10. I See Hawks In L.A. - "The Spirit of Death" (New Kind of Lonely, American Beat)
Arguably the most uplifting death song ever written. Rob Waller's voice is gutsy, the harmonies perfect, the lyrics spirited.
9. Chris Knight - "Little Victories" (Little Victories, Drifter's Church)
Knight's hero never feels sorry for himself; he just loves life's "little victories." The antithesis of JC Mellencamp's "Jackie Brown."
8. Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale - "That's Not Even Why I Love You" (Buddy & Jim, New West)
A simple 12/8 country ballad, unspectacular in its poignant beauty.
7. Jordan Hull - "O Brother" (Who's Gonna Teach You To Live; Ropeadope)
The lead cut from the debut album by a 20-something kid from Dayton who's learning from Dylan, Cohen, Leadbelly and anyone else who could turn a phrase. This guy is the real thing.
6. Mary Chapin Carpenter - "Another Home" (Ashes & Roses; Zoe)
The poetess laureate of country music returns to form. Languid, dusky, thoughtful.
5. Mumford & Sons - "The Boxer" (Babel; Glassnote)
As a die-hard Simon & Garfunkel fan, I didn't there ever be a version I could tolerate much less enjoy. Well played, Mumford; well, played.
4. Rosie Thomas - "Where Was I" (With Love; Studio Litho)
A song about being a lost and confused teenager who turns into a lost and confused adult. At least that's how I hear it. It makes me cry every time I hear it.
3. Greg Hester - "Mr. Wonderful" (American Story; Rope-A-Dope)
Well, just listen
2. The Steel Wheels - "Rain In The Valley" (Lay Down, Lay Low; Steel Wheels)
Truth: Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine could all learn something from these cats.
1. Michael Kiwanuka - "Tell Me A Tale" (Home Again; Polydor)
Traffic meets Motown meets Terry Callier meets 70's soul.
Michael Verity is a writer, photographer and producer based in Portland, OR. He's regular contributor to Relix, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time and Acoustic Music Pinboard, among others.
He lives on a farm with his wife, two cats, three kids, four dogs and several thousand albums that never seem to find their way into alphabetical order.