With independent records stores struggling from COVID lockdowns and a relative dearth of new music releases – with many artists holding releases back in the hope of touring them – the industry reacted with not one but a series of (mostly online) Record Store Days. Despite the sometimes bloated pricing of such releases taking fans for a rise. It’s a cause, I’m happy to get behind particularly in 2020.
Here’s a list of some of my favourite re-releases, archived releases, cover albums and tributes from 2020 (in no particular) order.
Lovey – Lemonheads
An absolutely brilliant package of my long time favourite Lemonheads album. It featured a hardcover book binding enclosing not only a new 20th anniversary vinyl pressing of Lovey (long unavailable) but also a bonus LP of a vibrant and typically ramshackle 1991 JJJ Live at the Wireless performance.
Archives Vol. II – Neil Young
Like Volume I, this is a sublime package of rare cuts, live and ‘lost’ albums. Like Volume I, it’s beautifully packaged and produced. Like Volume I, it annoyingly was preceded by many of the albums being released over the last couple of years, so by the time it was released, fans had already recently forked out for much of the content. Still, we needed to have it for the packaging and the deep cuts not available elsewhere.
Homegrown – Neil Young
Finally Young released his shelved personal follow up to his smash hit Harvest album. While not at the very top of Young’s cannon, it is a worthy addition to your collection.
Wildflowers & All the Rest – Tom Petty
A great (2014) remaster of Petty’s greatest solo album and of his his best releases overall spread over 2 vinyl LPs – plus a third LP of other studio tracks recorded during the sessions. Also available as a 7LP Deluxe edition with additional demos/outtakes and a live show from the Wildflowers Tour. I settled for the value 3 LP edition.
Gimme Some Truth – John Lennon (4LP Box Set)
Picks the eyes out of John Lennon’s, often inconsistent, solo albums. Arguably the best way to hear Lennon’s solo cannon – just the good stuff.
Long Hot Summers / The Story of the Style Council
Another terrific band whose output was often great and, in retrospect, groundbreaking – but which suffered from inconsistency when heard in the context of the individual albums. At the time, they also suffered from comparison of the vital The Jam albums which preceded them. This compilation, selected by the band itself, includes many extended versions which go deeper and represent better the bands vision. Essential. As the first vinyl run of the collection sold out in no time, I’ve had to make do with TIDAL until my back order arrives.
The Palace at 4am (Part 1) – Jay Bennett & Edward Burch
The 2002 Wilco Documentary ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ famously shows in graphic detail the breakdown of the band’s central partnership between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett. We all know what happened next with Tweedy’s Wilco continuing to achieve great success. This album is what happened next for Jay Bennett. How I never managed to discover it before this 2020 RSD re-issue is perplexing. It’s a classic. If love great pop music, check it out.
Mental Notes/ Second Thoughts/ Dizrythmia – Split Enz
2020 saw the release of a 40th Anniversary`of Split Enz’s 1980 masterpiece True Colours, but what really excited me this year was the re-issues of their first three albums in glorious coloured vinyl editions with superbly curated gatefold sleeves. An overdue chance to revisit these wonderful art-pop albums which contain much to love beyond the recognisable ‘hits’.
Grandpa Would – Ben Lee
The story of Ben Lee’s discovery, as a 15 year old Aussie school kid by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and signing to the Beatie Boys’ Uber cool Grand Royale record label is now legendary. Lee’s pairing with producer Brad Wood (hot off having produced Liz Phair’s classic debut Exile in Guyville) provided the perfect setting to capture a rare mix of innocence, raw talent and youthful exuberance and translate it to vinyl. This 25th anniversary set presents the resulting debut album on LP1 and further demo’s and outtakes on LP2. The second LP is interesting but the original LP remains a classic which captured a moment of creative synchronicity the heights of which Lee never recaptured.
drag – k.d. lang
This concept album of covers of songs loosely arranged around the theme of smoking presents k.d. lang’s skill as a vocalist and interpreter in fine relief. This 2020 RSD edition marks a welcome vinyl release of the album.
Sign of the Times – Prince
Prince’s definitive statement as a musician in a new remastered package. A masterpiece.
Please Leave Your Light On – Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky
Paul Kelly, one of Australia’s best songwriters, has always had a way with a piano ballad. His solo piano led renditions of a number of this songs as part of his famed A-Z Tours proved that beyond doubt. His paring here with Grabowsky, one of Australia’s finest jazz pianists and bandleaders is inspired (and given their previous connections, long overdue). A fantastic recasting of these classic songs.
Blonde on the Tracks – Emma Swift
Recording a whole album of Bob Dylan covers would hardly seem a natural choice for a young female songwriter from Australia – but relocated to Nashville – and with a reputation based largely on one excellent EP (Bittersweet). But so beguiling – and audacious – are these versions that it has thrust Swift into the spotlight. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
Truckload of Sky, The lost songs of David McComb Vol. 1 – by the friends of David McComb
I’m not generally a fan of multi-artist tribute albums. With a few exceptions, the majority are more miss than hit. Delivering either too faithful (but inferior) copies or reinterpreting them to lesser effect, or worse, losing the spirit of the original. That claim can’t be made here. Firstly because these are ‘lost’ songs written by David McComb but never released. Secondly, these are not just random bands with some label affiliation but a group of musicians who were friends and/or collaborators with McComb. They came to the project out of love and with an innate understanding of the McComb’s artistic spirit. It’s the embodiment of that spirit which makes this album a triumph and one of my favourite albums of the year in any category.
Sunday – Vika & Linda
Vika & Linda are national treasures whether as part of the Black Sorrows, accompanying Paul Kelly or on their own releases. This isolation recorded album of covers achieves an intimacy which suits the mostly gospel material.
Back To My Roots – Solomon Burke
Solomon Bourke is indisputably one of the soul greats. This RSD re-issue of his 1976 Chess outing is yet more proof of that fact. And the worth the money for the cover art alone.
Unreleased 1998 – 2010 – Powderfinger
As the name suggests, this collection of unreleased tracks spans the bands career and capture each of their many facets which made them one of the countries most popular bands. While it’s a little hit and miss, there are some real treasures here and it adds up to more than a mere curiosity.