Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Venerable Video: "Neon" (live acoustic) - Chris Young

I've written a few times about "Neon" on this blog before, and I've made no secret about the fact that I love the song. But contained in the clip that follows is what may be my favorite version of it, a phenomenal acoustic rendition that I'd never come across until a few weeks ago. In it Chris Young speaks about falling in love with the song upon first hearing it, so much so that he gave his last album its title. If you need evidence that Young is one of the--if not the--best male vocalist working in mainstream country music today and not just another gussied-up pretty cowboy who sounds mighty shaky live, look no further than this video.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Venerable Video: "Cry Help" by I Draw Slow

I'm attempting to start a new feature here on the blog: the Venerable Video. These will just be videos--music videos, live, or otherwise--that I've run across recently or that I remember from long ago. I am making the word "venerable" (which means "commanding respect because of great age or impressive dignity" and is a term usually reserved for historical figures and politicians) fit here because I've always loved that word and alliteration is fun. I do this as a way to try and keep the posts coming, at least weekly. Whereas as my song reviews tend to be three or more paragraphs, I will try to keep these in "snippet" form--no more than four or five sentences. Wish me luck.

This Americana band from Dublin, Ireland is led by siblings Dave and Louise Holden, who play acoustic guitar and sing lead vocals, respectively. Their style is a mix of folk and bluegrass that sounds like it came directly from the hills and hollers of Appalachia (which is pretty cool considering the Scots-Irish heritage of many who live and have lived in that region of the US). But by no means are they trapped in the past; this is old-time music that is assuredly contemporary. This video of "Cry Help" off their 2012 album Red Hills is shot beautifully in black and white at one of their lives shows in Dublin, complimenting the melancholy feel of the song. It is one of those songs that most definitely tells a story but lyrically doesn't spell everything out, thus rewarding repeated listens. You won't be able to get the stunning chorus out of your head. (Band Website)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Top 13 Albums of 2012

13) Caroline Herring - Camilla
Steel-guitar drenched, socially conscious country-folk doesn't get much better than this, and Herring's voice is transcendent. 

12) Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson - Wreck & Ruin
Heavy on banjo, fiddle, and excellent songwriting, this married Australian duo is more in touch with American country music than just about anything you'll hear on mainstream country radio.

11) Trampled By Turtles - Stars and Satellites
The Turtles ease up on the ferocity (though its still here) and focus on great songwriting, creating modern, melancholic folk-bluegrass that is timeless.

 10) Steep Canyon Rangers - Nobody Knows You
Bluegrass that has it's foot planted solidly in tradition but is nowhere close to being shackled by it, this album from the group that has a "side job" as Steve Martin's touring band is full of stunning musical precision and modern songwriting craft, and isn't afraid to take a few risks along the way.

9) Alan Jackson - Thirty Miles West
The only thing one can say about this album is that it's neo-traditional songwriting and sound at its very best; in other words, it's pure Alan Jackson, classic and enjoyable as ever.

8) Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?
This group is otherworldly when it comes to playing their instruments (you can most appreciate this with an excellent pair of headphones), and mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile's songwriting only gets better.

7) The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter
The Avetts are ones to surprise with every album, smartly reigning in the piano-drenced anthemic quality of I and Love and You and trading it for what they do best: acoustic country-folk with excellent lyricism and pop sensibilities.

6) Chris Knight - Little Victories
Chris Knight rocks out and reigns in in equal measure on his latest album, solidifying the truth that he is one of the most underrated artists and songwriters working today.

5) The Honey Dewdrops - Silver Lining
This modern Appalachian folk album is riddled with beautiful harmonies and restrained yet skillful instrumentation, not to mention it takes balls to end an album with an instrumental and an old traditional sung acapella.

4) John Mayer - Born and Raised
Mayer self-reflects, gets personal lyrically, and surprisingly eases up on the guitar-solo breaks that used to color each of his songs, on this album inspired by the sounds of seventies classic rock and modern Americana. (FULL ALBUM REVIEW HERE.)

3) Ryan Bingham - Tomorrowland
Bingham wanted to experiment with the sounds he could get from a guitar on this album, approaching it as a kid who just discovered the instrument would, and Tomorrowland not only straight-up rocks but also contains poignant, introspective songwriting that's unsurprising to hear coming from the guy who penned "The Weary Kind."

2) The Trishas - High, Wide & Handsome
As good as this album is, you'd think these ladies from Texas had been playing and writing together for years upon years and not just two or three; a truly stunning achievement. (FULL ALBUM REVIEW HERE.)

