Feature /// Lockeland Springsteen’s Favorite Local Songs of the Year

2015 was a wonderful year for music – particularly local music. With so much noise elsewhere (ahem, Donald Trump), it was a gift to have seriously great sounds to drown it all out in sonic bliss. There was a lot of good news, too: classic country started to break through the bro mold into the mainstream, songwriters like Jason Isbell topped the charts and beloved Nashville bands like Bully rang their confessional punk through everyone’s ears. For our Favorite Local Songs of the Year, we traced through those and more, landing with a list as diverse as our fair town itself. The only common thread is that each and every one moved us, to both dance, cry, mourn and think. Read our top thirty picks below, voted by Team L/S (Marissa, Katie, Kevin, Kimberly, Shanning and Joe). Listen to (most) of the songs here if you haven’t already. Thanks for a fantastic 2015 –  we have a lot in store for 2016, and are so glad you are with us for the ride.

Lockeland Springsteen’s Favorite Local Songs of 2015 :::

  1. Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town” ::: Southeastern stamped a kind of watermark on Jason Isbell’s career that cannot, and should not, be copied or recreated, and it left most of us wondering what could possibly follow such a powerful breakthrough. And then he gave us Something More Than Free, an eleven-track explanation of what it means to be of the South. Something More is a potentially bewildering but still beautifully honest description of what the South really is, conveyed through unparalleled musicianship and songwriting. For the critics and listeners lost in the “non-descript and placeless” nature of this album, it is anything but. This album doesn’t aim to create that aesthetically stereotyped landscape of the South, but instead, it thoughtfully embodies the provocative and sought-out mood of it, a kind of energy that people crave to experience—the regional, Southeastern disposition. Isbell has a seemingly effortless ability to share a narrative and emit that kind of energy that dissolves the picket barriers, and being backed by a band so talented and sensitive to the lyrical intention of the music only makes his stories (arguably, story) more compelling.  “Speed Trap Town” is one chapter from his narrative that strips down to his voice and acoustic for a majority of the song, giving his distinguished lyricism the spotlight and giving us an obvious reason to rank him first. – Katie 

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  2. Bully – “Trying” ::: In which frontwoman Alicia Bognanno and company redefine the boundaries of what it means to be a “Nashville musician”, shoehorning the city’s brilliant rock scene into the national discussion. Feels Like is a half-hour of bludgeoning grunge abated by approachable, poppy hooks. 2015 has seen a surprising resurgence of the 1990s American “college rock” sound, but very few of the bands ascribing themselves to the moment had the gut-wrenching confidence that Bully displays on their first outing. The secretly shimmering highlight of the long player, “Trying,” is the last dance song at a senior prom where everyone in the room has an existential crisis while realizing the absurdity of the proceedings, staring down the shaky future of their friendships and the inevitability of chasing a “stupid degree” with fury dripping from their lips. – Kevin

  3. Jessie Baylin – “Black Blood” ::: Jessie‘s exquisite Dark Place is, in my opinion anyway, one of the most criminally underrated records of 2015. And I don’t want to credit its absence from year-end list and other rankings to the fact that she admitted this is an album for her young daughter, Violet, but I’m cynical enough to think the average critic’s capacity to take an album seriously about motherhood from a beautiful, happily married woman isn’t completely a non-issue. But you do not have to be a mother to adore and relate this album or this song – if you have ever loved someone so much the feeling nearly killed you, then Dark Place is your album, “Black Blood” your song. And I’m guessing that’s pretty much all of us. From the dreamy production to every corner of her exquisite voice, it hits like a devilish dream that’s one part sophisticated seventies croon, one part modern confessional, and completely unforgettable. – Marissa 

  4. Andrew Combs – “Nothing to Lose” ::: “Nothing to Lose” is Andrew Combs’ love letter to love, and no surprise, it’s lovely. The production is ambient; the lyrics dreamy. It would be a great addition on a breakup mixtape for the heartsick, and an even better first dance song for two lovebirds. The strongest track from his 2015 album All These Dreams, Combs sums up beautifully what is irrevocably true: love has nothing to lose. – Joe

  5. Julien Baker – “Blacktop” ::: I really fucking love Julien Baker’s debut record Sprained Ankle. Imagine if career breakthrough Tramp was Sharon Van Etten’s first record, and that she wrote it in her dorm room when she was 19. Infused with the pain of adolescent mistakes and the blinding light of future ones, the Murfreesboro-based Baker is the most promising talent to have seemingly sprouted fully formed from the blogosphere in 2015. Sprained Ankle is devastating in the same way that The Antlers’ Hospice was, confronting the listener with the task of bearing witness to the void. Baker looks with you, deducing no apparent escape other than shared empathy and a gasping hope in faith that resembles fingers clinging to the edge of a crumbling cliff more than fingers crossed in prayer at Sunday service. I found it hard to pick just one song from the album, so I just went with opener “Blacktop”. Press play, and continue from there. – Kevin 

