Joshua Wallace’s Top 50 Albums of 2020

 News  Comments Off on Joshua Wallace’s Top 50 Albums of 2020
Dec 202020
 

By Joshua Wallace

By all measures, 2020 was an insane year, however it was an amazing year for country music releases.  I could have made a Top 100 list this year, but I stuck with tradition and did a Top 50.  With that in mind, some of your favorites might be left off here.  Don’t fret, they’re still good albums, it’s just that there were a ton of good releases this year.  It seemed like every band was releasing their best work even when they weren’t able to fully tour on it.  I could make a case for every record in my Top 10 to be my album of the year, however I went with American Aquarium’s Lamentations.  Lamentations was my most anticipated album going into 2020 and it’s still my favorite album here in December.  It’s no secret that American Aquarium is one of my favorite bands and when they release an album this good, it’s going to be hard to top.  I’ll give my thoughts on each of the Top 20 and provide links to listen to the rest of the list.  I encourage you to check out every record on this list as you might just find something new and that is my biggest goal in doing all of this.

 

**ALBUM OF THE YEAR** 01.  American Aquarium – Lamentations  **ALBUM OF THE YEAR**

When American Aquarium announced late 2019 that they were going into the studio with Shooter Jennings producing, I knew this album would be something special.  I just didn’t know how special it would turn out to be.  Songs like “The Long Haul”, “Starts With You”, “A Better South” and even the tear jerker “Six Years Come September” helped define my 2020.  It is worth noting here that their last album which was 2018’s Things Change was my favorite record of that year too.  I can only imagine that the next album they release will either top or come close to the top of this list in that year.  This band is very consistent in that they keep getting better with every release.  I can’t wait to hear what is next.

 

  1. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Chris Stapleton has quite possibly the best voice in modern country music.  This album further solidifies that with performances like “Cold”, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”, “Watch You Burn” and more.  This whole record is great top to bottom and it came very close to being my number one album of the year.  It features Stapleton’s signature mix of rock, blues and country anchored by his amazing guitar playing throughout.  This record features guests like former Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and the amazing pedal steel player Paul Franklin.  I highly recommend giving this album a good listen as Chris Stapleton is 4 records in and only shows signs of getting better.

 

  1. Charley Crockett – Welcome To Hard Times

There was a period this year where this album was slated as my #1 record of 2020.  It’s that good.  Charley Crockett put out the best record of his career with Welcome To Hard Times and it hit all the right buttons with the psychedelic bend to it’s sound and a neo-western theme.  The title track is one of my favorite jams of the year and I still love that piano riff that opens it.  Check out “Welcome To Hard Times”, “Run Horse Run” and “The Man That Time Forgot”.

 

  1. Muscadine Bloodline – Burn It At Both Ends

I have been a fan of Muscadine Bloodline since “WD40” was making the rounds as a single a few years ago.  This highly anticipated debut full length album delivers on all of the promise the band showed early on and then some.  As for their sound, they kind of straddle the line of being polished for country radio and rough around the edges for the independent country crowd.  It also helps to feature the likes of BJ Barham, Brent Cobb and Adam Hood on your debut record to give you a bit of a boost.  Check out “Ain’t Just A Van”, “Good Chunk Of Change”, “After Midnight” and “Drunk Tattoo” for a few choice cuts from this one.

 

  1. Mike and The Moonpies – Touch Of You : The Lost Songs Of Gary Stewart

Mike and The Moonpies have released another great album with this collection of lost Gary Stewart songs.  While you won’t get a cover of “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinking Doubles)” on this set, you will get some awesome Gary Stewart tunes that have never been recorded before.  You can hear Gary Stewart’s influence on Mike and The Moonpies music and when you do, you will know that they were the perfect band for a project such as this. The band worked closely with Stewart’s daughter, Shannon Stewart, and his best friend Tommy Schwartz to compile the tracks for this project. The finished product is a great Moonpies album that slides in at number five in our countdown.

 

  1. Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions) & Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 2 (The Cowboy Arms Sessions)

   

I told you this was an insane year.  We got not one, but two great Sturgill Simpson albums this year.  I’m lumping them together here because they’re essentially one long piece split into two.  Sturgill promised fans that if they hit a certain goal on a charity drive he was doing that he would cut 2 albums this year.  He came through with two sets of bluegrass versions of practically every song in his solo catalog.  The only things missing are the covers from each album and “It Ain’t All Flowers”.  He also threw in some Sunday Valley tunes and a new song he wrote with the late Merle Haggard titled “Hobo Cartoon”.  I highly recommend giving these records a spin as a lot of these aren’t just re-recordings in a different genre.  There are some new arrangements of old favorites here that I think anyone would enjoy.

