KVMR 2020 Year In Review: Album Highlights

Written by on December 22, 2020

A deeper look into some of our favorite albums that kept us going through 2020 handpicked by your fellow KVMR DJs.

Jeff Parker – Suite For Max Brown (Nonesuch)

This one time Chicagoan, now an LA based guitarist and composer, has created an album of tradition and experimentation at the forefront of New Jazz music, funk and improvisation. – Joel Brungardt 



Salt House – Huam (Hudson Records)

Huam-  In the old Scots language, it means the call of an owl. – more particularly the call of an owl in the daytime.  Surprising, soft, compelling– that’s how I would describe that sound and likewise the sound of Salt House, a talented trio from Scotland.  Ewan McPherson on guitar, Lauren MacColl on strings and  Jenny Sturgeon on harmonium, dulcimer & piano have  presented us an album of amazing, intriguing music, with hauntingly beautiful vocals and a warm, gentle mix of instrumentation.  The album is lyrically rich and vibrant– their own compositions as well as the poetry and old stories they chose to set to music.  Huam is, by far, my favorite album of 2020. “If I am Lucky…. the boat won’t sail on time. …  If I am lucky, the wild will stay with me.” – Laurie DesJardins



Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? (Cooking Vinyl)

The storied life of music artist Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz has been retold in the press many times and is more mind-boggling than the wildest imagination could conjure.  As Fantastic Negrito, his music career has taken flight and continues its ascent. His first two albums won the 2016 and 2018 Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy Awards,  and his latest album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?, is nominated for the same award to be announced in January, 2021.  Not a common feat, but Fantastic Negrito isn’t common in any way.  His sound is completely his own, mixing elements of blues, R&B, funk, rock, hip hop, slave chants and sophisticated soul.  His multi-octave voice is a musical instrument in itself and his songs are complex in arrangement with highly inventive lyrics bearing a strong social consciousness. Thought-provoking and dance-inducing, Negrito’s music is a beacon of light in these dark times, and with this album he continues to take listeners on a Fantastic journey.  – Steve Cagle



Richard & Linda Thompson – Hard Luck Stories (Island)

This 8-CD boxed set covers the years 1972-1982, when these two passionate British musicians married, made several shockingly good albums, found religion, toured the world, and eventually broke up in rancor.  Their creative partnership was equal parts romantic and tragic, and it was all reflected in Richard’s lyrics, which could be desperately sad (“Withered and Died,” “The End of the Rainbow”), joyous (“I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” “Georgie On a Spree”) or deeply spiritual (“Pavane,” “A Bird In God’s Garden”).  The many previously-unreleased demos, live recordings, and abandoned songs included show that their rejects were often better than most artists’ main output. – Mark Leviton



Captain Planet – No Visa (Bastard Jazz Recordings)

Captain Planet has created just the World music confection to listen to while you do your own nails or hair or dance around your own private disco. Thirteen exuberant cuts, from reggae to dance hall to funk with guests like Zuzuka Poderosa of Brazil and New York’s Sye Elaine Spence. Upbeat grooves to move to in your quarantine. Jam packed with fun!!! – Betsy Lombard



Norah Jones – Lift Me Up Off the Floor (Blue Note)

This release reaffirms all her strengths as an empathic songwriter and sterling vocalist. Whether singing about existential dread, or finding hope in darkness, Jones translates these feelings into moments of personal actions and motions. – Joel Brungardt 



Corb Lund – Agricultural Tragic (New West Records)

Corb Lund consistently composes the best lyrics coupled with Americana and boogie-woogie music.  Corb’s songs are perfect. – Ruby Slippers



Buddy & Julie Miller – Lockdown Songs

The perfect gift for your favorite pandemic minimizer, or otherwise head-in-the-sander, as well as a great potential time capsule artifact or historical archive entry for remembering the year that we all want to forget. This gets my vote for best 2020 musical documentary. Sharp topical songs from a couple of national treasures.  – Jeff Wright


JD Taylor – The Coldwater Sessions (Vizztone)

Long time Memphis singer-songwriter, JD Taylor has put together a gem of all 11 original upbeat blues songs in 2020, “The Coldwater Sessions” album. JD has assembled an all star band for his 5th album. Recorded at the renowned Zebra Ranch Studios in North Mississippi this CD is a can’t miss when it comes to some soulful blues from the very talented JD Taylor! – Johnny Gallagher

 Ben Goldberg – Plague Diary (BAG)

This year many artists, in the midst of the pandemic, managed to record new material on their own or in remote collaboration with other musicians.  I was familiar with the clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg from his previous work in jazz and klezmer.  “Plague Diary” is his frankly therapeutic attempt to stay sane during our public health crisis by recording a new piece every day while stuck at home, unable to teach his classes at UC Berkeley.  On Bandcamp.com he’s giving it all away free, all 200+ tracks.  It’s an inspiring project. – Mark Leviton

The Mammals – Nonet (Humble Abode)

The Mammals give us another great album, Nonet.  It made me dance, it made me smile and, even as it tackled issues of political, environmental and social struggles,  it left me uplifted and hopeful.    Husband and wife, Michael Merenda and Ruth Ungar, lead the band and are joined on Nonet with seven other stellar musicians.  The sound is full, and full of life.  I especially loved the song  “You Can Come to My House”.  It was written pre -pandemic. …  But it takes on so much meaning as we long for the days when we could invite people over to crash on the sofa and just enjoy each others company.  Nonet is good- hearted, optimistic and inspiring. – Laurie DesJardins

Spaza – Uprise! (Mushroom Hour Half Hour Recordings)

Spaza is a South African music collective, and this is the soundtrack to a 2017 documentary about the 1976 Soweto Student protests.  The band would view archival film clips and improvise musically.  The result is a haunting score that captures a defining moment in South African history. – Joel Brungardt



Carla Ulbrich  – The LOUD Album (Romantic Devil Records)

Carla’s lyrics are hysterical.  She put out a cd and followed up with an online release of funny virus and quarantine related songs.  Carla is a rare gem.  – Ruby Slippers




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