A personal selection by a music fan who has admittedly failed to listen to every album released in 2020 and has his own preferences and predilections
- Rough & Rowdy Ways – Bob Dylan
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Dylan dropped, without warning, just as COVID-19 was announcing its presence, his epic new single Murder Most Foul. The track, clocking in just shy of 17 minutes, picked the eyes out of institutions, politics and pop culture centreing on the assassination of JFK. It was a major artistic statement which Dylan had reportedly been working on for over a decade. If that was all he had done in 2020, it would have been sufficient to confirm his presence as a relevant and vital artist (if 2012’s Tempest had not made that clear enough). Dylan, however, followed it with I Contain Multitudes and then the album Rough & Rowdy Ways to seal the deal. R&RW was not merely an unexpectedly resurgent artistic statement but a reassertion of Dylan’s status as an artist still in touch with his muse and still relevant almost 60 years after he first burst from New York’s folk bars and coffee shops to become the defining voice of the ‘60’s. It was the standout album of 2020.
2. Song for Our Daughter – Laura Marling
I saw Laura Marling play live at the Sydney Opera House on 7 March 2020. Little would I know that it would be the second last show I would see in the next 9 months. The crowd present showed great appreciation for the strong new songs interspersed throughout the evening – some of them being played live for the first time. The album, when it arrived, did not disappoint. Perhaps Marling’s defining statement and certainly the equal of her impressive catalogue.
3. Letter to You – Bruce Springsteen
Not even the surprisingly strong, if overproduced, Western Stars (or its superior movie soundtrack recorded live in Springteen’s converted barn which now serves as his studio) prepared us for the Boss’ resurgence with Letter To You. Anchored by a selection of older songs, and billed as a letter of thanks to his fans, Letter To You contained echoes of his classic albums accompanied by the finely honed musicality of the E Street Band. Arguably his best since the under-rated Devils & Dust
4. The Prisoner – Phoebe Bridges
A fuller, more complete, artistic statement which built upon the promise of her debut.
5. Hey Clockface – Elvis Costello
A sprawling tour-de-force displaying the full range of Costello’s talents but (somehow) coalescing into a complete and congruous artistic statement.
6. Good Souls, Better Angels – Lucinda Williams
Ms Williams channels her righteous anger at external targets (principally Trump) rather than her usual introspection, and hits a bulls-eye perfectly suited to 2020.
7. Reunions – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Isbell continues to mine his talent for stories of peoples, places, struggles and redemption. The 400 Unit continues to back those songs with exceptional playing rivalled only by that of the Springsteen’s E-Street Band. If Dave Cobb’s too slick production (which appears designed to take Isbell to the next level) distracts from the honesty of Isbell’s songs, its a minor quibble and the songs, most notably ‘Only Children’ and ‘St Peter’s Autograph’, continue to shine through.
8. You Be the Lightning – Tracey McNeil & the Goodlife
2020 was supposed to be the year for Tracey who gave up her lease to hit the road in a van with her partner in life and music Dan Parsons to support the long awaited release of this album. The music lived up to its promise but the timing was crueller by COVID-19. It deserves wider recognition.
9. In and Out of the Light – The Apartments
Another fine addition to the all too infrequent – but uniformly excellent – catalogue of this fine band. Thoughtful, literate, chamber-pop doesn’t get better than this. Underpinned by Peter Milton Walsh’s sonorous languid vocals and superior songwriting ably supported by his fine band including Chris Abrahams’ (The Necks) elegant piano flourishes and Nick Allum’s haunting drums and percussion.
10. World on the Ground – Sarah Jarosz
Another fine country/Americana album from a hugely talented singer and songwriter. With the help of Jon Leventhal, Jarosz has taken a marked step forward with both songwriting and performance on this album.
The next 10…
11. Lightning Show Is Your Stuff – Grant Lee Phillips
12. Blue Hearts – Bob Mould
13. By The Fire – Thurston More
14. Taylor Swift – folklore
15. Walking Proof – Lilly Hiatt
16. A Hero’s Death – Fontaine’s DC
17. Old Flowers – Courtenay Marie Andrews
18. Hermitage – Ron Sexsmith
19. Summerlong – Rose City Band
20. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud