Surviving Quarantine with Miles, Petty, and My Top 10 Albums of 2020

Music’s ability to make us feel better was really put to the test in 2020. The healing power of music probably played a key role for most of us as we navigated our new lifestyle in what has officially been deemed “These Difficult Times.”

Before getting to my Top 10 Albums of 2020, my musical reflection on this past year actually reveals two unlikely figures: Miles Davis and Tom Petty. I probably listened to more Miles Davis than any other artist this year. As the line from Office Space goes… “I celebrate the whole catalogue.” But in particular, the Kind of Blue album was something I started to lean on like medicine. Already one of the consensus choices for “best jazz album of all time,” Kind of Blue also seems to have some sort of magical power to sooth that “nervous stomach,” and ease the mild anxiety that inevitably greeted us every morning for most of 2020.

So if the relaxation playlists, meditation music, and yoga soundtracks aren’t getting it done when you need some stress relief, try Miles Davis Kind of Blue (results may vary, may cause good feeling or possible euphoria, check your headphones to see if Kind of Blue is right for you).

Part of why I turned to jazz in These Difficult Times may be because there are no lyrics. No songs about the good old days of… leaving the house and being with other people. Maybe that’s why my number one album of the year in the list below is also an instrumental album. Working from home; taking long walks. Sometimes we need music without words.

Oddly enough, I rediscovered one old album full of words that sounds perfect for 2020. While staying safely stuck at home, I found Tom Petty’s Into the Great Wide Open from 1993 to be like a sketchbook of what we went through this year. Taking a line or two from each song from Petty’s Great Wide Open album and reading them all together as follows, I wish I could send every character from these songs a copy of Miles Davis Kind of Blue to help them feel better:

Trouble blew in on a cold dark wind.
Started out… all alone.
Well, the good old days may not return.
No you can’t hide out.
We wanna hold our heads up, but we gotta stay down.
I don’t wanna end up in a room all alone.
In the dark of the sun will you save me a place? Give me hope, give me comfort, get me to a better place?
We will stand together; Yeah we will stand as one.
When the time gets right, I’m gonna pick you up and take you far away from trouble my love.
Oh I await the day, Good fortune comes our way.
I don’t wanna fight no more.
I don’t mind workin’, but I’m scared to suffer ya know?
I’m takin’ control of my life.
Oh, the days went slow, into the changing season.
When I woke up my brain was stunned, I could not come around.
I’m out in the cold, body and soul.
There’s nowhere to go.
I thought, “Maybe I can make it if I never give in.”
Her imagination ran wild. Could this really happen to me? She could barely hold back the tears.
There was no talk of giving in.
I was feeling burned out; I got tired of it, I know you feel lost.

The world is changing fast, but our love was built to last.
One day all the rules will bend, and you and I will meet again.

While much of this year was spent clinging to old classics and familiar sounds that might serve as comfort food for our ears, these were my favorite new releases of the year:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Sorcerers ~ In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God

THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2020

The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
Sometimes you discover an album by accident, because it has a cool-looking cover or a weird title. That’s what happened with this one, and it’s a funky stew of styles and movements for all moods. This instrumental gem is difficult to categorize or describe, so I highly recommend you go listen for yourself.

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Thurston Moore – Into the Fire

The Flaming Lips – American Head

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Nas – King’s Disease

Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

Jason Isbell – Reunions

Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur

Drive-By Truckers – The Unravelling

Yawning Man – Live at Giant Rock

Honorable Mention, “new” releases from the vault:

Neil Young – Homegrown

Prince – Sign O’ the Times (expanded reissue)

Tom Petty – Wildflowers (expanded reissue)

The Grammys: Don’t Believe The Hype

It’s been almost a quarter century since Public Enemy famously asked “Who gives a fuck about a goddamn Grammy?” on their classic album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and we’re still referencing that line every year when we write these reminders that the Grammys are garbage.

