Feature /// Lockeland Springsteen’s Favorite Local Songs of 2016

Let’s get this out of the way – 2016 was a devastating year for music, if you’re talking about what we lost: David Bowie, Prince, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, George Michael, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen. The list could go on and on. But 2016 was also an incredible year for music, if you think about what we gained. And that’s scores of wonderful records from our local artists and beyond. Margo Price went from the Beast to Saturday Night Live, letting the rest of the world in on a secret we knew all along – that she’s an unparalleled talent. Adia Victoria shook expectations about what kind of music defines the city, and came out with a stunning debut. Sturgill Simpson recruited the Dap-Kings for a sailor’s guide to navigating the future of major-label country music. Luke Roberts quietly made one of our favorite records of the year. Nashville is eternally morphing and changing, and every day it feels like the best has yet to come – an exciting place to be when the present is so steeped in greatness. The tides may have pulled some of our legends away from us, but it’s an ocean of riches here. All you have to do is get your feet wet to see.

In celebration of our year in local music, Team Lockeland Springsteen all voted on our favorite songs of 2016, as has become custom for us. I hope you’ll spend some time enjoying everything here, if you haven’t already. And here’s to a 2017 being filled with even more music – lord knows we’re going to need the sonic salvation more than ever.

Cheers,

Marissa

  1. Adia Victoria, “Backwards Blues”: When we here at Lockeland Springsteen came to the consensus agreement that we would be giving the top spot on this list to Adia Victoria, the issue shifted to which song we would be highlighting off of her excellent debut Beyond the Bloodhounds. And, while there is no dearth of options on that record worthy of being the best song to come out of Nashville in 2016, there also exists “Backwards Blues”, a song that Adia recorded – just voice and guitar – for the anti-Trump 30 Days 50 Songs project. Released before the seismic shift that swept through America in early November, “Backwards Blues” attempts to reckon with the ideals and the vitriol that elevated a demagogue to the highest office. It is painfully relevant to hear her now, without the knowledge of future occurrences, sing with wariness: “I might be okay if I couldn’t say he was speaking to half of us”, but it is more essential to where Victoria and her peers (of which there are few in Nashville) stand at a new forefront of protest music. Beyond the Bloodhounds fulfills its mission, many times over, of confronting issues of race and identity under the guise of rock music. “Backwards Blues”, however, enacts an entirely new purpose – Victoria using the structure of intimate bedroom production to highlight the isolation that many of us feel in a post-election America. What she does on this song can not be understated, she wants to reach across the aisle and let us know that we’re not actually alone. – Kevin

12938142_10154073784106460_6530437459885077612_n2. Margo Price, “Hands of Time”: Margo Price broke through in 2016, with her debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, being released just weeks before her 33rd birthday. The album was lauded for its painfully honest lyrics raw production, and like Price, is a true anomaly. Price is as authentic as they come, and a true throwback to the days when country music was about real people and their stories. “Hands of Time,” the leadoff track from Farmer’s Daughter, sums up the album to come perfectly; the hands of time are indeed cruel, but that doesn’t mean they are unbeatable.  – Joe  

3. Sturgill Simpson, “Call to Arms” : And there he was at the Ryman, silencing his band mid-Roy Orbison cover to yell at the people in the fourth row having an argument during his sentimental tribute, and all I could think was, ‘what’s he going to do next?’ This happened on his tour for Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and after hearing a majority of that album live, I thought the same question about his follow-up to the record that shattered the standards of the genre inscribed when this year came around. I didn’t think a song cycle dedicated to his bloodline would answer my question, but A Sailor’s Guide to Earthwrecked expectations again. “Call to Arms,” a ruckus of honkytonk-hyped 12-bar-blues, blaring brass, the familiar Kentuckian’s howls and arguably his most unabashed lyrics to-date, concludes the album in a flash of chaos and concept, leaving you in the wake of one of the most untamable forces of nature. Based on my experience with this record, I’ll never set an expectation for what comes next from Sturgill, and that’s for the best of reasons. –Katie

4. Luke Ruberts, “American Music”: It’s fitting that on the cover of his new LP, Sunlit Cross, Luke Roberts is dressed more Maine than Tennessee, in jeans and a puffer jacket – because he resists any kind of stereotypical Nashville singer-songwriter tropes, both aesthetically and in the songs on this excellent collection. One of the best of them, “American Music,” is the sound of melancholy optimism, dripping with moody guitar that sets in like a fog, his voice slow and sticky. In a sea of peppery banjos, Roberts stands alone. – Marissacs622619-01a-big

5. L’Orange, “A Palace In The Sky”: There’s an ugly secret about Nashville that none of the construction signs on this week’s newest multi-use won’t divulge about the city: it’s not all guitar music here. While being one of the shining examples of a bubbling hip-hop scene, Austin L’Orange operates mostly under the radar, hardly ever claiming the city as a homebase while still turning out the kind of music that would define a scene, if that scene had a bigger seat at the table. Easily the most technically impressive hip-hop producer in town, L’Orange has worked on full-length collaborations with legends like Kool Keith and underground mainstays like Blu. On “Palace In The Sky”, he provides a lush bed of angular, sampled soul for Boston rapper Mr. Lif to stretch out on. The effect of this one song is alluring, but the record as a whole is a goddamn revelation. – Kevin 

6. Nikki Lane, “Highway Queen”The message of the title track on Nikki Lane‘s forthcoming third album is clear (and timely): Keep on rolling. “Highway Queen” shrugs off the hardships and heartaches that come with life on the road—and embraces hitting the blacktop with only a give-no-fucks attitude.- Katy

7. Amanda Shires, “You Are My Home”My Piece of Land is proof that a story is only as powerful as its narrator, and Amanda Shires is one hell of a teller. If you ditch the personal constructs that most critics like to examine this record within, you’ll experience poignant lyrics penned by a storied individual and hear a voice lilt over simple arrangements so effortlessly that the combination will almost break you with its beauty. “You Are My Home,” which gives way to the album’s title, is a melding of voice and lyric unfound on any other track that nests in the song’s hollowness and breathes through its fiddle line. If there is any song to define Amanda Shires by, this one is it. –Katie

8. Aaron Lee Tasjan, “Little Movies”: This song’s been earning Sergeant Pepper–era Beatles comparisons since its August release, and rightly so: It soothes, it sighs, it skews psychedelic. But the strongest argument might be nestled in the Bio section of Aaron Lee Tasjan‘s official site: He says he wrote “Little Movies” while microdosing on acid. – Katy

9. Miranda Lambert, “Well-Rested”: Miranda Lambert wrote this elegant waltz with our old pal Anderson East, and the result is the perfect merging of her country roots and his slow soul inclinations. It’s a gorgeous prelude to a new relationship, when the last story told was one of heartbreak: that heart, after all, is nothing but a muscle, and even it needs to rest and recoup before loving once again. It’s one piece of her double LP, The Weight of These Wings, that proves dismissing Lambert simply for her prevalence in the Music Row machine would be a grave mistake – because she proves you can play with the major labels and still make the rules. – Marissa 

0008077175_1010. Lionlimb, “Ride”: In short, I think this is the most bad-ass song to come out of Nashville all year. It oozes weird spaghetti western noir that makes it the perfect theme song to a gritty HBO miniseries about our fair city. I know the Lionlimb dudes don’t spend a lot of time here in town anymore, but damn does that song exemplify a surreal Music City. – Sean

11. Kelsey Waldon, “All By Myself”: Kelsey is the kind of person to give you hell but do it with a kind of Kentucky charm that makes it feel good. This feisty track from her sophomore album is a twangy anthem of independence brought to life by a voice that flirts with the rhythm section and swirls around a melody you’ll be humming for days. –Katie

12. Lambchop, “The Hustle”: Last year, Lambchop’s head honcho Kurt Wagner assembled a crack team of local musicians and released an electronic record under the name HeCTA, a project that everyone assumed to be very much of the “side” variety. Anyone who thought that Wagner was going to just abandon that sound and go back to the alt country that Lambchop made its name on over the past decade or so was met with the surprise that Lambchop was now an electronic outfit, no further evidenced by this 18-minute digital excursion that closes out the shamefully overlooked 2016 record FLOTUS. – Kevin

