10. Black Match – Nowhere
-We’ve covered a lot of folk bands over the years, so it takes something special for an act like this to stand out. Let me just say that Black Match have a mood about their music that will put you in a different space. Title track “Nowhere” was the one that pulled us in initially, but there are some other stellar tracks as well. If you only have time for a few, try “Come back to me” as well. The haunting lead vocals on these tracks are half the reason I love them. This is an impressive folk band that’s making music unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
9. Party of the Sun – Goldenwood
-I rarely feature EPs on my album of the year list, so you know it has to be good. There’s a richness in this mix that I can’t quite put into words. I guess it’s got an Americana glow with a folk core. The overall sound is rich and rewarding, like listening to an old time record that you found for the first time. I’ve probably compared them to Dawes in the past, which I think still holds up. Check out the first track “Song for you” and you won’t need me to give you any more titles because you’ll listen to the whole there. No skips on this delightful little album.
8. Carmanah – Iris
-Okay imagine this – you have a folk band, a rock band, and you blend them together but you don’t get stereotypical folk rock. Instead, you get a kaleidoscope of sound. You get a Jackson Pollock painting, but in sound in your ears. You think I’m overselling this, but click on a few songs from Carmanah and you will hear exactly what I mean. It’s an astounding mix of traditional rock with avant garde elements, throwback to a Stevie Nicks style energy, yet with some modern rock complexities. “Best Interests” and “As I See You” absolutely slap. If you’re looking to bring down the house, throw “Stand Up” on the playlist. This is an incredible album.
7. Colorama – Chaos Wonderland
-When I shared this album with a friend, I said that it was a new version of some old sounding music. More specifically, Colorama make a modern take on “classic rock.” You’ll hear Beatles, Doors, Stones… so many others in the influences of this magical album. If you only have time for two, I recommend the opener “And” and the closer “Reconciliation.” Both vintage, both well written, and both will have you feeling some kinda way.
6. Jeff Pianki – Remember it Now
-A few years ago I found Jeff Pianki’s songwriting and was blown away. He’s got an ability to do the folk songster’s job of telling the truth in some incredibly cool ways. I even once wrote an artist feature on him. So I was glad that he came back to music in 2020 with this remarkable album; it’s every bit his talented, characteristic style. If you like acoustic guitars and a contemplative lyrical style, Pianki’s music is for you. “Song about” is going on my song of the year list, but “Weight of the world” and “Hard Love” are both very good as well. Fans of a Paul Simon style of experimental folk rock sound will enjoy Pianki a great deal.
5. Avett Brothers – The Third Gleam
-Over the past few years, the Avett Brothers have superceded their cult status to move to something like folk pop stars. They fill arenas. The past few albums with Rick Rubin definitely took their music in experimental directions. Suffice it to say I was pleased to hear The Third Gleam, an album that brings the brothers back to their roots in more of an Americana and bluegrass style. It’s hard to just pick a few tracks to feature from this album, but I would definitely suggest “Victory” and “The Fire.”
4. Jake Etheridge – Because I’m High
-Jake Etheridge’s song “Rock and roll” was the first track of 2020 that really stopped me in my tracks. When I realized it was part of an EP, I snagged it for a good listen and I was so impressed. It’s rare to find an album that is so consistently good from start to finish. If you enjoyed coverage in our site’s early days with guys like David Ramirez and Matthew Mayfield, you will enjoy Etheridge’s sound. He writes about deeply personal subjects in ways that anyone can relate to. The album has an incredibly high level of production yet the tracks feel infinitely accessible. I can’t pick one or two tracks for this album — listen to the whole damn thing.
3. Ivan & Alyosha – Self-titled
-If you’re like me, you’re surprised to see that Ivan & Alyosha are just now releasing a self titled album. It seems like they have several out already, but it really is only their third full length LP. But this album is the folk album you need in 2020. The tight harmonies are as good as ever. Fans of Bears Den or The Head and the Heart will really enjoy this album. “You that carries me” is inspirational. “Hit the floor” will make you want to keep fighting through life’s difficulties. “Whiskey and wine” might be the most thoughtful on the album. You really can’t go wrong with any of these tracks. This might be the best single album for “fans of this site” I heard in all of 2020.
2. Tyler Childers – Long Violent History
-This is an album I have wanted for a really long time. I’ve always been interested in old time music (thanks grandma and grandpap), but it’s the mix and production that Childers brings here that really wins me over. These are my people and this is such a powerful experience listening to this entire album. There are reels and jigs, plenty of old time adventures and excellent picking. Of course the entire album is instrumental except one, the title track, “Long violent history.” If you ain’t heard it yet, just listen. I won’t get preachy on these matters, but y’all will appreciate Childers speaking his piece here. Enjoy eight tracks of delightful old time music followed by a ninth track that will break your heart.
- Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin Grass Vol. 1
-I couldn’t believe it when I heard about this album from Sturgill Simpson. In a year where he contracted Covid-19 and watched his mentor John Prine die of the dreadful virus, he released one of his most audacious projects yet; it’s his discography reimagined (or as intended) as bluegrass tunes. Hearing his characteristic vocal style with these old string arrangements just makes them emerge with extra vigilance. It’s a treat to hear these song we all know come back in this new, exciting form. It’s hard to pick one or two with such an incredible album, but I’ll say “Life of sin,” “Old King Coal,” and “Turtles All the Way Down” are particularly powerful. Enjoy!