Here is part two of my list of top twenty albums of 2020.
6. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas. This eponymously titled album is her third following Blood from 2015 and Is Your Love Big Enough from 2012. I had not heard of her until I saw her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2015 when she sat in with the Jon Batiste and Stay Human band and performed “Green and Gold” from Blood. It was an and incredible performance backed by a great band, so I bought the album and began to learn more about her. She was born in London to a Greek father and Jamaican mother. Her father taught her how to play piano and guitar, and she sang in her school choir. She got a big break in her career when she was featured on Prince’s album Art Official Age, and sang with him in an epic 2014 Saturday Night Live performance of the song “Clouds”. The first single from her new album is a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes”, and it’s brilliant. Enjoy!
7. Bonny Light Horseman – Bonny Light Horseman. This album was released in January, and I think it was the first new album I bought this year. As I wrote then, “I was struck by the clarity of their sound and their perfect vocal harmonies.” I must still be because I continue to play this album a lot. The group is made up of Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, and Eric D. Johnson, who in the press materials wrote of the reworked traditional folk songs they recorded: “This record is about timeless humanity. These 500-year-old lyrics are so deeply applicable. ‘The Roving’ could be the plot of an ’80s teen movie: ‘I had a wild summer with this awesome girl then she broke my heart!’ How incredible is it that as humans we still just want to love and have sex and feel sad and fight? It’s ancient music that feels, emotionally, right now. It’s thoroughly modern.”
8. Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band – Just Like Moby Dick. Terry Allen has been putting out some strange form of Texan alt-country absurdist songs and music since the seventies. He is also an accomplished writer, playwriter, sculptor, and visual artist. Check out his label bio here. This album includes his stalwart band, some family members who play various instruments and add backing vocals, and Charlie Sexton as co-producer, plus Shannon McNally, a new collaborator, provides prominent vocals on some songs. It’s a great collection of odd people and strange stories that’s well worth listening to over and over again. Here’s one of the odder songs about a circus visiting a city of vampires.
9. Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Well these days sometimes I think I have, and this album is the perfect for when I feel that way. I don’t think many people know of Fantastic Negrito (real name Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz), but I think many people should – like you! His music draws on blues, R&B, roots music, a little psychedelia, and some great guitar work. Check out this video for “Chocolate Samurai” which features home videos solicited by Fantastic Negrito that show what his fans were doing to entertain themselves during quarantine.
10. Jerry Joseph – The Beautiful Madness. This the most powerful political album I’ve heard in years. The album is produced by Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers, who’ve put out their own great political music, but this one is a gut punch. Jerry Joseph is new to me this year, which is surprising. I’d like to be able to say I first heard Jerry Joseph on KEXP, but I cannot recall ever hearing him on the station (must be too many f-bombs in his songs), so I only know of the album because it was mentioned in a weekly No Depression email, and I read the review and I immediately bought the album. Here’s a little snip from the review:
On Jerry Joseph’s new record, The Beautiful Madness, he walks the line between darkness and light, good and evil, and does so masterfully as he somehow speaks into the current realities of life with songs that were written well before a virus ravaged the globe and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd erupted protests and movements in the name of justice.
In other words, The Beautiful Madness is both prophetic and apocalyptic, quickly becoming a revelation for all who have ears to hear.
“Putting down the torch, surrender to the swell,” Joseph sings on opening track, “Days of Heaven.” “Ready for the dive, these are the days of heaven.” Co-written with Drive-By Truckers’ founding member Patterson Hood (who also produced the album), “Days of Heaven” sets the foundation for what’s to come on the rest of the record: living life on the brink of beautiful madness.
Many people are not familiar with Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band. I think I first heard him on KEXP’s Swingin’ Doors show around twenty years ago when Don Slack played “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” from the the 1983 album Bloodlines. I bought that album and have been following him ever since. No Depression describes his new album, Just Like Moby Dick, like this;
Instead of a voyage on the Pequod, Allen takes his listeners on a journey that covers a lot of ground, from Houdini facing death after life in “Houdini Didn’t Like the Spiritualists” to a town lamenting the loss of its last local dancer in “Death of the Last Stripper.” Allen brings clown-killing vampires into the light on “City of the Vampires” and delivers the storytelling masterpiece “Pirate Jenny,” which serves as a nod to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s original of the same name.
Here is “Sailin’ on Through”. Enjoy!
Drive By Truckers have been putting out great southern rock music for decades now. They are not shy about expressing their political views, so it’s no surprise that during this year of a presidential election they have released their most political album ever, The Unraveling. Here’s their response to the nutjob, Christian, second-amendment crowd who won’t do anything about the epidemic of mass killings committed with ridiculously powerful automatic weapons except offer up their “Thoughts and Prayers”.
Stephen Malkmus has put out several solo albums, and they all sound a little different – some sound similar to his seminal band Pavement, some a little like Sonic Youth, some are bit electronic, and this new one titled Traditional Techniques is less rock, less electric, more acoustic, and maybe sounds a little bit like Wilco.
This next one is the title track from Tré Burt’s new album, Caught it From the Rye. You will probably find that the instrumentation and vocals sound very much like someone you know. Sean Jewell over at American Standard Time, in a somewhat amusing fashion, goes to great lengths not to name that singer/songwriter, because well… Sean has his own set of principles to which he must adhere.
I, on the other hand, will name that person. He happens to be an artist I have been listing to quite a bit lately. Bob Dylan has released two new songs on YouTube in the past three weeks. I won’t post the actual videos, because they are already ubiquitous on the internet. “Murder Most Foul“, about the assassination of President Kennedy and what it means to the American psyche, was released a few weeks ago. Today he released “I Contain Multitudes” which seems to be about all the things that have influenced his work.
What Ballard Looks Like During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Ballard is the neighborhood where I live in Northwest Seattle, Washington that was a sleepy little Scandinavian neighborhood when I moved in. It’s gone through many changes over the past few decades that have made it a destination for Seattleites and for tourists from all over the country and the world. It’s where people go to drink, because there are many great bars and restaurants, plus the world famous Tractor Tavern music venue.
I took a walk through Ballard last weekend to see how the coronavirus shutdown has changed it.
Ballard was a bustling neighborhood with many thriving locally owned businesses, but now they are all hurting because of the severe economic slowdown brought on by the social distancing required to stop the spread of the highly contagious, deadly coronavirus. I can only hope the pandemic soon wanes and that Ballard, Seattle, Washington, and the rest of America and the world can get back to normal. I want all of these businesses to survive, but I don’t think all of them can without some huge help from the state and federal government, and from all the locals pitching in to buy what they can from them when they can.
The Great Recession was about “Too Big to Fail”. This recession is going to be all about “Too Small to Fail”.
This compilation is a fundraiser for the staff of the Ballard Avenue music venues that have been forced to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bartenders, sound technicians & door attendants at Conor Byrne Pub, Hotel Albatross, The Sunset Tavern & The Tractor Tavern are our family and make sure that we as musicians have a place to play as well as build and sustain our community.
To celebrate these noble warriors, all the artists on this compilation have recorded their own version of Casey Ruff’s song “You Don’t Bother Me” a song celebrating friendships, good times and hangovers made on Ballard Avenue
I have been in shock since around 10:00 last night when it became clear to me that Donald Trump will be the next president. I have a friend who tells me we get the president we deserve, but what the fuck did we do to deserve a fear-mongering racist, bigoted, egotistical, pussy grabbing, narcissist with the vocabulary of a fifth grader and the temperament of colicky toddler in a hot car seat? I don’t know. I have some thoughts, but I haven’t strung them together yet.
I was going to when I got home tonight, but I turned on the radio and tuned into Greg Vandy’s Roadhouse on KEXP. I’m still listening, and it’s exactly what I need to hear right now.
Greg’s show is a heavy one tonight with old and new songs about the current state of our divided union, and many songs are by people I’ve never heard before, including this song by Radney Foster. It captured my attention first because of the powerful vocal quality and then because it’s a frightening vision of a demagogue’s power over the rubes.
It’s a single that was released in September. I think it will be on his upcoming album due out soon. It’s on my list.
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.
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”.
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.
Seattle super group RAW POWER. From left to right that’s Duff McKagan on bass, Mark Arm singing, Barrett Martin on drums, and Mike McCready on guitar. They played a forty-five minute set of Iggy and the Stooges covers at this KEXP/Market Foundation fund-raising event.
Today is the first full day of summer, so you need a list of songs that sound great on a hot sunny day. I’ve been listening to summer-themed songs and music that just feels right on a sunny day, and here’s my final list with a few comments and videos.
Where is the Sun? – Stag (2014)
I heard this song on Quilty’s show on KEXP a few weeks ago on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Seattle is normally cloudy and damp until July 5th every year. So it’s no wonder a Seattle band would ride a somewhat melancholy song asking when the sun will show up. I stayed away from most songs that were a bit of downer, but this one works for an opening track because by the end it’s pretty upbeat. I should also mention that Seattle has had a great summer so far, even though summer didn’t officially start until today. We’ve already had seven days with high temperatures over eight degrees in June. We don’t normally get this kind of whether until July.
