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The Show on the Road – Music That Moved Me in 2022

Dec 22, 2022

The Show on the Road - Music That Moved Me in 2022

How can one try and summarize the soundtrack to their life in a year? Indeed, we are in year three (!) of this endless pandemic and I find I am more and more drawn to pure escapism, fantasy and what I might call the “new nostalgia”? Personally, I don’t go more than a few hours in the day (or during sleep at night) without something on, whether it’s playing on my bluetooth speakers around the house, or in headphones as I walk the dog or the toddler around the neighborhood, or in the car rolling to the next spot.


As I teeter towards 40, I admit I love old school radio – while driving especially – and while most of the year has felt like a bit of a creative slog, I was thrilled to finally launch my own radio show on actual airwaves which you can listen to on Saturday mornings. And as a new dad, I am not ashamed to say that playlists like morning classical chill or sadgirl piano background are what actually got me through.

But what about the songs that moved me? I live for a new song that knocks me out of my reverie: unexpected lyrics, or ripping solos, or funky beats that slap me across the face and make me go, “WHAT. WAS. THAT?” And there are some songs in the list below that surely did that. But does one song sum up a whole year? A year that began with me almost losing my wife to a horrifying rare syndrome while giving birth to our daughter? Of seeing her recover courageously and witnessing my daughter growing like a grinning weed that careens from room to room like a joyful banshee? Or traveling the country playing songs I wrote to sometimes empty or sometimes full theaters or festivals or saloons of happy or heckling strangers? Or talking to dozens of hard-working bands and songwriters with my mic from Nova Scotia to London, from Minneapolis to New Orleans, or right in the front bar of LA’s hallowed Troubadour? How can songs, like short stories, be stitched together to create the novel that is your life?

Maybe one can’t really sum up a year like 2022 with a few songs. But if you are curious about some of the music that did truly move me or make me smile or got me through, this is it! I truly love these tracks. I will always love them. Are all of these safe for your to blast at work? Probably not! But let’s get started, shall we?

Anna Moss feat. Rainbow Girls, “Big Dick Energy”

While this song has only been out a month or so, it really might be my song of the year. I’m new to Anna’s work, but call me quite intrigued: her videos from around her Bay Area base keep popping into my feed like folky soul gems with plenty of dark humor to spare. Think John Prine meets Grace Slick.

But when she put out “Big Dick Energy,” with its slithering flute, pulsing beat and openly cocky lyrics (and accompanying video of a shirtless dude being chased by aggressive ladies throughout San Francisco) I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. She mentions in an Instagram piece that while there are plenty of jokes to be had in the tune, “being a woman in a patriarchal society can feel so heavy…” and the song arrived really because she was tired of “not being seen or heard for your full humanity, but only being seen as a sex object for mens pleasure…” However you want to confront the patriarchy, this song is a jam. I can’t get enough. Turn it up.

The Deslondes, “Five Year Plan” (Ways & Means)

Say what you want about Spotify’s discovery algorithm, but it really does know what I want a lot of the time. A song that it kept knowingly nudging me towards is this cheerfully melancholy mission statement from Sam Doores and his group who are based in New Orleans. How to describe their sound? Maybe it fits into that modern nostalgia movement I keep hinting at. Rootsy ragtime soul? No. It just feels good listening to them. Regardless, I too have been thinking how I can become a “better man” this year – while feeling like a howling child and a full grown tax paying adult (and now dad) at the same damn time.

We don’t know who or where we will be in five years – and that’s OK. And somehow we needed Sam in his wise, gravely voice and jangly piano to remind us that just keeping on is a victory in itself.

Melissa Carper, “Makin’ Memories” (Daddy’s Country Gold)

Maybe my favorite artist find of the year, Melissa has been making groovy “new old-time” music in plain sight for years with several bands from Austin to New Orleans. But it was with 2021’s Daddy’s Country Gold and this year’s Ramblin’ Soul that she put her solo work front and center. The results are marvelous. Imagine transporting yourself to a Texas honky tonk from some bygone era you just barely missed. I want to go there.

To be honest, there’s nothing revolutionary about this track I picked here – truly I just can’t get it out of my head. Her friends and bandmates may call her “daddy,” but I like how she describes herself the “Hillbilly Holiday” for she does have a similar high-lilting vocal cadence – and yet at the same time, she also is the upright bassist in her band. She may not be a young rising talent, but things are coming from her, I feel it.

Seratones, “Good Day” (Love & Algorhythms)

This funk rock outfit from Shreveport, Louisiana has been making deeply danceable jams for years, but this groovy and riotously positive bop which came out earlier in the year really lifted me up when I was in a dark spot. I remember turning on 88.5FM The Socal Sound in the parking lot of Cedars-Sinai hospital as I was on the verge of tears leaving my wife in the ICU. I was driving my tiny daughter home by myself, not sure if my wife would ever join us. I instantly forgot everything and listened to the whole thing at full volume.

This song contains multitudes: prayers, declarations, hope, dreamy synths and old school Jackson 5 guitar patterns, bubble sounds, bird sounds? Harmonies for days, massive gospel lead vocal showpieces, you name it. If you’re feeling down, this might turn you around fast.

Ondara, “An Alien in Minneapolis” (Spanish Villager No. 3)

Ondara came from Kenya and now lives in Minneapolis where he has been creating some of the most innovate modern folk music of the last five years, garnering a Grammy nod in the process. I was able to talk to him a few months back for the Show on the Road podcast, and it felt like getting a masterclass on what the immigrant artist experience really is in our fractious unfinished country. The sense of alienation and hope and expectation shine through on this catchy opening track from his sensational new LP.

