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.
Just over a year after the release of her eponymous third album, Anna Laube has become Anna Elizabeth Laube and released her fourth album, “Tree”. She’s moved on from the playful experimentation of the previous album and produced a little classic of restrained melancholy where her pure, fluty vocals are set against sparse arrangements creating a lo-fi intimacy that perfectly matches the mood of the songs. With “Tree”, Anna has restricted her palette to sepia tones rather than the vibrant Technicolour of “Anna Laube”, although even the pared-down arrangements allow for some experimentation within the album’s sombre overall mood, which is enhanced with lashings of reverb on vocals and instruments.
The album opens with a Dylan cover, “Wallflower”, a melancholy old-country waltz telling the story of two lonely people in a crowded room, complete with some lovely fiddle fills. And that’s not the last of the songs in three-four time; the imploring “I Miss You So Much” with its wailing harmonica, the love ballad “Longshoreman” and “Lose, Lose, Lose”, the story of recovery from alcoholism, ruined by the reappearance of an old flame (at Christmas of all times). If you spliced together Patsy Cline and Rickie Lee Jones, it would sound like this.
“XO” is a gentle finger-picked acoustic version of the Beyonce song, helped along by a trumpet accompaniment, not the usual strident brass, but a muted version with a Mexican tinge. And finally, two absolutely beautiful songs. The title song is the story of a tree and the way it, and other trees, intertwines with our lives. The gentle acoustic arrangement and lovely multi-tracked harmonies are a contrast to the over-driven, but quiet and tasteful guitar solo; all of the parts fit together perfectly. “Please Let it Rain in California Tonight” expands from concern about drought to become a secular Lord’s Prayer with piano backing. It’s a deeply moving piece that is so catchy you’ll be singing along on the first listen.
“Tree” is a flawless album that works with limited soundscapes to create a mood that’s mainly melancholy with a few lighter touches for contrast. It’s a very beautiful piece of work.
“Tree” is released on Aah…Pockets! Records (Aah …Pockets!4) on Friday October 21st.