As 2020 draws close to its end for what has been for a lot of folks a trying year, to put it mildly, there are some things about it that were great. And, in the music and arts department we were gifted with some great albums. Below is a list, as always in no order that is relevant to my most favorite or least. I think that is cheap and overplayed. Even doing this list feels that way, but for those that care about what tickled my pickle or melted my ice cube throughout the year below you will find it. I am well aware also that there are probably some albums that I missed. I keep a notebook close to me to jot down albums I like, but sometimes I miss some. For any of you I missed, my apologies. At the end I’ll throw in some books I’ve read as well. Overall, I hope you the reader found solace in some music to ease the monotony of social distancing and pandemic life. So, enough blabbering here it is.
Reunions by Jason Isbell. This record came out sometime around spring, and I enjoyed. Any year that has Jason Isbell releasing a record is always great for me.
Migration Stories: M. Ward. This album, while not long, only about a half hour. Was for me something meditative. Then reading he was inspired to put the album together by the migrant crisis that’s gripped large parts of North America and Europe over the last decade and inspired by his own Grandfather’s story. Has made this record for me something even more special.
Square One: Payzant. He is a local MC finding his way through hip hop, and this Square One was something I could kick my feet up with. I mean you can’t go wrong with a dude who wrote a song about his dog.
Run the Jewels 4: Run the Jewels. I mean there isn’t much to say about this record other than it is probably my most favorite that dropped this year. Amidst a climate of social inequality for black, indigenous, and people of color this record is inspiring.
The Pandemic Project and Cincoriginals: Tobe Nwigwe. Pandemic Project dropped over the summer, and Cincoriginals was release on the December 14. I just love what Tobe does. Can’t really put it into words, I just enjoy it. He has his own style, and his producer LaNell Grant is also amazing. Just really great music.
Vagabon: Vagabon. This record came out in 2019, but it found my ears this year and I really enjoy Laetitia’s songs. 10 songs at a 36-minute run time and just some really great songs hear as well. Powerful songs and moving as well.
Old Time Feeling: SG Goodman. SG resides in Kentucky, and probably about a month ago I just heard about her, and really dig what she is doing. She’s singing more folky country-ish songs, but not the Nashville Machine stuff. Real songs. I just dig what she’s doing.
Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1: Sturgill Simpson. I just love Sturgill and all that he does. I have yet to hear Vol. 2 of this series which just came out last week, but I am excited. Because I love that Sturgill really does not like being labeled country. He gave a great interview on the Broken Record podcast that highly recommend, and after I hear that when I got home from work, I listened to Vol 1 and it reinforced why I like him.
Die Midwestern: Arlo McKinley. Arlo and the band are just great. The songs always hit me right in my heart. They are moving, they are powerful, and they stay with me. They walk around with me and follow me. I love that about Arlo’s music. The way that his songs stick to me. It’s always a great year to have an Arlo record come out.
Love is King: Jeff Tweedy. I recently reviewed this record, so I won’t go into too much. Just to say that sure maybe Jeff has lost his edge a little, but these songs are still damn good. And the fact that he recorded them with his two sons is just something I really like. Plus, what can I say I like the record.
Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was: Bright Eyes. I am currently working on a longer review of this record, but if I had to sum up what I would say about it “My favorite album this year.” There are a lot of reasons why it is, and the music is the catalyst for all the reasons. A decade from the last Bright Eyes record, personal life stuff with all the members of the band, and here they are again picking up right where they left off and powerfully. I don’t know, I just really love this record.
These are just a few. There are some others that I have listened to that I enjoyed Margo Price had a great record, Amanda Shires, Tyler Childers. I recently went through the entire catalogue of hip hop artist Aesop Rock, and I had to slap myself in the forehead as to why it took me so long to listen. I just loved every album, and every track. I’ve also been listening to a lot of my local favorites The Tillers. They are perfect for me in any kind of mood and help me to get through any kind of day or are even better to have on while driving or working.
Some books I have read or since audio books are a thing, I have also listened to a few. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass had me in tears at some points. “Proving Einstein Right” S. James Gates and Cathie Pelletier, “Without Conscience” by Robert D. Hare, “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones. These three have been on mind as they were all good. I’m currently reading / listening to “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson and this too has been on mind.
Most importantly throughout this year no matter how many books I read or how much music I listen to. There will be an emptiness. John Prine passed away back in April. Other than passing of family members and a dear friend I have never really cried at a death. John’s was something different. Guy Clark’s passing kind of felt this way for me as well. Just something tough. A catalogue of music that was truly inspiring in many ways. So many memories of listening to his music while on a road trip, and so many more to be made. I never met John. He grew up in Maywood, Illinois which was not far from me where I grew up, but by that time he was probably in Nashville. His voice sounds like all the Chicago guys I know, and when I have a few whiskys my Chicago comes out as well. The flood of emotion is rushing back again so I will end this with loss is tough but hold onto those memories made. Luckily, we have all of John’s music to go through and enjoy.
Much love to everyone. No matter how this year has treated you. We all could use a little love. I wish you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.