1) Turnpike Troubadours - Goodbye Normal Street
I can't imagine 2012 without this album. This is country music that takes its cues from the best of old country, bluegrass, and rock and roll. Lyrically clever and deep when it's called for, Evan Felker is a poetically-inclined songwriter with something to say, and one of the best heart-on-your-sleeve vocalists I've ever heard. Keep your eye on these genre-defying fellows.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Top Ten Songs of 2012

10) Ryan Bingham - "Too Deep Too Fill" (from the album Tomorrowland)
The final cut on Ryan Bingham's Tomorrowland album has its eyes set on love of a woman and perhaps more importantly, love of the natural world. It's a brilliant, sparsely-written and picked tune, and Bingham's voice, per usual, is a force to be reckoned with, conveying longing and weariness while sounding like he's got gravel grinding way back in his throat. He bookends lyrics about his disillusionment with people who are apathetic or downright hostile toward the notion that we should care for the natural world, which literally sustains us (And I'm going out to the forest/ I'm going to see if I can find out why/ People all around are still cutting it all down/ But I hope to be on home for suppertime), with lyrics about coming home to his woman (Oh baby, oh sweet baby/ Will you kiss these poor lips of mine/ Tell me that you love me/ and your heart is forever mine). Of course, if you were to ask Bingham why he wrote a political song or a song with an agenda, he'd tell you he was just writing about something that he profoundly cares about. And isn't that exactly what we ask of artists and songwriters? (Here is a video of Bingham talking about the cause of conservancy, and here's a great video someone made putting the song to images of the natural world.)

9) Chris Knight - "Hard Edges" (from the album Little Victories)
For a man with such a rugged voice, Chris Knight sure can write a tender song, and this might be one of the tenderest in his long catalogue of great songs. The narrator tells the story of Lisa, who's led a difficult life--mostly due to circumstance--but she's always maintained a dream deep down for something better, happier. The hand she's been dealt has made her a little rough around the edges, a far cry from her true nature. Just let the following lyrics sink in:

Lisa's in a club downtown
where the neon burns 'til dawn
She calls herself Tina now
but she dances to the same old song
Slowly spinning 'round and 'round
in the smoke and the smell of rye
She takes off all her clothes
so they don't look in eyes
Her scarlet rouge and her blue tattoos
They're only painted on
But underneath the dark drumbeat
A ballerina dances on

The story of Lisa's is specific, but it's one we can all relate to: the innocence of childhood and the harsh realities of trying to grow up and become adults in a world that can seem stacked against us. This is Kentucky's own Chris Knight, one of America's best songwriters, at his most heartfelt and nuanced.

I can't find a YouTube version of the song, but you can listen on Spotify here. Better yet, just purchase the entire album Little Victories. It's worth it.

8) The Trishas - "Strangers" (from the album High, Wide & Handsome)
Each song on The Trishas debut LP is striking in its own way, but it was "Strangers" that struck me first. I wrote about it and the rest of the album recently on the blog:

** Truly as good as country music gets, and by that I mean that this is a beautifully sad song. Savannah Welch takes the lead here, imbuing lyrics like "I miss the me I used to be" and "I barely recognize myself" with a vulnerability and sense of tragedy that brings the truth of them home, allows them to be feelings rather than just words. It's a song about the dark side of marriage, about being with someone for a time and then realizing it's gotten to a point where you don't know them, they don't know you, and you don't know you. The second verse attempts to put words to this unexplainable disconnect: "Sometimes when the light's just right/ It's you who's kissin' me goodnight/ When the morning comes it's her I find instead/ Who are these strangers in our bed?" On top of that, memories are conjured up by detailed imagery ("Wedding pictures on the TV set") and the line that encapsulates it all ("There's nothing stranger than being strangers"). In short, this is a song that goes on that playlist you have of songs you listen to by yourself with a bottle. **

Just listened to the song again. Going to get that bottle now.

Check it out on Spotify here. And go ahead and purchase High, Wide & Handsome in its entirety too.

