For as long as I can remember, music has provided a light I cannot resist: goosebumps, tears, revelation; there is no stronger force.
This has never been truer than the last twelve, impossible and inspiring months. I have written an album’s worth of new songs. But mostly, I’ve drafted off other artists’ like a sailor, their wind carrying me through this odd, awesome, bizarre and beautiful year.
These are the songs to which I’ve skateboarded in the dark, danced around the kitchen, road tripped, run, rode and crashed. These are the songs that kept me grounded, lifted me up and moved me forward — that kept my heart beating towards the future.
1) Ruston Kelly “Radio Cloud” – The minor fall and major lift never fails. Here, the ex-Mr. Kacey Musgraves, croons, presumably, about who we are, who we become, and what’s left behind. You can call me Moses.
2) Dawes “Good Luck With Whatever” – I like to quiz the girls on songs so that they learn the basics: Beatles, Springsteen, U2. I played Dawes so often in 2020, every time I quizzed them on any song at all, they guessed “Dawes.” Their new album’s title track is fun, funny, deep and rockin. The two-octave solo kills me too.
3) Mike Doughty “Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In The Future” – Big beats, odd lyrics and a chorus that doesn’t quit. This was my Summer Soundtrack: windows down, bass pumpin’, drivin’ through Greenville without a care. Lucy Lawless, magazine.
4) Fruit Bats “A Lingering Love” – This song has it all: a loping, poppy shuffle beat; shimmering guitars; slow, simmering build; and melancholy” “Goog to hear you’re feeling better. But I still got a ways.”
5) Jason Isbell “It Get’s Easier” – In the year in which I realized that there is no “new normal,” just constant uncertainty, this Nashville rocker reminded me that, “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.”
6) Nathaniel Ratliff “And It’s Still Alright” – From Velvet Underground to REM, “Alright” is perhaps rock ‘n roll most overused word. Still, it works because it WILL be alright. This song accompanied many, many miles of late night, deserted high school parking lot skateboarding. “Hard times you could find, it ain’t the way that you want … But it’s still alright.”
7) Josh Ritter “What The Night Brings” – The soundtrack to my 12-stitch bike crash! Like a locomotive chugging it’s way to the shimmering crescendo: “C’mon in it’s so good to see you it been so long I know I know! Let’s see where the night takes us. Let’s see where the night goes.” The ER, apparently. Still, worth every stitch.
8) Iron & Wine “Call It Dreaming” – I often clean the kitchen, bundle the recycling and take out the trash long after Abbi and the girls gone to bed, And happily, thanks to songs like this one. Again, a loping, acoustic shuffle builds towards a mellow barn burner, the kind that finds me twirling, snapping and shuffling in front of the dishwasher well after midnight.
9) Kacey Musgraves “Rainbow” – This is a holdover from 2019, kind of a modern “Hey Jude.” This year, the lyrics resonated even more deeply: “When it rains it pours, but you didn’t even notice.” Simple, elegant and immeasurably positive.
10) Benjamin Wagner “Only You” & “Walls No. 3” & Downstate Darlings “Hold On (Next December)” – I released remixes and music videos of these two songs this year. Lyrically, they remind me two key fundamentals: My Family Means Everything (“All I needed was the love you gave”), and Difficult Times Pass (“Even walls fall down”). Chris Abad’s late entry (“Hold On” was released last week!) is my new favorite Downstate song; it is big and beautiful, and reminds me to “hold on” for what matters most: friends and family.