Now for our second installment of the Folk Alley staff’s favorite music of 2022.
This time, we’re going deep with the songs—a much more challenging thing for everyone to agree upon. Lucky for us, Folk Alley is a 24/7 hosted stream with records that show what songs were spun by our hosts the most throughout the year. Those metrics, put together with our personal favorites, brought us to the Top 10 list you’ll find below.
As with the album roundup, there is so much incredible music that couldn’t fit here. We hope you’ll use our Favorites lists as a jumping-off point to find your way to the vast and diverse universe of folk and roots music next time you need something beautiful or stirring to fill your ears.
Without further ado, here are the Folk Alley Favorites for Best Songs of 2022!
1. Tami Neilson & Willie Nelson – “Beyond the Stars”
“Beyond The Stars” is a beautiful, mournful conversation between Tami Neilson and her late father, who was also the larger-than-life lead singer of her family’s band. Not only is this a touching imagining of a much-wanted conversation, but Nielson was able to enlist her hero Willie Nelson to sing her father’s part.
2. Adeem the Artist – “Middle of a Heart”
Adeem the Artist’s White Trash Revelry ruminates on growing up in the South, falling in love, wrestling with the gender binary, and finding oneself in the middle of all that confusion. No song on the album more beautifully captures all these themes in the course of a single melody than this one—easily one of the best singer-songwriter achievements on offer in 2022.
3. Anais Mitchell – “Bright Star”
Ask any songwriter in the folk realm and they’re likely to name Anais Mitchell as one of the most gifted singer-songwriters working these days. For evidence as to why, look no further than “Bright Star.” Her commitment to her metaphor is heroic, and it follows the form of old folk songs with layers of sound that are decidedly contemporary. It comes from her first solo album in a decade, which was beloved among several FA staff.
4. iskwē and Tom Wilson – “Mother Love”
The title track from iskwē and Tom Wilson’s 2022 release showcased the juxtaposition of her airy, ethereal vocals and his earthbound grit. The lyrics are a beckoning for return, a love that transcends absence. What’s more, its multi-verse duet is just straight-up infectious.
5. Dropkick Murphys – “Two Sixes Upside Down”
Massachusetts-based Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys came out this year with an album full of songs they pulled from Woody Guthrie’s catalog. With all their spirited pluck, they displayed the way Guthrie’s working-person-hero lyricism transcends not only time but also musical style.
6. Bonnie Raitt – “Just Like That”
This story-song from Bonnie Raitt captures the tale of a woman reunited, in a sense, with her long-dead son when the man who received his heart in a transplant knocks on her door. Punctuated with Raitt’s exquisite guitar work and her weathered vocals, it is an emotionally stirring rumination on love and parenthood and the things we give without knowing.
7. Willi Carlisle – “Your Heart’s a Big Tent”
Willi Carlisle is easily one of the most exciting new singer-songwriters on the folk scene these days, and this song is a tribute to loving big without exception or regret. Its refrain will needle its way into your brain and, if you see Carlisle live, you’ll find yourself singing it along with him, at full volume.
8. Amy Ray – “Joy Train”
Amy Ray’s If It All Goes South album was, by all means, one of the finest roots music albums released this year, and “Joy Train” was one of its major highlights. It sees Ray ruminating on the history of the South she loves so dearly while her daughter sleeps in the backseat. After surveying the often dark, always complex history, she decides to bring forward the joy that’s always been a throughline.
9. Tré Burt – “Know Your Demons”
Listen Tré Burt has demons … three of them, to be specific, and he can hear them laughing even when everything’s going well. “Know Your Demons” is about facing those annoying demon jerks, getting uncomfortable, and setting yourself free. Added bonus is the choir of women singing along with Burt’s wildly fun vocal phrasing.
10. Aoife O’Donovan & Allison Russell – “Prodigal Daughters”
This song, which O’Donovan co-wrote with Tim O’Brien, appears on her stunning 2022 album Age of Apathy, and includes the remarkable vocal support of Allison Russell. Both Russell and O’Donovan are known for their richly nuanced vocals, full of emotion and subtlety. Together, the result is an arresting combination that earned the duo a Grammy nomination, with good reason.