Continuing on in our look at my favorite albums of 2020.
The first 50 was just a table list. Now I’ll start including short write-ups and videos of favorite tracks.
30. Brent Cobb–Keep ‘Em On They Toes
Brent Cobb is no longer just Dave’s little cousin, as the Georgia native has fully come into his own as a songwriter with a silky smooth delivery. Keep ‘Em On They Toes is the fourth full-length from Cobb, and the most philosophical yet. His previous work was a lot of storytelling about places and people. This one has more higher concepts to them, highlighted by Shut Up and Sing. Cousin Dave did not produce this one, instead Brent went to Durham, NC, to work with Brad Cook, but the spaciousness of the songs fit the Dave Cobb style nevertheless.
Favorite Tracks: Keep ‘Em On They Toes (even as grammatically wrong as that is), Shut Up and Sing, Dust Under My Rug.
29. Bruce Springsteen–Letter To You
The Boss got the E Street Band back together for the first time in six years, even if they didn’t credit in the album title. Letter To You highlights the more mature, mortal Springsteen, who may in fact not live forever (we have no way to know for sure yet). And it does this while featuring three tracks he wrote before his debut album but never recorded. While it was nice to get a glimpse of pre-Asbury Bruce, the best work of the album was still new stuff.
Favorite tracks: Last Man Standing, Letter To You, Rainmaker, I’ll See You In My Dreams.
28. Marcus King–El Dorado
At just 24 years, Greenville, SC native Marcus King is about the hottest thing in southern rock/blues this year. And it is easy to see why as the third-generation musician plays well beyond his age and would fit right in with the likes of the Allmans or Waylon all the same. El Dorado was produced by Dan Auerbach, of the Black Keys, in Nashville.
Favorite tracks: The Well, Say You Will, Too Much Whiskey, Love Song
27. Taylor Swift–Folklore
And here is Taylor’s second album on my list, and the first released. Folklore has been popping up in a lot of top 5s this year. And I get it. Folklore had as many tracks make my Best of 2020 playlist as about any other album out there. But it also had a couple (epiphany, peace) that I skip frequently. Still, I love this direction for Taylor, and this is her best album yet. It deserves the love it is getting. But man is my top 30 stacked this year.
Favorite tracks: exile, cardigan, the last great american dynasty, my tears ricochet, ilicit affairs, mad woman. Like I said, a ton of really good stuff.
26. Kolton Moore and the Clever Few–Everything Has Changed
Kolton Moore, a young man from Texas had stepped away from music a couple of times. Then he released Everything Has Changed this year, his first album since 2013. This is one that I admittedly will have higher than just about anyone. And only a couple songs made my Best Of list, but the whole album is one enjoyable listen. Moore has a bluesy, raspy voice that is perfect for the Texas bar venues, with a grungy guitar occupying a good portion of the songs. If you are a Koe Wetzel guy, give this one a try. I liked it better than Koe’s stuff this year.
Favorite tracks: Mine All Mine (revisited, originally released in 2012), What’s Coming Next.
25. Brandy Clark–Your Life Is A Record
Your Life Is A Record is Brandy Clark’s third studio album and the follow up to her 2016 top 10 country album. Clark paid her dues as a songwriter on Music Row for several years before finally breaking through recording herself while still charting several songs with others singing still. I’m hoping with this album she is able to do more of her own going forward. Bad Car is a fun ode to a friend you forget is a friend until you hear this song. Who You Thought I Was is a fun sequel to Hoge’s Little Bitty Dreams. Pawn Shop is the sad song that should be on every country album.
Favorite Tracks: Long Walk, Pawn Shop, Who You Thought I Was, Bad Car.
24. Chris Stapleton–Starting Over
Chris Stapleton has become just about the most consistent thing Nashville has. Starting Over is just a continuation of a stellar middle act for the veteran songwriter who busted out a few years ago with Traveller. Starting Over sounds more like that album than From A Room albums released in between. And it honestly probably has more staying power than some I will rank above it this year. When you are just consistently this good, it is easy to overlook, I guess. Basically, I’m rambling as a way to figure out how this only came in at 24. This is still one I know I can go to on the highway with my wife in tow and we are both good to go.
Favorite tracks: Starting Over, Devil Always Made Me Think Twice, Hillbilly Blood, Maggie’s Song, You Should Probably Leave.
23. Drive-By Truckers–The Unraveling
This year’s list has a few bands or artist who had multiple releases this year. The Drive-By Truckers were the ones who had the two highest by average on my list. The Unraveling was their first release of the year, back in the spring. It was vintage DBT, darkly philosophical with cutting viewpoints and killer lines.
Favorite tracks: Armageddon’s Back In Town, Thoughts and Prayers, 21st Century USA, Grievance Merchants
22. Ray Wylie Hubbard–Co-Starring
Texas Troubador Ray Wylie Hubbard has been one of the best kept secrets in outlaw country for a couple decades. Well, he got signed to a major label and put that clout to good use with Co-Starring. Every track includes a feature. And the list is amazing. Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson. And that is just the first track. Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Cadillac Three, Pam Tillis, Paula Nelson, Elizabeth Cook, Tyler Bryant, Ashley McBride, Larkin Poe, Peter Rowan and Ronnie Dunn. You can tell a lot about a man by the company he attracts, right? Star studded features, but at the middle of it all is still Hubbard’s witty lyrics and turn of phrases. The man delivers some of the best lines in music. Take the opening track for example, Bad Trick. He got the premise from a line his wife used after a poor live show. He took that and turned it into a fun song. This is what he does, and this time he did it with a ton of talented friends.
Favorite track: Bad Trick, Drink Till I See Double, R.O.C.K., Outlaw Blood.
21. Kyle Nix–Lightning On The Mountain
Listen, we all want a Turnpike Troubadours reunion. But most importantly, we want Evan to be alright. And in his absence, Kyle Nix put out a hell of an album in their place. Nix is/was (still hard to say was) the fiddle player for the Troubadours. He stepped to the mic for this album and was joined by several the Troubadours–RC Edwards, Ryan Engleman, Gabe Pearson and Hank Early. Some of Lighting is autobiographical, but there are the typical murder ballads, relationship songs and star-crossed lover songs. And here is another guy who reads Breece DJ Pancake, joining the ranks of Childers and Barham. A worthy successor, in deed. Pick up that mantle and run with, Kyle.
More to come in future posts.