 

  1. Ward Davis – Black Cats And Crows

Ward Davis has finally given us the follow up to 15 Years In A 10 Year Town and it was well worth the wait.  This is a darker collection of songs with lots of heavy guitars setting the mood throughout.  There are a couple of murder ballads on this record that I highly recommend.  We also get Ward Davis’s version of Colorado a couple of years after Cody Jinks released his version on the album Lifers.  Give this album a listen and you won’t be disappointed.

 

  1. Colter Wall – Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs

Colter Wall is finally giving us a full band western swing record and I am here for this.  From amazing covers like “Big Iron” to originals like “Henry and Sam”, this record is all killer from top to bottom.  This record puts Colter Wall up there with some of the premier western acts going today.  Check it out.


 

  1. Ashley McBryde – Never Will

Ashley McBryde is back with her second major label album and another major hit with “One Night Standards”.  This album is full of great songs and I highly recommend the murder ballad “Martha Divine”.  Throw in some traditional country cuts like “First Thing I Reach For”, “Sparrow” and “Velvet Red” and you have one amazing album.  I can’t wait to hear what is coming next.


 

  1. Zach Bryan – Quiet, Heavy Dreams EP

I initially had Zach Bryan’s Elizabeth record in this spot, but this EP is Zach Bryan’s first professionally recorded music and I had to include it here.  With songs like “Birmingham”, “Crooked Teeth” and “November Air”, Zach Bryan is certainly going to be around for a long time.  I hope to be able to see him live sometime in the near future, and with albums like this, I have no doubt he’ll be able to tour widely once it is safe to do so again.


 

  1. Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Made It

Joshua Ray Walker’s sophomore record Glad You Made it improves on the working formula he created with 2019’s Wish You Were Here.  Songs like “Voices” show off his incredible vocal range while deeper tracks like “D.B. Cooper” show a bit of experimentation with the soundscape Joshua Ray Walker is using on this record.  Give it a listen and see why it’s in at number 11 on this list.


 

  1. Hailey Whitters – The Dream

Hailey Whitters album The Dream took a bit to grow on me, honestly.  But it grew on me and I came to really enjoy a few tracks from this record.  Check out “Janice At The Hotel Bar”, “Loose Strings”, her version of Stapleton’s “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” and her version of “Happy People” which was also recorded by co-writer Lori McKenna on her 2018 album The Tree.  This record is a fun album that deserves to be heard by more people.  I hope I get the chance to see her live very soon.


 

  1. Brent Cobb – Keep ‘Em On They Toes

Brent Cobb has released another great album in Keep ‘Em On They Toes.  I really love the title track and it quickly became one of my feel good favorites of 2020.  Other highlights include the timely “The World Is Ending”, “Soapbox w/ Nikki Lane” and “Good Times and Good Love”.  This album is a nice change in pace back to the slower country and folk songs of 2016’s Shine On Rainy Day.


 

  1. Kyle Nix – Lightning On The Mountain & Other Short Stories

While this year was rough for fans of Turnpike Troubadours, we got a bit of a reprieve in the form of a Kyle Nix solo album.  I had a feeling this one would be special from the moment it was announced and I was right.  Some favorites include “Graves”, “Shelby 65”, “If Ruby Ain’t Happy” and “Lightning On The Mountain”.  This album is highlighted by some great fiddle playing and good songwriting.  I really hope Kyle Nix gets to tour on this one soon as I would love to see these songs live.


 

  1. The Panhandlers – The Panhandlers

When I first heard about this super group of Texas Country talents, I knew we had something special coming.  All four of these men are great with their own bands, but together they are a force to be reckoned with.  “West Texas In My Eye” and “This Is My Life” are two highlights on this one for me.  Give this one a listen if you haven’t, you won’t be disappointed.


 

  1. Parker McCollum – Hollywood Gold EP

Parker McCollum had a strong 2020 with some great single releases leading up to this EP.  “Pretty Heart” actually got a lot of radio play and I really dig “Like A Cowboy”.  I knew Parker McCollum was one to watch after 2017’s strong Probably Wrong LP.  This EP is so good and it solidifies my opinion that he is destined for bigger things.  Be on the lookout for his next full length as I belive that one will go places.


 

  1. Josh Abbott Band – The Highway Kind

I have been a fan of Josh Abbott Band since 2012’s Small Town Family Dream album and it has been a fun ride watching this band grow.  They get better with every release and The Highway Kind is no different.  Highlights include the title track, “Settle Me Down”, “24-7-365” and “Real Damn Good”.  Give it a listen.


