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The Top 20 Albums of 2020 (1-5)

The Top 20 Albums of 2020 (1-5)

  1. Nick CaveIdiot Prayer. Nick Cave had a world tour planned for 2020 to promote his and The Bad Seeds excellent 2019 album Ghosteen. I bought tickets to a show scheduled for October in Seattle but, as with all the other shows on the tour, it was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No live shows? What could he do? He booked the Alexandra Palace and livestreamed a pay-per-view live show of just him at piano in a venue that can hold 7,500 people. Okay, so we all know Nick’s voice is a beautiful instrument, but what about that piano? Nick wrote this for The Red Hand Files:

The piano I played at Alexandra Palace was a Fazioli. There were limited pianos I could access during lockdown. There was, however, a Fazioli. I had never played one before but Dom Monks, the guy who recorded the Alexandra Palace performance, highly recommended this piano. The moment I sat down at the Fazioli, its warm, soft, nuanced sound spoke to me like no piano had spoken to me before. I was swept away by its extraordinary tonal range. It whispered to me. It roared at me. It was the most beautiful instrument I had ever played.

I watched the livestream show on July 23rd and was blown away by the intimacy of the performance. The songs take on a whole new character when performed without The Bad Seeds. You can’t help but focus on every word and Nick’s delivery of them.

Nick wrote in the liner notes for the album released in November:

On 19th June 2020, surrounded by COVID officers with tape measures and thermometers, masked-up gaffers and camera operators, nervous looking technicians and buckets of hand gel, we created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain time, but was in no way bowed by it.

The title track of the album was taken from the song of the same name on the 1997 release, The Boatman’s Call. There are six songs from that piano-based album, a few from Ghosteen, and other albums plus two Grinderman songs, including “Palaces of Montezuma”, which is one of my favorites on this album. As of now there are only two clips from the film available on YouTube. Here’s “Galleon Ship” from Ghosteen.

2. Lucinda WilliamsGood Souls Better Angels. Lucinda unleashed the devil when she put this album together. It’s visceral, raw dirty blues with a punk edge. With the lyrics she attacks the evil subjects in her songs, like Donald Trump in “Man Without a Soul”. She never says his name, but you know who she’s talking about. I’ve been a huge fan of hers at least since way back in 1998 when she put our her masterpiece, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Here she is performing the opening track of Good Souls Better Angels – her new masterpiece.

3. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions. Another great collection of songs by Jason Isbell. I chose “Overseas” because of the infectious guitar part – especially at the 3:05 mark of the album version and at 3:39 when Jason throws in some Crazy Horse like harmonic distortion. The video here is a live at-home recording for The Late Show, and it’s a wee bit longer than the album version. Enjoy!

4. Porridge RadioEvery Bad. I think I learned about this band by reading this review in The Guardian. From there I watched and listened to several YouTube videos, both “Lilac” and “Sweet” really got my attention. Dana Margolin’s voice is a very powerful instrument she uses to belt out some angsty screams. She is a very talented songwriter and singer, and she’s only 26, so I expect more great things from this band in the future. Here’s the closest thing to a pop song on the album. Pop is good!

5. Fontaines D.C.A Hero’s Death. Just over a year after their first album, Dogrel, was released to great acclaim, they dropped their second album. It’s different than the harder rocking first album. It’s a bit dark and brooding, and that’s probably why I like it. Check out this very weird video for the single, “A Hero’s Death”. Sort of Lynchian…

Some More of the Best Music of 2020 so Far

Some More of the Best Music of 2020 so Far

It’s been a month since I put up any new music, and I’ve discovered several albums that are worth adding to the list. Let’s start with Nick Cave’s cover of “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex from the upcoming all-star tribute album titled, AngelHeaded Hipster set to be released on September 4, 2020. It will be a double album with 26 tracks featuring U2, Elton John, Joan Jett, Perry Farrell, Sean Lennon, Lucinda Williams, and more!

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The Best Albums of 2015

The Best Albums of 2015

I don’t know why it took me so long to put together this list of The Best Albums of 2015. Just too busy I guess. But now that football season is over, I’ve not much else to do this Valentine’s Day Sunday. Right now I’m just sittin’ around listening to vinyl, drinking Batch 15 IPA and eating some chocolate. Just the right combination to get me motivated enough to list the best albums of 2015 and embed some cool videos.

Coming in at Number One on the chart is Courtney Barnett‘s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. This album also topped KEXP’s 2015 listener poll, and here’s the song they played to end the countdown.

Sleater Kinney reunited in 2014 and released No Cities to Love in early 2015. They didn’t miss a beat during their ten-year break.

Wilco surprised everyone by dropping Star Wars for free! Not that I would download a crappy mp3 or anything like that. I waited for the hard copy and also saw them live at Marymoor Park on a warm summer evening last August. Here they are live on Stephen Colbert’s show performing “Random Name Generator”.

Julia Holter topped MOJO Magazine’s list, so I went out and bought Have You In My Wilderness to hear what all the fuss was about. I really liked it. It’s a real album, so you have to sit and listen to start to finish a few times to appreciate it.

Melody Gardot is not on a lot of people’s radar, probably because her albums are found in the Jazz section of your local record store. Her latest album, Currency of Man, is jazz leaning towards blues and rock, and it has a sharp political edge to it. Perfect for the troubled times we live in. Here is the real standout track “Preacherman”. It’s a pretty intense video with a long introduction, so be patient. The song starts at about 2:50.

