“Don’t be but ins, cut ins . No trouble in our bubble with a population of two. Let the hurry and the worry fade out. I’d rather be a shut in with you” from “Shut ins” by Curtis Stigers and Larry Goldings lyrics by Bill DeMain
The lock down changed everything in 2020. These extraordinary times had everyone re-thinking their daily lives. We needed to think, breathe , and spend time with our loved ones. We needed entertainment more than ever. We needed music. I found it to be an amazing year for music. A lot of it was already recorded, but a fair amount came out of the lock down .I have so much to share with you. There was the return of A Girl called Eddy, Louis Philippe, and The Apartments. I discovered Cabane, Nick Frater, Brian Gari, Juniper, Dave Caruso, Low Cut Connie . The Haden Triplettes and Bonny Light Horseman gave us some amazing traditional music. Sondre Lerche made a romantic masterpiece, and Daniel Tashian had an outstanding year., and Lisa Mychols and Paul Ryan made us happy. It is time for me to share my thoughts. I am way behind due to medical reasons and family matters, and I am sorry for that. But I have been listening, and listening and I believe I am ready.
I will start with my top 10 , after that there will be no particular order. I will also post a video playlist full of great moments, So here are my musical dreamers for the year. Come dream with me.
TOP TEN : –
1] A Girl called Eddy- “Been Around”
” Been around enough to miss my heart when it was pure…” Who could have imagined that the album of the year would be released in early January. Well, that is what happened with this amazing album. Erin Moran, who we have missed dearly is back with her mellow vocals , and she has put together some wonderful new music to enjoy. The album brings to mind Carole King, Burt Bacharach, and Dusty Springfield to name a few. Just take the title cut ,which is a master class in how to craft a pop song. Starting with some Carole King piano with a choir of voices in the background ushering in Erin’s melancholy vocal. I love how she whispers when she sings “pure”. Some perfectly placed horns enter and accent the song. Then at 3:14 the melody switches up for “Carrying around the weight of a lifetime of dreaming.” Erin and the singers swell and enter a chromatic harp solo. The song ends with a swelled chorus of “Been Around”. A remarkable performance. Here are some more choice lyrics and hooks :
-“Big Mouth” “Every time I go and open my big mouth .What’s it all about. ” Love how she sings “I just can’t win”, so vulnerable .At 2:45 the melody goes up and Erin sings “We go round round round”, a real hook.
-“Jody” This memory of a friend kicks off with a blast of R&B horns. “Love the line “watching every girl go by”. “He liked to call me kid I liked it when he did” leads to the catchy “Jody was a friend” handclap “Jody was a friend of mine” then repeat.
-“Charity shop window” – this sweet tune was composed by Erin with the great Paul Williams. “Long ago dreams find another chance to live again”. Erin’s vocal here is very strong. Love when she harmonizes with The Watson Twins. At the end when Erin sings softly “if she really tries’ gets me every time.
-“Someone’s gonna break your heart”- This is simply a pure pop rush with a killer chorus “Watch out Watch out Someone’s gonna break your heart someone’s gonna hurt you bad. Someone’s gonna talk so sweet. Someone’s gonna break you. Someone’s gonna make you cry.” It all end with chiming guitars and a minor chord. Sweet!
-“Come to the Palisades” -one of my favorites co-composed by Bill DeMain.has a lovely horn arrangement. “We got drunk on love and beer”. At 2:45 when the melody changes “Palisades swings all day but after dark there’s still a trace of you in my heart” leads to a gorgeous finish with the background vocals chanting. “Why’d you have to say goodbye”.
Throughout the album Erin has wonderful support. Daniel Tashian is all over it as a player ,producer, and composer. The amazing Jim Hoke adds really nice horn arrangements.. The beautiful background vocals together with Erin make a fine mix. I never tire of listening to this music. . I would say don’t make us wait so long for more music, but there is news of a cover album to look forward to. For now “Been Around” is my album of the year!
2]Sondre Lerche- :Patience”
“”Darling ,oh darling I wasn’t looking for someone else Just some other part of myself…” I can’t talk about this about without gushing a bit. The poetry of the lyrics, the melodies, the singing, and the music itself all spell romance. Sondre is one of our most gifted artists, and he’s also a deep thinker. This is the third album in a trilogy, preceded by “Please” which was essentially a break up album, then “Pleasure’ which seemed to bring him closer to inner peace. “Patience” is his look at romantic love. He’s taking on the different angles of love, the push and pull of the heart, devotion, and commitment. It is ravishing at times, there is some humor, but really it is so entertaining to just listen to. Here are some of the many highlights:
-“Patience” -The opening song introduces “this performance piece of work”, telling his love “that I loosely based on you.” To set us on his journey he ends with “Patience ,I’m coming”. The piano and the midi orchestra well enhance the song.
“I love you because it’s true”- The best part of this simple declaration of the strength of love is “Oh is this the way our parents used to live? Let’s do the opposite of everything they did”. Then at the end he looks to himself and sings “let’s do the opposite of everything I did”. The title of the song says it all.
_”You are not who I thought I was”- To a slight dance beat , the tricky lyrics detail his identity in the relationship .That is what I get . He may have a deeper meaning. I love the line “laying down the law of what dreams can be dreamed.”
-“That’s all there is”- Meeting up with his love after an absence contains this gem “Your secret smile will always kill me.”
-“Are we alone now” -There are three outstanding songs for me and this is #1.In hushed tones Sondre is basically reminding his love that we came into life alone , but the blessing is to love someone. “You are the person I have met I most prefer.” One of Sondre’s best vocals, there is also a lovely sax solo at the end.
-“Why would I let you go”- #2 This is a showcase of Sondre’s vocal talents. “And in my dreams I have the strength to not keep love at an arm’s length.” It is simply gorgeous and a perfect pop song. There is a video of him singing this with a small orchestra that has to be seen. It is included in my playlist coming up.
-“Why did I write the book of love” To a bossa nova beat with swirling flute, this is yet another vocal triumph. Halfway through he goes to falsetto which is classic Sondre. A clever nod to “My Fair Lady” he sings “you have the distracting touch that gets me to the church on time”. A wonderful performance and #3.
Bonus track “Slip into Character” with a choir backing is also quite beautiful. Sondre was so excited to share this album and I can see why .He did two live performances and I bought tickets for both. One was a solo “Patience” show from Loften Islands in September. The other was in December and was billed as a “Patience Extravaganza” with his full band at the Drammen Theater. Both in Norway and amazing to watch. I should mention how awesome his keyboardist Alexander von Mehren is throughout the album. Sondre is a unique talent , one that I follow faithfully.
3} The Flat Five- “Another World”-” She split the scene in a hopped up little chevy. Met Don McLean he was drinking at the levee…” Alex Hall, Kelly Hogan, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, and Nora O’Connor are five musicians who love to sing. They are labeled on their Facebook page as “harmony junkies” who call their music “twisted sunshine pop. “They are The Flat Five and their latest is perhaps the most unique album on this entire list. Their 2016 debut “It’s a world of love and hope” was at the top of my list , and I believe this new one is even better. The one thing they have in common are all the songs are composed by Scott’s brother Chris Ligon. Chris has a very unique talent for writing about unusual characters like the guy who “shakes like Tina Turner’s daughter,” or a creepy photographer who asks for a smile “your mommy’s gone for a while,” or a prisoner’s last moments before being executed in Texas, or the old guy who just couldn’t connect throughout his life so he ‘climbed to the top of that St. Louis arch and pushed myself out.” The music covers jazz, sunshine pop, and Americana. Here are my three choice cuts , which was difficult because every track is amazing.
1] “Great state of Texas”-The last sad bittersweet moments of a doomed prisoner “Had my last cup of coffee ,my last piece of pie ” “Heard my last Beatle record ,the one Ringo sang.” The melody and piano are perfectly sad. . By the end it’s “Say goodbye to the children ,goodbye to my Mom.”
2] “Girl of Virginia” – Scott sings this so sweetly ,it sounds like a campfire reverie. Lines like “Then I could spin ya across the dance floor,” and “I think I’ll go ask her to play some canasta with me by the fire.’ The love song concludes with a jazz piano solo by Scott. A precious winner.
3] “World missed out” -Another sad one, this one going through a lifetime of missing out. At a Halloween party when he was 17 “Guess I’ll fold up all these empty chairs”. At 35 “I studied hard for my drinking test”. Finally “old and grey one fine day” he ends it all by pushing himself off the St. Louis arch. The music stops just before that fatal jump, and Kelly delivers a dramatic finish. I have see Kelly sing this live and it is a show highlight.
The music is so fresh sounding with a banjo or horns perfectly placed. Scott plays some nifty guitar as well as piano. They take turns at lead vocals , and whoever is singing knows just how to interpret Chris’s songs. On the cd jacket Chris is asked what’s it’s like to have the Flat Five perform his songs. His answer is “It’s like taking your beat up Mazda to the Robo-Wash and when it comes out the other side it’s suddenly a brand new Chrysler New Yorker.” Please do yourself a favor and listen to this immensely entertaining album. And always remember “caterpillars never hurt a thing>”
4] Burt Bacharach and Daniel Tashian- “Blue Umbrella The Complete Recordings”
“Are you still under the same Blue Umbrella Do you still wear the same coat, living your life your own way, You’ll always share my true heart…” From “Blue Umbrella”
One of my favorite car cds on road trips is “Painted from Memory” by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Love the entire cd and always sing along. When Erin Moran broke the news that her friend Daniel Tashian was releasing new music from a collaboration with Burt Bacharach I kind of thought I was dreaming. I love Daniel’s music and voice, and of course Bacharach is royalty. Couldn’t wait. And the releases kept coming until we now have the complete recordings, 9 gems all with that impeccable Bacharach stamp. It is quite special. Here are my three choice songs:
1] “Travelling Light” -The trumpet begins, and what better way to start a Bacharach song. Daniel’s vocals are warm and sensitive ,”Travelling light that’s what they say We were born on the wind. Always been that way.” The trumpet finishes and the first cut on the album opens up the beauty to follow.
2] “Bells of St. Augustine”- This was the first song streamed and when I heard it I cried. The kind of cry only music can cause . You music lovers know of what I’m talking about. The guitar into is chilling and Daniel’s smooth delivery is so comforting as he searches for a lost love. “To find her I’ve looked high and low .High and low…” At 2;35 when he sings “the bells ring out” there is a pause and then the bells descend. This song reminds me the most of that Costello album. In a perfect world this song would be a huge number one hit.
3]”Quiet Place”- Another trumpet intro to the most heart tugging tune on the album. It is deeply affecting to hear the singer looking for a place to “repair my heart”. Sadness is in the melody. “cause breaking up does something to you. You can feel the cold right through you .There’s so much heartache in the air these days .” Then with his strongest vocal he sings “And I just can’t take it. No I just can’t take it anymore.” And the trumpet that started the album ends the album.
This album is perhaps the most exciting of the whole year. I held out for a cd and finally got one, but alas no credits. I am assuming Daniel composed the lyrics and Burt the music. Would love to see a “making of” video. What a year for Daniel Tashian. He is all over that Girl called Eddy album. He released a charming album with his daughters , then a Christmas EP with them. Then an ambient album that is really nice and now this one. He is a remarkable musician and I am sure Burt recognized that. Please give this one a listen.
5] Louis Philippe and The Night Mail- “Thunderclouds”-
“We wait in vain for signs of morning We pray for a hand to pull us in Thunderclouds over the mountain…” From “Thunderclouds”
Philippe Auclair is a sports writer. But I know him as Louis Philippe who was a star on legendary “el Records” from the 1980’s. and lots of solo albums following ,the last one , “An Unknown Spring” was released 13 years ago. But I never stopped searching for new music, and finally this year he has two releases. One, “The Devil Laughs” is with Stuart Moxham who was in the legendary Young Marble Giants. And the album on review here, “Thunderclouds” a solo album recorded with a three piece band, The Night Mail. The music is enhanced by Rachel Hall on strings, and Shanti Jayasinha on trumpet. Louis has a wonderful high register pop voice, and also composes, plays guitar and piano, and arranges. He has thirteen new songs to share, and it made me so happy to listen to the beautiful music. Here are some highlights:
-“Once in a lifetime of lies”-The opening tracks confirm Louis’s voice has kept it’s angelic luster. His sweet high vocals just take you with him. “You couldn’t guess what your fate had in store .You couldn’t care as you never cared before…”.Very beautiful and graceful music.
-“Rio Grande”- This gorgeous song begins with almost two minutes of instrumental music ,beginning with Bacharach trumpet followed by strings that usher in this tender vocal “This isn’t a lie. A trap to fool the god of gentle souls”. After singing of the pastoral beauty of the Rio Grande the strings and trumpet return to conclude . Amazing!
-Love is the only Light” – A gospel feel to the piano begins after which Louis sings of love as a sacred light. “One smile of hers could turn a day into song. Before you know it you find yourself singing along “. The remainder is Louis almost chanting the tune’s title to great affect.
There is the charming “The Man who had it all “, and guitars serenading “The Mighty Owl” “She caught the moon in her feathered lap…”.Even the politically charged “When London Burns” he still sounds breathlessly sweet with a trumpet in the background. If you don’t know his music this is as good a starting place. But I urge you to check out his early music from the el Records era. A very special artist indeed. And I hope Louis is inspired enough to not make us wait 13 years for the next one.
6] Jules Shear- “Slower’ ‘see I just want to stare into your eyes you say they’ve got a name for that It’s Love..”
When I see a release announced for Jules Shear I get very excited. Jules is perhaps the most consistent artist out there. He takes composing seriously and he has a great vocal range. All that is on display here. However his vocals are relaxed and the music is late night reveries. Recorded near his home in Woodstock, NY, during the pandemic with a small group. I must mention the wonderful piano stylings of Pepe. Jules even got John Sebastian to contribute harmonica, autoharp, and guitar. Choice tracks:
“Between Hell and Hello”- The album title comes from this tune “I used to think no one could catch me . But now I’m slower…”
“Feels like Fall”- He sings this entire song repeating the song’s title but letting us know ” and it’s spring”.
-“Today like tomorrow”- With lounge piano Jules sings in his low register to great affect. “Between the nearness and the far away make today like tomorrow for a little while…” This may be one of Jules greatest songs. His haunting vocal with the sensitive piano is really something.
- Three songs “Smart”, “It’s love”, and “Call it love” I am guessing are romantic odes to his partner Pal Shazar I also think that is her harmonizing with Jules . She is not listed so maybe not.
- One of my favorite Jules Shear albums is one he did with Marty Wilson- Piper of The Church ,”The Third Party” .It is a low key affair with a lot of his lower register vocals. This album is very close to that feel . However Jules voice has a more mature sound now especially when he sings low. In an interview with Tom Lauhm of The San Francisco Examiner Jules said ‘ I really do this for myself. I write songs and let the chips fall where they may.’ So glad that in this crazy year the chips fell our way.
-7] Cabane-“Gran de est la Maison” ‘Surrounded by the sea the wind blows in our eyes . Huddled in our velvet coats.” from “Now, winter comes”
This is such a find. Listening has given me such happiness. I found out about it from Sean O’Hagen’s Facebook page. He was singing it’s praises , with very god reason since he arranges all the strings. Cabane is the work of Thomas Jean Henri who composed the music and recorded most of it in his home in Brussels. He has enlisted Bonny Prince Billy and Kate stables for vocals, and as mentioned Sean O’Hagen with the magical string arrangements. Sean also contributes guitars and keyboards. The music is gorgeous chamber folk music evocative of nature and the changing seasons. The vocals by Bonny Prince Billy are the best I have heard from him. Kate Stables from This is the Kit has a lovely voice and when they sing together like on “Take me home Part one” with The Bostgehio Choir backing the results are superb. Kate has two outstanding tracks with “Now winter comes” and “Until the summer comes”. When she sings “We could go for a walk until the summer comes” with her voice going up on “walk” I just melt. Sean O’ Hagen brings some of his High Llamas charm throughout the album. listen to the sparkle on “Easily we’ll see”. So beautiful. This music is pure pastoral loveliness. There is a great Take away show with Thomas and Kate in Paris with a chamber orchestra and choir and you see what a gentile man that Thomas is. This is one of the greatest discoveries of the year and I do hope you will seek it out and share in the happiness it offers.
8] Lisa Mychols and Super 8- “Lisa Mychols &Super 8”-I have already done a complete review of this album at my Pop Forever Site. Let me say it gives me great joy to listen to this and to turn people onto. I have always loved Lisa as a vocalist. She is mentioned in several of my lists. But this was my introduction to Paul Ryan who as Super 8 is a one man band capable of taking you higher. Together they trip the light fantastic with a couple cool covers, and songs like “You and me, Me and you” and “Your summer theme” as highlights. “Honey Bee” is one of the year’s best songs. So it’s fun fun fun till Daddy takes away the recording equipment. Check out my review, and please listen to this wonderful music. It is well worth checking out. And the good news is they are already working on a new one. Link to the review:
9]Nicole Atkins -“Italian Ice”- “Take me in your arms To sounding the alarm Hey hey hey hey look out below watch them fall like Dominoes…” From “Dominoes”
My strong affection for Nicole Atkins has been well documented in my yearly lists. I love her voice and her versatility. She never stop changing her musical vision. Lately it’s been southern soul, or as she states in a making of video “boardwalk soul” referring to her growing up in New Jersey. That is where the album’s title comes from,. Shet has early memories of getting Italian ice on the boardwalk. This album deals a lot with family and being with your loved ones .She recorded most of it at the famous Muscle Shoals studio with some of the legendary musicians like David Hood and Spooner Oldham. Also Britt Daniel and Seth Avett help out. But it’s that amazing voice that stands out like the torch in “These old Roses” or just belting out a King Groffin cover “In the Splinters “with great honky tonk piano. The funk R&B bass on “Mind Eraser’ details the come down after touring .’till you do it all again.’ There are two love songs to her husband that are my favorites. “Forever” a strong ballad sounding like a 70’s hit with a soaring chorus that sticks with you. And romantic lines like “I really like your mouth Come a little closer let me try to figure you out.” The other song is “Captain” one she has been previewing for a while. The singer is requesting to take un some of the load in the relationship. “And when you’re found a wreck. I’ll pull you on deck.” “Let me be your captain once”. Her emotional tug in this song help to make it one of the year’s best . When touring resumes be sure to see Nicole live. She has a Roy Orbison power to her voice that comes across live. She has put together one heck of an entertaining album here. Do give it a listen.
10] Juniper- ‘Juniper” “So frustrating keeps you waiting Can’t imagine why we’re dating Boys Boys Boys Boys.” from “Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys!’.
Duglas Stewart wrote about her so I checked it all out. It turned out to be one of the year’s most exciting finds. Juniper Shelley was all of 15 years old when she recorded this entertaining album. The girl knows music. In an interview she was to make a playlist. With the Beatles and Beach Boys she adds Rockpile, NRBQ, and The Fountains of Wayne among others, NRBQ !. I’m sure that may come from her father Michael Shelley who is a radio DJ and an artist himself. I know I have at least three records of his. He produced the record and wrote a lot of the songs. And the record is full of fresh sounding fun teen anthems. Juniper has a delightful voice and she spreads charm all over these tunes. As mentioned at the beginning she sings about all the trouble caused by those “Boys !”.Forget about those boys with ‘looks to kill” She is “Sticking with my Henry” even though Phil walks around with a hundred dollar bill “That’s trouble”. “In “Everybody’s got a crush on Chad” she sings ‘just a smile and I feel featherly”. Another choice lyric is from “Kids on my corner” -“Kids in the cul-de-sac wouldn’t like the Beatles if they came back.” I have two favorites. One is the sweetly endearing “I don’t want to dream about you ” .”Don’t be surprised when I close my eyes I don’t want to dream about you.” And one of the year’s best songs, “Girls just want a boy to rest their head upon”. She sings this with such an innocent charm. Play it for Brian Wilson. please. The music throughout is great. Michael has enlisted aid from artists like Marshall Crenshaw, Ira Kaplan , and Chris Collingwood among others. The guitars especially are snappy and fit in perfectly. I know Terry Adams of NRBQ would love this record. It is an amazing collection of tunes . Do seek it out. It will make your day . In just under 30 minutes Juniper made my top 10. I hope to hear some more from her.
THE NEXT TEN [in no particular order]
11] The Apartments-“In and out of the light”- This year’s entry in albums most influenced by Prefab Sprout. There seems to be one every year. Not so much the intimate vocals of Peter Milton Walsh, but the songs structures and the melodies. Moody and emotional. Listen : “Write your way out of town” and ” Butterfly Kiss. “
12] Curtis Stigers -“Gentleman”- A terrific jazzy album of sophisticated songs well sung by Curtis. He has a way with a lyric. There are songs by Nick Lowe, and Bill DeMain ,and it is the Larry Goldings with Curtis that stand out. Listen: “A lifetime Together” which reminds me of Sondheim and “As Usual” composed by Bill DeMain and Mr. Goldings. This was one of my most listened to albums of the year.
13] The Jayhawks- “XOXO”- They spread the composing around on this release and it pays off. Really great Jayhawks songs ,and that is a very good thing. The limited edition comes with 15 tunes . Also this is my best album cover of the year. Listen : “This Forgotten Town”, “Ruby”, and “Illuminate”.
14] Bob Dylan- “Rough and Rowdy Ways”- By far the most astonishing release of the year. There was all of a sudden talk of a 17 minute Dylan tune about Kennedy. And when it did arrive the entire album contains Dylan’s most inspired singing and composing in ages. I am still discovering all the cultural references he throws at us. There are three songs that are like meditations, and will stand the test of time as three of his best. “Murder most foul”, the mesmerizing Kennedy epic, “I contain Multitudes “, one that continues to dazzle me, and “I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you” ,a tender love song.
15] Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche- “I can still hear you”- The Roches are one of my all time favorites ,and listening to mother and daughter here brings back such memories. Gorgeous vocals and really sweet songs. Just the way they enunciate the lyrics is pure magic. Listen: The hushed title song, “I think I am a soul”, and “Jane” a Margaret A. Roche song , very beautiful.
16] VV Lightbody- “Make a shrine or burn”- I read a review of this release in The Chicago Sun Times and when I checked it out I was blown away by the emotional intensity. Her vocals grew on me and affected me deeply. A huge discovery for me. Listen: “If it’s not me” one of the best songs of the year, “Damn Golden”, and “Car Alarm”.
17] Emperor Penguin -“Soak up the gravy” Thanks to Kool Kat notices I caught onto to this gifted group and am I glad I found them. This album is like having a jukebox of pop music. With great confidence and an endless supply of hooks and harmonies, this album never lets up. Listen: “Go Guitar Gonauts” with fabulous surf guitars. “Hole in your soul “,so pretty. And “Speedwell Blues” with Lisa Mychols ,a lovely sensuous samba. I have something in common with the band. I love the films of Eric Rohmer, and they have clips of one of them in the “Speedwell” video which will show up in my playlist.
18] Sparks- “A steady drip, drip, drip”- More musical mischief from Ron and Russell Mael . Just listening to this album convinces one that their art has no end in sight. The album is book ended with two rather serious tracks. Opener “All that” to me is about the brothers sticking together ’till God says it’s time to go,” The closer “Please don’t fuck up my world ” is a plea not to destroy our “desserts, forests, and fields”. Listen : “Lawnmower” where a guy must choose between his girl friend or his lawnmower. “Stravinsky’s only hit” and “Onomato Pia” which display their flair for opera.
19] Taylor Swift- “Folklore” When the sudden announcement of this album’s release videos started appearing. As I watched I was immediately drawn into these reflective songs. It wasn’t just the sublime melodies that revealed all the beauty .It was the rhythms of Taylor’s singing that kept me intrigued. I can’t say enough about the assistance Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff brought to this project. It proved to me something I was on the cusp of believing already. Taylor Swift is an awesome talent. Listen :”August”, “Betty”, and the haunting bonus track “Lakes”.
20] Pat Metheny- “From this place”- With quiet calm, and the distinctive bounce of Pat’s guitar, this album took me away from the troubles of the world every time I played it. With a tight band and a full orchestra, the music here plays out beautifully. Take “You Are” which is 6 minutes of a hushed build that leaves you breathless. Next track “Same River: has the playful melody that only Pat can come up with. And bonus track “Love may take a while” is another pretty reverie. An album committed to the magic of music.
21] Laura Viers- “My Echo”- Haunting ,lovely musical tone poems from this enchanting chanteuse . Listen: “Freedom Feeling” , “Another space and time”
22] Phoebe Bridgers- “Punisher” Phoebe is everywhere these days becoming the star we always thought she would be. Listen: “Garden song”, “I know the end”‘
23] Nick Frater- “Fast and loose” New to me Nick has amazing pop chops. “Let’s hear it for love” is one of the year’s best songs. And “That ship has sailed ‘ leaves me breathless.
24] Tame Impala “The Slow Rush” Yes I miss the guitars , but the synths really are glorious. And the songs by Kevin Parker are still gorgeous and grow on you well. Listen: “Instant Destiny” , “On Track”
25] Dana Countryman -‘Come into my studio” The reliable pop maestro with another collection of sweet confections. . For a full review check below.. Listen: “Mrs. Van Buren”, “You gotta love Jeanne Marie”
26] Brian Gari- “Names Vol. One” I discovered Brian through Dana Countryman and I am so happy I found him. He is a gifted singer /songwriter in the Rupert Holmes vein. Full review below. Listen : “How do I keep up with you Nicole”, “Sue Ann”.
27] Stuart Moxham and Louis Philippe- “The Devil Laughs” The other Louis Philippe release, this one with Stuart Moxham of the Young Marble Giants. It was recorded in 2016 but just released now and it is lovely glorious pop music. Listen: “Day must come”, :Singing Out”
28] Rufus Wainwright- “Unfollow the rules” A return to pop music and this reminds me of his first album. His vocals have never been better. Listen: “Damsel in Distress”, “”Alone Time”
29] Fiona Apple- “Fetch the Bolt Cutters’- A percussive assault ,unlike anything she has done before. But inside the noise there are actual and meaningful songs. One of the most unusual releases of the year. Listen: ‘Relay”, “Under the table’
30] Mike Viola- “Godmuffin’- Consistent pop artist with a gorgeous voice. He also helped Mandy Moore with her latest. Listen: “Ordinary Girl”, “We may never be this young again”
31] Carla Bley- “Life goes on”- Together with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow , Carla has put together three jazz suites. Beautiful and playful at times, this one gave me great pleasure. Listen: “Life goes on “, ‘Beautiful Telephones”
32] Chris Stamey- and the Fellow Travelers “A brand new Shade of Blue”- A fascinating mix of cool jazz and pop music. Chris states theses are “songs for late nights and rainy days”. Chris continues to compose his own American Songbook. Listen : “I don’t think of you”, “In a minor key”
33] Ron Sexsmith_ “Hermitage”- There is no pop artist we can count on more than Ron Sexsmith. Another collection of gorgeous songs to take you away from troubles. Listen: “Spring of the following year”, ‘Whatever shape your heart is in”
34] Dave Caruso- ‘Radiophonic Supersonic”- A new artist for me and I am grateful I found him. He has a soaring pop voice, the kind I can’t get enough of. Some great tunes that stay with you. Listen: “Little miss sunshine”, “The boy wonders”, “Throwing out my baby with the bassinet”
35] Ben Watt -“Storm Damage”- I can say with much happiness that I have never heard Ben sing better than on this album. The music is basically a jazz trio with his vocals showcased. As the title indicates there is some unrest in these songs. But there is much calm and resolve on “Sunlight follows the night.” It all leads to “Festival Song” beautifully sung . The song ends with the band playing and some found sounds added. Again, if you are a fan you have to hear his sublime vocals.
36] Mandy Moore- “Silver Landings”- So nice to have Mandy back with new music. She works so well with Mike Viola and that shows up in some of the melodies. It is her warmth showing in the vocals that show she is in a good place. Listen: “Save a little for yourself”, “When I wasn’t watching”
37] The Flaming Lips- “American Head”- The return to the pop sound that captivated us on “The Soft Bulletin”. The mood is the sadness connected with drugs from the 70’s. Subject matter aside, the music bathes us in the pop psych that the Lips excel at. Listen: The gorgeous “At the movies on quaaludes “, and the so sad “Mother please don’t be Sad”
38] Gary Olson- “Gary Olson”- Luscious pop full of hooks and strong vocals. Recorded in Norway and Brooklyn, , and while in Norway Gary worked with members of Loch Ness Mouse , who are one of my favorite bands in the pop universe. Gary’s voice is warm and friendly and this album is simply lovely. Listen: “Giovanna please”, “Diego it’s time”
39] Chuck Prophet- “The land that time forgot”- My friend Chipper Sam pointed me in Chuck’s direction after I fell in love with “High as Johnny Thunders”, a terrific folk rock tune. He had me watch a live video and I was instantly hooked. Mojo Magazine described him as “one of rock’s great raconteurs ‘. This is a great rock album with tunes like “Best shirt on” and :Love doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun.” Consider me a fan!
40] Bill Lloyd- “Don’t kill the Messenger”- I have Alan Haber to thank for listening to this release, even though I was a Foster and Lloyd fan back in the day. This is classic power pop with lots of guitars. Love the title song and “Baby’s in the mood”. “The kiss of the summer wind” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
41] Bruce Springsteen -“Letter to you”- Nice return of the E Street Band , and the playing and vocals are terrific here. Lots of inspired work went into crafting this album. It made me happy to hear Bruce with his band doing what he loves the most. Listen: “House of a Thousand Guitars”, “I’ll see you in my Dreams”
42] The Avett Brothers- “The Third Gleam” Strong Americana music from these artists who made some stirring videos during the lockdown. They kept doing virtual concerts and a couple songs from this album were well showcased. Listening to this music gives you a good feeling of hope. Listen: “Victory”, “I go to my heart”
43] Deacon Blue- “City of Love”- Another group with the Prefab Sprout sound, which makes sense since both bands broke out at the same time. They are back and as string as ever. “Weight of the World” packs an emotional punch. And the sensitive singing on “In our Room’ hits home. They already have a companion album to this one released in 2021.
44] Rolling Blackouts C.F. – “Sideways to New Italy”- Guitars that rarely stop coming at you, and melodies that remind me of The Go Betweens. Picked by Mojo as a band to watch, they definitely have a sound. There is the guitar charge on “The second of the First’ and then the pretty “Sunglasses at the wedding” in contrast.
