1. “Firefly” – Brave Bones. The vocal enthusiasm of folk-punk bands bolted onto the hypercharged alt-country of The Old ’97s? Sign me up.
2. “The Pilot and the Flying Machine: Part Two” – Ben Bedford. The hardest thing about being a blogger is the X factor. What makes a song good? Sometimes you can break it down to a guitar line, a vocal line, an auxiliary instrument, the lyrics, or the overall mood. Sometimes we throw a RIYL band at it to help you figure out whose X factor this band’s is most like. But not this time. Bedford brings it all together here for an excellent acoustic tune that stands on its own, no comparison artists needed.
3. “Whispers of the Night” – Rowan McGuire. The intricate, delayed guitarwork here is totally mesmerizing.
4. “Thunder Road” – Adam Hanna and The Class of ’18. I’m of the opinion that doing any cover well is hard, and covering iconic tunes is exponentially harder. Hanna successfully reinterprets the Boss in an acoustic vein by delivering a solid vocal performance and choosing good instrumentalists. He doesn’t try to thoroughly reinvent it (a smart move), and the results are good.
5. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Freedom Fry. This band chooses the “completely reinvent” method of covering an iconic song, turning the monumental grunge tune into a major-key indie-pop jaunt with reggae rhythms. You have never heard “Teen Spirit” like this before. Mad props.
7. “Inside Your Heart” – The Two Romans. Or if you’re not down for tropical vibes, maybe you can go for ecstatic hoedown folk, Twin Forks-style. This is the sort of song that makes you why we liked this type of song in the first place, before a lot of people got all folk’ed out.
8. “Hattie Barlow” – Jack Hotel. If you drew a triangle with bluegrass, old timey music, and modern folk-pop at the corners, you’d find Jack Hotel in the middle. Those who like their folk with lots of fiddle sawing, banjo rolling, and acoustic strumming will be into this. Alternately, if “holler” is a positive term to you, also apply within.
9. “Fiery Eyes” – Prinz Grizzley. “Prinz Grizzley” is a name for a TV show host, a rapper, or a country singer–we got the last one. The horns in this song bring a memorably bouncy enthusiasm to this mid-tempo alt-country jaunt.
10. “White Lies” – Darryl Rahn. Sometimes I want to write “It’s just really good” and leave it at that, but I suppose you want me to tell you that the vocals sound like Brett Dennen reappropriated into a sped-up Rocky Votolato song. Or you could go with “It’s just really good.” Either way.
11. “Wounded Wing” – The Duke Spirit. This ballad-esque song seems like it was written for maximum gravitas: heavy piano, distant atmospherics, solemn alto vocals, and a Mark Lanegan guest spot. Rad.
12. “I’m Not This Layer of Skin” – Yvonne McDonnell. It successfully combines ancient and modern: A brash vocal style with traces of traditional British folk tone leads this emotionally engaging fingerpicked folk tune that features melodies equally reminiscent of the UK’s traditions.
13. “Leave” – Sea Offs. A tone poem of a song, floating beautifully off in the distance, making me carefully reconsider my surroundings, like the most freeflowing moments of Bowerbirds.