My Favorite 20 Albums of 2020 (#10 to #1)

Earlier this month I posted the first half of my countdown of my favorite 20 albums of 2020, which you can review here. Interestingly, looking back, 9 out of the 10 were fronted by female voices and the one that was not had no vocals. Hmm. Not sure what that means, if anything.

Nevertheless, to quote the late great Casey Kasem…on with the countdown.

10. On Sunset — Paul Weller. This should come as no surprise to my longtime readers, given I’m a huge Weller fan. Mr. Weller has been prolific of late, with On Sunset being his sixth studio album since 2010. This album is classic bluesy Weller, which is always a good thing. There are some special tracks and some odd, experimental ones too. It’s a solid effort, though it’s not going to rank high in the Weller pantheon. I do think the title track is one of those great Weller tunes so enjoy.


9. The End of Everything — Noah Cyrus. I’m not gonna lie, this one surprises me too. I didn’t even know Miley had a little sister, let alone one with a voice so hauntingly beautiful. The first time I heard her sing it was on a 2017 Jake Bugg track called Waiting. I loved the song and when I looked to see who that female voice belonged to I was truly surprised. Noah is only 20 years old, but her sound is really mature. Billy Ray may have been a hack, but his girls got chops.


8. Women in Music Pt. III — Haim. I didn’t think much of Haim when they first hit the music scene. I may have, just may have, referred to them as Hansen with tits. But once I let my guard down and listened I found a trio that played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, and had something to say. Kind of like Hansen. And while I still didn’t consider myself a fan, from the very first moment I heard I Know Alone off their new album Women in Music Pt. III I was all in. This album has been getting huge critical accolades since before it was released, and the Haim sisters are everywhere. They are smart, wise, and fucking talented. I was wrong. I admit it…I was wrong.


7. Swimmer — Tennis. Not since Captain and Tennille have I enjoyed a husband and wife due as much as I love Tennis. The musical couple of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met at the University of Colorado in 2008 and have been churning out pop delights ever since. 2016’s Yours, Conditionally made my year-end list that year and Swimmer is more of the beautiful same. I’m really happy Alaina decided not to go to law school and instead chose to chase her musical dreams. The world has enough lawyers!


6. Serpentine Prison — Matt Berninger. There was never any question that the first solo album from The National front man Matt Berninger was going to make my list. What is worth noting though is just how unique and interesting this record is…it’s not just a National album without the rest of the band. It’s a beautiful album full of wonderful heartfelt songs that showcase Matt’s remarkable voice. Yes, if you like The National you’ll probably like this album. I love it. Matt could sing the alphabet and I’d be all in.


5. Gigaton — Pearl Jam. I was a little late to the Pearl Jam bandwagon, but over the years I’ve come to consider Eddie and the boys the class of the rock world and the best thing ever to come out of the 90s grunge scene. Pearl Jam makes rock and roll records. If you like rock, you have no excuse not to like PJ. Gigaton is a perfect rock album, one with a nice mix of ballads and rockers. I hope they never stop making music. I think Dance of the Clairvoyants is one their best songs ever.

4. Alphabetland — X. Has it really been 27 years since the last studio album from X? Shit. It has. I’m getting old, but apparently John, Exene, Billy and D.J. are not. I got to see X perform live late last year at the Chandler Center for the Arts (somehow it seemed like a strange venue for a punk act) and they flat out brought it. Exene can still belt it out. John still shreds. And while Billy Zoom sat on a stool while playing his signature guitar, he sounded superb and not too shabby for a 68-year-old punker. The whole band is pushing 70 but they blew the doors off the venue that night. Honestly, it wasn’t too different than the previous time I’d seen them live in the 80s on the tower lawn at San Jose State. Alphabetland is classic X. Welcome back.

3. Always Tomorrow — Best Coast. Lead singer Bethany Cosentino is everything you want in a rock star. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s a little edgy, and she brings all her demons to her songwriting. This is the third time Best Coast has made my countdown and while I don’t love this record like I did 2015’s California Nights it’s still awesome enough to nearly top my list. I simply love Bethany’s whole vibe.

2. The New Abnormal — The Strokes. I think of The Strokes as the prototypical 21st century indie band and they have certainly been influential. It has been seven years since their last album, and folks in the industry were starting to wonder if we’d ever get another Strokes album but it finally came in April and it was worth the wait. The New Abnormal is perfect alternative rock and critics seem to agree. I simply love listening to it as every song has something to offer.

Before we get to number one, a quick word about some disappointments in 2020. I was looking forward to a few releases that just didn’t do it for me. The Psychedelic Furs released a new record that was meh. Morrissey delivered a dull record in 2020. I was excited for a new record by The Pretenders, but it didn’t do anything for me nor did the latest from Dawes, Joan Osborne, Tame Impala, Vanessa Carlton, Fleet Foxes, and The Struts. But nothing was more disappointing to me than the long awaited fifth studio album from Fiona Apple, who I absolutely love, and who never disappointed me before. I found Fetch the Bolt Cutters really difficult to listen to and despite getting critical raves I just didn’t like it.

What I did like, was my favorite album of 2020 though!

1. Reunions — Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. From the first notes of Reunions I was hooked and no album got more playing time on my Spotify account this year than this gem. Reunions is what rock and roll was meant to be. Critics and music fans around the world agreed, and Reunions topped charts in the U.S. and the U.K. In June in the U.S., Reunions topped the country, folk, and rock charts — at the same time. Is it country? Is it rock? Who cares. It’s amazing songwriting and guitar-playing and it just gets under your skin and stays there. I mean, the first song includes my new favorite artist Michael Kiwanuka. The album features the amazing Muscle Shoals, Alabama based members of the 400 Unit, including Jason’s talented wife Amanda Shires on fiddle. Jason is making music the way it should be made, songs from deep down in his soul, with lyrics that have weight, and with indifference to little notions like genre. It’s just gorgeous, heart-felt, music. Truth is, if you don’t like this album I’m not sure I can be friends with you.

Little GTO, You’re Really Lookin Fine

One thing this pandemic has done to me is exposed some of my mental health issues and turned up the volume. I was struggling with a few things pre-Covid which have been exacerbated by this crisis. For example, I don’t have many hobbies and over the past few years I’ve lost any sort of passion for things to do when I’m not at work or with friends and family. I’ve blogged about it in the past, and in fact I have a whole category of blog posts related to hobbies (or lack thereof).

Someone I trust suggested I look to my youth to try to find some spark. She thought perhaps just experiencing some past activities might help me get unstuck. I thought about this for a bit, and one thing that came to mind that I loved to do as a kid was putting together plastic model kits. I used to build cars, planes, ships, spaceships, and more. All you needed was a kit, some glue, a little paint, and some time. It was with this in mind that I found myself wandering the aisles of a hobby shop in North Phoenix a few weeks ago and leaving with a model kit, a tube of glue, and a can of spray paint.

I definitely enjoyed the experience of putting together the model, but I will say I realized I don’t have a lot of skill when it comes to detail work. I got the model together, but when I was done there were a few pieces leftover and some parts I just looked at and thought to myself no way I can do that. SO my GTO doesn’t have passenger-side seatbelts or a shifter. Frankly, the shifter snapped in my hands while I was trying to get it free from the frame that holds all the parts. Oh well, it’s not perfect. But I painted it, and chose to go with the convertible vs the hardtop, and I think it looks pretty good for my first model since I was about eight.

I’m not sure I’ve found a new hobby. I don’t have a burning desire to run back to the hobby shop and buy another model. But it was fun and I used my hands.

In the same spirit, I went to Michael’s over the weekend to browse through arts and crafts sections to see if anything else sparked some joy. It was pretty overwhelming really. There were all kids of art supplies, crafts, beads and yarn. I decided I’m not going to find much joy in knitting, or scrapbooking, or painting (I have no skill there). I did decide to buy some markers and spend some time coloring mandalas — in the past I’ve found this to be quite a zen-like experience.

Since I’m still sort of laid up with a foot issue and there’s this little pandemic going on I am still going to keep my eyes open for hobby ideas. And without a doubt I’ll continue with the hobbies I do have even though they are pretty passive — watching movies, reading, blogging.

But I’m really curious about what others do in their spare time (assuming they have any). Seriously, I want to know about your hobbies and why you like them. Reply to this post or post under the link where you first saw this blog post.

My Favorite 20 Albums of 2020 (#11 to #20)

This year has been like no other, to say the least, but even while most everything has sucked one thing that surprisingly has not sucked is new music from a wife array of artists. It’s almost as if the pandemic caused musical acts to dig deeper and record special albums. Either that, or it’s just luck. Regardless, 2020 has been music to my ears.