Everyone knows it’s an industry-insider’s popularity contest; an annual pat on the backs for the big boys; a reason to roll out a red carpet and sell TV ads. So I won’t waste too much time rehashing and chronicling all the reasons to ignore the Grammys. If you still need evidence, this is a great list of some of the all-time snubs at the Grammys. There are countless great artists who’ve never won or been nominated, but I’ll simply rest my case with this list of just some of the most famous musicians who never took home a statue:

Beach Boys
Bjork
Bob Marley
Chuck Berry
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Curtis Mayfield
Diana Ross
Gram Parsons
Grateful Dead
Janis Joplin
Jimi Hendrix
Led Zeppelin
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Parliament and/or Funkadelic
Nas
Notorious B.I.G.
Queen
Run DMC
Rush
Sam Cooke
Sly and the Family Stone
Talking Heads
The Byrds
The Doors
The Kinks
The Sex Pistols
The Who
Tupac Shakur

Meanwhile, Phil Collins has won 8 times. Oh, and Public Enemy never won one either…

Stephen Marley’s Roots Rock Revelation

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley feelin' it.

Bob Marley once said that, while he knew he’d only be remembered for his music, his children were his true gift to the world. Bob Marley, a poet and a prophet.

With the recent release of Stephen Marley’s great new album, Revelation Pt. 1: The Root of Life, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the Marley kids, and the talents of Stephen Marley in particular.

Since Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers debuted in the mid-80s, and had a hit with Conscious Party in 1989, everyone has accepted and taken for granted that “Oh yea, Ziggy’s pretty good. Not quite his daddy but that’s ok cuz Bob was a legend.” And while most fans knew and appreciated Stephen’s presence and contribution to ZM&MM, the masses viewed the Marley kids as Ziggy and all the rest of ’em.

I don’t have the time or resources to research the 11 or so official children fathered by Bob Marley. With apologies to Ziggy, Bob’s beautiful-voiced daughters Sharon and Cedella, and his sons Rohan (who played football at University of Miami, has 5 children with Lauryn Hill, and runs the Marley Coffee business [seriously]), Julian (a few surprisingly decent albums to his name), Ky-Mani (a book and 6 [SIX!] albums to his credit), and even Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, he of the smash hit Welcome to Jamrock and recent collaboration with Nas, Distant Relatives… (did I miss anyone?)… I’d really like to shine the light on Stephen.

As much as most casual fans probably thought Ziggy “looked and sounded just like Bob Marley,” it was always Stephen whose voice really sounded eerily similar to Bob’s. Cherry-picking the Melody Makers CD’s and assembling all the tracks featuring Stephen on lead vocals would probably be a worthwhile endeavor.

It turns out that Stephen isn’t just a pretty voice and good musician. His production skills have blossomed over the last decade, as he was the maestro pushing the buttons behind the various high points of the Marley kids recent output (Damian’s Jamrock and Nas albums, Julian’s Grammy-nominated Awake, and both Stephen’s own solo albums). Add that to his contributions to some of the best tracks from Ziggy’s heyday (91-99, in my opinion), and you can see why I’m writing this article.
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Best Albums of 2010

Ah yes, another no-name blogger weighing in on the best albums of the year. I know: you care. My Top Ten Albums of 2010 list contains 27 titles and includes live albums. It doesn’t contain a couple albums I probably loved and somehow forgot. Feel free to post your Top 10 of 2010 in the comments below.

THE BEST
The Roots – How I Got Over

Black Keys – Brothers

White Stripes – Under Great Northern Lights (live)

THE REST
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone

Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

Eminem – Recovery

Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives

Tom Petty – Mojo

Spoon – Transference

The Roots & John Legend – Wake Up

Robert Plant – Band of Joy

Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs

Neil Young – Le Noise

Frightened Rabbit – Winter of Mixed Drinks

Avett Brothers – Live Vol. 3 (live)

Jakob Dylan – Women and Country

Ryan Bingham – Junky Star

Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

Ray Lamontagne – God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

Big Boi – Sir Luscious Leftfoot

Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do

Eels – End Times

Black Crowes – Croweology

Derek Trucks Band – Roadsongs (live)

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues