This was not an all-bad music year. Everything else was bad in 2020, but musicians stayed at home and some made beautiful music, alone or together with other musicians. Some cheated and made music before Covid-19 became a term on everybody’s lips. One artist on my list was even dead – and his friends finished the album for him, decades later.
But my ears have enjoyed themselves throughout 2020. So, thank you, artists, for keeping writing, performing and producing terrific music, particularly those of you who pride yourself of playing your own instruments, singing, harmonizing, looking back for inspiration, standing on shoulders of giants, still creating unique, contemporary music.
Before I gave you my favourite top 10 list, let me mention an additional 20 wonderful albums I have had a special pleasure of reviewing and listening to this year (in alphabetical order) :
Then on to my special favourites. Albums that stood out and that I enjoyed more than anything else I have listened to this year. ( I have reviewed 113 albums of the more than 200 albums I have listened to, so there’s quite a few to choose from… )
You may notice that very few, if any of these albums will be found on most other reviewers’ top 10 list. Which just comes to prove that this blog has a different outlook and attitude than most reviewers. Hopefully, since many of you keep reading and keep listening, (slightly more of you this year than last year), my choices appeal to enough of you to make it worthwhile.
So, these are my top ten choices of 2020. (Some of the albums were released in 2019, but reviewed by me in 2020. ) You’ll find a link to the individual albums by clicking on the cover. If you want to listen to all of them, I have made a separate list.
Click HERE for all 10 albums.
Yes, it’s dance music – and very much Top 40 material, but I would argue with a difference. Japanese-British Rina Sawayama has made the most interesting dance album this year. Daring and innovative.
Country, Americana and pop intertwined. Norwegian singer Bendik Brænne adds sugar and spice to this delightful album, sometimes sugary sweet, other times with considerable bite.
I love the hoarseness of Basia Bulat’s powerful voice, a value added to her magnificent writing and melodic flair.
French guitar virtuoser Thomas DeTronc plays his guitars better than he sings, but who cares when he so cleverly builds bridges between the American and the French Songbooks. It is a true sing-a-long album. Pure joy.
You must work hard and be in a particularly bad mood to find fault with Teddy Thompson’s songwriting. This is such a well-written, well performed album from an Englishman in New York. I keep listening to it again and again.
I am going to repeat myself… I come across, all the time, artists that don’t get the recognition they so clearly deserve. Mimmi Tamba, is a prime example. She has released two albums, Semper Eadem this year, that are among the finest and most creative and musically surprising available, but you need to work hard to find anyone talking about her work. She pays no heed to the trends in the business, yet her music is contemporary and moving. I do sincerely hope she will keep on recording.
Talking about artists that don’t get the credit they deserve: Harry Nilsson was loved by fellow musicians and many critics, but never became a true superstar (except with Without You and Everybody’s talkin’ , none of which he wrote). He died in 1994. Before he died he had started and nearly finished a come-back album. Record producer Mark Hudson held on to the tapes, and 25 years later it was re-mixed, brushed up and released, I would say in the true spirit of Nilsson. Listen to that voice, even after years of boozing!
How to know the difference between Landgren and Lundgren? Landgren is the trombonist and the singer, Lundgren the pianist, but otherwise they’re one. Although the album is found in the jazz section of your (non-existan) record store, Nils and Jan take you on a tour of genres, through The Beatles’ «I will» to Swedish lullaby «Byssan Lull». I can’t praise the result enough, this is an album that restores a fragile soul with its beauty.
It happens once in a while: a new artist comes on the stage, and immediately gets a worldwide following. Lola Young is Billie Eillish, Kacey Musgreaves, maybe even Amy Winehouse material, but she isn’t there yet. Not because she doesn’t have it. She does. She is a true artist with words, she plays with her lyrics, eloquent albeit simple rhymes. Still there is meaning and sense in her lyrics, about being young (sic) and living in this day and age.
For the first time since I started issuing a top 10 list, I have picked a compilation album as the year’s most enjoyable. I’m not too fond of compilation albums, soundtracks and live albums, but the soundtrack from the Amazon prime series Modern Love is different (and so is the TV series – if you every want to brighten up your day, put on an episode, and watch the whole series). A number of superb artists have contributed, Regina Spektor, The Divine Comedy, Thomas Dybdahl, Goldfrapp, Anne Hathaway, Nerina Pallot and Gary Clark. This is uncomplicated but nevertheless sophisticated pop. And although each song is moulded to fit the episode it is featured in, it is perfectly all right to listen to the album separately. Modern Love, the music and the TV series and the column in the New York Times, celebrate love in all its variants. Isn’t that a great way to leave 2020?
Please let me continue to lend your ears in 2021.