1. “The Sky Exhaled” – Luke De-Sciscio. This 11-minute piece is remarkable in several ways. First, the piece (which has two movements) is really 11 minutes long. Second, the flowing, tumbling fingerpicking, lithe vocals, and hushed mood remind me at times of Jose Gonzalez and early Iron and Wine. Third, the piece is accompanied by an 11-minute hand-drawn video. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with careful lines and a shading style that evokes intimacy. It’s truly impressive. Highly recommended.
2. “Can’t Cut Loose” – Erin Rae. A loping, lightly country-inflected, ’70s-vintage folk tune led by Rae’s excellent vocals. Her performance is mesmerizing–it’s the whole show here for most of the song. You get high marks for a voice that can captivate an audience like that.
3. “Adelaide” – Strangers by Accident. The NPR Tiny Desk Contest has been a boon for people who love stripped-down versions of tunes and/or concerts in weird places. This particular contest application from Strangers by Accident sees the quartet plying their wares while stranded in a blizzard. You’d never know of their distress without the notes saying so, however, as their crisp, tight folk tune shows no signs of concern. The vocal harmonies are tight, the arrangement is solid, and the song comes off like a dream. The video itself, however, has humorous issues. Good times had by all!
4. “Get Your House In Order” – John Calvin Abney. Somehow manages to make the most standard country template in the country vernacular a. not sound all that country b. reflect a distinctly John Calvin Abney-ish songwriting perspective in the vocal lines c. be relaxing instead of kitschy. I’m super impressed. (Full disclosure: John once engineered part of a record I wrote.)
5. “Elephant Heart” – Elizabeth Gundersen. Gundersen elevates the singer/songwriter staples of a stripped-down piano ballad and a breakup to impressive heights–no matter how tired you are of hearing about love lost, this song is deeply compelling lyrically and vocally.
6. “Greater Charlotte” – Michael Flynn. Double whammy! This poignant, heartbroken piano tune evokes the best moments of Ben Folds Five out of nothing more than a clever piano part, some strings for emphasis, and Flynn’s utterly compelling voice. This is an impressive, mature cut that makes me very interested in the upcoming release.