Favorite Music of 2020

2020 was a “mindblower” on so many levels! During this time of uncertainty and unexpected changes, music that I listened to played such a crucial part in my emotional and spiritual life. My list of favorite albums for 2020 is “ginormous” – so much great music this year! I am therefore highlighting just a handful of my favorites from the year’s list. I decided to avoid reflecting on the more well known artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift or Jonsi in favor of some artists readers be less familiar with.

Here is my 202 list – in alphabetical order:

–         Courtney Marie Andrews – Old Flowers

–         Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

–         Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini – Illusion of Time

–         Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison

–         Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – The Fantastic Mrs. 10

–         Jim Black Trio – Reckon

–         Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard & Steve Swallow – Life Goes On

–         Jake Blount – Spider Tales

–         Bradfield, Goldberg, Hall – General Semantics

–         Harold Budd & Robin Guthrie – Another Flower

–         Carolina Blue – Take Me Back

–         Elvis Costello – Hey Clockface

–         Sylvie Courvoisier Trio – Free Hoops

–         Dawes – Good Luck with Whatever

–         Dirty Projectors – Windows Open

–         Bob Dylan – Rough & Rowdy Ways

–         Brian Eno & Roger Eno – Mixing Colors

–         EOB – Earth

–         Fleet Foxes – Shore

–         Nils Frahm – Empty

–         Hannah Georgas – All That Emotion

–         Ben Goldberg – Symphony # 9

–         Ben Goldberg – Plague Diary

–         Ben Goldberg & Kenny Wollesen – Music for an Avant-Garde Massage Parlour

–         Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio – Nomad

–         Half Waif – The Caretaker

–         Ross Hammond, Oliver Lake & Mike Pride – Our Place On the Wheel

–         Ross Hammond & Thom Nguyen – Vines

–         Bruce Hornsby – Non Secure Connection

–         Innocence Mission – See You Tomorrow

–         Sarah Jaroz – World On the Ground

–         Jonsi – Shiver

–         Kirk Knuffke – Brightness: Live in Amsterdam

–         Diana Krall – This Dream of You

–         Marie Kruttli Trio – The Kind of Happy One

–         Jim Lauderdale – When Carolina Comes Home Again

–         Logan Ledger – Logan Ledger

–         Adrianne Lenker – Songs

–         Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings E&F Sides

–         Pat Metheny – From This Place

–         Ron Miles – Rainbow Sign

–         The Moore Brothers – Autobiography

–         Benjamin Moussay – Promontoire

–         Fradreck Mujuru & Leonard Chiyanike – Mbira Partners Forever Vol 2

–         North Country Blue – Flight

–         Aoife O’Donovan – Bull Frogs Croon

–         Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown

–         Pinegrove – Magnolia

–         Katie Pruitt – Expectations

–         Psychedelic Furs – Made of Rain

–         Sturgill Simpson – Cutting Grass Vol 1

–         Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

–         Squrl – Some Music for Robby Muller

–         Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

–         Moses Sumney – Grae

–         Taylor Swift – Folklore

–         Tennis – Swimmer

–         Alexandre Tharaud – Pesson, Abrahamsen & Strasnoy: Piano Concertos

–         Molly Tuttle – But I’d Rather Be with You

–         Ultraista – Sister

–         Raf Vertessen Quartet – LOI

–         M Ward – Immigration Stories

–         Watkins Family Hour – Brother Sister

–         Webber/Morris Big Band – Both Are True

Jake Blount – Spider Tales

Bluegrass and old-timey fiddle music are often seen by the wider culture as largely “white people” music. The truth, however, is that these genres have deep roots in black music. Rhode Island banjo player/fiddler/singer Jake Blount has made an album that sounds simultaneously ancient and modern. This is deep roots music reclaiming a tradition that was wrenched from America’s black and indigenous cultures.

Harold Budd & Robin Guthrie – Another Flower

Harold Budd’s music holds a special place in my life. In 1984, Budd and Brian Eno collaborated on an ambient music masterpiece, “The Pearl”. The music on that album takes me to places within myself that are hard to describe. If I had to make a list of my 5 desert island discs that record would be on there. Budd and Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie have been collaborating on music together since the late 80s. Their beautiful new recording “Another Flower” was released just just 4 days before Harold Budd’s death from COVID. A special parting gift. 

Ben Goldberg – Symphony No. 9

Clarinetist Ben Goldberg is one of my very favorite composers and improvisers. His “Symphony No. 9” is embodied largely by the triple reed section of Ben (clarinet), Kasey Knudsen (alto sax) and Chris Speed (tenor sax). It rides a wave somewhere between composition and improvisation which vacilates greatly in textures and mood – at times edgy and angular – at times sublimely lyrical. Ben also has initiated an ambitious bandcamp project called “Plague Diary” (also an entry on my list) where he has been composing releasing a song per day since COVID Shelter in place started in March. Check it out! https://ben-goldberg–bag-production-records.bandcamp.com/album/plague-diary

Logan Ledger – Logan Ledger

Nashville singer/songwriter Logan Ledger has a voice that reminds me of George Jones, Roy Orbison and Elvis. His music feels both retro and modern, all at the same time. A recent review from The Wall Street Journal described his music as “awash in unabashedly subjective moods—the dreamy, the whimsical, the fantastic—evanescent but often dark.” His great vocals and songwriting are further enhanced by T Bone Burnett’s sepia tone production. 

Aofie O’Donovan – Bull Frog Croon (and other songs)

Singer/songwriter Aofie O’Donavan is most well known as the lead vocalist for Crooked Still. On her “Bull Frog Croon” EP, she was inspired by the poetry of Peter Sears, who was the poet laureate of Oregon in the mid 10’s. She has created a sublimely beautiful song cycle which stylistically glides somewhere in the space between Americana and classical genres. She is joined by some great musicians including fiddler Brittany Haas (Cooked Still), bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers) and others. For me, it was one of the most soothing yet emotionally provacative records of the year. Perfect for the space I was needing in 2020!