cemetery sex, drugs, blaspheming with superb vocal phrasing, and subtle existential angst, stay because it simply will not get out of your head.
34) Elizabeth Cook - "Hear Jerusalem Calling" (from the EP Gospel Plow)
"Hear Jerusalem calling, Jesus is his name"
I love me a good song about Jesus, especially when its got an electric guitar that sounds as badass as the one Cook's husband Tim Carroll plays here. This is gospel music getting down. Check out the Letterman performance video above for a great quote from Dave: "I knew it would be lovely. I didn't realize we'd be saved."
33) Willie Nelson feat. Merle Haggard - "A Horse Called Music" (from the album Heroes)
And he sings oooh to the ladies/ and oooh he makes 'em sigh/ Now he rides away no a horse he calls Music/ with a pain in his hear and a tear in his eye"
It's hard to come out with a bad song when you've got these two legends singing on it. Well into their seventies, you can honestly say about both Nelson and Haggard: they haven't lost it.
32) Easton Corbin - "Tulsa Texas" (from the album All Over The Road)
"I'll be down in Tulsa, Texas/ Tallahassee, Tennessee/ Memphis, Missippi/ That's where I'm gonna be"
Have you ever wanted to leave a woman who's been making you her fool for far too long, and go somewhere she could literally never find you? This cheeky modern country classic will be right up your alley.
31) Iris Dement - "The Kingdom Has Already Come" (Link goes to Spotify) (from the album Sing The Delta)
"Stopped in the church to pray/ It was the middle of the day/ And I don't even know if I believe in God"
It is difficult to describe Iris Dement's voice; it's something on the edge of beautiful, which in a way makes it better, fuller, more authentic. Some will instantly love it, some will instantly hate it, and some will slowly grow to love it. Those who love it are the lucky ones, because she writes fantastic, refreshingly honest songs that more people would do well to hear. When you have a decade plus between new original albums, songs like this are the result.