7) The Avett Brothers - "Ferbruary Seven" (from the album The Carpenter)
After the--and I hate to use this world--novelty of  "Paul Newman Vs. The Demons" wore off, this became my favorite song on The Carpenter. It mixes what has made the Avetts great from the very beginning with that Rick Rubin sheen. It's about something specific that happened on the day of February 7th, but there's enough great lines to make it sweepingly profound and broadly appealing. Take the phenomenal chorus for example:

There's no fortune at the end of a road that has no end
There's no returning to the spoils once you've spoiled the thought of them
There's no falling back to sleep once you've wakened from the dream
Now I'm rested and I'm ready
I'm rested and I'm ready to begin

There's a sweet piano melody that comes in just before the music of the chorus takes those words to epic heights. "February Seven" also contains one of my favorite lines of the year:

Sooner than my fate was wrote
A perfect blade, it slit my throat
and beads of lust released into the air
When I awoke you were standing there

It's the Avetts doing what they do best: anthemic, acoustic country-folk that's catchy as hell.

6) Great Lake Swimmers - "The Great Exhale" (from the album New Wild Everywhere)
Tony Dekker, lead singer for Great Lake Swimmers, is a poet if a singer-songwriter ever was one. His songs aren't so much stories as they are meditations on life, using images from the natural world to get his point across, bring everything back around full circle, taking in the scenery and dispensing wisdom on the wheel of life. His hushed vocals suit this song perfectly, and the harmonies sung by newest member of the band Miranda Mulholland (she's the fiery redhead) are gorgeous and haunting. This song makes death sound not only easier to come to terms with, but almost desirable (the luminous veil? I mean, come on). (Don't worry, I don't want to die, just listen to the song.) Here are some lyrics from the chorus:

And the world stops spinning when you stop spinning
It sighs when you sigh when you sigh
I'm coming home so leave the light on for me
I'm drawing over the luminous veil
And when I get in I will see you all there
I'm drawing on the great exhale

Here also is an excellent stripped-down version of the song.

5) Corb Lund - "September" (from the album Cabin Fever)
This song is so good that I already wrote about it several weeks ago. Here's the whole thing, and here's an excerpt:

** "September" plays upon the classic theme of country-boy-pining-for-city-girl (in this case, a country girl who who decides to become a city girl), but it contains a melancholy and a desolation that plumbs deep below surface cliches and allows the listener to really feel the anguish and pain buried in the narrator's heart. He, the struggling cattle farmer staying behind, she, the woman he loves moving to New York City to perhaps chase a long held dream. In a way, he can't really blame her for leaving. In the quiet country "there ain't much to do," "there ain't much glamor," and "the pace is kinda slow," after all. But he is certain that no one in New York City could need her as much as he does. "Stay with me through September," he begs...

...My favorite part of the song is the part without words, where Lund sings "oooos" with an emotional heft that betrays an immense and piercing loneliness, as if singing the very siren song of the relationship in just those few notes. It sounds like a mix between Chris Martin's (of Coldplay) falsetto and a modern twist on a high and lonesome yodel, echoing in the valleys of the mountains he sings about, conjuring up the image of a man standing by himself in a vast and wide open space. Totally free but utterly trapped. It makes the loneliness of the narrator more than palpable. How fitting that loneliness in real life often leaves us struggling to express the feeling in words. **

"September" is also my favorite music video of the year.

4) Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley - "First of August" (from the album Farthest Field)
"First of August" is the beautiful lead track from these two Kentuckians' album of duets, Farthest Field. I first became familiar with Daniel Martin Moore when he released a collaborative album with Ben Sollee (produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame) entitled Dear Companion, which contained songs built around a theme of speaking out against mountaintop removal coal mining. My introduction to Joan Shelley, however, was this song.

It is a poetic tale of family and leaving and letting go, and its striking natural images and slow, hushed tempo lend to the song a feeling like floating on wind. The arrangement is so sparse and non-intrusive that you have to actually listen to fully appreciate it. Shelley and Moore's voices fit together as naturally as the shining sun, so much so that you'd think they were brother and sister. "First of August" is mostly sung in their restrained yet powerful and emotive harmony. Here's one of my favorite lyrics in the song, followed by a beautifully shot live video of the two performing it:

Pray you go with the sweet wind
They'll be trees there that you know
So careful not to harden
Sure to make a letter home
Down the road
Where you shining
Were last seen at the fork

3) Turnpike Troubadours - "Good Lord Lorrie" (from the album Goodbye Normal Street)
A number of songs from their 2012 album could have occupied this spot, but I'm too big a fan of alliteration not to go with this one. Not to mention that these guys know how to tell one hell of a story. Guided by lead singer Evan Felker's songwriting, "Good Lord Lorrie" is quite literally a song about love gone wrong ("Good Lord Lorrie, I love you, could it go more wrong?"), mostly due to outside influences. There are lyrical gems all over the place:

And I've been learnin' that believin'
and the barely breakin' even
It's just a part of life for you and me
And I've been livin' with the loneliness
It's got down in my bones, I guess
It's just another phase of being free


And if I ever set foot in Sevier County
Well your brother said he'd break my jaw
But here I stand with the dark-haired daughter
of southwest Arkansas

Felker is a truly talented songwriter and vocalist, spouting out his homespun poetry at every turn, interpreting his own words with a twangy phrasing that never fails to surprise (the way he sings the word "good" in this song, with his heart seemingly breaking on his sleeve for all the world to see, is something you must hear). The rest of the members behind him layer the song with guitar, fiddle, harmonica, and drums, playing with a precision and cohesion that never once makes you doubt the notion that this is an actual band, one that was certainly my favorite musical discovery of 2012.

2) John Mayer - "Born and Raised" (from the album Born and Raised)
All year long I thought this was going to be my number one song of the year. That is until I heard what ended up becoming my number one song of the year in early December. I think this is the best song Mayer's ever written, and I've already written a considerable amount about it on this blog. Here's an excerpt:

** With the title track to his recently released album, John Mayer has written what I contend to be his best song to date. "Born and Raised" is somber, elegiac, melodious, hopeful, and contains some of the most poignant lyrics I've heard this year. It is intensely personal, both for Mayer and the listener.

There is no question why Mayer named the album after this song, as it succinctly touches on the gamut of themes that run throughout the entire collection of songs. These include getting older ("I cheat the light to check my face/ It's slightly harder than last year"); losing the childlike innocence and romanticism of dreams as you do, in fact, get older ("I still have dreams, they're not the same/ They don't fly as high as they used to"); and the pointless exhaustion of being somebody you're not ("Then all at once it gets hard to take/ It gets hard to fake what I won't be"). On this song Mayer showcases the rare ability to hit you in the gut seemingly line after line. For the listener, that gut punch represents the recognition of truth in the simple poetry of his words. Perhaps even more impressive: he does it without any fancy wordplay. **

"Born and Raised" also contains another of my favorite lines of the year:

I still got time
I still got faith
I call on both of my brothers
I got a mom
I got a dad
But they do not have each other

1) The Honey Dewdrops - "Together Tied" (from the album Silver Lining)
Somehow or another I came across this band on a website or blog that was recommending duos to check out in the wake of The Civil Wars announcing their break-up (or whatever that announcement was). I listened to the album Silver Lining, The Honey Dewdrops' third, on Spotify, and as soon as those first notes of the acoustic guitar came in on track number eight, I paused what I was doing and listened. It's not often that I take to a song I've never heard before so immediately.

The Honey Dewdrops are Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, a married couple from Charlottesville, Virginia that play Appalachian-influenced folk music that is honestly and beautifully rendered. Both are unique vocalists on their own, and together their harmonies sound superb. While musically they may tip their hat toward the more traditional, in songs like "Together Tied" they are contemporary lyrical masters, Appalachian poets of the modern era. This is a song about home, about the strands of our memories of it that bind and bond families and people in a deeply emotional way, whether still there or not. And if you like your songs to have emotion, "Together Tied" has plenty of it. It's a song that makes you really feel, to the extent that it makes you grateful to be alive, embedded with tinges of sadness though the song (and life) may be. One of the many lyrics in the song that still floor me over and over again:

And what is home my brother?
If not love and you and me
If not a river between us
Running restlessly

The chorus is:

Home like water
Collects us by and by
Reaches over distance
To hold us together tied

There are no words here that you have to look up in the dictionary, but this is pure poetry that, when set to music as The Honey Dewdrops perform it, creates vivid imagery and stirs up some sort of unexplainable, profound longing in the listener. And whatever that longing may be for, it's a longing that inspires.

As if the lyrics and harmonies and all around excellent song-craftsmanship weren't enough, just try to get that guitar melody out of your head. It's stunning work that can induce a tear or two if you're not careful. I'm just saying. (The performance video of the song below is a must-watch.)


Related Posts:
Favorite songs of 2012, 50 - 31
Favorite songs of 2012, 30 - 11
Top Ten Country Singles of 2012
Flashback: Favorite song of 2011

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Favorite Songs of 2012 (#30-11)

30) Norah Jones - "Happy Pills" (from the album Little Broken Hearts)
"I've gotta get you, I've gotta get you/ I've gotta get you, outta my head/ Get out"
If you watch her perform this on Letterman you will immediately have a crush on her. It's no secret that Norah Jones has a great voice, but who knew she was so groovy and sexy?

