by Julian Spivey
Caitlin Cannon – Amarillo and Little Rock
Caitlin Cannon’s “Amarillo and Little Rock” will just about drop you to your knees with its story of breaking down – both figuratively and literally - somewhere on the road between Amarillo and Little Rock. I completely understand lines like: “always running behind, never can catch up.” It’s such a well-written song by Cannon with a nice conversational tone.
Sundy Best – Bad Imagination
This must be a particularly moody year for me thus far based on my 10 best of the year so far and Sundy Best’s “Pure Imagination,” from its album Feel Good Country, is certainly one of my favorites. The song, co-written by Nicholas Jamerson and Adam Landry, sees a narrator who’s stopping himself from being happy in life and features one of the year’s most unique, original and simply interesting melodies. Jamerson also cut a version of the song for his solo album, Peace Mountain, which is quite a bit different in its overall sound (I prefer the Sundy Best version) but still worth a listen for sure.
Colby Acuff – Boy and a Bird Dog
There are a lot of depressing, longing, sad songs on my 10 best of 2023 so far in the country and Americana genres list, but this ain’t one of those. Colby Acuff’s “Boy and a Bird Dog,” from his album Western White Pines, is a fun slice-of-life tune about a young boy spending all of his free time out in a field hunting with his best friend, his bird dog. It’s lovely and you’ll be sure to whistle along.
Brandy Clark – Buried
Brandy Clark’s “Buried” is one of the most beautiful and devastating songs I’ve heard so far this year in its tale of undying, but unreciprocated love. In the song she tells of all of the things she can do to pass the time and not think about her past love like reading “Lonesome Dove” and falling asleep to “Hallelujah,” but you can tell by her vulnerability in her voice that it’s next to impossible. The final line of the song will flatten you. “Buried” reminds me a bit of one of my all-time favorite country songs – “I’ll Think of Something” (Mark Chesnutt’s version).
Boygenius – Cool About It
I’m honestly not sure if Boygenius – the super trio of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus - should be included in the seemingly ever-encompassing Americana genre (Indie rock and folk rock are what their Wiki page labels them), but I like the song, so it’s here. “Cool About It” has the trio beautifully singing over a softly picked guitar about a seemingly young relationship that isn’t working out. I particularly love the line: “I can walk you home and practice method acting.”
Colter Wall – Evangelina
I realize what I’m about to say will be blasphemous for some, but some of Colter Wall’s recent past stuff has been a bit too Canadian wilderness, old-timey for me. I enjoyed his 2017 self-titled release but hadn’t heard a lot that hit my ear since then. His cover of the old Hoyt Axton Western song “Evangelina” immediately hit my ear. It tells the tale of a cowboy looking to get back home to the Mexican woman he loves through the hot desert sun.
Josiah and the Bonnevilles – Jersey Giant
“Jersey Giant” is freakin’ everywhere. The song was written, but never recorded by Tyler Childers, why I don’t understand, but he made it available recently for other artists and multiple ones immediately bit the hook. I first heard the song from the wonderful rendition by Elle King on her latest Come Get Your Wife, but my favorite performance of the song is by Josiah and the Bonnevilles. “Jersey Giant” sees the narrator recalling a past love and all the good times they had together and how he’s more than willing to relive some of them if his love just says yes.
Ashley McBryde – Light on In the Kitchen
Ashley McBryde is one of the best singer-songwriters currently in the country genre and the great thing about her music is it’s crossed over a bit into the mainstream – even if it hasn’t been as successful in the mainstream as it should be. She really gets the country life down in her music and “Light on In the Kitchen,” which she co-wrote with Jessi Alexander and Connie Harrington, is a perfect example of this as an advice song from one’s elder about life. I can’t wait for her latest album, The Devil I Know, which drops on September 8.
Jason Isbell – Middle of the Morning
Jason Isbell has been my favorite singer-songwriter over the last decade and his latest album Weathervanes just came out a few weeks ago and I’m still taking my time with it – but “Middle of the Morning” was one of the album’s singles released some time before the album that I’ve had longer to let sit in my head and it’s truly one that’s spoken to me – which is kind of unfortunate because it’s not exactly I happy song. Isbell has a knack for writing songs and lyrics that I really identify with and, of anything released this year thus far, this is the one that gets me the most.
Brennen Leigh – Running Out of Hope, Arkansas
I like creative wordplay and some of the best of it I’ve heard thus far in 2023 is Brennen Leigh combining the phrase “running out of hope” with the city of Hope, Ark. in her bluegrass number “Running Out of Hope, Arkansas” off her latest album Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet. Getting out of your small town and seeking something greater in life has always been one of my favorite musical themes, and Leigh has this feeling down well on this track.