2020 has also proven to be a very diverse year in music for me. My tastes have certainly expanded over the years, but it’s becoming clear to me that I’m mellowing with age. Oh I still like to rock out on occasion, but truthfully I’ve just been drawn to more slow and thoughtful albums. I also have to say my ears have continued to open to music that in the past I would have just written off as “country” and never given it a second thought. And while I’m still not likely to ever listen to mainstream country, I am delving deeper and deeper into the murky waters of alt-country and Americana/roots music. This is reflected in the list below to be sure.

Usually I only choose to rank my top 10 favorite albums of the year, but because I’ve enjoyed so many different artists this year and because it’s 2020 I decided to go ahead give 20 albums some love. So I’ll skip the usual honorable mentions and get right to the count down.

20. Punisher — Phoebe Bridgers. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it sure seems like the artists are getting younger these days. I have to admit, at first I was uncomfortable as a 54-year-old adult man listening to music by a twentysomething artist — especially a female artist. But I realized I wasn’t being true to my musical self by neglecting younger artists just because they are young. Yes, Phoebe Bridgers, at 26, is more than half my age. But the fact is, she’s talented, interesting, unique, a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and way cooler than I ever was at 26 or any age. She’s also a badass, having been one of the artists who called out ex-beau Ryan Adams for sexual misconduct. Punisher is a great album made up of interesting songs written and performed by a talented woman.


19. RoundAgain — Joshua Redman. The members of the original Joshua Redman Quartet—Redman (saxophone), Brad Mehldau (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Brian Blade (drums)—reunite with RoundAgain, the group’s first recording since 1994’s MoodSwing,


18. Jump Rope Gazers — The Beths. This New Zealand quartet is the definition of power pop. Jump Rope Gazers is only their second full-length record and it rocks. Lead singer Elizabeth Stokes has one of those lovely pop rock voices that for me is reminiscent of one of my favorite female pop vocalists, Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays, but with a little more rock. As they say in New Zealand, The Beths are choice.


17. Such Pretty Forks in the Road — Alanis Morissette. It has been 25 years since the release of Jagged Little Pill and while Morissette has worked steadily since then she’ll always be considered a 90s artist. That’s unfortunate because her best album in my opinion is 2002’s Under Rug Swept and now all these years later this, her ninth record, showcase’s a whole new side of her — a matured Morissette if you will. Hell, it’s downright motherly.


16. Gaslighter — The Chicks. The artists previously known as Dixie Chicks have officially shed their connection to country music (the genre rejected them in the early 2000s after lead singer Natalie Maines was quoted as saying she was ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas). Regardless, these chicks have been genre-defying from the start and I’m proud to be a fan. Gaslighter is solid rock and roll (with a country twang) and the band has continued to say “fuck you” to the Country music establishment, its fans, and anyone else who thinks they should shut up and play. I love them for that as much as their music. And if you cross Natalie, expect to be featured in their next song!


15. Shelby Lynne — Shelby Lynne. Now in her early 50s, if it feels like Shelby Lynn Moorer has been around forever that’s probably because she had her first breakthrough at 19. Over the years she’s been a rising country star, a Grammy-winning “Best New Artist,” a folk singer, an Americana artist, and a pop chanteuse. Categories aside, for me she’s just a great singer/songwriter.


14. Look Long — Indigo Girls. The first time I saw Indigo Girls live was in the late 80s in Berkeley, CA on Halloween night and it was an experience to say the least. I’ve been a fan since the first album and they never let me down. Look Long, in fact, is their 15th studio album and one of their best records in years. Emily and Amy write separately, but sing together better than any two women to ever share a stage.


13. Superstar — Caroline Rose. This New Yorker has been around for a few years but I’m just now discovering her work. I did enjoy her 2018 album “Loner” but Superstar is solid from top to bottom. She has a cool voice and plays multiple instruments. She is not a classic singer/songwriter but instead delivers really fun pop songs and has a great sense of humor as evidenced by this crazy good video. If Greta Gerwig was a pop star she’d be Caroline Rose.


12. St. Cloud — Waxahatchee. I’m not gonna lie, I’d never heard of Waxahatchee before mid-2020. Officially this band, fronted by Alabama-native Katie Crutchfield, is considered indie rock or indie folk, but I don’t care what you call it — it’s damn fine music by a wonderful songwriter. Can’t Do Much is my favorite track from the album and a good representation of her powerful voice.


