Favorite Songs of 2016

Technically it’s still too early for end-of-the year lists, but I wanted to offer my appreciation for some of the lovely/melancholy/thoughtful music I’ve encountered throughout the past several months.  Similar to my selections last year, this is not a “best of” list, but a collection of songs that personally spoke to me. What these tunes all share are heartfelt sentiments and sincere delivery from the musicians. These compositions are some of my favorites of 2016.

Take a listen, and if you like what you hear, then check out the artists’ websites or, better yet, click on those purchase links.

“Easy” – Runaway Angel
Album: No End In Sight
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon

The penultimate track on the Canadian trio’s debut is less a break-up song than a statement of resolve. Bolstered by her bandmates Ann Chaplin and Stacey Zegers’ tight harmonies, Cadence Grace delivers a fiery vocal performance, blazing her way through the bridge with rousing intensity. The song’s narrator denounces both a former beau’s put downs and personal doubt, eventually realizing that leaving is simpler than living with regret: “Every time you told me that I couldn’t do better/Every time I told myself that I could never/Let myself believe that I could do this on my own/This is easy.”

“Painkiller” – Hadley Kennary
Album: Momentum EP
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp

Kennary (pronounced “canary”) possesses a soul-soothing voice that smoothly conveys the sometimes uncomfortable truths that flow from her pen. The bluesy “Painkiller” revolves around a woman unable to sate her yearning and loneliness through a series of trysts, yet she doggedly clings to her delusion that each time will be the last.  Kennary sympathetically vocalizes the narrator’s rising desperation, revealing the dangerous depths of addiction to an emotional high.

“Heal In Time” – Miles Calder & the Rumours
Album: Miles Calder & the Rumours
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon | Bandcamp

This mournful track from the New Zealand-based band showcases the group’s sweeping harmonies.

“Take The Cup” – Jake Anderson
Album: Comeback Kid
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon

My ears immediately pricked up when I heard this somber closing number on Anderson’s EP. While it’s not uncommon for country/Americana musicians to mention sin and salvation, I haven’t encountered many songs that actually reference the importance of communion. Anderson’s candid, matter-of-fact acknowledgment of falling short and desperately needing grace (despite outward appearances) is a welcome reminder of our common struggles.

“It’s Political” – Shannon LaBrie
Album: War & Peace
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon

This potent single from LaBrie’s acclaimed sophomore album is a timely protest that is part lament, part rallying cry. Clearly articulating the disillusionment of her generation, LaBrie also calls for the public not to relinquish control to those who would abuse it. Anyone who would dismiss the song as overly pessimistic may miss the thread of hopefulness in LaBrie’s voice as she seeks out a champion, simply “someone honest with integrity.”

“Marriage Ain’t The End of Being Lonely” – Emily Scott Robinson
Album: Magnolia Queen
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon

Like many budding artists, Robinson finds inspiration in the work of a bevy of beloved singer-songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin among others). Hopefully in the future an up-and-coming artist will list Robinson as an influence due to her intelligent, emotive compositions. “Marriage Ain’t The End of Being Lonely” movingly explores the pressures and pitfalls of domestic life, tracing a young woman’s evolution from a naive bride to a weary bearer of wisdom.

“Who I Want The World To See” – Alyssa Bonagura
Album: Road Less Traveled
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon

For her first solo release since 2012’s Love Hard, the singer-songwriter (and one-half of duo The Sisterhood alongside Ruby Stewart) embraces a rootsier, reflective approach. While her songs have been recorded by a wide range of artists, Bonagura’s also a fine talent in her own right. Throughout this gentle number  she questions her place in the world, wondering whether she’s living to her full potential, a sentiment that should resonate with both young and old.

“Just Drive” – Caryn Womack
Album: Til The Day I Die
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon
Review: Album Recommendation: Til The Day I Die

Womack’s knack for emotional, descriptive songwriting is highlighted on this tale of a woman fleeing an abusive relationship. The narrator demonstrates quiet, steady resilience in the face of personal turmoil, clinging to the peace that can only be found in silence.

“The Other Side” – Dan Patterson
Album: My Own Best Enemy
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon
Review: Album Recommendation: My Own Best Enemy

The final track on Patterson’s album centers around embracing the unknown. This expression of faith in the midst of uncertainty nods to the past, present and future, honoring the ones who’ve come before and those who are destined to follow.

“Something Good” – Mason Lee
Album: Something That You Know
Purchase: iTunes | Amazon
Review: Album Recommendation: Something That You Know

I’m hard-pressed to think of a love song I’ve enjoyed more this year than Lee’s “Something Good.” The tune’s clear-eyed, restrained approach to romance is far more relatable than sweeping declarations of undying devotion. This is the kind of honest songwriting that’s meant to withstand the test of time.