050. Blues Pills – Holy Moly
It has been almost 4 years since Erin Larsson and Blues Pills shared their retro-tinged blend of Psychedelic Blues with the unwashed masses, and it has definitely been worth the wait. With Holy Moly, their latest release, the third time is definitely a charm as now, three records in, the band has definitely hit their stride with a revamped more rock less blues sound that seems to fit the Janis meets Melissa Etheridge vocal stylings just perfectly.
049. The Waterboys – Good Luck Seeker
After a couple of semi-uneven affairs, the classic Waterboys with Mike Scott at the helm are back to what brought them here with their latest release, Good Luck Seeker. Pieced together by trading files between the various home studios of the band members may tend to make the overall record seem a bit disjointed, and maybe it is, but since each song stands alone as its own excellent entity this minor flaw is easily overlooked. The opener, “The Soul Singer” is a horn-infested stunner and any song that rhymes Dennis Hopper and Steve Cropper has got to be cool, and the song “Dennis Hopper” definitely is. You will need to look past the electronic forward texture of this record to enjoy it fully if you are an old-school Waterboys fan but the Emerald Isle travelogue worthy “Postcard From the Celtic Dreamland” will take you back home.
048. Bootsy Collins – The Power Of One
Beam down the mother ship Bootsy Collins is back, and it’s like he never left. There is no real re-making of the Funky template here, just some friends sitting in on a stress-free funkadelic late-night jam, and we are all invited to join the party. George Benson jumps on in with the title track, Ellis Hall, also known as The Ambassador of Soul, classes up the joint on “Slide Eazy” while big band Jazz front-man Christian McBride takes you behind the scenes to “Funkship Area-51” and co-conspirator Larry Graham lays down the groove on what might be the cover song of the year on this even more funky, if that’s even possible, version of Sly’s epic song “If You Want Me To Stay.” And, make sure that you don’t sleep on the exquisite saxophone of Branford Marsalis on “Club Funkateers” as a palate cleanser after a fine funky new meal the likes of which you haven’t been able to savor in quite a while.
047. Willie Nelson – First Rose of Spring
Depending on how you count them, Willie Nelson has released over 100 albums, and, amazingly enough, he has not put out a bad record in at least a dozen years. His latest, mostly cover tunes, with a few originals sprinkled in for good measure, just because he can, has him singing wistfully about his certain stage in life. Produced by long time collaborator and friend Buddy Cannon doing the knob twirling, the formula is not messed with. Solid, carefully curated song selections with Willies trademark delivery providing the nuance that makes a song you have heard many times sound even more special and at times brilliant.
Jimmy Dean’s “Just Bummin’ Around” is a gentle and meandering walk in the park, Paycheck’s classic “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised” picks up the tempo and doesn’t stray too far from the original showing that Willie still has his vocal fastball working, and even “Yesterday When I Was Young” is saved from Charles Aznavour Shmaltz with the Teatro treatment that Willie Gives it Here. “I’ll Be Breaking Out Tonight” is a stone-cold country classic expertly delivered by a master at his craft.
046. Mystery Jets – A Billion Heartaches
This eclectic blend of a band combines Kaleidoscopic Folk, Post Punk, and Indie Rock into an infectious ’60s influenced brand of Rock and Roll. From the earworm-worthy song “Hospital Radio” to the delicately soaring “History Has Its Eyes On You” there is something for everyone on this fine record.
045. Dream Wife – So You Gonna…
If The Go-Go’s were just a bit more daring and out there, they might have been Dream Wife. Heavy Garage-Punk, Party-Pop anthems along with dance-worthy rave-ups are the order of the day. With their sophomore effort, So You Gonna …., the sound is a bit more polished than their debut, but no less fun. Recorded with an all-female recording crew, there is a bounce to these songs that can take on a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” flair one moment and a Blondie worthy flare-up the next. This one is a layered listen with rewards waiting around every corner.
044. Country Westerns – Country Westerns
Enter into this one lightly my friends. These guys might quickly move to the top of your own personal radar as your new favorite band. A Rock and Roll band with a Country sheen, The Country Westerns deliver a party that is slightly more aggressive than American Aquarium, a notch below the ramshackle energy of The Old ’97’s, and just about right to hang with The Gaslight Anthem. Hailing from Nashville it should come as no surprise that the musicianship is par-excellence and with songs like “It’s On Me,” and “TV Light” singer Joseph Plunkett offers up a cool and raspy vocal performance that would make Paul Westerberg jealous.
043. Neon Animal – Make No Mistake
As the title suggests, this band of merry musicians loves Rock and Roll. They love it so much that three songs on this scorcher of an album have ‘Rock’ in the title. Picture the most rock of any rock concert you have been to, multiply that by three joints and two six-packs, and you just might have the essence of this band.
042. Sweet Lizzy Project – Technicolor
At first listen, you might find Sweet Lizzy Project and their debut record Technicolor somewhat difficult to wrap your ears around, but when you do it will be an enchanting moment for all involved. This five-piece hailing from Cuba was brought over to America with the sponsorship of Raul Malo and The Mavericks. After moving to Nashville the band recorded the album at Blackbird Studios.
Don’t try to pigeonhole these guys, you would find it a frustrating endeavor, and in this case, that is a very good thing. Swaying from soaring Indie Rock inflections on the title track to the more rocking “Turn Up The Radio” it makes sense that this band would have found themselves opening for Heart.
“Ain’t Nobody to Call” throws a curveball on everything with an honest to goodness cowbell and a bit of a “My Sharona Vibe.” Things get lower and slower when lead singer Lisset joins forces with The Mavericks on the lilting 80’s Country painted “The Flower’s In The Seed.” The tempo and Genre hopping inherent everywhere on this record makes Technicolor one of the best records to be released in this young year.
041. Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
Hard to believe it has been five years since the release of their highly excellent L.P., California Nights, but this one was definitely worth waiting for. Rocking it a bit more than we are used to from this band, every song is a shimmering gem. “For The First Time” is one of the more buoyant break-up songs you might hear this year and “Everything Has Changed” has a bit of a Joan Jett “I Love Rock and Roll” vibe to It.”
040. Zephaniah Ohara – Listening To The Music
It has been two-plus long years since we have heard from Zephaniah Ohara and in album release years these days, that is a very long time. But fear not, it is clear that in the intervening time since his last record This Highway was released way back in 2017 he has been touring, honing his craft, and most importantly he has been Listening to the Music, the title of his latest release.
With a voice that blends Mighty Merle with Waylon Jennings, this troubadour plays like Lefty Frizell, tells stories like Johnny Cash and Tom T. Hall, and wears the road on his boots like Woody Guthrie. Whether he goes into “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” territory like he does on “Living Too Long” or whether he is lamenting the boarding up more of his old haunts each time he goes into the city on “Riding That Train” there is a purity in his voice that we haven’t heard since Glen Campbell.
39. Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur
The hills of Laurel Canyon are well represented on Dixie Blur, the latest record from Pop artist Jonathan Wilson. From the wistful throwback vibe of “’69 Corvette” to the rollicking Bob Wills inspired “In Heaven Making Love” there is a new gem to be discovered around every turn.
038. The Empty Hearts – The Second Album
When you have four blokes like these with the Rock and Roll pedigree that they have, at worst this record should be worth a listen, and at best it will be great. And it is great. With Wally Pamar, the voice that brought you “Talking In Your Sleep and “What I Like About You” when he was with the Romantics, Eliot Easton from The Cars, Clem Burke of Blondie, and throwing Andy Babiuk bass player for the Chesterfield Kings in the mix for good measure all pogo-sticking throughout the album, you have one heck of a Power Pop Gem in the making. Heck, even Ringo Starr makes another appearance here on the Kinks evoking “Remember Days Like These.” The ex-Beatle is seemingly everywhere these days having popped up on Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest as well as Dion’s. Earworm highlights are everywhere here most notably “The Best That I Can,” “Jonathan Harker’s Journal,” and “Coat-Tailer, a song the beckons the early days of The Who.
037. Robert Jon & The Wreck – Last Light on the Highway
Just from pure listening standards, you would think that Robert Jon & The Wreck were part of the new wave of Southern Rocker hailing from Alabama or South Carolina. In reality, these guys may have Orange County, California in their blood, but they certainly have Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, even a little Molly Hatchet in their soul. Slide guitars, dual guitar solos, gang harmonies, this one has it all.
036. Hello Forever – Whatever It Is
Pay close attention to this band. In an era where it seems to be cool to jump in the studio, cut 12 songs in 3 days, and release a record to the unsuspecting public, this Psych-Pop group tracked their debut record, Hello Forever, over 200 individual recording sessions, time very much well spent based on the pristine production and attention to detail that is on full display on virtually every song of this fine album. The Brian Wilson soaring and background harmony influence is definitely a call-out here as is Vampire Weekend and Electric Light Orchestra. And, the elongated vocal runs courtesy of lead singer and songwriter Samuel Joseph are definitely Freddie Mercurian. If you like Doo-Wop, Soul, Arena Rock, or even West Coast Folk-Rock, then this highly polished record is your go-to jam.
035. The Jaded Hearts Club – You’ve Always Been There
What do you get when putting together a band that consists of front-men from two different bands, Miles Kane (Last Shadow Puppets) and Nic Cester (Jet), along with various members of Blur, Muse, and The Zutons? One hell of a covers, and more band, that’s what. Chock full of semi-obscure Motown covers and semi-known rock classics you will know by ear if not by name, this record will take you on a drive down nostalgia avenue in a convertible with the roof down. Most of these tunes fully stick the landing, most notably the version of The Four Tops “Reach Out “I’ll Be There” and Screaming Jay’s “I Put A Spell On You.” But, speaking truth to power, “Fever” is best left unheard and Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” that starts things out as a sort of introduction weighing in at just under one minute could have easily been left out. And realistically, does anyone want to hear any rendition of “Money, That’s What I Want” in this day and age?
034. Ray LaMontagne – MONOVISION
Returning to his stellar songwriting roots, Ray LaMontagne returns to his wandering troubadour vibe with his latest record, MONOVISION bringing to the ear the mellower side of Led Zeppelin along with a side order of Cat Stevens and Van Morrison. “Rocky Mountain Healin'” evokes both John Denver and Neil Young simultaneously, and “Misty Morning Rain” catches a whiff of Donovon by way of Paul Weller.
033. AC/DC – Power Up
AC/DC is back, mostly better than ever, and it’s like they never left. The national nightmare that was the money-grabbing Axl Rose tour is long behind us, Brian Johnson is belting the songs out with Back in Black quality venom, the late Malcolm Youngs’ nephew is filling the rhythm guitar shoes quite admirably, and long-time drummer Phil Rudd is back behind the kit after taking a few albums off. Sure, this is reliable ground they are treading, their sound hasn’t really changed since the Bon Scott Days, but in the case of these Rock and Roll Lifers, this one is the welcome adrenaline shot of good old-fashioned, old-school Rock and Roll that we really need right about now.
032. Blitzen Trapper – Holy Smokes Future Jokes
The album has a real comforting ’60s folk fell instrumentally with a distinct George Harrison penned Beatles vibe, most notably on the title track. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is prime “Loser” era Beck, and “Sons and Unwed Mothers” is poignantly beautiful.
031. American Aquarium – Lamentations
One of the many bands influenced by Whiskeytown, building on their critically acclaimed album Things Changed released back in 2018, their latest effort is a combination of Tome Petty meets Bruce Springsteen everyman splendor. Lead singer and main songwriter B.J. Barham just might be the best Americana writer that is not named Jason Isbell.
030. Low Cut Connie – Private Lives
One of our favorite bands of recent vintage has released one of our favorite records of the year. Becoming known as one of the bands on President Obama’s personal playlist as well as for their incendiary live shows and over the top quarantine sessions, Andrew Weiner and his bandmates are delivering piano rock to the masses the likes of which we haven’t seen since the early Leon Russell days. Favorites are sprinkled all over this thing with standouts that include the title track, the slow burn of “Help Me,” a song we all need to help us hang in there during troubled times, and the almost Dawes evoking “Take A Little Ride Downtown.” This is a terrific set of tunes that deserve to have more ears sent their way.
029. The Band of Heathens – Stranger
With Band of Heathens, not since The Alice Cooper Band has there been a band that is nothing like the image that their moniker might imply. This time out there is not a lot of straying from their normal template with various brands of lone star Blues, country-tinged Americana, Roots Rock, Southern Rock and good old-fashioned Rock and Roll all on full display. There is even a cowbell front and center on the song “Dare.” With just the right mix of storytelling alongside political commentary it is clear that if the goal was to one-up themselves following their highly excellent 2017 release Duende, then, mission fully accomplished.
028. Bad Touch – Kiss The Sky
One of the more recent additions to our “Rock and Roll is Not Dead” list of bands, Bad touch is a 5-piece Classic Rock inspired band that based on their sound could have easily come from Alabama or Muscle Shoals Alabama instead of across the band in the U.K. where they are actually from.
Drawing inspiration from The Black Crowes, The Faces, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Touch should be a musical force to reckon that surely will break out in a big way in 2020. “Let Go” is Black Crowes inspired Blues-Rock standout, and the title track “Kiss The Sky” is a bit more of a rocker with singer Stevie Westwood doing his best Glen Hughes impersonation. Covering Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got The Music In Me” may seem like an odd choice, but here it works quite nicely and serves to show off the versatility of one of the best new Rock and Roll bands to come around in quite some time.
027. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Fresh off her critically acclaimed collaboration on the Better Oblivion Community Center record with Conor Oberst. Phoebe Bridgers is back in short order with her unique brand of Folk-Pop elegance. The record is a meandering beauty with hushed vocals and lush arrangements with lyrics that can be dark at times against a template of sunshine melodies. The mood is pensive in places, especially on “Halloween” and jaunty in others as displayed on the travelogue inspired “Kyoto.” Exquisitely produced as tight as the skin on an apple this is an elegant release with plenty of high points and very few low ones.
026. The Reflectors – First Impression
What a spot-on perfect name for the debut record from one of the best Power Pop bands to cross our ear-paths in quite a long time. Citing the Raspberries along with The Buzzcocks as major influences, the crunchy guitar chords and deceptively timeless lyrics will bring you back to the late ’60s early ’70’s at the blink of an ear. All Killer, no filler, every song’s a winner on this one especially on the Big Star vibing “Champagne” and the Garage Rock banging “U Should Be My Girl.” It will be impossible to be in a bad mood after listening to this record.