We at Here Comes The Song have bombarded contributors, subscribers, readers and listeners with our Songs Of The Week by Twitter, Facebook and email. Not all have been my choice – thank you for your recommendations – but I do get to select my six best songs of the year from the playlist. In no particular order, they are...
If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit is a beautifully crafted ballad, an affirmation of love and the fragility of life from his poll-topping album The Nashville Sound. We agreed with the man himself – that this composition could be his finest yet. Isbell's honesty about our limited lifespans – 'maybe we'll get 40 years together' – is disarming, especially in the harmonising presence of his wife Amanda Shires, but he offers solace as well as perspective: 'Maybe time running out is a gift.'
The War was written by Thea Gilmore in 2016 in the wake of the Florida shootings and politician Jo Cox's death. It is one of several timeless tracks on The Counterweight, and where the album title is referred to in a lyrical masterclass. 'Wild flowers grow again/ All you can do is just tend to them/ And know that you tried.' Magical.
Cumberland Gap by the brilliant guitarist and songwriter Dave Rawlings was co-written by long-time collaborator Gillian Welch who provides heavenly harmonies. Poor Dave's Almanack is the name of the album but the roots music it contains is rich. This is a Rawlings solo project but, blissfully, Welch is close at hand. It doesn't matter whose name is on the tin, the combination is electrifying.
At The Purchaser's Option by Rhiannon Giddens is roots music at its finest with a heart-tugging voice and a hypnotic banjo at its core. The opening track of her splendid Freedom Highway album was the product of Giddens' extensive research into slavery and she sings chillingly about the sale of a child. 'I've got a body dark and strong/ I was young but not for long/ You took me to bed a little girl/ Left me in a woman's world.' Bleak and beautiful. Her intimacy with the history of struggle among African-American women has produced an authoritative work. These are old stories which need to be retold.
Next Time Around by Liverpool-based band The Fernweh is the below-the-radar gem of the year. It was not one of our Songs Of The Week but Simon O'Hagan did the introductions, describing it in his blog as 'a harmony-drenched bittersweet marvel – a magic-carpet ride that could have come out of 1967 and yet still manages to feel contemporary'. The band's name is German for 'wanderlust'. We thank them for the journey.
The Leaving Song appears on Cara Dillon's majestic album Wanderer. A divine singer and interpreter of traditional folk songs, she manages to blur the genres with one of her own compositions, helped by her multi-instrumentalist partner Sam Lakeman. In a reflective piece on parting and emigration, Dillon reimagines her mother's tales of 'living wakes' at home in pre-war Co Kerry when a loved one departs. Achingly delicate vocals are given space to breathe by Lakeman's sparse production.
There's a theme here: intelligent, incisive songwriting.
RODNEY CROWELL: It Ain’t Over Yet (with John Paul White and Rosanne Cash)
GUY CLARK: Immigrant Eyes (with Emmylou Harris)
JIM LAUDERDALE: If I Can’t Resist (co-written by John Oates)
THE UNTHANKS: What Can A Song Do To You (homage to Molly Drake, mother of Nick Drake)
JAMES McMURTRY: Holiday
CALE TYSON: Compromised Land
JASON ISBELL AND THE 400 UNIT: If We Were Vampires
THE STEELDRIVERS (featuring Chris Stapleton): Good Corn Liquor
JIMMY LaFAVE: Only One Angel
GREGG ALLMAN: Melissa (with Jackson Browne)
THEA GILMORE: The War
JACKSON BROWNE: The Long Way Around (with Ry Cooder)
ELBOW: Magnificent (She Says). Another Guy Garvey classic
LONDON GRAMMAR: Oh Woman Oh Man
FAUSTUS: Slaves (poem from 1840s set to music by folk band)
I’M WITH HER: Little Lies
kd lang: Constant Craving
DAVE RAWLINGS: Cumberland Gap (with Gillian Welch)
THE SECRET SISTERS: Tennessee River Runs Low
JIMMY WEBB: By The Time I Get To Phoenix (with Glen Campbell, who made Webb's song famous)
ELVIS PRESLEY: Can’t Help Falling In Love
ELIZA CARTHY & THE WAYWARD BAND: Hug You Like A Mountain (with Teddy Thompson)
JULIE FOWLIS: Dh’èirich mi moch madainn cheòthar (I arose early on a misty morning)
THE WEATHER STATION: Thirty (featuring Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman)
SHANNON McNALLY: Banshee Moan (co-written by producer Rodney Crowell)
CARA DILLON: The Leaving Song (co-written by Sam Lakeman)
BOB DYLAN: Tight Connection To My Heart (Sheila Atim's cover in Conor McPherson's stage play of Girl From The North Country)
JESSE COLIN YOUNG: Light Shine (for my grandson Jesse)
BAXTER DURY: Prince Of Tears (son of Ian Dury)
JUDY DYBLE & ANDY LEWIS: Tired As Bones
NEIL YOUNG: Children Of Destiny (with Promise Of The Real)
MARGO PRICE: All American Made (co-written by Jeremy Ivey)
SHAWN COLVIN: In The Bleak Mid-Winter (poem by Christina Rossetti in 1872, set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906 and enhanced by Harold Edwin Darke in 1911). One of the nuggets in Phil Shaw's alternative festive playlist of 20 songs.