Feature

Jan Hall’s favourite albums of 2020

Making a year-end ‘best-of’ list is an excellent way to reflect on a year gone by, and hopefully encourage people to check out some great music they may not have realized they actually like. For 2020, we decided to only include those albums that we received from Nov. 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2020. Anything received after that date will be included in our 2021 album review.

To make the selection process go as smoothly as possible, we actually start off with about 75 albums and narrow that down to what has now become a 60 album long-list, and from there to our 10 favourite albums. As always, this is a very subjective and personal selection of music.

1. Jayme StoneAWake (Self)

Musical shapeshifter Jayme Stone’s latest album, AWake, was written in the aftermath of the sudden and tragic loss of his brother, Michael, a Buddhist teacher and yoga instructor. Best-known for his banjo playing and world-wise roots albums like Africa to Appalachia, The Lomax Project, and Folklife; this time around, Jayme sets down the banjo and embraces ambient electropop and sonic landscapes on a collection of songs that reflect on the experience of losing such an important part of your life. Now we hear Jayme singing, playing guitar and OP 1 (a micro-synth, sampler, and sequencer) and using sounds—felted piano, bass clarinet, analog synths, and sequencers to create something new and quite magical. To learn more about the music of Jayme Stone, visit jaymestone.com.

Listen to our interview HERE.

2. Rick Fines – Solar Powered Too (Self)

When Canadian roots and blues artist Rick Fines started work on his latest project, Solar Powered Too, his intent was simple – to make a new recording at his solar-powered cottage in the Kawartha Highlands as a follow-up to his very well-received Solar Powered album from 2006. Initially intended to be just a guitar and voice solo recording, this album has grown into something rather special with some nicely judged guest appearances from some of his friends and beautifully sympathetic production from Rick with Alec Fraser. Truly a joy for the ears, this is one of those albums you put on and listen right through to the end. It’s a recording that needs to be heard and one that we think will bring comfort to many during these strange, strange COVID times. To learn more about the music of Rick Fines, visit rickfines.ca.

Listen to our interview HERE.

3. The FugitivesTrench Songs (Borealis Records)

The Fugitives’ wonderful new album, Trench Songs, takes as its source material, lyrics from songs written by frontline soldiers during the First World War – set to new music from the band. The album is based on Ridge, a new stage show by The Fugitives’ Brendan McLeod, which was due to be performed in front of a live audience at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver this past March. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those live shows had to be cancelled. However, Ridge has now been re-imagined as an album and a feature film, using a variety of locations throughout the Chan Centre to tell the story. The new album features Brendan McLeod on vocals, acoustic guitar, and ukelele with Adrian Glynn on vocals, acoustic/electric guitar, bass, harmonica and malalaika, and regular touring band members Carly Frey (The Coal Porters) on vocals and violin and Chris Suen (Viper Central) on vocals, banjo, and ukelele. To learn more about the music of The Fugitives, visit fugitives.ca.

Listen to our interview HERE.

4. Kathleen Edwards – Total Freedom (Dualtone Records)

Feeling the need to take a break, Ottawa-based roots rocker Kathleen Edwards stepped away from music in 2014 to open a coffee shop, Quitters, in Stittsville, ON. To say that her return to music this year with (her first album in eight years) the critically acclaimed Total Freedom was a success is a bit of an understatement. An album that has made many best-of-the-year lists – it’s almost as if her career hasn’t missed a beat. Written and recorded in Ottawa and Nashville with longtime collaborator/guitarist Jim Bryson, and Grammy-winning songwriter/producer Ian Fitchuk, Total Freedom is unafraid to tell it as it is, as Kathleen reflects on personal struggles, including fighting back from an abusive relationship, to finally take control of her life. [It’s] a tour de force. It’s great to have her back.

To learn more about the music of Kathleen Edwards, visit kathleenedwards.com.

5. Scott Cook – Tangle Of Souls (Self)

Edmonton, AB’s globetrotting singer-songwriter Scott Cook recorded most of his seventh album, Tangle of Souls, in Australia with help from his intercontinental string band the She’ll Be Rights. A plea for global citizenship and mutual understanding, it’s a vision of the human family as interwoven and intertwined with the earth. The 12-track collection comes with a 240-page, cloth-bound, hardcover book of reflective road stories that share the story of his own life-changing health crisis while also drawing parallels to the crises we face as a society.

To learn more about the music of Scott Cook, visit scottcook.net.

6. Eliza Gilkyson, 2020 (Red House Records)

Eliza Gilkyson designed her latest album, 2020, to help motivate and inspire voters in advance of a very contentious 2020 US Presidential Election. Produced by her son, Cisco Ryder, 2020 features a selection of songs that excoriate the Trump administration for failing the American people in so many ways, while also calling for peace and unity. It also features re-workings of two folk favourites: Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”. The album may be titled 2020 but because this wonderful recording speaks through universal truths it would work really well in another year, and in any other country.

To learn more about the music of Eliza Gilkyson, visit elizagilkyson.com.

7. Julian Taylor – The Ridge (Self)

While clearly at the top of his game fronting the Julian Taylor Band, Julian Taylor also loves the opportunity to showcase the singer-songwriter side of his music. He does this to great effect on his new eight-song Americana album, the Ridge, which really connects with the listener as it dips into his personal life experiences and childhood memories – with some fine musical support along for the ride. The title track is based on the true story of summers that Julian spent with his aunt and grandparents at their farm in British Columbia – telling the story of the young boy’s life, in snapshots, before they had to sell the farm and move on. Delightful.

To learn more about the music of Julian Taylor, visit juliantaylormusic.ca.

Listen to our interview HERE.

8. Lynn Hanson – Just Words (Self)

After a hectic couple of years supporting The LYNNeS – her recent collaboration with Lynn Miles – and their very well-received release, Heartbreak Song For The Radio, from 2018, Canada’s own queen of Americana, Lynne Hanson, has shifted the focus back to her solo career, with Just Words, the follow up to Uneven Ground from 2017. The new album has some great support players. Canadian guitar virtuoso Kevin Breit lends his skills on electric guitar, while Jim Bryson (who also produces) plays guitar, keyboards, and piano. Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan also guests on four tracks. To complete the project, Lynne Hanson also released a book of poetry featuring some of her poems, haikus, and album lyrics.

To learn more about the music of Lynne Hanson, visit lynnehanson.com.

Listen to our interview HERE.

9. Sultans of String – Refuge (Self)

Sultans of String’s latest album, Refuge, is another magnum opus from a band who loves to collaborate, and in many ways, their vision is bigger than ever. In a world where the value of migration is more frequently being questioned, Refuge highlights the extraordinary contributions that immigrants and refugees (and Indigenous people) make to the arts in North America and features collaborations with over 30 top-class musicians, including Béla Fleck, Robi Botos, Ifrah Mansour, Demetrios Petsalakis, Imad Al Taha, Amir Amiri, Duke Redbird, and Twin Flames.

To learn more about the music of Sultans Of String, visit sultansofstring.com.

Watch our interview HERE.

10. Shaye Zadravec – Now & Then (Indelible Music)

Shaye Zadravec, a young vocalist from Calgary, AB describes herself as a singer and only occasionally a songwriter.  A fine interpreter of other people’s songs, Shaye Zadravec’s first full-length album, Now & Then, which was produced by Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Goran Grini, features wonderful versions of songs by Jay Farrar, Jesse Winchester, Paul Westerberg, Lynn Miles, Ian Tyson and more. A fabulous voice makes this album an absolute joy. If you love it, her first EP, Norway (also produced by Goran Grini), and her live cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “To Cry About”are also worth checking out.

To learn more about the music of Shaye Zadravec, visit shayezadravec.com.

Listen to our interview HERE.

The Next 50

100 mile house, Love And Leave You (Fallen Tree Records)
Courtney Marie Andrews, Old Flowers (Old Possum Records)
Emily Barker, A Dark Murmuration Of Words (Everyone Sang/Thirty Tigers)
Leah Barley, Bring Out Your Dead (Self)
Big Little Lions, Are We There Yet? (Self)
Jake Blount, Spider Tales (Free Dirt Records)
Don Bray, I Bless The Wounds (Self)
Chairmen Of The Boards, Surfin’ The Apocalypse (Weewerk)
Countermeasure, Guest Sessions (Self)
Rose Cousins, Bravado (Outside Music)
Sherman Downey, New Beautiful (Self)
Durham County Poets, Hand Me Down Blues (Self)
Steve Earle & The Dukes, Ghosts Of West Virginia (New West)
Stephen Fearing, The Unconquerable Past (Fearing and Loathing Music)
Gathering Time, Old Friends (Treble G Records)
Ian Gill, Morning Embers (Self)
Adrian Glynn, Ghostlight Sessions (Self)
Lynn Harrison, Something More (Self)
Harrow Fair, Sins We Made (Roaring Girl Records)
Sarah Jarosz, World On The Ground (Rounder Records)
Connie Kaldor, Everyday Moments (Coyote Entertainment)
Kronos Quartet & Friends, Long Time Passing – Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger (Smithsonian Folkways)
William Kuklis, Bruises (Self)
Jerry Leger, Time Out For Tomorrow (Latent Recordings)
Graham Lindsey, The Next Best Thing (Self)
Doug McArthur, The Horses Of The Sea (Self)
Glen MacNeil, Glen MacNeil EP (Self)
Miranda Mulholland, By Appointment Or Chance (Roaring Girl Records)
Lynn Miles, We’ll Look For Stars (Must Have Music)
Mister K, In Event Of Moon Disaster (Self)
Joe Nolan, Drifters (Fallen Tree Records)
Ol’ Billy Bob Boy, Sweltering Sun (Devious Music)
The Pairs, Noise (Self)
Matt Patershuk, If Wishes Were Horses (Black Hen Music)
Piper & Carson, Edgewalker’s Remedy (Self)
William Prince, Reliever (Six Shooter Records)
Plumhall, The Ghost Of Noise (SPLID Records/Proper)
Corin Raymond, Dirty Mansions (Local Rascal Records)
Martha Renaud, Wonderland (Self)
Pharis & Jason Romero, Bet On Love (Lula Records)
Stan Simon, Songs From Strange Places (Slammin Media)
Laura Smith, As Long As I Am Dreaming (Borealis Records)
Aylie Sparkes, Beautiful & Deranged (Self)
Terra Spencer, Chasing Rabbits (Self)
Dione Taylor, Spirits In The Water (Matay Records)
Twin Flames, Omen (Self)
Cinder Well, No Summer (Free Dirt Records)
Ken Whiteley, Calm In The Eye Of The Storm (Borealis Records)
Ken Yates, Quiet Talkers (Self)
Raye Zaragoza, Woman In Color (Rebel River Records)

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