Well as unique as the experience of 2020 has been and there have been many things that have not gone to plan, the quality and depth of new music has really shone through.
To pick just 5 albums from this year is a lot tougher than I thought! There were so many badass records that came so close for me: The depth and honesty behind Lindsay Ell’s “Heart Theory”, impressive and highly evolved debuts from Gabby Barrett & Tenille Townes, eagerly anticipated follow ups from Cam & The Chicks which were definitely worth waiting for, the exciting blend of bringing different sounds into country with The Mavericks incredible Spanish language record “En Español” and global EDM megastar Diplo sharing his first release under his Thomas Wesley moniker, then finally the absolutely divinely pure and beautiful “Cold Comfort” from Ruthie Collins would all typically be guaranteed to be in a piece like this. The standard in country and Americana has been so high this year, which is the case across all genres when you bring “Folklore” by Taylor Swift or Haim’s “Women in Music Pt. III” or the generation defining “Future Nostalgia,” which for me easily deserves to land Dua Lipa the big prize at next year’s Grammy’s but these 5 records for me all belong in that same conversation that regardless of genre are albums that you absolutely need to own!
The Dream - Hailey Whitters The sophomore record from Iowa born and raised Hailey Whitters came five years after her debut and the release back in February through Pigasus Records via Big Loud Records / Songs & Daughters is a real reflection of hard work coming to fruition after being twelve years in to a “Ten Year Town” as she describes it in the records opener. This is one of the purest, most genuine and real records to come out of music city in a long time which features some of Nashville’s songwriting elite such as Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, Nicolle Galyon and Hillary Lindsey joining with Whitters in the writing process in addition to a song written by the great Chris Stapleton. There are so many relatable themes throughout this record with heavy focus on determination, not giving up and still holding true to where you came from like in the beautiful “Heartland” that you find really inspiring and want to be part of “The Dream” yourself.
Wild World – Kip Moore We are all fascinated on a yearly basis by our musical moment of truth that is our end of year stats from Spotify! It doesn’t lie and let’s you see how cool or uncool your musical taste has been over the past twelve months which for me told me that Kip Moore and “Wild World” was my complete go-to! I completely hold my hands up and say how late I was to the Kip party but whether it was a random encounter (where my friend didn’t recognise him but started talking to him about his upcoming gig in London) in Adele’s over in Nashville or his mind blowing set at The Long Road or the fact he is a fellow Cowboys fan or just having THAT voice finally connecting, I COMPLETELY GET IT! This album takes you anywhere you need to go in any situation. Sing-a-longs, reflection or just listening to him vocally is absolutely the destination for all your ups and downs in 2020 that we can’t wait to hear live!
kelsea / ballerini – Kelsea Ballerini You don’t need to listen to both versions of this record to fully appreciate and enjoy the album but the pair of them together allow you to understand, completely relate and absolutely fall in love with every aspect of these songs. Like her debut and sophomore releases, Kelsea wrote or co-wrote every single track on this project but this time she also sat in the producer’s chair and the overall result of the entire project grabs at your heartstrings where you feel I totally get that or have been through that and relate to it or it can help me through something whether you are from a small town in the Southern states of the USA or a big city anywhere in the world! The heart of a country song is the lyrics which the second version of the record “ballerini” allows you to appreciate through the stripped back authenticity whilst the soul of the song or the way you feel it comes from the arrangement or production which “kelsea” completely brings. Then when you consider this, it beautifully portrays here is a story that doesn’t change but no matter how you tell it, the message is still the same! The songwriting is so transferable and relatable, there are stories for every mood, the added magic of both Halsey and Kenny Chesney on the original version, it proves a great song is a great song which you can open up creatively to still bring the same message combined with a dynamic sound and finally it includes co-writes with Julia Michaels and a certain Ed Sheeran!
Skeletons – Brothers Osborne Simply as a music fan, like you are as you are reading this, one of the most frustrating things about this year and the pandemic which has virtually halted seeing gigs in person is that this album has not had the opportunity to be properly played live yet! This record NEEDS to be played live!!!!!!! T.J. and John Osborne for me, don’t just knock the ball out of the park when it comes to live shows, that ball gets smashed out of the country in a way that is one of the (if not the) best live experience in country music based on the noise, the energy and the engagement where you walk out thinking how do these guys keep getting better each time you see them? What is so great about this record is they have built on their first two albums, they have not played around with what they are doing but absolutely refined it to perfection which you really pick up and this record really speaks to you. From the second I first got sent a copy of this album I could not stop playing it. It’s poignant, it’s uplifting, it’s infectious, we finally get to hear John take lead vocal a verse (on what is the catchiest and most relatable song to anyone alive) and as soon as the pandemic ends, there are a lot of arenas about to get their roofs blown off!
Saturn Return – The Secret Sisters Saturn Return is an astrological period derived from the time taken for ringed gas giant and sixth planet from the sun to return to the same point in the sky as when you were born, which although difficult to pinpoint a precise timescale, takes approximately 29 years and coincides with significant changes within our lives. The fourth studio album from Laura and Lydia Rogers explores their journey and change through the end of their twenties and into their early thirties along with the life events that occur. Like its predecessor “You Don’t Own Me” the record was released through New West Records, was once again produced by Brandi Carlile along with the Hanseroth twins and also is Grammy nominated once more in the “Best Folk Album” category. These 10 songs form a cohesive story that provides a deep, poignant and powerful journey conveying so many emotions and experiences that when you consider the concept behind the album title it is one of the most reflective and relatable records you will come across. The sisters from Muscle Shoals in Alabama have a mystical harmony driven sounds that intertwines the ‘genre boundaries’ of country, Americana and folk which is such an enticing sound to deliver the glorious work of art that is one of the strongest and most progressive offerings with a Nashville connection in the year 2020!
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks