This week I'm featuring some of the songs that I’ve had on repeat this year. All of them (except “The Banjo Song”) have been included on a Spotify playlist, but because seeing the artist perform live or as part of an orchestrated music video can be a valuable part of the journey, I've also included links to the visual experiences of these songs too.
There’s been a lot of catchy, calming and confontational music streaming into my ears this year, some of it from awhile ago that I'd somehow managed to miss before. I guess I'm surprised at how many of the songs that I listened to over and over skewed towards roots, country and folk, although there were some prominent exceptions, as you’ll see. Maybe it was a general longing for simpler times.
So here goes. 17 songs from 13 different artists that I couldn’t have done without in 2022. I hope that at least some of these songs (and maybe artists) will be new to you, and just as engaging.
1. Rosalia, “La Fama.”
I haven't gotten far into the “more experimental” tracks on Rosalia's acclaimed new album “Motomami” (which seemed to make every critic’s top-10 list for the past year), but the disk also includes her hoot of a song La Fama, a musical colab and ritual slaying involving The Weeknd that first dropped a year ago. The song’s over-the-top music video is MC’d by no less than Danny Trejo, the star of the epic, Robert Rodrieguez-helmed, classic B-movie bloodspiller “Machete,” so those in-the-know will know what’s coming next. The video and song showcase Rosalia (pictured above) as a Spanish pop diva with fatal charms, and it’s more than enough to fall back on while I try and find the satisfaction in this artist’s more adventurous material. You’ll likely feel the same.
2. Soul Glo, “Jump or Get Jumped.”
There’s always some Philly music in my year-end mix, but I wouldn’t have discovered the “hard-core punk band with a hip-hop attitude” that calls itself Soul Glo if they hadn’t been singled out by (of all things)The Economist for delivering one of the year’s best albums. As I found out later, music critic Anthony Fantano called their most recent emission “a shot-gun blast with a whole lot to say.” For your viewing, listening and enlightenment pleasure (if you can stay that long), may I recommend Jump or Get Jumped. It’ speaks to what it's sometimes like for me to live in this crazy town.
3. Weyes Blood, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody.”
The artists Weyes Blood, Joan Shelly and Marcus Mumford could not be farther from Soul Glo on the spectrum of musical genres. Theirs is more akin to Appalachian roots and British folk, but each one of them made stick-with-me contributions this year. For example, my favorite song these days is Weyes Blood’s It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody, which Fresh Air’s music critic Ken Tucker calls “the best Joni Mitchell song you never heard.” I could not agree more (with almost the highest praise you could ever give to a new song). I’m still a bit wowed by this one.
4. Joan Shelley “Easy Now,” “Stay on My Shore," "Not Over By Half."
Joan Shelley was a new discovery for me this year, and a happy one. Hailing from Louisville, Joan and her guitar picking bandmate bridge the American roots (like Iris Dement)/British folk (like Sandy Denny) horizons with a voice that’s as clear as a mountain stream and songs that wrap stories around your heart. I’ll let her introduce herself to you the way that I first heard her, in this 12-minute 3-song Tiny Desk set. (Yes, these are more songs worth watching played live.) Gorgeously sad and uplifting all–at-once, with a dash of Sea-Shanty thrown in for good measure.
5. Marcus Mumford, “Cannibal.”
(And speaking of sad and uplifting:) I’m more of a fan of Marcus Mumford on his own than I am of him with Mumford & Sons, although I’ve always liked his band well enough. A few years ago, I saw him join up with some other singer-songwriters and producer T Bone Burnett where they all had to write new songs during a brief residency together (no pressure!) and felt that Marcus came up with the best song by far in a group that included Elvis Costello and Rhiannon Giddens. That song was called “Kansas City.” The documentary about the making of the “New Basement Tapes” (after Bob Dylan’s earlier effort) was also terrific.
Anyway this year, while he was taking a hiatus from his band, Marcus confronted the sexual abuse he suffered as a kid in a ten-song cycle that began with him singing his way through the opening damage. That breath-taking song is called Cannibal, with only its bravery pulling him out of its tragedy. Don’t shy away!And after you’re done, you might want to listen to him talking about the arc of his experience (quite eloquently by the way, as pictured above) in a candid and frequently humorous interview that's full of the relief a grown man can feel when he comes out the other end.
6. Angel Olsen, “All the Good Times.”
After that, it feels like I should talk about an Angel Olsen song. I’ve been drawn to her voice (which stabs right into you) and songwriting (about themes that can leave you floored) for some years now (like her younger offerings “All Mirrors” and “Lark” in 2019). This year, I’m not talking about her excellent collaboration with Sharon Van Etten (“Like I Used To”) that lots of people crowed about, but the classically CountryAll the Good Times, which makes her sound all-grown-up and easily as potent.
7. Elliott Brood, “The Valley Town” and “The Banjo Song.”
At a time when a lot of music feels over-processed, this year I discovered (for the first time) a 3-piece “alternate country” band from Toronto that’s been apparently playing unfiltered to delighted music lovers for many years (two of their typically enthusiastic fans are pictured above). If you haven’t already been enjoying their infectious energy, here are two from Elliott Brood that I especially loved this year, one recorded live on their tour bus and the other at KEXP in Seattle. They’re called The Valley TownandThe Banjo Song. Seeing and hearing just might activate the audience in you too.
8. Alex Williams, “Rock Bottom” and “No Reservations.”
While Angel Olsen brings us her soulful twang, and Elliott Brood their magical harmonies, Alex Williams has a voice-box with the gravel and heart of the late Waylon Jennings. Honkytonk didn’t get any better this year than on Rock Bottom or No Reservations (both of which sound like, but aren’t, covers of road warrior anthems from deep in the music catalog). It’s hard to believe that Williams delivered songs with this much experience while he was still in his twenties.
9. Spoon, “Wild” and “Held.”
I’ve long been a sucker for Spoon, a band that hails from Austin Texas but that I always believed to be another British import. Maybe it’s because they learned so much from the pop British songbook before making a chapter of it their own. Wild, February’s lead-off single from their latest album, was one of my “foot stompers” this year, and the band’s cover of Heldis nearly as strong.
10. Khruangbin and Leon Bridges, “B-Side.”
One of the songs that took me through the summer, and one of the best overall, saw the classic soul/dub/rock/and psychedelia band Khruangbin (from Houston this time) working in collaboration with soulful crooner Leon Bridges on B-Side. This is another offering where the video-version is worth the price of admission, including the cowboy fringe on a band member’s coat blowing gently in the soft Texas wind. Mesmerizing.
11. Wizkid, “Bad to Me” and Tems, “Higher.”
And last but hardly least, their collaboration on the song “Essence” was a musical high-point for me in 2021 as some of you may recall (I’d hear it blaring from passing cars as I worked in the yard), but West-Africa-by-way-of-London's Wizkid and Tems had another banner year when they got back down to delivering the goods on their own. Check out Wizkid’s Bad to Me, which took me through October, and Tem’s stripped down Higher, that I first caught in November (each of their music videos bringing something new to their delivery.) These two--both alone and together--are plainly on a roll.
From where I’m listening, 2022 has been a terrific year for music lovers. If you have a minute, let me know some of the songs and artists that you’ve been listening to (and I've probably missed) over the past year. My playlists would always welcome more.
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Enjoy your Solstice-related holidays, whichever ones you're celebrating. When I see you again, it will be a whole new year of great songs to listen to.
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