11. Lianne La Havas — Lianne La Havas. For me London-based Lianne La Havas has the most soulful voice around with a sound that frankly reminds me of one of my all-time favorite artists — Sade. Which is to say, if you like smooth soul and music designed for a rainy day or quiet evening in you’re gonna love Lianne La Havas if you don’t already. She’s not just a singer either — she plays multiple instruments too. Plus, she’s not afraid to think outside her genre — she covers a Radiohead track on this her third studio album. I’ve been a fan for a while and trust me you should be too.

Stay tuned for the second half of my year-end top 20 albums post coming soon to a blog near you. In the meantime, enjoy these albums and let me know what you think.

A COVID-19 Shot in the Dark

I am a man of reason. By that I mean I rely on science to inform my opinions and many of my decisions, from climate change to astrophysics (no, the earth is not flat) to health. When I’m unsure of something, I look to the research. This worldview has shaped my belief system, my politics, and my health decisions. It is why, for example, after my heart attack in 2011 I continue to take the medications I’ve been prescribed, and why I eat a low carb diet. I do my own research, and then I trust the science. I’m not saying this to be derogatory to anyone who trusts faith, pseudoscience, or “holistic” treatments for illnesses — I’m just not the kind of person who sees an ad on television for a memory enhancer and decides to take a pill derived from jellyfish. Show me the peer-reviewed study, please.

I bring this up because today I was given the first of two injections of a vaccine for COVID-19 as part of a phase three medical trial being done by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in cooperation with Oxford University. I get my second shot, or booster, in four weeks. Why, you ask, did I volunteer to be a human guinea pig for a coronavirus vaccine? Because of science.

To start with, I am at high risk for developing serious issues if I get coronavirus. This is because of my heart history, but also because I’ve had asthma since I was a child. Coronavirus is most definitely more deadly among those with pre-existing conditions and I do not want to be a statistic.

Second, it is unclear how much longer we’ll all have to wait for a vaccine and I’m getting tired of living in fear. I have seen this virus devastate lives, and almost take the life of someone close to me, and why not opt in for a chance to get a vaccine early — by the time a vaccine reaches phase three it has been proven to be pretty safe and as we learned earlier this week with the news from the Pfizer vaccine trial the results can be tremendously positive.

There is not much downside to taking the vaccine during a phase three trial. Yes, I had to read and sign off on about 20 pages of legalese to receive the injection, but for the most part the vast majority of side effects have been mild with some patients reporting fever and achiness following the booster. There have been a few isolated cases of a neurological condition but there is no evidence yet as to whether or not those cases were caused by the vaccine and in fact in one of the cases the patient received the placebo rather than the vaccine. And so far nobody has grown a tail.

The upside is that by early December I may have antibodies to the coronavirus and this will limit my chances of getting the virus or having a serious issue from the virus. I am not taking my mask off any time soon, but it feels like a light at the end of the tunnel and that’s exciting. If, by chance, I was one of the 33% of trial patients who received a placebo rather than the vaccine, well I guess I’ve at least helped the medical community bring this vaccine to the world and as a study participant I may even be vaccinated as a thank you for participating in advance of the general population. Hell, even if a slew of vaccines are ready for mass use in December as suspected it could be months before any of us get it so I’m happy to have jumped the line.

Which brings me back to reason. Vaccines work. Not sure? When was the last time you got measles or polio? I trust science. Science is why when you get a cut on your finger you do not die from infection (thank you Sir Alexander Fleming). Science is why I didn’t die from a heart attack in 2011, instead I had an angiogram and had three stents placed, thus keeping the blood flowing through my body (thank you Dr. Charles Thomas Stent — not joking).

I’m no hero for participating in this trial. Yes, it will help the world. And yes, I will make a few hundred bucks. But I’m doing it for myself and my loved ones. I have spent the better part of the last six months wearing a mask when I’m in public, dining on patios rather than inside, working from home, and generally living like a hermit. I miss my friends. And I want it to end. I want to get my life back. I really hope I was one of the 66% of AstraZeneca trial participants who received the actual vaccine and not the placebo.

Just the other day AstraZeneca reported they expect the trial results to be ready this year and could begin large scale vaccinations in December. Phase one and two results were extremely successful and warranted moving into the phase three trial with the AstraZeneca vaccine being shortlisted as one of the more promising candidates.

Despite the anti-vax movement (proof that people will believe anything if it’s repeated enough times), vaccines are among humankinds greatest achievements. Don’t take my word for it — check out what noted pro-science and bullshit detectors Penn and Teller have to say: