What have I been listening to in 2020? Over the next few weeks, I’ll share my favourite roots albums of the year. I thought it interesting, if a bit self-indulgent, in this brutal year when we couldn’t see live music, that I also consider albums I discovered during lockdown and while under restrictions. I listened to a lot of music!
Here are thirty-plus albums that made a significant impression, but mostly weren’t released in 2020 (and in no particular order). These are albums I purchased in 2020 (except for the Donny Hathaway set that sat on my shelf for the past eight years) and that I hadn’t previously heard (with the exception of the Jimmy Somerville comp., little of which was new to me, and the most famous Little Richard tracks.)
I guess this provides a bit of perspective for my 2020 roots listening, a view of ‘what else’ was competing for my attention. This stuff quite often won.
Brandi Carlile- The Story (2007), Give Up The Ghost (2009), Bear Creek (2012) loaded onto the iTang in anticipation of a spring break trip that never occurred; damn the coronavirus. The more I listened to Carlile, the more I appreciated her perspective and art.
Donny Hathaway- Eight years ago in Kansas City, I purchased a clearance 5-pack of Hathaway albums (Original Album Series, 1970-1980), simply because it was so inexpensive, like $5 or $7. I hadn’t heard the guy, but did a quick search on the phone and decided I might like. Got home—and I know I listened to one album, not sure about the rest—but it didn’t grab me. The set went onto the shelf. Until this autumn. One snowy night and without reason I pulled it out and started listening. ‘The Ghetto.” “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” “Flying Easy.” A pair of live albums that are absolutely unbelievable. I just kept placing one disc after another in the player. For days. It is rare for me to find five albums by a ‘new to me’ artist that I completely love. Beautiful.
Jean Shephard- The Diamond Collection (1950s-1960s) inspired by a single happened-to-catch play on CKUA, I decided to give the late Opry mainstay a deep listen- found this 100 track collection for $6 on iTunes; no regrets: this is country music.
Joe Vickers- Notes for the Wood Burning Stove (2018) Alberta’s favourite full-time farmer and part-time troubadour.
Dust- Hard Attack/DUST (1971/1972) Marc Bell’s first band of significance; I had never heard of Dust until I read his autobiography this fall. Hard rock with (sometimes) a roots sensation.
Bai Kamara, Jr- The Mystical Survivors and Some Rare Earthlings, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition) (2018) I had never heard of Kamara before a DM arrived from Europe. Bought this set a few weeks later. Funky soul vibe.
Cidny Bullens- Desire Wire/Steel the Night (1978/1979) I missed his first two albums during the haze of jr. and sr. high. Caught up this summer, and absolutely blasted one particular afternoon. Was a good day! Still haven’t caught up…lots more to explore.
Little Richard- Is Back, Rock Story, Formative Years, Greatest Hits, & King of Rock and Roll– early albums, and the later ones- Prior to cancelling my eMusic subscription, I made sure I downloaded some Little Richard, an artist I ignored my entire life. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Me, that is.
Billie Holiday- I had never been exposed to her music. This year, I made good use of the final months of my eMusic subscription to purchase her ‘stand alone’ 1952-58 albums.
Jaimee Harris- Red Rescue (2018)- I caught Harris with Mary Gauthier at HSBG ’19, and was impressed by their chemistry. I searched out this one early this year.
Last Train Home- Last Good Kiss (2007)/True North (2000)- I had missed a pair of LTH albums along the way. Fixed that. Wonderful stuff from Eric Brace and his cohorts.
The Very Best of Jimmy Somerville, Bronski Beat & the Communards (Collector’s Edition) (2002) That viral clip of Somerville joining the busker on “Smalltown Boy” reminded me how much I enjoyed his music. Oh wait, this isn’t roots.
Peregrino- Feels Like Leaving (2019)- Tripped across their version of “One” and had to explore this album. Not disappointed.
Andrew Wiscombe- A Greene Street Manifesto (2018) Another of my final eMusic discoveries: if they had more of this quality, I wouldn’t have cancelled.
P. P. Arnold & Dr. Robert- Five in the Afternoon (2007)- Not sure what brought me to this one- was I searching The Blow Monkeys? Just glad I found this impeccable release.
Infamous Stringdusters- Rise Sun (2019) HSBG ’19 reminded me how much I enjoyed this band; it was the first album I bought in 2020.
Bruce Springsteen- Western Stars: Songs from the Film (2019) I found this version a bit more appealing than the original.
Sudan Archives- Athena (2019) Roots ‘n’ R&B meet electronica. Very cool.
Peter Hook & the Light- Movement, Power, Corruption, & Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood, Substance– a series of live recreations of New Order albums and Joy Division music. Three different concerts, downloaded from eMusic. I put these on random and just bask in the sounds.
Yes, I live and love roots music. But there is a lot more to my listening than ‘just’ roots. Stick around–more reviews coming to Fervor Coulee before the end of the year, and we will have features of my favourite roots, blues, bluegrass, and roots compilations & odds and sods coming before too much longer.