Album: Three Little Words Artist: Dominique Fils-Aime Release Date: February 12, 2021 Label: Ensoul Records Favorite Tracks: Thoughts: Dominique Fils-Aimé, a vocalist from Quebec, explores the sounds of soul music with hints of jazz on her third album. The songs draw on influences from Do-Wop and classic Motown to more recent performers like Amy Winehouse. Lyrically the songs celebrate Black history and music and the ongoing struggle for liberation. Everything seems to be arranged and produced to perfection. Really the only flaw to the album is that it ends with an unnecessary cover of “Stand By Me.” If you like beautiful vocals and souljazz arrangements, this album is for you.
Album: Good Woman Artist: The Staves Release Date: February 5, 2021 Label: Atlantic Favorite Tracks:
“Nothing’s Gonna Happen”
The English folk trio of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor provide beautiful, close harmonies on this set of tunes. But the sweetness of the songs does not prevent them from singing lyrics of defiance
Album: Tell Me I’m Bad Artist: Editrix Release Date: February 5, 2021 Label: Exploding in Sound Records Favorite Tracks:
“Tell Me I’m Bad”
“She Wants to Go and Party”
Thoughts: The Western Massachusetts trio Editrix combines sweet singsong vocals over shredding guitar. Both the vocals and guitar are provided by Wendy Eisenberg, while Steve Cameron plays bass and Josh Daniel plays drums. The great punk/indie rock melodies support lyrics that are often political but also humorous. I found a great piece online that breaks down each song, something I’d love to see more of: https://www.talkhouse.com/a-guide-to-editrixs-tell-me-im-bad/
Album: Long Day in the Milky Way Artist: Kris Delmhorst Release Date: August 14, 2020 Label: Big Bean Music Favorite Tracks:
“Wind’s Gonna Find a Way”
“Nothing “Bout Nothing”
Thoughts: I first learned of Kris Delmhorst when she was playing gigs in Somerville, MA just after I moved there in the late 90s. Her albums Five Stories and Songs for a Hurricane area among my all-time favorites. But I totally missed it when her most recent album was released last August.
The album features Delmhorst’s typically well-crafted songs. I particularly like the harmonies of Rose Polenzani, Rose Cousins, and Annie Lynch on back-up vocals. But with very few exceptions the songs are all slow tempo, and just not as engaging as I’d expect. The music is pretty though, and the lyrics offer flashes of hope and healing in troubled times.
Thoughts: Mourn, a quartet from Barcelona, is a band that makes loud, energetic punk rock tracks with shouted lyrics. I like that kind of thing. It feels like an album for “our COVID times” with the feelings of life’s many problems fully expressed, but also counterbalanced by a sense of resilience. Rating: ***1/2
Hip artist and producer Madlib collaborates with electronic music artists Four Tet on this collection that draws on both of their loves for music and record collecting. The music samples from a catalog of soul and R&B, Jazz, Latin, folk, and reggae to create a tribute to ancestral music and something new at the same time.
Album: Palberta5000 Artist: Palberta Release Date: January 22, 2021 Label: Wharf Cat Records Favorite Tracks:
“Big Bad Want”
“Something in the Way”
“The Way That You Do”
“All Over My Face”
“Before I Get Here”
Thoughts: Palberta – the trio of Anina Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser from New York City (not western Canada) – make melodic punk music reminiscent of early Sleater-Kinney. I haven’t listened to their earlier work but apparently this album is a transition for the band from pure punk noise to indie pop. Nevertheless, the punk sensibilities remain with sweet harmonies over rattling guitars and drum beats. Most of the album’s 16 tracks clock in at 2 minutes or less. The second half of the album is stronger than the first, but I enjoyed it all.
I’ve reviewed 23 albums on this blog in 2020, and probably listened to just as many that I didn’t feel compelled to write about. From this list I’ve selected five of my favorite albums that I recommend you give a listen.
Album: The Christmas Revels: Celebrating 50 Years! Artist: The Revels Release Date: November 30, 2020 Label: Revels Records Thoughts:
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that one of my favorite holiday traditions is seeing The Christmas Revels performed at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, MA. I was eagerly anticipating this year’s 50th anniversary show, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, we did get this gift of a double-disc set of songs recorded live on the Sanders stage from the 1970s to the present.
Live is live, so that means when listening to the recitation of the poem “The Shortest Day,” you can hear audience members coughing during the quiet pause. It’s a memory of a simpler time when someone coughing in a crowd was a minor irritant rather than a moment of horror. The songs bring back many memories of attending performances over the past 20 years. You can also trace the evolution of Revels from a show that began with celebration of traditional English songs and culture but grew to embrace holiday and solstice traditions from across Europe and the many cultures of the Americas, including African American, Indigenous Peoples, and Meso-American cultures.
I own every Christmas Revels recording every released and will likely continue to acquire them until I die. But if you want just one Revels album that captures the width and breadth of the Revels experience, I’d recommend this one. I should also note that there is a Christmas Revels performance for 2020 available virtually. Through the magic of video editing, performers appear on the Sanders Theatre stage intercut with film of performances from 1977 to 2019. I was a member of the cast in 2009 and you can totally see me in the background of those performances! You can purchase the virtual performance and the CD as a bundle, but be quick because the stream will only be available until December 31.
Album: Untitled (Black Is) Artist: Sault Release Date: 19 June 2020 Label: Forever Living Originals Favorite Tracks:
Sault, a British music collective that eschews media attention on their real identities, put out two albums this year that encapsulate the Black experience in 2020. Released on Juneteenth, and just 25 days after the murder of George Floyd, the music expresses grief, defiance, and hope in equal measures. The music blends soul, R&B, afrobeat, and funk that clearly draws on its antecedents while also being fresh and unique.
Album: Untitled (Rise) Artist: Sault Release Date: 18 September 2020 Label: Forever Living Originals Favorite Tracks:
I Just Want to Dance
The Beginning and the End
Releasing a second album just three months after its predecessor seems a recipe for a watered-down follow-up, but with Sault it is just the opposite. If anything, Untitled (Rise) is brimming with energy and relevance with the music filled with disco melodies and traditional African polyrhythms.