I’m apologising in advance if this selection’s a bit miserable, but with the year we’ve had and the people we’ve lost, some of these songs chime in perfectly with the zeitgeist. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite songs of this year from albums we’ve reviewed on MusicRiot. Please don’t trust my attempts to convey the importance of these songs, click on the links and hear them in all their glory. These songs will enrich your lives.
“Please Let it Rain in California Tonight”
From Anna Elizabeth Laube’s stunning album “Tree”, “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” shone out like a beacon as a powerful secular reworking of “”The Lord’s Prayer” with a sparse piano backing. It’s beautiful and moving and you really need to listen to it.
“Red Dress” – Amanda Rheaume
From yet another high-quality album, “Red Dress” stands out by virtue of its simplicity and emotional message. Amanda delivers a political message about the disappearance and murder of indigenous women in Canada (and by extension the North American continent) in a very matter-of-fact way with a focus on victim-blaming, Simple and incredibly effective.
“Ordinary Day” – Chris While and Julie Matthews
From the album “Shoulder to Shoulder” (which is packed with exceptional songs), “Ordinary Day” gives an insight into the everyday tragedy of the loss of a family member. The pathos isn’t emphasised, it’s just expressed in an ordinary way with an empty chair. One of the most moving songs I heard this year.
“Shadow in the Window” – Michael McDermott
Michael McDermott is a prodigious talent who you should have heard of already but probably haven’t. He released two stunning albums this year and this is a song from his acoustic album “Willow Springs”. “Shadow in the Window” is on the theme of loss again as he tries to make sense of the death of his father and the gap that it created in his life. It’s powerful on the album, but you really should hear him play it live.
“Unplug the Machine” – Wild Ponies
From another album (“Radiant”), absolutely packed with great songs, “Unplug the Machine” taps into the energy of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as it runs through a list of things that are wrong with the world today (and this was released before Trump was elected) at breakneck speed. I could listen to this time after time after time and then maybe a few times more.
I’m sure they wouldn’t have wanted it this way, but Doug and Telisha Williams have tapped in to the zeitgeist with this album released so soon after the latest atrocity in Florida. “Radiant” has more than its fair share of message songs including one that deals with sexual intolerance and another that has references to gun massacres and sexual intolerance (and lots of other things). By a strange coincidence, those two songs, “Love Is Not a Sin” and “Unplug the Machine” are among the standout songs on the album, but by no means the only ones. The playing and the vocals are perfect throughout as Doug and Telisha are supported by Megan Jane and Fats Kaplin and their overall sound is beefed up by Doug’s switch from acoustic to electric (Telecaster, of course).
The album covers a variety of styles, from the sixties-styled, reverb-soaked opener “Born with a Broken Heart” to the pure country of “Mom and Pop” and the lyrics range across message songs, revenge songs and songs about Catawba tree watching over generations of families and silently witnessing the changes in their circumstances in “Tower and the Wheel”. “Radiant” is full of songs that are superbly crafted and arranged, particularly a section of three songs in the middle of the album.
“Mom and Pop” is country all the way, with a lead vocal from Doug, as it tells the story of a small-town store forced out of business by the big retail players. It’s powerful social comment made more poignant by the little details about the creaky floorboards the owner never got round to fixing and the relief that Mom and Pop aren’t around to see the end of their store. “Unplug the Machine” is raw power from the start, the verses spitting out a rapid list of the world’s ills in the style of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” before erupting into the catchiest chorus I’ve heard in ages; you’ll be singing along at the top of your voice. It’s an anthem. “The Night We Never Met” drops down through the gears to a sixties girl group sound with a story that’s an alternative take on Goffin and King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, where the lovers don’t actually meet. It’s a lovely (and very clever) song which captures the style perfectly.
“Radiant” combines a passionate commitment to social and environmental issues with lovingly-crafted songs to create an album that inspires a questioning attitude without sounding preachy; that’s quite an achievement.
“Radiant” is out I the UK on Friday June 24th on No Evil Records (NER003).
They’re also touring the UK and Europe at the moment and you can catch them in these places .