45] Bananagun- “The true story of Bananagun”- Found in a Mojo review this band from Melbourne is an absolute blast. Their music is a beguiling mix of indie pop and Tropicalia , with some African rhythms as well. They re-write a Jorge Ben tune with “She Now”. Give this one a listen and start swaying to the music. Listen: “Out of Reach” , “Bang goes the bongos’
46] Laura Marling ‘Song for our daughter”- This is an artist I should have been following ,but this is the first album I have really given serious time to. It is filled with heartfelt songs sung with a clear and beautiful voice. She is in a good place presently, listening to Joni Mitchell and McCartney. “The end of the affair’ is influenced by the Graham Green novel. The pop lilt of “For you’ is a result of listening to Sir Paul. And the title song is inspired by Maya Angelou’s ‘Letter to my Daughter’, a daughter she never had, like Laura. I have watched videos of Laura performing these songs with a full orchestra and they are very moving.
47] The Beths- ‘Jump Rope Gazers”- The Beths are a New Zealand upbeat power pop band , that I fell in love with from the start. Their lead singer , Elizabeth Stokes has a wonderful voice, full of charm. I called them one of the bands to watch, and I am watching. Listen: “I’m not getting Excited” , and the ever so sweet “You are a beam of light’
48] Anna Burch- “”If you’re dreaming”- I believe I found her on one of Chipper Sam’s weekly indie playlists. I was instantly struck by her voice and delivery. She is very reminiscent of 90’s female vocalists, but her songs are quite distinctive and original. Along with her bittersweet , is a light sense of humor. Listen: “Jacket”, the lovely “Keep it warm”, and “Not so bad”
49] Elvis Costello- “Hey Clockface”- A mixed bag recorded in Helsinki , Paris, and New York. There are some rockers, and some experimental music. The real winners here come from the Paris sessions with Steve Nieve. Three songs from those sessions all feature Elvis in glorious voice . “They’re not laughing at me now ‘ with flugel horn, sax, and cello, “i do[Zula’s song]” with lovely falsetto, and ‘I can’t say her name” which reminds me of Cole Porter.
50] Haley Williams “Petals for Armor”- I never listened to Paramore, so I really didn’t know Haley as an artist. But her videos started popping up on You Tube and I got hooked. It is essentially a break up album, and the music is dance oriented. But there is an endearing quality to these songs which got to me. Songs like “Sugar on the rim” and ‘Cinnamon’ are filled with winning hooks. And “Dead Horse” is one of the best songs of the year.
MORE GREAT SELECTIONS;
Millie McGuire- “Yours’ / Tim Burgess- ‘I love the new Sky’/ Real Estate- “The Main Thing” / Low Cut Connie- “Private Lives” / Rumer – “Nashville Tears” / Jason Isbell and the v400 Unit- “Reunions” / Kevin Morby- “Sundowner’ / Joe McAlinden – “Edit” / Louise Goffin- “Two Different Movies” / Marker Starling -‘High January” / The Corner Laughers- “Temescal Telegraph” / The Yearning – “Only when I’m dancing” / Sylvie Simmons – “Blue on Blue” / The Lemon Twigs- “Songs for the General Public” / Deep Sea Diver- “Impossible Weight” / The Black Watch- ‘Fromthing Somethat ” / BC Camplight – ‘Shortly after Takeoff ” / Matt Berninger= ‘Serpentine Prison” /
Missing: Both the new Fleet Foxes and Jeff Tweedy did not release their cd’s until the new year, even though digital releases were out. So I will access them in my 2021 list.
VIDEO PLAYLIST- 104 videos from the albums of the year as well as the songs of the year. Enjoy!
RECORDINGS OF SPECIAL MERIT -Covers, traditional music , compilations etc .
1] The Haden Triplets- ‘The Family Songbook”- Tanya, Petra, and Rachel Haden, daughters of legendary musician Charlie Haden, with an extraordinary showcase for the purity of their voices. There are four songs composed by their grandfather, Carl E. Haden. There are traditional songs, a gorgeous one by their brother Josh, even a Kanye West cover. My favorite is their haunting and very beautiful cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” ,which gives me chills each time I listen. I have an image of the young girls singing a southern gospel tune at home while Ornette Coleman sits and listens. Simply my fantasy.
2] Bonny Light Horseman- “Bonny Light Horseman”- Anais Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson of The Fruit Bats, and Josh Kaufman with a stunning collection of British and Irish traditional songs. They re-interpret and re-imagine these songs and it makes for a delightful listen. The title cut, “Deep in Love” and “Magpie’s Nest’ are just three examples of the beauty on display. The absolute stand out is “The Roving”. Anais has a lovely voice, and this is an excellent entertaining album.
3] James Taylor- “American Standard”- The wonderful fact about this standards collection is how James makes it sound like they are all James Taylor songs. Covers like “Almost like being in love” ,”My heart stood still”, and ” The surrey with the fringe on top’ all sound like from his own songbook. His warm delivery and the jazzy music all add up to a real winner. I absolutely love listening to this.
4] NRBQ- “At the Ardmore Music Hall 2015”- A wonderful 17 song live show featuring two of Sun Ra’s horn players.
5] NRBQ- “In Frequencies”- A collection of rare outtakes, live songs, and soundchecks. This will keep us fans content while we wait for actual new music. Well put together and nice notes on each song.
6] Paul McCartney- “McCartney Three “- As stated in the past I simply cannot rank a release by Sir Paul. This is all Paul, recorded at home during the lockdown. The fun he had putting it all together does translate back to the listener. Some sharp guitar on “Long Tailed Winter Bird”, and songs like “Find my way” and “The Kiss of Venus ” are cool tunes .The real winner, and heartwarming is “Winter Bird/ When winter comes”. This song is Paul at his best and will stand the test of time.
7] Emma Swift- ‘Blonde on the tracks”- With some help from Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Robyn Hitchcock , Emma has done something remarkable here. An entire album of Dylan covers sung with a female point of view. Listen how she softens the impact on “One of us must know [sooner or later]”. She brings a subtle new meaning to ‘You’re a big girl now” and “Queen Jane Approximately ‘ with Robyn playing some chiming guitar. She even does a sensitive cover of “I contain Multitudes” from Dylan’s latest. Throughout she displays a deep understanding of the material. an outstanding album.
8] Louden Wainwright the Third- ‘I’d rather lead a band”- Louden tackles 14 standards with a swinging big band ,Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks and pulls it off in grand fashion. Like James Taylor, Louden performs these songs like he wrote them. Sharp versions of “Ain’t Misbehavin”, “You Racal you”, and “My Blue Heaven”. He dusts off an obscure and bawdy “I’m going to give it to Mary with love”. He sings so sweetly on Rodgers and Hart’s “A ship without a sail” giving it just the right amount of heartache. Check out the excellent liner notes , Give this one a listen. You’ll thank me later.
“Take me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration”- Not a recording but a stream from April 2020. It is over 2 hours of Broadway stars and celebrities wishing Steven a Happy Birthday and singing a Sondheim song. It is by far the very best thing I saw all year. If you love Sondheim ,or musicals you have to see this. It is available on You Tube.. It is astonishing.
1] Dear Stella- “Time Zones” – Alan Haber tipped me onto this fabulous artist . What a terrific voice!
2] Kelly Jones–“Big dogs die young”- This is an artist I follow faithfully. She possess a soaring pop voice that always leaves me breathless. Features “A Place to land” co-written by Bill DeMain. The Ep is dedicated to Adam Schlesinger.
3]Madison Cunningham – ‘Wednesday” 4 covers from her famous Wednesday sessions. I look forward to those sessions to see what she is going to cover and to listen to that amazing voice.
SONGS OF THE YEAR :
1] Burt Bacharach and Daniel Tashian- “Bells of St. Augustine’- When I first heard this it affected me deeply. It still does.
2] Sondre Lerche- ‘I could not love you enough”- Not from his album, this emotional song is totally Bacharach. Features not one but two pulse pounding endings.
3] VV Lightbody – ‘If it’s not me” This song got to me from first play, then continued to devastate me more each followed listen. It’s quiet building heartache introduces an outstanding artist.
4] Boo Hewerdine – “The Language of love” – The music Boo releasing now is quietly beautiful and really showcases his melancholy and gorgeous vocals.
5] Alex Lilly- “Goodbye Reckless Things”- The perfect lockdown song. Features a lovely bittersweet vocal.
6] Curtis Stigers- “Shut Ins” – Another great lockdown song. Words by Bill DeMain and music by Larry Goldings, and a superb vocal by Curtis.
7] Burt Bacharach- ‘The great Divide”- A song very relevant for our times. Music by Burt and lyrics by Melody Federer.
8] Cabane- “La, sous la vent” An enchanting non album track with nice guitar from Sean O’Hagan.
9] Emma Swift- “The Soft Apocalypse ” – Another song inspired by the lockdown as well as the riots. Reveals a talent beyond her wonderful Dylan covers.
10] Emperor Penguin with Lisa Mychols- “Speedwell Blue”- A lovely samba sweetly sung by Lisa. Be sure to watch the fab video in my playlist with scenes from the great Eric Rhomer.
11] Brendan Eder Ensemble -“The spirit of ‘- Outstanding chamber orchestra playing some lovely modern music with vocals coming in at the end. The video is a must watch [in my playlist]
12] Bill DeMain- “Film Noir”- One of our most gifted pop composers with an atmospheric tribute to those great film noirs. Featuring the appropriate sax played by the reliable Jim Hoke.
13] Nick Frater- “Let’s hear it for love”- The absolute perfect pop song that comes soaring out of my speakers. ‘as the sky falls down around me let’s hear it for love.’ I feel like a better person just for listening to this blast of positive splendor.
14] Nicholas Krgovich and Nedelle Torrisi- “Every day a little death”- This moving Sondheim cover just popped up in my Spotify Radar and I was swept away. It takes on special meaning in the middle of the pandemic. Don’t know Nicholas but I’m a huge Nedelle fan.
15] Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – “Sing Gently” – Features over 17,000 singers from 129 countries with gorgeous harmonies. An outpouring of pure love , the video has to be seen. It is in my playlist. The lockdown featured all kinds of these musical adventures. This is the best I have seen.
16] Nicole Atkins- “Captain”- The amazing highlight of her latest album features Britt Daniel on vocals. This ode to her husband is a romantic triumph. ” come on back to my arms…”
17] Ben Folds- “2020”- Superb piano ballad echoing the scary year we are all experiencing. Sung in June the halfway point and asks the question “how many years will we cram into one..”
18] Wilco- “Tell your friends”- A virtual song featuring the members in their homes with their families and pets. Check out the video in the playlist. “I want to hold your hand when I see you again”.
19] Hayley Williams- “Dead Horse”- Hayley was a pleasant discovery for me and for a while this was the best song ever. You know how that goes. It has an irresistible chorus that stuck in my head for a week. ‘skipping like a record I sing along…”
20] Lavender Diamond- “Look through the window” – Wonderful song with a gorgeous vocal by Becky Stark. Really beautiful!
21] Boo Hewerdine – “Wanderlust” – More hushed ambient beauty from Boo this one featuring Rachel Haden. Haunting!
22] The Hangabouts- “Animal Suite”- Somebody play this for Ray Davies. Fun tune I like to sing a long to. Gotta love these guys.
23] The Marias- “Care for you”- I really love this band. Cool and sultry with the soft vocals of Maria, a true chanteuse. Every song I have heard from them has moved me. They remind me a little of the Sarah Records era.
24] Melody Gardot – “C’est Magnifique ” featuring Antonio Zambujo- This is perhaps the most romantic song I’ve heard all year. The sway of the samba rhythms and the exquisite vocals just take you with them. Wonderful video in the playlist.
25] Julie Et Joe- “Marelle”- A French delight on the amazing Elefant label. This is Joe Moore who composed the song and Julie Big who was in Le Super Homard . Julie does an awesome job on this sweet tune. Classic French pop confection.
26] Angel Olson- “Whole new Mess”- More bluesy torch from Angel ,who excels at moody vocals. Get out the bourbon.
27] The Radio Dept.- “You’re looking at my guy”- More pure pop magic from this awesome Swedish band. This is a cool cover of a 60’s girl group song. No surprise that they make it sound like one of their own.
28] Shelly Peiken- “George and John”- Wonderful baroque ballad with the classic line ” Half of me is gone .Just like George and John” . Great Beatles vibe in the lyrics and music. A real find.
