In this personal review of 2022, I select ten songs by ten artists that have made a particular impression on him over the last twelve months. “I realise that there are some striking omissions, like Ingrid Andress, Kelsea Ballerini, and Elles Bailey, to name but three, but the songs and artists that I’ve chosen (and it’s been hard to cut it down to just ten!) have had some sort of lasting impact on me personally, hence what may be a surprising and/or contentious selection for some”. Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to share your own choices below.
Morgan Wade – ‘Wilder Days’
A somewhat contentious first choice given that her album ‘Reckless’ originally came out in early 2021. However, the Deluxe Version (complete with a fabulous cover of ‘Suspicious Minds’) only came out in January of this year, when hit single ‘Wilder Days’ also seemed to be at its peak, if UK radio-play was anything to go by. It has been like an earworm in my brain ever since, competing with Cole Swindell’s ‘She Had Me at Heads Carolina’ for the most addictive song of the year.
Tenille Townes – ‘When’s It Gonna Happen?’
The subject of singleness is one rarely touched upon in song lyrics, which is what made this track so special. To hear Tenille tell her own story with such honesty, and wrap it up in such a catchy melody, meant that this was always going to stay with me. It has been joined since by ‘Plane Tickets’ and ‘Traditions’ from Beth Keeping, whose own honesty with regards to being single has been hugely welcomed.
Anne Wilson – ‘Sunday Sermons’
I happened to stumble upon ‘Sunday Sermons’ in the recommended videos section on YouTube. I’d never heard of Anne Wilson before but taking a chance on this song was definitely not wasted. I love its mix of infectious country-pop, personal faith testimony, and rousing chorus line. Along with the rest of her debut album, ‘My Jesus’, this is Country-Gospel at its finest.
Maren Morris – ‘Humble Quest’
The third album from Maren Morris was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint. Like a lot of post-lockdown records, it introduced us to a more reflective side. ‘Circles Around This Town’ was always going to be a hit but ‘Humble Quest’ struck a deeper chord with me. The title track holds an honesty, vulnerability and humility that I greatly admire – even aspire to – underlined by a powerful, insistent beat.
Clara Bond – ‘Misbehaving’
Clara Bond’s continued commitment to the storytelling principles of country music is evident on her latest EP ‘Backtalker’. Its leading track ‘Misbehaving’ is a particularly excellent example of her astute lyricism, combining here with a sound that demonstrates the theme of mental health acutely. She is an artist of the utmost integrity; with something to say that is always worth listening to.
Motel Sundown – ‘Brake Lights’
I described the debut album of Motel Sundown as “a rich easy listening experience”. Their delightful blend of Folk and Americana is beautifully wistful and delightfully catchy. To have come across them by chance – in a local café, having been recommended them by someone via a poster in the foyer – made my discovery of them all-the-more special. ‘If You Were Listening’ is definitely a contender for my UK Country Album of the Year.
Shay Gaston – ‘Since Seventeen’
I can’t remember the last time I was so excited by the debut single of a country-pop artist in the UK. Shay Gaston made an immediate impression on me with this track, giving the kind of vibes that evoked the music of Catherine McGrath. It may be too early to make a direct comparison, but the early signs are good. If nothing else, the future of country music in the UK looks to be in safe hands, with Amy-Jo (‘Coming Close’) and Olivia Lynn (‘Ain’t That a Shame’) also giving strong first impressions in 2022.
Miranda Lambert – ‘Strange’
Every Miranda Lambert album contains one song that sticks to me like glue. This track, from her latest offering, ‘Palamino’, certainly has, not only because of its instantly likable refrain but also because its lyrics capture something of the zeitgeist. Originally conceived as a response to lockdown, listening to it in my own context, amid the crazy chaos of British politics and the more general madness of social media, gave it an extra edge and sense of perspective that has been much needed. Her songs are, as ever, on point.
Paige Wolfe – ‘Why Can’t My Heart’
It is the bridge to this song – “Why can’t my heart just give it a rest” – that makes it really stand out. It is so infectious that, every time I hear it, the line goes round-and-round in my head for days after. There is a serious side to this debut single too but Paige Wolfe achieves a fine balance between vulnerable lyrics and entertaining sound. A memorable track in more ways than one.
Amy Wadge – ‘Spaceman’ (sung by Sam Ryder)
Another contentious song choice perhaps, but I include it simply because of the opportunity to hear it performed live by Amy Wadge at the British Country Music Festival. It was such a privilege to witness her set as she journeyed through her career as a songwriter, telling the stories behind some of the most iconic contemporary songs, and all with such humility and grace. Only Jade Thunder singing ‘Sober’ at the Cavern Club in Liverpool (a truly spine-tingling moment) beats it as my live moment of the year.
Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on January 6th 2023.