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My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003).

11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me”

Official website.
– From the 2003 album Oh, The Stories We Hold (eMusic link).

The Chicago-based singer-songwriter Anna Fermin has one of those expressively elastic voices that sounds like it belongs to an older generation of singers; she’s partly husky and intimate on one track, then belting it out Grand Ole Opry-style on another. While “country” is the dominant musical idiom in which Fermin writes her songs, it seems like a narrow label for the expansiveness of her band’s styles, like the lilting, jazzy nature of this tune that haunted me all year. “How Do You Judge Me”, is from her band’s 2003 album produced by the late Jay Bennett and was, the liner notes read, “recorded live around Jay’s kitchen table.”

It’s a shame that I couldn’t find longer sound samples or YouTube footage – and I would have loved for people to hear Frank Kvinge’s beautiful guitar solo as well – and that the CD looks out of print and unavailable either on CD Baby or their own website or as downloadable mp3s in the usual places (Lala, Amazon, iTunes). What gives? And why isn’t Anna Fermin an alt-country superstar?

I don’t know what the song means, though I have a guess. Here’s the first stanza and the refrain:

Is it the color of my hair?
Is it the darkness of my skin that keeps you frozen in your tracks?
Is it the clothing on my back?
Is it the unfamiliar drawl of my tongue that makes me small in your eyes?

How do you judge me?
How is it that you know me so well?

—–

The rest of the list so far:

12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20” (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)