International Songwriting Contest, 2013: My Picks

I enjoy browsing the winners of large songwriting contests. It’s always fun to discover  brand new talent, and it reveals something about my own musical tastes when a large selection of completely new music is put in front of me. Most recently, I took a listen to some of the musicians who placed in the 2013 International Songwriting Contest. There are certain genres I just avoid altogether (electronica, hip-hop, etc.) and others where the genre isn’t what it used to be (Top 40, adult contemporary). And then, happily, there are the genres where good music is still being made. This year, I kept coming back to the Americana, folk/singer-songwriter, blues and country selections. I guess I prefer music that says something to “music” that exists merely to put a worm in your ear.

The wealth of untapped talent out there is incredible. I laughed and cried over several of the songs that placed in these categories. In several cases, I actually preferred the 2nd or 3rd place finishers to the category winner. Below are some of my favorites. Think of this sampler as a little slice of “coffeehouse cake,” or alternatively, “songs that are too good for radio.”

Jesse Terry, “Let the Blue Skies Go to Your Head” (Winner, Americana category)

You’re always counting, counting on rain

Like it’s always gonna fall the same

Oh, don’t go inside, don’t you play dead

Honey let the blue skies go to your head

This sunny tune encourages a girl who’s hesitating over a new relationship to trust the young man with her heart, because his intentions are pure. A refreshing reminder that even when we’ve been hurt, sooner or later we need to move on in life and continue building human connections.

 

David Ramirez, “Stick Around” (3rd place, Americana category)

Maybe I go because I’m chasing something

Maybe I go because something is chasing me

Maybe I leave because I’ve yet to find someone

To look me in the face and say…

Stick around

I was really glad to discover this guy. A lyrically substantial singer/songwriter wrestling honestly with life’s big questions, Ramirez is one of several artists with a Christian background to place in non-Christian categories. The current state of his faith isn’t entirely clear, but his songs offer an intimate portrait of a man who genuinely seems to be seeking redemption. Lyrics.

 

Brad Cunningham, “Wings” (2nd place, country category)

One year ago, in the middle of the city

Saw the world for the very first time

I know I was scared to die

And I know that she was too

Through her tears, Momma held me tight…

I had a curiously sudden attack of hay fever when sampling this one for the first time. Symptoms included an odd pricking at the back of my nose, a lump in my throat, and leaky eyes.

 

Al Reed, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (2nd place, blues category)

Although you really hurt me

Although you made me cry

My love for you still lingers on

But you can kiss tomorrow goodbye

Now this was an unusual one—a song that’s decades old placing in a 2013 contest! Apparently this Al Reed guy has been hanging out and writing in the New Orleans scene for years and years, and he thought he’d just blow the dust off one of his old tunes and see how far it could go. I love it. The demo version streaming on the contest’s site is actually a 1985 cover by blues/rock guitarist Johnny Winter. SOUL good! Couldn’t listen to it just once. (I know, I know. The album cover. But dat voice.)

 

Charles Jenkins, “Pray My Dear Daughter” (2nd place, folk/singer-songwriter category)

Pray my dear daughter, don’t marry a folk singer

Ah, you know they never sing in tune

Pray my dear daughter, don’t marry a folk singer

They’re weird and they whine and never fill the room

This is one folk singer from Melbourne, Australia who can sing in tune and is also brilliantly funny. Laughed the whole way through.

 

Luke Brindley, “Heaven” (3rd place, folk/singer-songwriter category)

Ain’t no telling how I’ll go when it’s my time

Peacefully in sleep or face a firing line

Just hand me my guitar as they lay me down

My kids and wife and my friends gather round…

Dang, my allergies are really ramping up around this time of year. Once again, I’m not sure where this gifted singer/songwriter is at spiritually—self-described as “the son of a preacher man,” likes old-fashioned “Jesus rock” such as Keith Green but isn’t above spouting “progressive” cliches in his other work. I peg him as Christian, but the somewhat left-leaning “ragamuffin” type. Regardless, this is one heck of a beautiful song. The studio version of this song is unavailable on Youtube, so I’ve embedded it on soundcloud. Click here for lyrics.

In case you’re wondering, yes, there was a Christian category, but unfortunately no southern gospel category. No, I can’t remember a single note of any of the three songs that placed. Sorry. Maybe next year.

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