Oddly, it feels like if Fleetwood Mac teamed up with Tracy Chapman. You will dig.

Onda Vaga, “Milagro”

I have tried to make a point of listening to more music from other countries, sung in other languages, this year. As Americans, we are spoiled to have an endless array of English-language art created for our every taste, from folk music to hip-hop to jazz to rock ‘n’ roll. Not to be overly obvious here, but there is a whole crazy world out there also creating magical music from Buenos Aires to Capetown, from Prague to San Juan. Why not look a bit beyond your comfort zone?

I’ve been a fan of this group for years. They began in 2007 in Uruguay but are now based in Argentina (congrats on the World Cup!) and I just rediscovered them through this beautiful harmony-rich track. Put it on and take a little vacation with your ears.

Silvana Estrada, “Tristeza” (Marchita)

The daughter of luthiers from Veracruz, Mexico, Silvana has been taking the world by storm with her rustic blend of vocal-bending flamenco and Mexican folkloric traditions, snagging the Best New Artist award at the Latin Grammys this year.

A friend of a friend who I trust to always send me the best Spanish-language music connected me to her a few years back and I can’t get enough of what she’s creating. Her videos, often shot in public squares around Mexico, are especially entrancing. I was lucky to be her first English-language podcast taping last year, and she told me that this track speaks to the pervasive sadness we all have when we wonder why a love affair went wrong.

The Heavy Heavy, “Sleeping On Grassy Ground” (Life and Life Only)

When you put this track on, the dreamy reverb and soaring harmonies alone bring you into a sun drenched field during Woodstock – or maybe onto a sandy beach in Malibu having a picnic with friends while on mushrooms. But really it’s an act of fantasy by two talented young Brits based in Brighton, which is neither sunny nor currently in the year 1969. Sure, “new retro” may be a dumb genre placeholder, but as I got to talk to them for my podcast – I realized that what they are creating is a kind of delicious time machine for our ears.

Why do those old records our parents swayed to in high school still sound so good? Maybe we all need the chance to get back to that utopian late sixties feeling where anything was possible. I often find myself feeling a bit skeptical about how the young people will change the world for the better, but somehow this self produced rock-n-roll EP (which could be a glorious Mamas and The Papas outtake) reminds me to just sit back and sway to the music, and make that be enough.

The Cactus Blossoms, “Hey Baby” (One Day)

Look, there is a time and place for music that “goes hard” or blasts you into a new headspace. Death metal remains very popular around the world, but what I needed most this year? Something chill, and sweet and deeply groovy. I love bands (unlike my own) where I know exactly what I’m about to get – like a savory double-double animal style at In-N-Out. It always hits the spot no matter the city or time of day you order it.

These Minneapolis-based brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum have a new record out this year in One Day that traffics in their signature sibling harmonies, chugging guitars and Everly Brothers-adjacent vintage roots-n-roll, but seems to add a little edge behind the vocal tenderness. And teams up with another forever favorite of mine, the ever squirmy Jenny Lewis. The eleven love-lorn songs hit me right where I needed it.

This opening track feels like it was written in the passenger seat of an old car as it was flying though the endless flat highways of the midwest I grew up in. The narrator casually wonders if it “will all work out.” What a question. Then he slyly reminds himself, like the quiet pep talk we all need: “It always works out.” Touché.

Dustbowl Revival, “Be (For July)” (Set Me Free)

Yes, it’s always a bit awkward to say my own music is one of my year-end favorites, but let me step back for a moment. Sometimes a song can be a savior of sorts – a comfort during dark times for us adults, but also a piano lullaby to calm even the most enraged, tired youngster.

This song was like my Swiss-army knife this year. I started writing it on the 1918 piano that arrived like magic during the pandemic from my wife’s family in Ohio. At first it was about how we couldn’t quite get pregnant and the sadness that comes from that quest. Then, my wife did get pregnant and we had no idea who this little creature would be. It was an ode to their future. Then she was born and my wife almost died bringing her to us – and the song changed one last time. It became the song I played alone at home wondering how we all would end up. How I could plan a new life and write an epitaph. It was the song that swayed my daughter to sleep. Even now when she bawls in exhaustion, all me and Mom have to do is hum the chords and she seems to know – everything might be OK in the end.

Not to gush, but I am immensely proud of how this song turned out – especially with the harmonies from our amazing new singer Lashon Halley and the cello and violin parts added from our old fiddle phenom Connor Vance. Maybe it will give you some solace or comfort if you need it. I’m simply glad it exists!

Monica Martin, “Go Easy, Kid”

Maybe my most played and beloved song of the year, this tender opus to “not being so damn hard on ourselves” has two versions: the cinematic original from 2021 (my pick) or the updated piano-forward cut featuring its co-creator James Blake. Whichever one you pick, this song is a revelation. It took me into those long tours when I wondered if my music had any meaning – but also made me grateful that I did put my heart out into the world over and over without fear. We are all trying to get better and we can all be easier on each other. Sure I didn’t need this song to remind me of that, but maybe I did.

Monica is from Wisconsin but has been a best-kept secret in the LA scene for years. Seemingly on the verge of some kind of stardom each year with her rich and intimate vocal mastery, she has appeared with funk heroes Vulfpeck and on Mumford and Sons frontman Marcus’s Self-Titled solo debut among many others, but she has yet to release a full record herself. If this is a glimpse of what’s to come, her future LP made up of poetic, lush story songs will surely be in my collection the moment it drops.

Photo Credit: Silvana Estrada by Jackie Russo, Seratones by Joshua Asante, Melissa Carper by Lyza Renee

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The Show on the Road - Music That Moved Me in 2022
The Show on the Road - Music That Moved Me in 2022