Pipeline – The Chantays (1962)
Perhaps my all-time favorite surf song. I never get tired of this classic.
Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys (1966)
Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues – Eels (2000)
Summertime Boy – Seasick Steve (2015)
I hadn’t really listened to Seasick Steve until this year when he put out Sonic Soul Surfer. Here’s the video.
Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Low Rider – War (1975)
Yes I know they have a song titled “Summer”, but I like this song in this set because it feels like summer, and if you are a fan of War, then it makes you think of “Summer”.
Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo (1983)
Driving and listening to the radio, and sometimes not understanding a word that is said.
Something good has to happen to you this Friday the 13th, right? You can make good happen by going to the Sunset Tavern to see the best Rock n’ Roll band in the world perform in a very intimate setting.
I got hooked on Capsula the first time I heard KEXP play a track off their 2009 album, Rising Mountains. Since then I’ve seen them play during CityArts Fest at The Comet, a free KEXP summer show at the Mural Amphitheater, The Triple Door, and at El Corazon (perhaps my least favorite venue in Seattle), so I am very glad to see them play a show in a great club in my own neighborhood this Friday. You should be too. Buy a ticket, take the ride. If you don’t, bad things might happen to you.
For those of you reading who don’t know about this band, here’s a video of them singing “Mejor No Hablar de Ciertas Cosas” (it translates to The Porcelain Horse) at a venue in what is now their home town; Bilbao, Spain.
That’s one they do in Spanish. Almost all the songs they do in the states are in English, so don’t let that get to you. It’s a great rock n’ roll song!
Anyway, if you want to know more about their sound, read about them on Tulip Frenzy.
KEXP completed its fall pledge drive yesterday, and during the week-long drive they counted down the top 437 artists of all time as voted on by listeners. Listeners had until September 19th to cast their votes for their top twelve. I’m not sure why the final list was 437. It could be that’s the total number of different artists that were chosen by listeners, or maybe it was an air-time issue – the number of songs they could get through during the daytime pledge-drive hours. (Anybody at KEXP reading this who knows why the list was 437?)
I listened to the station during my drives to and from work during the week, and I must say the banter from Kevin Cole, Troy Nelson, and Tilly (?) during the afternoon show was pretty entertaining. I especially liked Troy’s “80’s scream”. Just thinking about trying to imitate it makes my throat hurt.
Anyway, here’s the top twelve as voted on by listeners:
1 The Beatles 2 Radiohead 3 Led Zeppelin 4 The Clash 5 Nirvana 6 Pixies 7 David Bowie 8 Bob Dylan 9 The Rolling Stones 10 Neil Young 11 R.E.M. 12 Pink Floyd
I get that a lot of people of all generations like The Beatles, and the band has had a long time to grow a fan base, but I would have flipped The Rolling Stones’ spot for The Beatles’ spot. I listen to the Stones pretty often – mostly the late sixties through mid-seventies era, and those albums still sound pretty fresh to me. As for The Beatles, I listen to them once and a while, but I’ve grown tired of them.
No surprise that Radiohead placed high on the chart, because they used to win the album-of-the-year polls every time they put out a record. Led Zeppelin ahead of The Clash? Come on! Nirvana snuck in as the only American band in the top five.
Here’s my list from a couple weeks ago with corresponding KEXP rankings:
1 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (59 – not bad, but someday the rest of you will come around.) 2 Patti Smith (67 – really? Have you seen her live?) 3 Tom Waits (35 – but he had ten albums on their list of top 903 albums of all time.) 4 Johnny Cash (13 – about where I would expect.) 5 P.J. Harvey (56 – she deserves much better than this.) 6 The Clash (4) 7 Bob Dylan (8) 8 Bruce Springsteen (43 – he’s better than this, but not a surprising ranking for KEXP) 9 The Rolling Stones (9) 10 Nirvana (4) 11 X (85 – really? John Fuckin’ Doe? Listen to their first four albums again.) 12 Bob Marley (32 – perhaps his ranking will rise now that we can buy pot legally in this state.)
But what about Sufjan Stevens? I had a beef with fellow listeners after the Top 903 albums of all time poll. His Come on Feel the Illinois ranked #15 in that one – way ahead of much more worthy albums. For this poll he came in 89th. His star has faded because he hasn’t really done anything since.
Nothing else too surprising about the results. What do you all think?