Today’s Guest Post is from Toronto based musician Donovan Woods. Woods has contributed here before and once again he provides a list from the year of songs he found to be on repeat more than others. A fairly busy last 12 months for him (as you will read) and I know from very good sources that a new album is due very soon, so keep an eye out for it. So then, let’s get on with it….
This year I played more shows than I ever have before (it’s actually not that many – I’m super-lazy), recorded a new record, bought a house and had a baby boy. Look, I’m not saying I didn’t have much time to listen to music. But, get off me, I didn’t have much time to listen to music. I’m getting old, dying off; priorities change. I still, however, take the subway most places in Toronto and I would rather rip my ears off and throw them in some magisterial river than listen to other people’s conversations. So, I did hear some music. These are my favourites of the year in no particular order (ranking is for nerds). Some of them may not have been released this year. Leave me alone, though. I’m like your dad, so be cool and cut me some slack because I had a hard day, and I helped you move houses, like, four times during university.
â€¨â€¨In The Open – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
Now, I toured around a wee bit with Benjamin this year and on top of knowing that he’s a lovely guy, (He says things like “Have an incredible time, Paul. Absolutely lovely to see you”), and a phenomenal songwriter, I know that he’s only been alive for 22 years. When I was 22, I got super-high way too often and played Mario Kart until the sun came up. I wrote terrible songs. If I was writing songs like this, back then, I’d be some hot-shot producer by now. Or, at least people would give me free guitars sometimes. This song is worth it just for the first verse. He winds the melody around so sweetly, and then at the end of the chorus he asks, “Is your love still like a mission in the night?” I feel that. I suspect all his songs are about girls which I get and support fully.
Free Love – Daniel and the Lion
The chorus to this song is “Free love on account of me” and, this year, that means a lot to me. It’s tough to describe, but I feel like it’s about working very hard for all your life. So many good lines in this one: “I listen to a heart beat out right next to mine. Every night. And that’s fine.” So sweetly said. Like all songs I love, I’m convinced that this song perfectly encapsulates some enormous, intangible belief I have. It’s a really moral song, and I like that a lot. I know these guys, we drink good coffees in Nashville, and I hope they never tell me what this song is really about. I hereby forbid it. I like my grandiose idea too much.
WWIII – Rufus Wainwright
Based on my play count stats, this is my favourite of the year. This is gonna make me sound like a dickhead but I didn’t get this song until I heard it in Europe. It worked really well as I train-ed around the UK. I feel like that’s where he wrote it. I’d never been to London before and I loved it so much that I went through things (booze, mostly). I loved things too much, and this was my soundtrack to that. Like the best Rufus songs, it gracefully pulls you along and makes you feel beautiful and smart. Like you rented a place away from everyone in Paris or something and you’re not lonely at all. You just buy books, and take painkillers and sleep and it’s alright. Maybe that’s just me.
â€¨Katie – Fred Eaglesmith
This song is an epic poem. It’s a murder ballad, which is actually a great genre of song you can read quite a bit about if you’d like. The narrator catches his lady with his best friend. He shoots them both, wraps them in gunny sacks and buries them. It ain’t pretty or anything. It doesn’t glorify violence. It’s all just wrong and shitty and bad, but the song is beautiful. He gets his comeuppance in the end. He’s trapped on the farm he “never even wanted” forever. Fred is a master. There’s hardly any words in the song and he manages to tell a story you can think about for days. He’s the Alice Munro of songwriting. If you’re going to listen to any of the songs on this list, listen to this one. And go see Fred sing it.
â€¨â€¨It Ain’t This Town — Andrew Austin
This is a friend of mine. It would be on this list even if he wasn’t. We went to the same high school and grew up less than 10 minutes from each other but didn’t really get to know each other until later. We both write songs and we’re always politely trying to impress and one-up each other with what we’ve written. I’m sure that most artists of any kind have a similar relationship with someone they know. And I’m sure that those artists will know what I’m talking about when I say I was simultaneously thrilled and crushed by this song when I heard it. I love it. It’s got a wonderful momentum and wistfulness. And it’s got a CHORUS. It’s an amazingly sing-able, makes-you-feel-cool chorus that I can’t get over. When “kick up the dust…” kicks in, it’s perfect. I could never write anything like this, and I know it, and I’m telling myself that’s OK. This song isn’t available to buy yet. Looks like it’ll be out in March. His whole album is great. So, you should listen to it and get it if you think so too.
Hard to Love — Lee Brice
Lee Brice is the of-the-moment artist in the country world right now, not Taylor Swift. Anyone who listens to a lot of hot new country radio, like me, knows who this guy is. He’s had two number one’s this year. This was the first one. It’s just a rock song. It flows wonderfully from the verses into the chorus. It’s asks nothing of you and gives you nothing but melody. It’s what a good country radio song should be. Or as a country songwriter put it to me, “You folk artist guys, you’re writing songs for people to listen to at 10pm and in Nashville, they’re writing songs for people to hear at 5:35am, when their alarm goes off or they climb into their truck to go to work.” This year I’ve spent some time writing songs in Nashville, and there’s so much I’ve quickly learned. The incredible economy of Nashville country writers is what excites me most. This song is as simple as it gets, and that’s as hard as it gets. Country music is likely the most openly derided musical genre other than rap music. A friend once said to me, “I don’t like country music because it actively sells people a lie about an America that no longer exists.” I’d be interested to know which musical genre doesn’t actively sell a lie. Country artists and hip-hop artists are, interestingly, consumed by the same strife: maintaining their base audience while desperately trying to subtly evolve.
Movement and Location — Punch Brothers
Hopefully we can link to a performance they did of this song on Conan. It is bonkers. Totally bonkers. Chris Thile is able to write complicatedly formed, forward-thinking songs that are melodic and sweet and lovely. That is phenomenally hard to do. This song is about pitching. Baseball pitching. Just listen to it. A song he co-wrote was on my list last year, “Here and Heaven”. That song crushed my whole soul and threw it into a raging river. This one just crushes it.
Lost in the Light — Bahamas
This song is what sound engineer snob guys are talking about when they say a record has “space”. It’s this. You can hear the room, every component, the singer’s mouth. The result is a real wonderful experience. The background singers (one of whom is the lovely and massively talented Carleigh Aikens) , the simple melody, the perfect, gorgeous guitar tone, the whole thing is just nice. My favourite line by a country mile is “It was my greatest thrill, when we just stood still.” I get that, big time. And it’s a good microcosmic descriptor of the song as well.
Princess of China – Coldplay feat. Rihanna
This is my jam, man. This is my jam. There is no chorus, there’s nothing. Nothing to really grab onto. I don’t know what anyone is talking about at all. I don’t get it. It’s nothing. I’ll listen to it all day, I don’t care. Shut up. Shut up about it. Leave it. Leave it alone. It’s mine. I don’t want to talk about it.
Even If It Breaks Your Heart – Eli Young Band
This is a country song written by WIll Hoge, who’s a songwriter from Nashville that everyone there knows. He’s good, one of the best writers there is, but this is his first substantial hit. The hit version was cut by Eli Young Band. It’s a lovely song that’s basically a Tom Petty song (particularly when the 2nd verse kicks in), and I love it. It’s simple and economical and tells a story that’s dear to my frame of reference: “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” Will released a record all his own this year as well; as he’s done many times. That record is called “Modern American Protest Music” and it really truly is just that. Modern protest music is hard to write. We live in a very cynical age, and singing the outright truth as you perceive it is a tight-rope walk. I can’t do it. Too Dumb. Will does it. He’s just a rad dude all around and I recommend checking out any of his releases. Also, he’s got a cut on the new Lady Antebellum record, so get ready to really hear about him if you somehow just read this sentence and skipped everything above in this same paragraph.
Swim Until You Can’t See Land – Frightened Rabbit
This is my leaving for work song. It’s got a lovely little marchy lilt, a wistful melody and a motivational message. It could be a national anthem. Great verse melody, great chorus melody: “Swim until you can’t see land. Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?” Beat that line. You can’t. It’s too good. I tried for a long time. I’m supposed to be a professional songwriter. I can’t do it. Best I came up with was “No offense, Saskatchewan. I’ve only been inside you once.” That’s terrible and it made my record. This is my band to watch. Not sure if they’re all that known in America yet. They should be. They’re writing great, pithy, inviting songs. Get their State Hospital EP to hear more.
Some things on this list might have surprised me but then again…not really! Donovan is the kind of guy you want at a dinner party and even though he dreads being the guy who brings the acoustic guitar, you will always hope he does. Cheers Mr. Woods.
Find out more on Donovan Woods on his conveniently named website: www.bestsongwriterever.com