I’ve been a big fan of Johnny Dowd ever since I heard his 1999 album, Pictures from Life’s Other Side, and saw him live at The Tractor Tavern. His new album is titled That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse, and here’s a quirky video for “White Dolemite”.

Kurt Vile has been pretty prolific over the past few years, and every album he puts has something really great on it like “Pretty Pimpin'” from b’lieve i’m goin’ down.

I had not heard of Houndmouth before 2015, but they got some airplay on KEXP, and I liked what I heard, so I bought Little Neon Limelight. And I’m glad I did.

Nadine Shah has one of the most powerful singing voices. I love what she does with it on Fast Food. Too bad she isn’t appreciated much on this side of the Atlantic, because she should be. Then maybe she would tour here and I could see her live.

I heard about Israel Nash from friends who are really into his music. I bought 2014’s Rain Plans some time in 2015 and loved it. I missed his sold out show at The Sunset Tavern, but I did see his ridiculously short 30-minute set at Bumbershoot, and then saw what was one of the best shows of the year at The Crocodile in December in support of his latest album Silver Season. Here’s “Have You Seen L.A. Lately”.

And here’s ten more favorites from 2015 listed without video support.

LowOnes and Sixes
Laura MarlingShort Movie
Royal HeadacheHigh (a shoutout to Troy Nelson at KEXP for turning me on to this band this summer)
Paul WellerSaturns Patterns
Jason IsbellSomething More Than Free
CalexicoEdge of the Sun
Alabama ShakesSound and Color
Julien BakerSprained Ankle (an album that is almost too personal)
Rhiannon GiddensTomorrow Is My Turn
The Oh SeesMutilator Defeated At Last

That’s twenty. There’s more great stuff from 2015, but this post is too long already. You can check out The Guardian’s list here and Pitchfork’s list here.

The Best Albums of 2013

The Best Albums of 2013

2013 was an awesome year for music. There were many great albums put out by some of my favorite artists, and there were several outstanding albums put out by artists I’d never paid much attention to in previous years, and a few by brand new artists. That said, let’s get to the number one album of the year:

1. Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsPush the Sky Away. This is the album I listened to the most during the year. It is a quiet follow-up to the cacophonous noise of Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! released five years earlier. The album sounds as spacious as the brightly lit room on the cover, but sounds much darker and as beautiful as the model on the cover – his wife, Susie Bick (in the nude!). Key tracks are “Jubilee Street” and “Higgs Boson Blues“. Here’s video about the making of the album.

2. Valerie JunePushin’ Against a Stone. I first heard Valerie June on Greg Vandy’s show, The Roadhouse, on KEXP. I was captivated by her arresting voice and the expert blending of folk, country, blues, and country music. Her album was released in Europe early in the year, and you could watch videos and listen to it on the web, but it wasn’t released in the US until August. The album was coproduced by Kevin Augunas and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who no doubt drew some extra attention from the press, and received great reviews in many major music publications. I bought it the day it came out and have been listening to it ever since. Key tracks are the title track and “Workin’ Woman Blues”. Here’s a video about Valerie and her debut album.

3. Holly WilliamsThe Highway. Prior to this year I had only heard Holly Williams singing her rendition of her grandfather’s, (Hank Williams, Sr. – she has the blood of Hank in her, and it shows) “Blue is My Heart” on the excellent album project titled The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. I was hooked on her voice and her style after hearing the song, and then I read a great review of The Highway in Uncut Magazine and went looking for the album to buy. I ended up buying it from Amazon, and I have yet to see it stocked in a brick-and-mortar store. That’s because it was independently released on her own label Georgiana Records, which apparently wasn’t picked up by any distributors. That’s a shame, because this album is a real gem. Holly’s voice sits front and center of a mostly sparse and acoustic production. The songs are of the south and of her family. Key tracks are the opener, “Drinkin'” and the closer, a song about her grandmother June Bacon White, “Waitin’ on June”.

4. Kurt Vile and The ViolatorsWakin’ on a Pretty Daze. If you like guitars and catchy melodies, you’ll love this album. It reminds me of some really great Neil Young albums I’d listened to very loud while driving around on a hot summer day. Go read Tulip Frenzy for a review. Key tracks are the title track and “Snowflakes are Dancing”.

5. Low The Invisible Way. I first learned of Low when they opened for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at The Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle way back in 1998. The house was packed with people anxious to see Nick, and Low was kind of a quiet shoegazer band at the time, but I really like what I was hearing when I was able to hear it over the very loud man talking behind me. (I asked him to be quiet or leave. He stayed, but he was quiet.) Since then I’d heard them on the radio and liked the music, but never really got into them until this year. The Invisible Way was produced by Jeff Tweedy, and he has a way about bringing out the best in people. The album opens with a very humorous song, “Plastic Cup” sung by Alan Sparhawk. Mimi Parker sings backup on this one, but she takes the lead vocal on several songs on the album, including “Just Make it Stop“, another standout track.

6. DaughterIf You Leave. Elena Tonra is the leader of this London trio. I was hooked on this band the moment I first heard “Youth” on KEXP. The sound of their debut album is sparse and hypnotic, and the lyrics take you inward to a claustrophobic space. Beautiful record that I listen to all the time. “Amsterdam” is another standout track.

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