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BGS Top Songs of 2019

Dec 12, 2019

BGS Top Songs of 2019

Here at The Bluegrass Situation, we’re always eager to hear a new song. This year it’s likely that thousands of them drifted by, each with their own charms. Yet, rather than ranking our favorites, we decided simply to pick tunes that reached out and grabbed our attention in 2019 — listed here in alphabetical order. Take a look.

Brad Armstrong, “Carry Your Head High”

Formerly of the great Alabama art-folk outfit 13ghosts and more recently a member of the impossible-to-kill Dexateens, this Birmingham singer-songwriter has in the last few years emerged as a solo artist who can bend old musical forms into brand new shapes. “Carry Your Head High,” off his second album, I Got No Place Remembers Me, may be his most stunning composition yet, a churchly acoustic hymn of self-reckoning and survival that builds to a weird, intensely ecstatic climax. It’s the sound of a man shaking loose every last burden. – Stephen Deusner

Bedouine, “Echo Park”

Carrying on a long legacy of Eastside LA troubadours, Bedouine’s standout track from her brilliant sophomore album captures the essence of lackadaisical days in the Southern California sunshine by Echo Park Lake. On repeat all year long. – Amy Reitnouer Jacobs

Dale Ann Bradley, “The Hard Way Every Time”

An exquisite singer, Dale Ann Bradley has put her stamp on countless cover songs, but there’s something special about the way she interprets this 1973 gem written and recorded by Jim Croce. More than just singing it, she inhabits it. The poignant lyrics allude to lessons learned and dreams broken, but also the insistence that the narrator wouldn’t have done it any other way. Through Dale Ann’s perspective, it’s presented as a blend of nostalgia and fortitude, delivered by one of bluegrass’ most believable vocalists. Musical support from Tina Adair, Tim Dishman, Jody King, and Scott Vestal round out the good vibes. – Craig Shelburne

Tyler Childers, “All Your’n”

It was a banner year for Tyler Childers, whose seemingly endless run of sold-out tour dates gave way to a staggering sophomore album, Country Squire, that took his snarly Appalachian drawl and quick-witted lyrics to the top of the Americana charts (and to college football fans everywhere). From the sweeping piano at the outset to the final wail of affection, “All Your’n” elevates van-tour vernacular to a kind of love language — “loading in, and breaking down / my road dog, door-deal dreams” — with a grin of a chorus that conveys a confident, just-gets-better-with-time kind of intimacy, miles between be damned. – Dacey Orr Sivewright

Charley Crockett, “The Valley”

A life story set to music, “The Valley” recounts the bumps along the way for this Texas musician, who somehow overcame the obstacles — from tough family situations to open-heart surgery — to create an exceptional album of the same name. Echoing his own experiences, the instrumentation on “The Valley” is a pendulum of highs and lows, yet sits squarely in classic country territory, thanks to Crockett’s magnetic voice and the through line of superb steel guitar. – Craig Shelburne

Maya de Vitry, “How Do I Get to the Morning”

This earworm caught me after seeing Maya de Vitry at The Basement in Nashville a few months before the release of her album, Adaptations. If you’re not familiar, The Basement is essentially that – a small club below the former location of Grimey’s Records. It’s dark, intimate, and sports a max capacity of about 50, but de Vitry lit the place up with this one. It’s funky, soulful, positive, and it’s bound to leave you humming the chorus for weeks after your first listen. – Carter Shilts

J.S. Ondara, “American Dream”

A kid from Kenya, obsessed with Bob Dylan, wings his way to Minneapolis, starts playing music and, a few years later, has a deal with Verve Records and an acclaimed, highly affecting debut album. American Dream, indeed. But his song of that title is full of unsettling images — guns, beasts, ghosts — the darkness at once belied and deepened by his sweet, accented voice and lilting jazz-folk settings, echoing Van Morrison as much as the Bard of Hibbing. If you see him perform or talk with him (read our BGS feature from February), though, his hope and optimism beam through. – Steve Hochman

Our Native Daughters, “Black Myself”

Though watching a majority-white audience gleefully shout along to this righteously vengeful, imposing, empowered anthem by Amythyst Kiah might justifiably raise an eyebrow or two, this phenomenon is a testament to those Black musicians and creators who lead the way in actively un-writing myths that claim Black experiences and Black stories — especially those of Black women — are not relatable to the mainstream and its consumers. Recorded with Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell, and Leyla McCalla on Songs of Our Native Daughters, this track demonstrates that talking about our shared history, telling our truths without censorship or defensive reflexes, is key to moving forward with healing and intention. And just a dash of raisin’ hell, too. – Justin Hiltner

Tanya Tucker, “Wheels of Laredo”

For an album with a largely decentralized creative process — Tucker herself has been quoted in numerous interviews describing having to warm up to the songs, the recordings, and the entire project — While I’m Livin’ is a perfect distillation of the persona, the vim and vigor, and the pure X-factor that makes Tanya Tanya. (Read our Artist of the Month feature from August.) “The Wheels of Laredo,” written by Brandi Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth, remarkably sounds as if it’s been plucked directly from the subconscious and lived experiences of Tucker herself. A haunting refrain, “If I was a White-crowned Sparrow…” reminds us that the human barriers by which we allow ourselves to be thwarted are just that. Human. No one stops a sparrow at the border of a not-so-distant land. – Justin Hiltner

Yola, “Faraway Look”

You know an album is special when a deluxe edition is released in the same year of its debut. Yola’s Walk Through Fire is just that kind of record. (Read our interview.) The opening track, “Faraway Look,” sets up the album with a soaring chorus and vintage vibe, paving the way for what’s to come. And with four Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, it’s sure to continue its relevance well into 2020. — Chris Jacobs


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BGS Top Songs of 2019
BGS Top Songs of 2019