A Year in Music, Absolute Beginners, Angel Olsen, Blonde On the Tracks, Bob Dylan, Bobbie Gentry, Brighton, Change, Charley Pride, David Bowie, David Roback, Delta Sweete, Dirk Timmerman, Emma Swift, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple, Ghost Highway, Hallucinogenics, L.A. Witch, Lana Del Rey, Lissie, Little Bastards, Madonna, Madonna: The Day I Was There, Matt Maeson, Mazzy Star, Play With Fire, Stargazing, The Kills, The Neighbourhood, Whole New Mess
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For music lovers, this was the year the stage went dark, and we sought comfort in our record collections. Then in April 2020, with the world in lockdown, Fiona Apple surprised us with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her first album in eight years and perhaps, the wake-up call we all needed.
For the sheer thrill of the ride, though, Play With Fire – the second album from garage rockers L.A. Witch (a band surely born for the age of masking up) – was hard to beat.
On a revisionist note, The Kills gave us a B-sides collection, Little Bastards; Angel Olsen performed stripped-down versions of tracks from last year’s All Mirrors, making a Whole New Mess; and in the same year that Bob Dylan returned, Emma Swift unveiled her tribute, Blonde on the Tracks.
It was a strange year for Lana Del Rey, who went back to blonde and got ‘cancelled’ by social media (twice, at last count.) She also found time to release her first poetry book/spoken word album, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass; covers of ‘Summertime‘ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone‘; guest spots on Matt Maeson’s ‘Hallucinogenics‘, and in The Neighbourhood’s ‘Stargazing‘ video; and ‘Let Me Love You Like a Woman,’ from her upcoming sixth album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club. (PS: Lissie, who joined Lana on tour in 2019, has covered ‘Change‘ on her latest EP.)
David Bowie fell to earth again to lift our spirits: you can visit him at Brighton Museum (subject to restrictions, of course.) And in my favourite music book of 2020, Madonna: The Day I Was There, Dirk Timmerman weaves an oral history of fan memories, spanning four decades and eleven tours.
While we’re on the subject, Bowie also appears on the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, reissued on vinyl alongside Bobbie Gentry’s Delta Sweete and Ghost Highway, an (unofficial) live album from Mazzy Star.
Among the luminaries we lost this year was guitarist David Roback, co-founder of Mazzy Star; and ‘the first black country music superstar,’ Charley Pride. Seemingly disparate figures, but both were American originals who played on the soundtrack of my life.