29) Lana Del Ray - "Blue Jeans" (from the album Born To Die)
"You so fresh to death and sick as ca-cancer"
There is just no denying this song's bawdy production, bizarre lyrics, and innate catchiness. And am I crazy, or does is remind anybody else of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game"?

28) John Fullbright - "Gawd Above" (from the album From The Ground Up)
"Go and curse my name with your last breath/ if all I brought to your life was death"
This country-blues tune presented from the point of view of the Almighty--who seems to be feeling a little down on Himself--does everything right. I can't decide whether its a hymn of praise or social commentary.

27) Alan Jackson - "Talk Is Cheap" (from the album Thirty Miles West)
"Road's for takin', wine's for tastin'/ Talk is cheap, and time's a-wastin'"
Co-written by Chris Stapleton, former frontman for The Steeldrivers, "Talk Is Cheap" is a simple, straightforward song about not wasting your life. A sweet fiddle line and classic singing from Jackson make it great.

26) Zac Brown Band feat. Trombone Shorty - "Overnight" (from the album Uncaged)
"Ain't no time for talkin', show me what you got/ We gonna get this bed a-rockin' and it ain't gonna stop"
This is the last thing that anybody would ever expect from Zac Brown Band: a Barry White-esque R & B slow-jam about babymaking. Yes, it's as wonderful as it sounds. What can I say--one man's cheesy is, well, another man's babymaking slow-jam of the year.

25) Punch Brothers - "Who's Feeling Young Now?" (from the album Who's Feeling Young Now?)
"Dark room to doorway/ doorway to sidewalk/ Youth will not be wasted on this one"
There are so many incredible songs on the Punch Brothers' latest album that it was hard to choose one for this list. The mandolin solo around the 1:45 mark in the above video sold me, however. Punch Brothers' brand of bluegrass makes even the most progressive of today's bluegrass bands feel traditional. It's excellent.

24) Wade Bowen - "Patch of Bad Weather" (from the album The Given)
"But you had your fingers crossed, yea you think you're so clever/ Rollin' through this town like a patch of bad weather"
One of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt songs of the year. The chorus on this up-tempo country rocker is killer.

23) Sons Of Bill - "This Losing Fight" (from the album Sirens)
"'Cause it's little blue pills in The Great Depression/ it's bad girls in a booze recession/ Guess it's all one big life lesson then you die"
This song has one of my favorites lyrics (quoted above) of 2012. Times are tough economically in the states, and anthemic hard rocker captures the anger, jadedness, and anxiety that comes along with that pretty damn well.

22) Caroline Herring - "White Dress" (link opens to Spotify) (from the album Camilla)
"Burning alive, burning inside/ but you won't burn me down"
I will let Herring explain this one in her own words: "'White Dress' is about then 24-year-old Mae Frances Moultrie, the only African-American female on the original Freedom Ride in 1961. Her bus passed through Anniston, Alabama and was firebombed. Moultrie exited the burning bus wearing a white dress."

One of my favorite discoveries of 2012, Herring's songwriting is relevant not just poetically and musically, but socially as well.

21) Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson - "Familiar Strangers" (from the album Wreck and Ruin)
"We can make believe it's worth fighting for/ But I don't even know you anymore"
This Australian couple's latest duets album sounds like it was recorded in the heart of Nashville (the heart being the good part, the lifeblood, not the corporatized part that gets the most attention). In "Familiar Strangers" they play the part of jaded lovers so well that you almost worry if things are going alright in their own relationship. I'm sure they are, and regardless, it's obvious they've both been to the sad place this song talks about before.

20) Little Big Town - "Sober" (from the album Tornado)
"You're like drinking from a neverending bottle/ When I think it's gone there's always a little more left"
My favorite song from Little Big Town's most recent record is a gem about being drunk on love; the narrator hopes to be so until she dies. Kimberly Schlapman takes lead vocals on this one, giving the most visible member of the band, Karen Fairchild, a run for her money.

19) Truckstop Darlin' - "Sad, Sweet Songs" (link opens in Spotify) (from the album Hope and the Heart It Breaks)
"Makin' sense of poetry and makin' sense of art/ Write down all your memories and sing about a broken heart"
If you are even remotely a fan of the brand of southern rock that Drive-By Truckers and Lucero play, I think you'll love this song. Sounding more like Cooley than Hood (of DBT), the lead singer belts this one out over insanely catchy electric riffs and pretty pedal steel. Honestly, this is the last kind of music I'd expect to come from the hipster mecca Portland, Oregon. But I'm glad it did.

