Say what you will about 2020 (and you can say a lot), but the music has been spectacular. The staff at 100.9 The Creek ran down the list of every played artist and track from the past 12 months and distilled 100+ albums & EPs down to a hardcore few. From career-best efforts to flawless follow-ups, here are 20 selections that dominated our personal soundtracks. Every single one is worth your time and money.
20 Agricultural Tragic, Corb Lund
2019’s collection of interpretations, Cover Your Tracks, was fun n’ all (particularly a cut of the Shel Silverstein penned “Cover of the Rolling Stone” featuring Hayes Carll and AC/DC’s “Ride On” with Ian Tyson), but this is the Corb Lund record we’d been waiting for. His first album of new material since 2015’s Dave Cobb produced Things That Can’t Be Undone, Corb and the Hurtin’ Albertans are back with longtime collaborators John Evans and Harry Stinson. Worth the wait.
19 Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions, Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson has been threatening a bluegrass album for a couple of years now, but this epic collection somehow managed to appear out of nowhere. Beginning with The Butcher Shoppe Sessions, Simpson is mowing through his entire catalog via a who’s who of bluegrass ringers. He says it’s the way the songs were meant to be– and we don’t disagree! Look for Volume 2 out now!
18 Waiting Out The Storm, Jeremy Ivey
And the award for Best Album To Predict the Future goes to… Jeremy Ivey may have had no inclination of what kind of maelstrom was lurking beyond the horizon when he wrote these songs while on tour in 2019, but he certainly hit the proverbial nail upon the head– repeatedly. Outstanding and prophetic rock n’ roll.
17 Lamentations, American Aquarium
American Aquarium teamed up with producer Shooter Jennings to craft what might be their best total album to date. Once again, the boys from Raleigh prove to be the conscience of the South, pushing progress, hard work, and hope.
16 Walking Proof, Lilly Hiatt
Lilly Hiatt follows 2017’s excellent Trinity Lane with a sonic stunner that somehow both defines and expands her unique style. Walking Proof showcases the 2nd generation singer-songwriter’s ability to deliver a story in fresh and compelling tones.
15 You Make Me Feel, Don Bryant
You Make Me Feel acts as a love letter to Bryant’s wife of over four decades, Ann Peebles. The 78-year-old legend soars through a selection of new and old tunes delivering a conviction and power that outshines singers well under half his age. It’s classic, timeless soul that defies era.
14 Co-Starring, Ray Wylie Hubbard
No doubt about it, despite a global pandemic that’s sidelined the touring industry indefinitely, 2020 has been a helluva year for Ray Wylie Hubbard. He signed a major record label contract, played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in his 50+ year career, recorded his Austin City Limits debut, and released the ridiculously loaded Co-Starring. The album features every bit of Ray’s signature outlaw patois and a glut of special guests.
13 Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs, Colter Wall
Colter Wall keeps up the cowboy with his latest offering that mixes a few new tunes with classic tales of the open plains and the Wild West. Perfect for an evening ’round the campfire or waltzin’ across a hardwood floor.
12 Keep ‘Em on The Toes, Brent Cobb
Another great album that reeks of prophecy, the latest from Brent Cobb gets to the heart of what it means to be a husband, father, artist, and human in a polarizing age. Still country and funky but breathing a little deeper, Keep ‘Em on They Toes is Brent Cobb at his best, making sense of the world from his own front porch.
11 I Win, Adam Wright
In a recent interview with Sound and Soul, Bruce Robison said of Adam Wright, “People just don’t write songs like that anymore.” Wright is one of the most prolific craftsmen working today, and I Win matches melodic savvy with lyrical precision for an entertaining and hook-laden collection that couldn’t have arrived at a better time.
Read “‘Sometimes you just gotta dance it out’: Adam Wright Talks New Album & Co-writing Under Quarantine”
10 Chickaboom!, Tami Neilson
Old school cool and 21st Century attitude make up this masterpiece from New Zealand hillbilly rock n’ souler Tami Neilson. 2018’s Sassafrass! was considered a career highpoint, but Neilson’s latest takes the stairs two at a time to reach a whole ‘nother level. We’re hesitant to call Chickaboom! her “best ever” because, honestly, we can’t wait to hear what she does next.
9 LP5, John Moreland
Beat, groove, and emotion. John Moreland has included some of the finest songs of his career on LP5— and that’s saying something for an artist consistently considered among the very best in the Americana realm. Produced by Matt Pence (Centro-Matic) at his Echo Lab studio in Denton, TX, LP5 features guest appearances from Will Johnson (Centro-Matic) and Bonnie Whitmore.
8 Show Pony, Orville Peck
The man in the mask caught our attention in 2019 with his lavish brand of “Blue Velvet” country, but if that was the thunder, then Show Pony is the lightning. Orville duets with Shania Twain, puts an industrial twist on “Fancy”, and bares it all with “Kids”. If you’re really looking for an outlaw, Peck is it.
7 Forever Worse Better, Great Peacock
If there’s one general consensus around The Creek studios, it’s that Nashville’s Great Peacock is severely underrated. Lyrically taut and sonically lush, Forever Worse Better is a career-defining record that we can’t wait to hear live.
6 Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, Waylon Payne
Waylon Payne’s life could be a movie. As it is, it’s made a damn fine country song– or rather, an album’s worth. Blue Eyes swells with the grandeur and vulnerable romanticism of Payne’s heroes, notably Bobby Gentry, Kris Kristofferson, and especially his mother, Sammi Smith. But make no mistake, the album is all Waylon– street-level country music that had to be survived in order to be written.
5 Good Souls Better Angels, Lucinda Williams
Good Souls Better Angels eschews finesse for blunt force trauma, delivering vicious shots of blues, raw power punk, and relevant rock n’ roll. It’s Lucinda at her rowdy and righteous peak and simply one of the best (if not the best) albums she’s ever made.
4 Glad You Made It, Joshua Ray Walker
Glad You Made It returns to the left of the dial honky tonk dimension first introduced in the big Texan’s 2019 debut, Wish You Were Here. Believe it or not, as strong as that album remains, GYMI is even better. If you’re after eviscerating country music that leaves the cliches bloody and broken in the parking lot, then Joshua Ray Walker is your man.
3 Old Time Feeling, S.G. Goodman
Every now and then, a record rolls around that you can’t quite get through ’cause you keep obsessing over one song. Then another and another. By the time you realize what’s happened, you’ve listened to the whole dang album a dozen times, back to back, and it’s time for bed– or to go to work. Trust us, you need this one.
2 Welcome to Hard Times, Charley Crockett
Partially recorded in Valdosta, GA at producer Mark Neill’s Soil of the South Studios, Welcome To Hard Times is Charley Crockett’s finest recordings to date. The King of the Gulf Coast Boogie shares the pen with some of his best friends to deliver a bounty of ballads and bonafide honky tonk gold. Got that friend who says he/she doesn’t like country music? Well, hit ’em with this one and watch ’em crumble.
Read Charley Crockett: “‘I didn’t need the revelations of 2020 to write about the things goin’ on in America’”
1 El Dorado, Marcus King
Unequivocally perfect. King teams up with producer Dan Auerbach and a staggering cast of Nashville all-stars to create a landmark album that features blues, country, and rock n’ soul highspots from first to last track. El Dorado is dramatic, incendiary, and just plain cool. It’s the record every artist dreams of making.