13. Aubrie Sellers, “Light of Day”: Aubrie Sellers released her debut LP, New City Blues, on her own terms – and skillfully directed the narrative to come by self-labeling her music “garage country.” Turns out, it stuck (and, with the distortion cranked up as high as her twang, it was pretty appropriate). On tracks like “Light of Day,” Sellers is fierce and emotive, creating her own template for how to build a killer country song. It’s one others will surely follow, though it’s hard to imagine anyone will do it quite this well. – Marissa 

14. Brent Cobb, “Solving Problems”: “2016 may have been the start of Brent Cobb the artist, but Brent Cobb the songwriter has been racking up cuts and nods of respect around Nashville since 2011, when he wrote songs for Luke Bryan, Eli Young Band, Frankie Ballard, and David Nail. Shine on a Rainy Day, his 2016-debut, offered Cobb the opportunity to shed his anonymity and show the world the tremendous artist behind the songwriter. “Solving Problems,” like Brent Cobb, is a homage to simpler times.” – Joe brent_cobb

15. Darrin Bradbury, “Elmwood Park”: In a world full of super-serious singer-songwriter wares, we need Darrin Bradbury. To make us laugh, make us smile, and make us think. On “Elmwood Park,” Bradbury evokes John Prine to rattle through a nostalgic tale rife with detail, conjuring up Allen Ginsberg and Shel Silverstein along the way. It’s smart, sly and damn pretty too. – Marissa

16. QuicheNight, “Milky Sweet Midnight Lady”: Like a Velvet Underground for 2016 that was raised on the West Coast with a steady diet of Mac Demarco, PUJOL drummer Brett Rosenberg has been using QuicheNight as a vehicle for some of our best off-kilter lo-fi that never leaves behind some shiny sticky hooks in favor of meandering fuzz. – Marissa 

17. Blank Range, “All The Stars”:  Skillfully treading the water between folk, indie and roots, Blank Range’s “All the Stars” lulls you with dreamy melodic lines and pretty harmonies laid down with lyrics featuring subtle undertones of seriousness. Throughout Vista Bent Blank Range tenderly jabs at a bigger ideal, opening up a path revealing deeper subject matter, challenging the listener to ask questions that the band purposefully leaves open for interpretation. A light think piece that’s much worth a listen or two. – Shanning 

18. Sun Seeker, “No One Knows” – Sun Seeker looks like they’re going to be leading a wave in 2017, if their 2016 debut is any indication. Only two songs, “No One Knows” is the b side, but that one stuck with me. It fits that sort of strange creep folk vibe that’s sun seeker embodies, focusing on the dark swarthy secrets of those who might not appear to be. It flirts with a giant crescendo build, but never comes to fruition, making the track an excellent sonic tease. – Sean

19. William Tyler, “Highway Anxiety”: There was probably no greater blow to Nashville’s network of venues in 2016 than the late January closing of The Stone Fox, William and Elise Tyler’s thoughtfully booked and carefully arranged room in The Nations. There was probably no greater record to come from a single Nashville musician this year than William Tyler’s Highway Anxiety, a sonic journey that meets a monumental task –  encapsulating a country as in flux and as the same as it’s ever been (without using words, no less) – with vigor and vitality. – Kevin 
ll_by_alysse-gafkjen

20. Lera Lynn, “Cut & Burn”: Though she faces an uphill battle in shaking off the ashes of culpability for being just one of the many self-parodic elements that sunk the second season of True Detective, Lera Lynn proves her outright worth as a musician on her excessively catchy record, Resistor. No longer relegated to the role of the battered dive bar siren, Lynn gets to let the light in, especially on this effervescent pop rock hybrid of a song. – Kevin 

21. Luke Bell, “Where Ya Been”: Luke Bell was the honky tonk king of country this year, but before he wound up here in town, he was a 21. rambling man heading all across he land. The introspective narrative laid upon Bell’s nice country timbre creates a pleasant veil of country wandering as he slowly but surely finds himself. Like a country Joseph Campbell hero journey. – Sean 

22. Mike Floss, “Kerosene”:  After dropping Don’t Blame the Youth last year, Mike Floss became my favorite sonic antidote to the Nashville noise. This year he only gave us a couple singles, and “Kerosene” is a spitfire’s diatribe kindled by seismic production that gives us one more reason to acknowledge the hip-hop scene in Nashville as both existing and necessary. –Katie

23. Rick Brantley, “Hurt People” – Country’s supposed to be the genre of storytelling, but singer-songwriter Rick Brantley tells a tale and delivers a lesson to remember: “hurt people hurt people,” he sings in his warm and weathered rasp. Nothing in life is without cause or effect, and Brantley keys into that with a track that reminds us to look beyond those that may scorn or dislike us with a much deeper understanding for the path that led them there. – Marissa

24. Maren Morris, “80s Mercedes”: There’s been no more unique star to bust out of the mainstream Nashville scene in some time than Maren Morris. A seasoned and accomplished songwriter with a sultry lower register, it was only a matter of time before Morris became a mainstream star. Her appeal is ubiquitous, and on her 2016-debut album, Hero, Morris brought a fresh voice that the country market desperately needed: one that is rife with bravado and snark. “80s Mercedes” is a feel-good, danceable track, but beneath it’s pop exterior is a broader and much more important message — girls can be cocky too. Morris is a reminder to young kids everywhere that it’s okay to look and feel damn good, and that you should let everyone know that you know it.  – Joe

25. Elizabeth Cook, “Exodus in Venus”: It’s no secret that traditional country music has seen something of a “revival” over recent years, and with it a wave of new artists stretching the boundaries of the genre as far as possible. And as the new faces of country touch the spotlight, so emerge the relentless old-schoolers who insist things are best done the same way they’ve always been done. In the mix lies Elizabeth Cook who’s been around the scene for almost ten years, although I wouldn’t dare stick her into the “old-school” box. On her 6th studio album Exodus of Venus, Cook enticed us yet again with her ability to take what we love about the old and the new and fit it together to create a country sound that gets its hands a little dirty, but reminisces of the classics. On her title track “Exodus of Venus,” Cook embodies a confident, take-no-shit woman with a delicate seriousness and edgy femininity that deep down, all of us can appreciate, and some of us even drool over. – Shanning 

static1-squarespace26. Ron Gallo, “Please Yourself””: “All the punks are domesticated and all the freaks have gone to bed”, laments recent Philadelphia transplant Ron Gallo in a downtown Nashville alleyway, on the way to hopping onto the back of a truck bed in the middle of weekend Broadway traffic to perform his song “Please Yourself.” Much to the joy of the surrounding crowd, this isn’t just another paid advertising stunt, it’s a young musician making a statement of purpose – the sort of thing every drunk reveler secretly wants and hopes to see in “Music City.” – Kevin  

27. Molly Parden, “Kentucky, I”: Miss Molly Parden has been on the road quite a bit this year, but that didn’t keep her from releasing an exceptional EP, which includes my personal favorite track, “Kentucky,I.” Part confessional, part affirmative, Ms. Parden’s soft cooing timbre brings up all sorts of feels for the listener. – Sean

28. Natural Child, “NSA Blues”: If 2016 was a harbinger for a new wave of politically-inflected popular music, Natty Child’s stonily paranoid Okey Dokey standout captures the ennui of living in it: “There’s always a camera, pointed at your face”. – Kevin

29. Lean,”Brick”: One of the more exciting alternatives to a growingly staid local rock scene, Lean traffics (on record, at least) in lo-fi melodic shoegaze. I’ve only seen them in a live setting once, but the potential is there for them to catch the city off guard. – Kevin

30. Erin McCarley, “Good“: If any year has called for escapism, 2016 screams for it, and that’s when Erin McCarley’s peachy, fuzzed-out pop single whisks you away into an electronic oasis. The four minutes spent in this sugary, low-end locale will give you inspiration to turn the music up louder, sip and dance a bit more, even with the glass (or bottle) in hand. –Katie

31. Kacey Musgraves, “Christmas Makes Me Cry”: Sure, it’s unconventional to include a Christmas song on a year-end list. But this song is anything but conventional. Remove the holiday theme and you’re still left with a track about the sadness and disappointment that often slides in alongside the moments that are supposed to the the happiest. As she’s often wont to do, Kacey Musgraves tears down the tinsel and says what everyone is really thinking beyond the pressure of social media-tailored holiday joy. – Marissa