  6. DVC_5189Lockeland SpringsteenErin Rae – “Soon Enough” ::: There are few young musicians so schooled in the art of subtle songcraft as Erin Rae, who floats through the deceivingly simple, pop-folk confection of “Soon Enough,” off her album of the same title, with so much knowledge of sublime musical balance it takes your breath away. In an era of more is better, she’s refined enough to know some tasteful strums and and clever, introspective lyrics can hold as much weight- if not more – than something loaded with excess. She praises another lost art here on “Soon Enough” – the art of patience – and it’s impossible not to stop, listen, and heed her advice. – Marissa 

  7. All Them Witches – “Open Passageways” ::: Coming off one of my favorite albums of this year, “Open Passageways” is a great representation of the new sound you’ll find on ATW’s latest album Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. The track stays true to ATW’s signature mixture of heavy, resounding drums and provocative vocals, but with more folk driven sounds than their previous works, putting to use acoustic strings, violin and plucky melodies. Trancey and atmospheric, “Open Passageways” stands strongly on its own and also fits in with the Gimlour-esque, pagan blues and dark folk tunes that have gained ATW a small cult following and easily takes the cake for one my favorite songs of the years. – Shanning 

  8. Natalie Prass – “Bird of Prey” ::: Long gestating, Natalie Prass’s self-titled record released at the beginning of 2015 was both a blessing and a curse to its creator. A blessing due to its well-received mastery of tone, a curse because of its burial at the start of an unexpectedly prolific year filled with other great examples of pop revivalism. Thankfully, most publications have recognized Prass’s achievement, a throwback effort dripping with soul and charm. “Bird of Prey”, one of the initial singles, is a jazzy number that conveys her thesis simply and cleanly. Anyone I’ve talked to about Natalie Prass gushes over the arrangements, and “Bird of Prey” is the best of the bunch, taking the most appealing qualities of Natalie’s songwriting while utilizing the Spacebomb repertory to dazzling effect. – Kevin

  9. Chris Stapleton – “Tennessee Whiskey” ::: Country music was kind to Chris Stapleton in 2015, and in return, Stapleton was kind to country music. Stapleton’s 2015 debut release Traveller was arguably the genre’s most important album of the year. It was raw, authentic, and most importantly, good. While many country artists of today are starting to swap out the steel guitar for a synthesizer, Stapleton’s go-to instrument is an acoustic guitar and his raspy voice. Much like “Tennessee Whiskey,” it has just the right amount of bite.  – Joe12194882_10153691664511460_3005817708661933983_o

  10. Margo Price – “Hurtin’ on the Bottle” ::: Anyone who has ever tried to drown their pain in a bottle of Jack Daniels knows what Margo Price is singing about on this track that served as her first official release as a new Third Man Records artist. But no one can sing about it with as much sly, twangy candor, in her perfect mix of vintage country and modern attitude. It’s no wonder another Jack – Jack White – took notice. Margo’s a complete original, which is exactly what you need when you’re keeping a bro’d-out genre alive: game changers, not copycats.  Marissa

  11. Thunderbitch – “Eastside Party”  ::: If anything melds my past life of teenage CBGB punk shows in NYC and bizarro East Village parties with my new one of East Nashville, Thunderbitch is it, in all their weird, raucous glory. Can we keep you, Brittany Howard? Clearly, you belong here, and “Eastside Party” is proof why. – Marissa 

  12. Boom Forest – “Stay” ::: There just aren’t many creators like John Paul Roney, the visionary behind Boom Forest, a self-classified experimental project. This year’s album, Post Knight Errant, is a folk revival (as the genre relates to the human) synergized by electronic elements and resulting in atmospheric and engulfing soundscapes with changing tides. “Stay” is a track that sweeps you up a little closer to the sun and makes you dance to the beat of several rhythms layered to consume you.  – Katie 

  13. Sam Lewis – “Never Again” ::: Why Waiting On You didn’t end up on everyone’s “best of 2015” list is beyond me, so it’s only right to include a track off of his sophomore release on ours. Sam Lewis is one of the most authentic songwriters and performers I’ve experienced in Nashville, and I hope my native status puts some weight on that statement. He can command a room with just his guitar and lived-in voice, and it’s all because of his simple arrangements, timeless lyrics and melodic charm. It’s the kind of songwriting that will haunt history and the kind of performance that draws you in and keeps you there for awhile. And if you need a second opinion, Chris Stapleton is a Sam Lewis fan and has invited him to open at the Ryman in February. But I’ve got a feeling that the sacred venue will like what it hears, and he’ll be back, but as a headliner, in no time. -Katie

  14. Anderson East – “Satisfy Me” :::  Lying somewhere between blue-eyed soul and southern gospel is “Satisfy Me,” Anderson East‘s single from his 2015 album Delilah. In today’s world of overproduction and synthesized sounds, East is an organic as they come. The Alabama boy is a throwback to the era when horns were cool and words were simple. “Satisfy Me” served as a major breakthrough for East, meaning that both he and listeners everywhere are equally satisfied. – Joe

  15. Kacey Musgraves – “High Time” ::: I don’t know how she managed to top her Grammy-winning debut album, but Kacey did with Pageant Material. Swelling with retro strings and sitting in the sweet spot of the Texan singer’s voice, this track kicks off the album with her spunk and clever lyrics, co-penned with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally. But whether she’s covering TLC’s “No Scrubs” at her live shows or hiding tracks with Willie Nelson, you can’t deny that she’s got talent to-(rhinestone) boot. – Katie 

  16. Rayland Baxter – “Mr. Rodriguez”Rayland-Baxter ::: If I would have had this song when I was on summer break in college, road tripping solo up and down the East Coast, it easily would have been my year’s anthem. Even so, it easily deserves a top spot on my playlist for the year. Upbeat, carefree and whimsical, “Mr. Rodriguez” appeals to the inner hippie in my soul. – Shanning

  17. Dave Rawlings Machine – “The Weekend” :::  On Nashville Obsolete, the seven-track 2015 release from Dave Rawlings Machine, “The Weekend” clocks in at 5:29 and is still the third-shortest track on the album. This should tell you something about Rawlings. Firstly, he likes to jam, and secondly, he likes to tell a good story. In Rawlings’ “Weekend,” we meet a “ballerina, opera singer, and Southern belle,” and this is all before the first verse ends. Obsolete will remind some listeners of The Band, and much like the great folk rock group that brought us “The Weight,” there is no shortage of characters with Rawlings. – Joe

  18. Eric Church – “Knives of New Orleans” ::: We realize the resistance some might feel to us including a Music Row staple on our year-end list, but to eliminate something mainstream just because that’s not what an obediently indie music blog does would be a sore mistake. If it’s good, it’s good – and this song, from his surprise LP Mr. Misunderstood, is great; it’s Bruce Springsteen exploring Tom Waits’ New Orleans, with more poeticism in the lyrics than any of his black-hatted, chart-topping peers. – Marissa

  19. Adia Victoria – “Howlin’ Shame” ::: The Atlanta native has been garnering praise for her ability to weave back-porch blues with poetry resulting in hybrid genre ‘gothic country.’  Months later and  “Howlin’ Shame” is still only a tease of the talent Adia is keeping up her sequined dress sleeve. In fact, her performance at the High Watt last August still has me shook. – Kim Adia 4 Solo LoRes Veta&Theo-1

  20. Darrin Bradbury – “Exile on Myrtle Beach” ::: I love Darrin Bradbury’s rambling poetry – you can call him a folk satirist, but maybe satire is just another word to describe someone who sees the world in different colors than you usually do. “Exile on Myrtle” beach is a horn-laced happy example. – Marissa 

  21. Promised Land Sound – “Otherworldly Pleasures” ::: “Otherworldly Pleasures” is a delightfully perplexing track to both listen to and analyze. Upon first hearing it, one might be brought back to the glory days of grunge. Listen again and you might hear some White Stripes-esque garage rock. Listen one more time and you’ll pick up on some tight harmonies that make you wonder if these guys are really lo-fi or simply really damn good. Whatever you hear, it’s fitting that it’s tough to describe; otherworldly pleasures should always remain surrealistic. – Joe

  22. The Arcs – “Everything You Do” ::: “The Arcs easily manifested one of the greatest musical experiences this year with Yours, Dreamily, an album of hued Western psychedelia written and brought to life by some of today’s music all-stars. Blending brass, bird calls and a trot rhythm, this track is one trance-like piece in their exhibit that keeps you going back for just one more listen.” – Katie 

  23. Aaron Lee Tasjan – “E.N.S.A.A.T (East Nashville Song About a Train)” ::: ALT isn’t your “in the round” kind of songwriter; he’s the songwriter who is in and around town, living on the East side and writing brilliant poems and melodies to make you laugh and think. In The Blazes, one of the most talked about albums this year, was “off the cuff,” according to the pen-holder and song-slinger, and “E.N.S.A.A.T.” is a perfect representation of his wit and talent, all meshed together and tied with a perfectly frayed edge. -Katie

