Who are currently the best Minnesota songwriters? The question isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
For the purposes of this list, the songwriter has to be born in Minnesota. This seems straightforward, but it takes out an incredible number of possibilities, including Gary Louris of the Jayhawks (born in Ohio), The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn (born in Boston), Mason Jennings (born in Hawaii), Chastity Brown (born in Tennessee), and Jeremy Messersmith (born in South Carolina).
Since this article has the qualifier “right now,” the songwriters must have released at least one album in the last ten years. For the record, then, Paul Westerberg of the Replacements doesn’t count, as he hasn’t released an album since like 1993. Okay, so I’m exaggerating a little, but it feels like that long. And it has been longer than 10 years. Unless you count goofy online side projects, which I don’t.
I’m also limiting the term “songwriter” to those who focus solely on writing their own songs and are able to do so on their own. This eliminates, say, Lizzo, who always works with a bevy of other songwriters and producers to make each of her tracks. I’m also going by what the artist primarily is, and I’d consider Lizzo primarily a rapper (she’ll make my best local rappers list for sure).
Without further ado, here are Minnesota’s five best songwriters right now.
Call me Captain Obvious, but it seems like our Nobel Prize winning “voice of a generation” has to make the list. His latest album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, was just released in June 2020, and shows that he is still our greatest active songwriter.
Former Semisonic front man Dan Wilson holds two distinctions: he wrote a song that everybody (unfortunately) knows, “Closing Time,” and is a master collaborator. The Dixie Chicks and Adele don’t write with any old guy or gal, after all. Wilson combines creativity, depth, and hooks better than any Minnesota songwriter.
Reina del Cid
While not as much of a heavy hitter as Dylan and Wilson (but who is, good grief), Reina del Cid has made an international name for herself with her unique blend of folk/rock. Impressively, she released a song a week on her YouTube channel for years. Her latest single, “Bernadette,” came out in Summer 2019. I can’t find any info about whether or not she was born in Minnesota, but eh, we’ll let it slide. It’s my list anyway, dammit, I can do what I want.
Perhaps Minnesota’s greatest bluesman, Charlie Parr is equally powerful when performing solo with his resonator guitar or with various ensembles. His early songwriting was in the country blues vein, playing on influences like Mississippi John Hurt and Son House, but on his last few albums he has branched out into folk, rock, and even some jam band sensibilities.
Starting off the list with Bob Dylan and ending it with Dan Israel makes sense, as they share common music sensibilities. In fact, Israel plays Bob Dylan at a yearly tribute show to the Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz. At times folky, at times poppy, at times rock-y, the final two of those have been emphasized more on his last two albums, Social Media Anxiety Disorder (2019) and Social Distance Anxiety Disorder (2020).