You know how this works – picture the scene: you’re lost in thought, perhaps working through another 9-5, with a radio on in the background, when a tune bursts from the speakers that grabs your attention, and immediately lifts your spirits. You may hear that tune again later in the day, or later that week – it gets under your skin quickly, and you’re hooked. The purpose of this annual recap is to recall 20 such moments from the past 12 months (and shock myself at how much country music is included).
This is by no means a list of the best 20 singles from this year – that would take too much time and energy to compile – no, these are tunes that had an emotional impact, made a personal connection, or simply became victim of the repeat button for days on end. Due to the time taken to prepare this recap, only singles released prior to November 30th qualified (sorry Kellie Loder – your outstanding cover of “Sonny’s Dream” just missed the cut). Like last year, these singles are not ranked in any order, instead listed alphabetically by artist/band first name.
Adrian Sutherland: “Better”
As music streaming subscribers, you will likely receive a recap of your listening habits over the last year. I was initially surprised to learn that this single from Attawapiskat, ON artist Adrian Sutherland was my most streamed tune – but listening again, yup, consider me guilty as charged. This is an absolute gem.
Boy Golden: “Mountain Road”
This tune was being hummed before it was officially released, thanks in part to catching up with Winnipeg’s Boy Golden at a show here in PA late last year. The instantly catchy riffs and twang accentuate some fabulous lyrics that read like parables for those just looking to belong.
Braden Lam (ft. Mia Kelly): “Smoking Gun”
Gotta love coincidences: back in August 2022, both Braden (Halifax, NS) and Mia (Gatineau, QC) appeared in our Video Vault feature – solo tunes, naturally. Seeing both artists team up just 12 months later to deliver this phenomenal duet is hopefully the first of many future collaborations.
Brittany Kennell: “House And A Dog”
There is so much fun going on here as Beaconsfield, QC artist Brittany Kennell transports us on a time-travel adventure to 90s Nashville – mixing in wonderful tongue-in-cheek lyrics to combat the song’s narrative of societal expectations to settle down and marry as she transitions into her 30s. Perfect.
Colter Wall: “Evangelina”
Every tune on the “Little Songs” album from this Battle Creek, SK crooner is worthy of inclusion here, but this 70s country cover just oozes with authenticity. Wall’s smooth baritone always earns your attention, with his delivery and instrumentation choices holding us captive through to the final closing notes.
Hailey Benedict: “Damn You July”
Not gonna apologize for the country music bias here! 2023 was a good year for original CanCon country tunes, many obliterating the rinse & repeat variety found down on Music Row. An emerging artist from St Albert, AB, Hailey dazzles with this account of a bittersweet summer and lost love.
HORSEBATH: “They Don’t Know”
Relative newcomers on the folk-roots scene heading into 2023, and founded by Daniel Connolly and Keast Mutter, this Halifax, NS and Montreal, QC band set our January on fire by flashing this almost-4-minute moment of brilliance that blends beautifully elements of alt-country, Americana, and rock music.
Imogen Moon: “Nicolston Dam”
Another new discovery for us this year, Vancouver, BC soul-jazz artist Imogen Moon pretty much left us breathless when first encountering this modern-day classic. Originally composed and recorded by her grandfather, Douglas Randle, Imogen adds her flair – with The Dap-Kings offering harmonies too. Bliss.
Jeremie Albino: “Across The Hall”
Having watched from afar the blossoming music career of this Toronto-based folk-roots troubadour, Jeremie raised the bar to unchartered territory in 2023. There is an abundance of energy here, plenty of rock and roll licks, and THAT feel good factor that leaves you smiling like a Cheshire cat as it plays out.
Jessica Rhaye & The Ramshackle Parade: “I Feel Fine”
Go ahead and search for a ‘hot new tune’ in the ‘post-pandemic era’ from an artist who last released music before we heard the term ‘Covid-19,’ and should your top response not be this corker of a tune from Saint John, NB’s Jessica Rhaye, your search engine needs recalibrated. This tune is a 2023 JAM!
Jill Barber, Jenn Grant & Rose Cousins: “Dark Angel”
Toss out a cover of a timeless, often underrated Blue Rodeo tune at me and you’ll earn my attention. Offer me the trio of Jill Barber (BC), Jenn Grant (NS) and Rose Cousins (PE), who combine their stunning harmonies here to deliver this ballad a cappella – well, it’s a lock for this list before even hitting Play.
Joan Smith & The Jane Does: “Irrational Anthem”
Our favorite Toronto hard rockers burst back onto the airwaves in July with this aptly titled and deliciously loud anthem. Boasting a propulsive beat and Joan’s RATM style aggressive vocal delivery, this banger not only awakened all the senses, but it also sent every one of them into a cosmic overload.
Joel Plaskett: “Hey Moon (A Campfire Song)”
You’ll never hear complaints here at GDW when Dartmouth, NS singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett steps back onto the studio floor. Timed to perfection, the mid-August tune became the soundtrack for cool summer evenings, campfires, s’mores, cold beverages, and time spent with loved ones.
Le Roy, la Rose et le Lou[p]: “Chanson Theme”
We love retro-themed tunes – in English and/or French – and with plenty of pop-flair, this single proved to be one of the best jams all year. How good? Well, it led us to driving up to Montreal to catch this trio of Ariane Roy, Thierry Larose, and Lou-Adriane Cassidy in concert. Gonna do it again in 2024 too!
Little Misty: “Alma”
One of our favorite new artist discoveries in 2023 – and yet another band hailing from Quebec – the country-folk duo of Kathryn Samman (vocals) and François Jalbert (guitar/vocals) completely overwhelmed us with this atmospheric tale of a little girl racing through the whirlwind of her life.
Matt Paxton & The Pintos: “Southside Of The West Town”
Local Hamilton, ON legend, GDW pal, and all-round good guy, Matt Paxton whet our appetite late last year with news of new music and a new band coming the following spring. Waiting impatiently for April to roll around, this steel-centered slow country burner was totally worth the wait.
Maude Audet: “Je danse”
With some distinct 60s French-pop flair, this first teaser of new music from Montreal-based Maude Audet certainly whet our appetites for the “Il faut partir maintenant” album that followed in early spring. Flamenco guitar riffs – sonic textures – dreamy vocals – what more can we possibly need???
Murray A. Lightburn: “Dumpster Gold”
Montreal-based artist Murray Lightburn came out of the gate swinging as we transitioned into 2023 with this fabulous blend of folk-pop, smooth jazz, strings and keys. Enjoyed at home or at the cocktail lounge, Murray served up the first of many great tunes later found on his third solo album release.
TANDM: “The Man In The Sea”
This Toronto-based duo of Maxine Beck-Sinderby and Thomas Franklin landed on our radar last year thanks to their tune on “Coverama” – an album of covers that impressed us. Originally a poem from Maxine, this is a whimsical family tale of a giant man in the sea who stirs a spoon to make the waves.
Tim Baker: “Leaving On The Evening Tide”
If learning of news about a tribute album to the late Ron Hynes earlier this year was enough to awaken the senses, discovering this teaser from Tim Baker that accompanied the news brought an all-out attack of goosebumps. Tim shines here – nobody else could have given this one the respect it deserves.