  24. ELEL – “Kiss Kiss” ::: It’s easy to get caught in the sonic swirl that is ELEL, but the kaleidoscopic collective makes the hypnosis undeniable with their catchy lyrics and layers. Ending 2015 with “Kiss Kiss,” the single is less sugary than “40 Watt,” their indulgently poppy release, but it’s still just as sweet. – Katie 

  25. Mike Floss – “Dopeboy Dreaming” ::: One hot summer night, Third Man asked Mike Floss to put on a last minute show in the Blue Room and, hell, why not make it free? The house was packed and Floss had the crowd in the palm of his hand keeping the energy through the roof while hyping himself up simultaneously. Everyone was already sold, but when Floss performed “Dopeboy Dreaming,” his debut single from his new mixtape Don’t Blame the Youth, it became clear that Floss made a name and a lot of new followers. Floss describes the song best himself as the “fork in the road of really jumping into a dopeboy lifestyle or sticking with the boredom and stress of a more average life.” I think the former suits him well. – Kim 11052440_1591639981110488_3648802403127294128_n

  26. Diamond Rugs – “Ain’t Religion” ::: The supergroup’s sophomore release, Cosmetics, oozes with 8-track energy and deconstructed arrangements that give the band their recognizable sound. This song ditches the rattle and horns and hones in on the synthesizer and organ, letting the vocals champion the lyrics over blended tones and acoustic strums. – Katie 

  27. Blackfoot Gypsies – “Pork Rind” ::: Off of their latest album, Handle It, “Pork Rind” epitomizes early Mississippi blues fused with Folk and Pop feels. “Pork Rind” reminds me of the sort of music I grew up listening to on a single speaker box radio out in the country in Deep South MS. For the people who didn’t grow up listening to that sort of music, I think The Gypsies have found a way to successfully modernize the authentic sounds of Southern blues in this upbeat, party single. – Shanning

  28. Turbo Fruits – “The Way I Want You” ::: From their newest album No Control, “The Way I Want You” is one of the most honest and heartfelt songs I’ve heard from the poppy garage rock act yet. Paired with a killer (we mean that literally) music video which features frontman Jonas Stein being beaten up by a sexy MMA fighter, “The Way I Want You” is very worth wanting. – Shanning

  29. Idle Bloom – “Mind Reader” ::: Bully blew the lid open on Nashville’s ever-growing garage rock scene earlier this year, and local four-piece Idle Bloom seems poised to go into 2016 with the same fervor, adding a slightly psychedelic scuzzy factor to their take on the genre. Bonus points awarded to the video for this song, a hyperspeed fever dream set in New Nashville. – Kevin

  30. Cage the Elephant – “Too Late to Say Goodbye” ::: Rounding out the list and the year, this single from Cage’s very recent release is but one takeaway from Tell Me I’m Pretty, an album that cut grooves down new avenues, some obviously guided by their producer, Dan Auerbach. Making melancholy a complete ruckus, the Kentucky-turned-Nashville rockers have topped their last album, and this track is just one reason why.– Katie A. 

Honorable mentions :::

Andrew Leahey & the Homestead – “Little In Love” ::: though we wrote about this tune when it was first released in 2013 (and therefore making it ineligible for this list), we were thrilled to hear Andrew had re-crafted this perfect ode to the blossoming early buds of love, full of vibrant lyrics and warm, southern-tinged classic rock melodies with his own unique twist. We can’t wait to hear his new LP coming in 2016 via Thirty Tigers, produced by Wilco’s Ken Coomer. – Marissa

TORRES – “Strange Hellos” ::: I’m a sucker for a great opening song. Sprinter’s “Strange Hellos” is, by my standards, the best opening song of the year. It starts out inviting enough, Mackenzie Scott sing-speaking over a quiet strum. Then, the initial comfort wears off pretty quickly once the lyrics start to come into focus. Scott is singing of an ex-lover, an ex-friend, an ex-something. Then, the arrangement opens up in a typical grunge fashion to sustain the verse, segueing into a brilliantly engaging guitar-laden bridge that allows the song to recede back into a quieter section that doesn’t last long before ramping up the tension, exploding by the time Scott gets to the second chorus. She ends wailing and clawing herself against the narrative she’s had the audacity to place as our reintroduction to her music as TORRES. Somehow, the rest of the album sustains this dichotomy of someone trying to rectify the necessity of screaming out every grievance with the expectations that come with trying to live a life devoid of conflict. In a way, this balancing act becomes its own conflict, something Mackenzie Scott doesn’t allow us to forget, using the backdrop of faith as her pulpit in the name of the catharsis of accepting yourself and what you are capable of so long as you realize your own power. – Kevin

LS Stars

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