32. Derek Hoke, “Trouble In Mind”: Derek Hoke’s Southern Moon stands out as one of my favorite sleepers of the year. As easy as scrambling eggs, Hoke coaxes out fuzzy, electric blues guitar tones with southern nuances and marries it with chuggy, laid back drums and the comforting whine of back-porch Mississippi harmonica licks to create this kinetic, smoothly sexy rock and roll thing that makes me feel like I’m listening to pre-Nicks/Buckingham, Bob Welch fronted Fleetwood Mac. It has a timeless, classic appeal that could be spun on a record player for even the deep-track classic rock snobs and fit in amongst their 60’s and 70’s vinyl collection. – Shanning

zach-schmidt-promo-pic-e1477641526710

33. Zach Schmidt, “Dear Memphis”Zach had been biding his time in Nashville for a while – will the city welcome him? – but after the release of The Day We Lost the War he solidified his spot. “Dear Memphis” is the standout track on the record, and the story behind the track rips you right to your core. I’d give the backstory, but just know I wouldn’t be able to do the service that’s Schmidt does.- Sean

34. Sadler Vaden, “You Can’t Have It All”: Appropriately self-titling his 2016 album, Sadler’s release leads with his best on an opening track that casts this musician in a role he seems to be suited for: the frontman. –Katie 

35. Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, “When Hinges Give”: Andrew Leahey & the Homestead’s debut album Skyline in Central Time left me surprised. Well-executed, poetic and painful, a string-along of beautiful language flowing from a deep-felt emotional place, at moments underhandedly provoking that sort of throat swelling feeling you get when you see Jason Isbell live for the first time. If singer-songwriter is your thing, I suggest you keep an eye on Andrew Leahey.- Shanning

36. Tim Easton, “Right Before Your Own Eyes”: An ardent warning to the young folks about “selling your soul to the devil,” in this case, something more real than a horned, scarlet faced boogeyman. Instead, Easton imagines the devil in the form of a sedimentary lifestyle heeding to the mental addiction to internet adorned screened devices and the worship of changing fads in popular culture, and inversely pleads a case for the act of being present and living life in the moment lest the opportunity to truly live life pass you by. Easton uses “Right Before Your Own Eyes” as a platform to speak on an issue he feels passionate about, and hey, I say kudos to that. Plus, it’s folky, it’s a little bit dark, and it kind of makes you think, and that’s what we like about it. – Shanning

37. Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles, “Playing Old Games”: Erin Rae McKaskle’s excellent album, Soon Enough, came out in 2015, but she and Pete Lindberg released this beautiful surprise to tie us over.  McKaskle’s voice is one for the record books, and this is a sweet reminder of why. – Marissa

38. Foreign Fields, “I”: We’ve seen Foreign Fields transverse celestial terrain on their past records, but Take Cover seems to forego sonic wandering for a more intentional approach. “I” is a magnetic track of percussive energy and airy vocals held together by an electronic aura that brings you into a pop-centric world made more beautifully peculiar by their arrangements. –Katie

39. Ruston Kelley, “Black Magic”: “Love ain’t nothing more than black magic,” sings Ruston Kelley on this track from his strong debut EP, Halloween. Kelley’s excellent at shining new light on ordinary occurrences, and goes well beyond the usual trappings to load his songs with both instrumental and lyrical layers. No black magic to that. – Marissa

40. Erik Dylan, “Fishin’ Alone”: Like Brent Cobb, (see: #14) Dylan has been putting dinner on the table for years in Nashville writing songs for others. In 2016, he finally wrote for himself, from his heart — The Heart of a Flatland Boy, that is. The album transcends the user, making anyone listening to it feel like a young man growing up in rural Kansas. Everything from beer to girls, cornfields to highways is present on Flatland Boy, and of course, there’s also heartbreak. This is terribly evident on “Fishin’ Alone,” where Dylan writes from the perspective of a young man who loses a father figure, and acknowledges that time and “life” got in the way of them doing everything they wanted to do together. It’s a heartbreaking–yet all too common tale–and a track that truly reminds you of life’s temporary status. – Joe

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-10-02-53-am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s