Top 10 Americana, Alt-Country and Folk Songs of 2016

In 2016, the line between country and Americana (as well as folk and alt-country) was blurrier than ever. That’s not a bad thing, however, as it gives artists the freedom to see the possibilities, not the limits, and has led to some of the most dynamic and insightful compositions of the year.

More importantly, these once-under-the-radar genres have never felt more embraced by mainstream audiences. Whether it’s due to high-profile concerts and festival opening slots, late-night TV appearances, or simply constant touring, American, folk, and alt-country artists are enjoying unprecedented commercial success and acclaim. by criticism.

Below are The Boot’s picks for the Top 10 Americana, Alt-Country and Folk Songs of 2016.

  • ten

    “Always Driving”

    Paul Cauthen

    Sons of Fathers co-founder Cauthen has released one of the most interesting and low-key debut albums of 2016, My Gospel. For a good taste of the album’s vibe, start with “Still Drivin’,” a strut with desolate honky-tonk and blues vibes. Cauthen is an expressive singer who keeps his stoic growling baritone when needed, but he’s also not afraid to exaggerate syllables and lines for emphasis; in other words, when he talks about resilience and moving forward, you know he’s determined to go through life with his levity and sense of humor intact.

  • 9

    “This merry-go-round”

    Shovels and Rope

    Shovels and ropes small seeds was a dormant record that approached the vicissitudes of life – from parenthood to Alzheimer’s disease – with grace and vulnerability. If the album has a theme song, however, it could be “This Ride”, which refers to the complex twists and turns of life: “It hurts and it scars and it hurts and it twists / It stalls and it laughs and it clenches its fists”, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent sing around each other, their voices twisting like braided hair, while subtle handclaps and acoustic guitar add color.

  • 8


    Amanda Shire

    Shires’ “Harmless” begins almost a cappella, with her staging an important conversation, with “your eyes a shade of wonder / As if thunder had a color.” As the song progresses — and brushed percussion and watercolor guitars echo beneath it — Shires’ vocals remain strong and prominent in the mix. Evenly and resignedly, she ponders what might have been – down to the bridge, when her voice picks up strength and a robust chirp, and she ends the song satisfied (and a little sad) with the ambiguity.

  • 7

    “Red Light Kisses”

    cactus flowers

    What do you get when you cross Buddy Holly with the Everly Brothers? Minneapolis duo the Cactus Blossoms, whose “Stoplight Kisses” is a throwback to laid-back 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. Co-conspirators Jack Torrey and Page Burkum harmonize with delightful precision and heighten their country- vintage blues with guitar strokes curled by a twangy edge. And the song’s sweet, chaste theme – sneaking a kiss or two while waiting for a light to change – amplifies the car culture romance: “The rhythm of traffic sounds like magic / We can make a melody.”

  • 6

    “Move Me”

    Sara Watkins

    Young in all the wrong ways might be fiddler and Nickel Creek co-founder Sara Watkins’ best solo album yet. Exhibit A: “Move Me”, a song about the desire to feel and experience things beyond the same worn emotional path. Watkins matches this theme with an urgent and desperate vocal delivery that is powerful and confident: she knows what she wants from someone else and she’s not afraid to ask for it. Tasteful organs and eerie guitars lurk in the background, but never overpower Watkins’ vocals.

  • 5


    Robert Ellis

    Houston-based songwriter Ellis has slowly but surely made a name for himself over the past half-decade, thanks to evocative, evocative songwriting inspired by everything from jazz to honky-tonk. The taut, string-ornate “California” ranks among his best works: although he said the song was inspired by his divorce, the title character is a woman looking to start over.

    “In the past, my writing was more fatalistic…now I try to inject some hope,” Ellis told Noisey. “The woman from ‘California’ has just been through something very difficult, but now she is thinking about all the possibilities of where her life can go. Her life has opened up.

  • 4

    “The Comin’ tour is underway”

    Bonnie Raitt

    Raitt pulls no punches on this politically charged song: “You say it works, it flows,” she sings, sandpaper over her voice, to start the second verse. “Yeah, there’s this thing, because the jobs aren’t there.” From there, it’s sharper condemnations of election buzzwords and empty promises – all paired with hot blues guitars infused with electric boogie jolts and slick grooves.

  • 3


    Lydia without love

    Loveless 2016 Album Real continued the momentum she started gaining after the 2014 release Elsewhere. The gritty, slow-burning “Longer” describes a deep ambivalence of place – hating where you are, but not knowing where to go – and the sense of loss associated with romantic separation. Loveless looks both tough as nails and world-weary as she sings about the need for “have a clue” with a melancholy accent in his voice.

  • 2

    “Prepare for Impact (Live a Little)”


    The Simpsons Sailor’s Guide to Earth is racking up Grammy nominations and year-end accolades in part because of songs like “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”. The tune has a heavier, more bluesy feel, thanks to the smoky organ and guitars with a grit of bass. Simpson’s vocal delivery, meanwhile, is bolder and more confident: he’s a tight-jawed cowboy pondering death – and, ultimately, making the most of life while you’re alive.

  • 1

    “Return under protest”

    Truckers driving

    For two decades, the Drive-By Truckers have written about life in the American South, with the goal of chronicling the complexities of the region’s history and culture. Although the band has written dozens of insightful songs, “Surrender Under Protest” might be one of their best yet. Musically, the song written by Mike Cooley resembles Neil Young leading a punk band, with its storms of raging guitars and frenzied rhythms. Lyrically, the song – which was inspired by the battle over the remaining Confederate flag on display in South Carolina, following Dylann Roof allegedly murdering nine African-American worshipers – is an incisive and biting look at the cost of maintaining the tradition. In a year where disagreement and discontent have reigned, “Surrender Under Protest” captures the overwhelming emotions that arise when people change (or make) history.

NEXT: Top 10 Country Music Songs of 2016

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