18) Chris Knight - "Low Down Ramblin' Blues" (from the album Little Victories)
"Laid down with the dogs/ You woke up with fleas/ Your mama tried to tell you/ You didn't pay no heed"
I know Chris Knight more for his slow acoustic songs about the dark side of small-town life. "Low Down Ramblin' Blues" is a full-on rocker where the narrator starts out as his own independent man, but when the song ends it's more cautionary tale than celebration. And the drumming is fantastic.

17) Paper Route - "You and I" (from the album The Peace of Wild Things)
"We gotta turn of the lights/ We gotta run for the woods now"
This is gleeful pop music made with precision and craft. I only even found out about them because their 2012 album took its title from a poem by a writer from my home state of Kentucky named Wendell Berry (The Peace of Wild Things). Berry spends most of his time writing about the gifts of the natural world, so I was bit surprised to find that Paper Route more closely aligns itself with electronica-pop rather than rustic acoustic music. But inspiration is inspiration.

16) Ryan Bingham - "Never Ending Show" (from the album Tomorrowland)
"I don't need the marquee sign/ I don't need my name in lights/ I don't need to wonder why/ my head hurts and I can't sleep at night"
Ryan Bingham put out one of the best albums of last year. He's said in many interviews that he wanted to just experiment with his electric guitar like he was a little kid again, and he certainly does so with ace results on "Never Ending Show." But this song about touring and life and knowing when to stop trying to prove yourself and just do what you do, also has a rhythm that chugs along so effortlessly that it practically begs you to play it again.

15) Trampled By Turtles - "Widower's Heart" (from the album Stars and Satellites)
"Oh, rain/ Come wash me and cleanse me and take me away"
One of the premier bands on the modern bluegrass/americana scene released an album full of introspective ballads in 2012, and "Widower's Heart" is one of the best. It conjures up the feeling of beautiful sadness like a good short story that was written in a cabin in the woods.

14) Steep Canyon Rangers - "Easy To Love" (link opens in Spotify) (from the album Nobody Knows You)
"I may never be/ I may never/ I may never be this easy to love again"
This is excellent traditional bluegrass yet the Steep Canyon Rangers know how to be just progressive enough to appeal to a younger, more open-minded crowd. You wouldn't hear a melody like this in most traditional bluegrass, but in songwriting and composition it tips its hat mightily in that direction.

13) The Infamous Stringdusters - "Night On The River" (from the album Silver Sky)
"A night on the river is all I need/ A cool drink of water is all I need"
Like Steep Canyon Rangers, The Infamous Stringdusters have one foot planted firmly to bluegrass tradition, but they, even moreso than the Rangers, seem compelled to shake things up a little bit. This is a song where they actually use a more straightforward approach, but it's got a classic quality that is undeniable. Check out the video above (live from a sporting goods store!) for an insane display of musicianship at the 3:30 mark, where banjo and fiddle duel it out (a friendly duel, of course). I can't be this video doesn't have more views; it's incredible

12) The Trishas - "John Wayne Cowboy" (link opens in Spotify) (from the album High, Wide & Handsome)
"Comes in like an earthquake/ Bends but never breaks/ Look-you-in-the-eye handshake/ That's all in takes"
I already wrote about this steel-guitar heavy gem:
The arrangement, the melody, and that steel guitar just sound downright dirty. Jamie Wilson is singing here about a certain type of man, one who doesn't come off as a faux-machismo douchebag, but as authentic. He's a rough-and-tumble, look-you-in-the-eye, firm-handshake, no bullshit kind of man. Some would call this type of man John Wayne-esque, hence the title of the song. It probably references a few of his movies, but I'm only familiar with The Searchers so I may have missed a few of them. But it doesn't matter when a song's this good. The worst part about it is the steel guitar solo that kicks in around the 2:50 mark doesn't last nearly long enough. Still, it is five seconds of beautiful twangy brilliance.

11) Old Crow Medicine Show - "Ain't It Enough" (from the album Carry Me Back)
"Throw your arms 'round each other/ And love one another/ 'Fore it's only one life that we got/ And ain't it enough"
If you didn't know, this band is a hell of a lot more than "Wagon Wheel," and this beautiful ballad proves as much. The composition is simple and straightforward, just like the message: we've only got one life, do what makes you happy, and rely on each other to get through the hard times.

Click here for my favorite songs of 2012, numbers 50 through 31