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.
20. Drive-By Truckers–The New OK
This was the second release of the year from DBT, and my preferred one, even if just slightly. The New OK was mostly written by Patterson Hood, with Sarah’s Flame, a song about Sarah Palin as a Silver Surfer to the modern mess, serving as the lone Cooley song. It continues the dark, political commentary of The Unraveling. My favorite DBT is when they are singing about society and deficiencies. This one fits that. The Perilous Night was actually previously released as a 7″ single in 2017 but just now made it to a full album.
Favorite Tracks: The Unraveling, The Perilous Night, Sarah’s Flame, Watching The Orange Clouds.
19. John Moreland–LP5
You guys are never going to guess this, but LP5 is John Moreland’s fifth LP. In the Throes and High On Tulsa Heat both made my top five in the years they came out and Big Bad Luv was top 10 back in 2017. LP5 is more of a full band sound, and less of a “guy and a guitar” album. So, sonically this is a step forward. Lyrically, it is still really good, but it is tough to match the “emotionally wreck you” stuff he put on In The Throes and High On Tulsa Heat. Those albums could make you cry with a different line every time.
Still, some of the stuff on this album is not of mortal men.
Are you lonely in your convictions, staring through the glass tonight?
Is the truth a work of fiction? Better ask the blood stained sky
I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me
You got ads to sell so you tell me that’s who I need to be
I’m learning how to tell myself the truth
Forget all the shit I used to think I knew
Forgive me if I cannot give you proof
I just wanna move you
Favorite tracks: Harder Dreams, A Thought Is Just A Passing Train, I’m Learning To Tell Myself The Truth, When My Fever Breaks
18. Saints Eleven–This Town
This one is technically an EP at six songs and 21 minutes total, but half (3) of the songs made my Best Of playlist for the year. Saints Eleven is a red dirt band out of Dallas, led by front man Jeff Grossman. A little bit honky tonk, a little bit electric bluegrass, or whatever you want to call it. Remember, there are two types of music: stuff I like and stuff I don’t. This is the former. It twangs and grooves at the same time, and Grossman has a drawl to his vocals that fits perfectly. Lyrically, it is the tried and true road band missing home stuff. If it ain’t broke…
Favorite tracks: My Home Is, This Town, The Crown.
17. Tobe Nwigwe–Cincoriginals
Tobe Nwigwe was one of my favorite discoveries of 2019 and had one of my top 10 albums last year. The Houston rapper has been prolific the last few years. Cincoriginals is as visually fun as it is sonically, as he released videos for tracks several Sundays in a row before dropping the album. And his rise from obscurity continues, as witnessed by some of the featured on this one: Big KRIT, Royce Da 5’9″, Black Thought, D Smoke, etc. Although my favorite feature of the album is his wife, Fat. A strong woman makes a strong man. Believe that. Seriously though, look up each of these videos.
Favorite tracks: Eat, Father Figure, Purple Rain Thing, Cujo.
16. Avett Brothers–The Third Gleam
The Avett Brothers have been ramping up their production on recent albums, and their live shows have become full on rock your balls off productions. And I love them for it. But I still miss the old feel the band had in the early days. Well, the Third Gleam was a step back into that period of their music. And they picked the perfect year to do it. The Third Gleam was a return to the roots, while continuing to unapologetically address some higher concepts and give us the best guide to life accidentally written by anyone. Avett Brothers lyrics just make you a better human. It is that simple.
Favorite tracks: Victory, I Should’ve Spent The Day With My Family, Women Like You, Untitled #4, The Fire.
15. Run The Jewels–RTJ4
Killer Mike and El-P run this rap game right now and Killer Mike is becoming a racial justify leader at the same time. RTJ4 is militant, angry, in your face and cutting. You know, all the things you want RTJ to be. RTJ is here to fight the tyranny and we should be too. It starts out innocently enough with tracks like ooh la la which seems like a frolic relative to the rest of the album. It builds and builds and does not relent. My favorite track was one that had an interesting feature set: Zack de la Rocha and Pharrell Williams. Zach actually fits the vibe, but I was surprised to see Pharrell’s name. I was even more surprised that it might be the hardest track on the album. Later in the album, they have Josh Homme and Mavis Staples on the same track.
Favorite Tracks: ooh la la, goonies vs. ET, walking in the snow, JU$T, a few words for the firing squad.
14. Chicago Farmer–Flyover Country
Cody Dickhoff (Chicago Farmer) is a story teller who happens to have a guitar when he tells stories. The folkie from northern Illinois who fits the vibe of downstate teamed with The Band of Heathens to make this album and flesh out a full(er) sound. Cody always brings a good bent of humor to his stories (songs) and that is no different with this album. Case in point, $13 Beers. Collars is a solid takedown of the different worlds the rich and poor live in. Deer In The Sky is a parental advice song. Dirtiest Uniform is an ode to work ethic and perseverance. Yep, midwestern roots through and through.
Favorite tracks: Collars, Indiana Line, $13 Beers, Deer in the Sky, Dirtiest Uniform
13. 49 Winchester–III
I nearly missed this album. Listening to a year-end album podcast, one of the host mentioned this album from the Virginia band led by Isaac Gibson. What made my ears perk up was the phrase “he has a Stapleton vibe to him.” You have my attention. And while Isaac doesn’t have that raw power or smoothness Chris does, yeah, I can see what they meant. It’s raspier, rootsier, rawer, but that works for this. This is Appalachian country soul. It’s opining, it forlorn, it’s wishing for better, it’s heartbreaking at times, but with just a hint of hope on occasion.
Favorite tracks: Everlasting Lover, The Road Home, Hays Kansas, Get Clean.
12. Shaker Hymns–The Ties That Bind
In a list swimming in texas country and americana, with some hip hop sprinkled in, I didn’t get to a ton of rock this year. The Shaker Hymns would qualify, even if it is of the southern (Texas) variety in the mold of Blackberry Smoke or Whiskey Myers. Want to rock? Try Dodging Bullets. Want some wailing steel guitar? Head over to Not Alone. Need something heavy and hard? Well, we have What I’ve Become for you. The Ties That Bind weaves in and out of moods within the album, and given just about any mood you are in there is a track for that.
Favorite track: Dodging Bullets, Not Alone, What I’ve Become, Christmas Eve.
11. Jason Isbell–Reunions
Amanda Shires’ husband may be able to carve a career out for himself after all. Isbell continues to lay claim to the Best Songwriter Of His Time title, or at least make a solid argument for it. That Reunions is about as low as I have ever rated an Isbell solo album, and it is still at 11 in a year I rated 101, says something about what the man and the band are putting out year to year. And if his duet with the wife, The Problem, had been on this, it probably would have cracked the top 10. With Reunions, Jason continues to ponder his role in an unjust society, still explore his society and still nail the whole damn American experience. Also, go watch the Tiny Desk from September.
All that’s left is the top 10. Tune in later for the Best of the Best.