29] Janileigh Cohen- “To be with you”- Known for her video folk music cover with one of her own sings. A real pretty ode to love ,she does mention Leonard Cohen and Dylan in the lyrics. Nice production with a trumpet closing it out. Looking forward to the album she is working on.
30] Supercute [with La Casa Azul| – ” Jamie Theakston”- A delightful pop love song from the Elefant label, this one from England. The affection in the song is for some pop star. “He’s the sexiest boy on my tv screen”.
31] Chris Stamey and the Fellow Travelers- “A brand new shade of blue”- Atmospheric jazz pop from Chris, with a superb sax to add to the mood. Excellent!
32] Kinema- “In Walks you”- A terrific find discovered from following Boo Hewerdine. I love this song a lot and b sure to catch the swell video in my playlist. Need to check out more from them.
33] Band A Part- “Templos Y Neones” – Another sweet pop band from Elefant Records. A boy and girl group, Javi and Coral who are from Madrid , but here they show affection for their trip to Japan. Call it Europop if you like. I just call it pop and it is positively uplifting.
34] La Bien Querida-“Un Gatito”- Yet another from the endless supply of pop music on the Elefant label. Her name is Ana Fernandez Villaverde and she sings like an angel. The hooks stuck with me for a while with lyrics like “The path that leads me to the garden with the truth exposed.” Very sweet!
35] The Avett Brothers- “We Americans”- A patriotic anthem by the always reliable Avett Brothers. Moving and relevant with a great video in the playlist. “I am a son of Uncle Sam and I struggle to understand the good and evil. “
I could list more but the need to move on compels me to stop here.
RE- ISSUES ;
The Style Council -“Long Hot Summers; The story of the Style Council” Fabulous collection from Paul Weller’s post Jam band together with Mick Talbot . This soulful pop never gets old. Shout it to the Top!
-The Flat Five- The Venue In Aurora February 12 ,2020 The usual mix of sunshine pop, jazz, soul, and country. 2 wonderful sets filled with musical delights. Little did we know how close we were to the lockdown.
-Kasim Sultan’s Utopia- City Winery March 11th 2020 Just days away from everything shutting down. At least we got to enjoy Kasim’s soaring voice on Utopia classics.
-Sondre Lerche- As reported in #2 in the top 10 albums .Sondre did two virtual concerts. One was a solo show ,Live from Loften in September. The other was called “Patience Extravaganza ‘” with his full band in December. I purchased tickets for both and they were amazing. A further understanding after attending these shows was just how special an album “Patience’ was.
LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2021 ;
Julien Baker / Teenage Fanclub / Astral Drive /Valerie June / The Legal Matters / The Stan Laurels /Lana Del Rey /Fruit Bats / Tristen / St. Vincent /Jon Batiste /Lake Street Dive / Emperor Penguin / Simon and the Astronauts / Elizabeth and the Catapult / Hilma Nikolaisen / Tele Novella / A Girl called Eddy covers album / Aaron Frazer / Rebecca Martin / Meredith D’Ambrosio / Lucy Dacus / Loch Ness Mouse / Tenant from Zero / Departure Lounge /
I CAN DREAM CAN’T I [my personal wish list}
-Prefab Sprout- I hope and I pray that Paddy McAloon will release the album announced two years ago, as well as albums he has in his “vault”.
-Roddy Frame- It would be great to hear from him.
-Molly Felder- Would love to hear something from my favorite female vocalist. Solo or perhaps with Swan Dive. Hangabouts are you reading this?
-Alan Haber and his Pure Pop Radio site. Alan has enlightened me to so many pop artists through the years. He was the first to break the news of the Flat Five album ,and I live in Chicago ! One artist that stands out for me is Dana Countryman. Keep the hits coming Alan.
Duglas Stewart- It was Duglas that pointed me to Juniper that ended up in my top 10. He is constantly posting interesting clips of pop artists, soundtracks, world music, even BMX Bandits. He has a good heart, plus you have to like a guy who loves a good mystery book. Rock on Duglas.
-Boo Hewerdine- Aside from being one of the best singer/ songwriters we have, his posts reveal much about his craft. He is also hilarious in a good way. Posts from his wife Audrey and his son Ben are also quite enlightening.
Mojo Magazine- As a long time subscriber I can honestly say that each issue enlightens me. The best review section . and I love the different features. Editor John Mulvey should be proud. Even during the lockdown the issues have been outstanding.
-Daily stops and new release information to keep me informed : Pitchfork, Popmatters, Stereogum ,Ray at Kool Kat Records , Paste, No Depression ,Darla Records , Elefant Records ,Uncut Magazine , Pause and Play , Spotify Release Radar
WRAP UP :
It has been a very difficult year for all of us. While our main focus will always be our families and friends, we always have music to entertain us and enrich our lives. I’ve illustrated my thoughts on the year in music. And that brings me to the main point. My purpose with this list is to share my take on the best music of the year. I am not a writer. Just a huge music fan . So, if you discover some music as a result of my list, please reach out and let me know. That has worked out for me in the past with great success. There is so much music out there just waiting to be discovered. I’d like to think I am sharing ideas with other music fans. so again, don’t hesitate to give me some feedback.
I have to thank my wife for putting up with me and all the cds and Mojos I have all over the house. She is the best.
So, that’s 2020. Time to move on to 2021, already shaping up to be a fine year for music. I got my eye on that Elizabeth and the Catapult, and the St. Vincent ,as well as the new one by Brian Gari. I also have the box set of the complete Basement Tapes from Dylan and the Band, a Christmas present from my wife. Time to get started on all that.
God Save the Kinks !
Gene Good email@example.com
8] Lisa Mychols and Super 8- “Lisa Mychols & Super 8”- I already have done a complete review of this one on my Pop Forever Site . Let me say that this was a joy to listen to. I have always loved Lisa as a vocalist .She is mentioned in several of my lists. But this was my introduction to Paul Ryan who as Super 8 is a one man band capable of taking you higher. Together they trip the light fantastic with music that touches on Beatles, Stones, and Astrd Gilberto .There are two terrific covers, Songs like “You and me Me and You”, and “Your summer Theme” are a couple highlights. And “Honey Bee” is one of the year’s best songs. It is fun fun fun till Daddy takes away their recording equipment. Check out my full review, but most of all check out the groovy tunes. You will thank me later.