 

  1. Aubrie Sellers – Far From Home

While I wasn’t as much of a fan of Aubrie Sellers’s 2016 record New City Blues, this album blew me away.  I dig the mixing of grungy garage rock and country music and it works here.  Check out favorites like “Glad”, “Troublemaker”, “My Love Will Not Change w/ Steve Earle” and the title track.


 

  1. Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen – Hold My Beer, Vol. 2

With Hold My Beer, Vol. 2, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen have put together two amazing country duo albums.  This record is full of solid country gold.  I love the comedy of “Rodeo Clown” and we finally get a title track for this collection with “Hold My Beer”.  Also check out “Mi Amigo” with Asleep At The Wheel and “Speak To Me Jukebox” for more highlights.

 

  1. David Adam Byrnes – Neon Town

This record from David Adam Byrnes was one of those unexpected gems that you hear about and when you finally get around to listening to, it blows you away.  Neon Town is just good Texas country and I can’t wait yi hear what is next.


 

  1. Corb Lund – Agricultural Tragic

 


 

  1. Waylon Payne – Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me

 


 

  1. Bella White – Just Like Leaving

 


 

  1. Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross

 


 

  1. Scott H. Biram – Fever Dreams

 


 

  1. Jessi Alexander – Decatur County Red

 


 

  1. Brennen Leigh – Prairie Love Letter

 


 

  1. Lori McKenna – The Balladeer


 

  1. The Wilder Blue – Hill Country


 

  1. Tennessee Jet – The Country


 

  1. Elizabeth Cook – The Aftermath


 

  1. Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started

 

  1. Ray Wylie Hubbard – Co-Starring


 

  1. Dalton Domino – Feverdreamer


 

  1. Zephania Ohora – Listening to the Music


 

  1. Marcus King – El Dorado


 

  1. Sunny Sweeney – Recorded Live at the Machine Shop Recording Studio


 

  1. Brandy Clark – Your Life Is A Record


 

  1. Chase Crawford – The Neon Lights Go On Forever EP


 

  1. Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern


 

  1. Jesse Daniel – Rollin’ On


 

  1. Rachel Brooke – The Loneliness In Me


 

  1. Caleb Caudle – Better Hurry Up


 

  1. Kyle Keller – All It Does Is Rain


 

  1. Lilly Hiatt – Walking Proof


 

  1. John Baumann – Country Shade


 

  1. Daniel Donato – A Young Man’s Country


 

  1. S.G. Goodman – Old Time Feeling


 

  1. Kody West – Overgrown


 

  1. Katie Pruitt – Expectations


 

Album Feature – Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions)

 News  Comments Off on Album Feature – Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions)
Oct 162020
 

By Joshua Wallace

Sturgill Simpson has released Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions) as the follow up to last year’s rock record Sound And Fury.  This album turns to bluegrass and re-works 20 of Sturgill’s original tunes into bluegrass tracks.  What really makes this album is that these are totally re-arranged to be bluegrass and not just his old songs played in this style.  It really helps that Sturgill has put together an amazing bluegrass band of some of the best players today with Stuart Duncan, Mike Bub, Sierra Hull, Scott Vestal, Tim O’Brien, Mark Howard and Miles Miller on the record.

There really isn’t a bad track on this album, and it’s the first record I have reviewed here where I recommend the whole album.  Some standouts include a few Sunday Valley tracks with “All The Pretty Colors”, “I Wonder” and “Sometimes Wine”.  I hope we get a few more of these on the potential Vol. 2.  Other high marks include a total re-working of “The Storm” from the mid-tempo track on High Top Mountain to a thunderous and fast bluegrass track that will have concert halls dancing for sure.  “Turtles” is also slightly sped up for the bluegrass style and it has a totally different feel to it vs the cosmic styling of the Metamodern track.  “Life Of Sin” goes from being a guitar forward twangy country jam to a fiddle forward country flavored bluegrass track.  Indeed, it is the new arrangements for these familiar tracks with some of the best bluegrass players you can put together that makes this much more than a greatest hits album.

Sturgill has done it again with this one and has made what could be another genre defining masterpiece.  This time he has done for bluegrass what Metamodern Sounds In Country Music did for traditional country back in 2014.  Bluegrass is in a resurgence with artists like Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle and others leading the way.  Now Sturgill joins the pack with this collection.  Time will tell if we get a Volume 2 with the rest of his songs and hopefully a bit more Sunday Valley and a bit of Sound and Fury too.  I don’t often review records like this, but this is more than a Greatest Hits album.  These are familiar songs done in a new way with some of the best pickers you can find.  I highly recommend giving this record a spin and I hope we get a bluegrass tour with Sturgill and this band.  Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 is out everywhere digitally as of October 16th, 2020 with physical releases later in December.  

Favorite Tracks : The Whole Thing

Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 (Butcher Shoppe Sessions) (2020)

  1. All Around You
  2. All The Pretty Colors
  3. Breakers Roar
  4. I Don’t Mind
  5. I Wonder
  6. Just Let Go
  7. Life Ain’t Fair And The World Is Mean
  8. A Little Light
  9. Life Of Sin
  10. Long White Line
  11. Living The Dream
  12. Old King Coal
  13. Railroad Of Sin
  14. Sitting Here Without You
  15. Sometimes Wine
  16. The Storm
  17. Time After All
  18. Turtles All The Way Down
  19. Voices
  20. Water Down The Well

The Tyler Childers Phenomenon Of 2019.

 News  Comments Off on The Tyler Childers Phenomenon Of 2019.
Nov 022019
 

Mr. Tyler Childers. This name has become a brilliant beacon of light for good Country Music. I’ll be catching up with him at the fifth annual Kickin It On The Creek. He is a driving force in local music, an inspiration to all local musicians and bands alike, and a beacon of hope for REAL Country Music and independent music as a whole.

Now I’m going to be completely honest here, as I always am on this blog, we know each other. But I don’t go WAY BACK with him like others do, and we don’t visit each other on holidays, and if I led you to believe that I’d be lying through my teeth. My West Virginia friends like Mr. W.B.Walker and Mr. J.J.Waters both know him from YEARS BACK and when they speak of his past THEY SPEAK of the stories you need to listen to NOT MINE.

This young man absolutely dominated my Facebook, twitter and Instagram feeds throughout 2019 in many ways. He played his first time at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado ( Mr. Luther wrote a GREAT article for us there), and played again at the Opry. As we speak I am catching up with a PLETHORA of things from 2019, and I’m writing about his fabulous performance at Kickin It On The creek like I just mentioned.

Tyler Childers And The Food Stamps have indeed blazed a trail through independent and underground music in the last few years with only two major label albums, and just recently he announced an arena tour with powerhouse artist and producer Sturgill Simpson. More on that later in this article here.

He has a four day Ryman Auditorium run in early 2020 before going on that tour with Sturgill, and here are the dates for the powerhouse arena tour as mentioned above. I’m going to be completely honest, I really don’t think there are many fans of Mr. Strugill Simpson that aren’t fans of Mr. Tyler already. However these venues just keep growing, I see a great propensity in these artists to become more agile as they get accustomed to bigger crowds.

He guest stared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and he did a wonderful job on there, and it brought his music to whole new echelon of listeners. All together that has been transpiring all over for him and his music from all of the different avenues of exposure of his music. Actually, he was on several different talk shows this year, but the one that I got to see was this one here.

I met these folks at this year’s Kickin It On the Creek, and promised to include them on some of my work. This is their mission from their website:

September 27,2020

Click to Learn about Healing Appalachia

Our Reason

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for people under the age of fifty in the United States. The Appalachian region has been dramatically impacted by the opioid and heroin epidemic. West Virginia in particular, the only state entirely within the Appalachian region, gained national and international notoriety after 26 people overdosed near a housing development in Huntington on August 15, 2016. West Virginia has the highest rate of fatal overdose in the nation. Tragically, rates of death due to overdose have exponentially increased across the country from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 52 out of 100,000 West Virginia residents fell victim to an accidental overdose. Preliminary data for 2017 shows no improvement according to public health officials despite efforts to make life-saving drugs like Naloxone or Narcan more easily accessible.

The causes for this epidemic are complex. Many sources point to the economic decline and continuing loss of decent jobs through ongoing deindustrialization that has particularly impacted the region. Multiple legal settlements from drug companies to states and local units of government verify that pharmaceutical opioid marketing and prescribing practices set the stage for

opioid and, later, heroin addiction. Topic experts like Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, point to the decline of community by decreased funding of public services. Indeed, addiction thrives in isolation. However, recovery communities are forming. Many of the same people who have been revived with Naloxone are helping others find recovery. The scourge of the epidemic remains, but there is reason to hope that people and communities can overcome this problem. At present, addiction-related charities receive around $25 million in private funds annually, in contrast to $390 billion given to all charities based on Facing Addiction and Giving USA 2016 data. This is approximately 0.00006 percent of all charitable funds raised.

In closing here folks, I’m quite adamant on the fact that we will only see this young man and his band rise to the top of the food chain here. He is achieving his dream’s through hard work and dedication to his craft, his attention to his style and his knack for kicking you in the nuts with his lyrics and his harsh realist attitude.

I think he will be appearing in many festival lineups in 2020, and many more road shows with his crazy hilljack band The Food Stamps….SEE YOU IN THE CROWD!