B&V’s Best of 2020: New LPs And Live/Vault/Archival Releases, Bad Year/Good Music

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I can’t believe 2020 is almost over. Most years I blink and the year is gone. I can’t really say that about this year. In a matter of two days I’ll be scribbling a “1” over the “0” in the date column on my checks… “Oh it’s 2021 not 2020, sorry.” Yes, I still use checks… you kids and your “apps.” At least this year, in Christmas cards, I didn’t have to read everybody’s not-so-humble bragging about what they did in 2020. This year we’re all just glad we survived. While 2020 was a long slow slog in most areas, it was actually quite a nice year for music. I find myself, in my prior year end retrospectives quoting Don Henley, “It was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock n roll.” I certainly can’t say that this year. I will say there is one glaring exception to my 2020 rosy music view: concerts. I miss live music so much I can’t stand it. I’m hopeful, like I never was at the beginning of 2020 about anything, that in 2021 I will be standing in a darkened room in front of a band with my hands in the air, screaming wildly. If Springsteen and the E Street Band’s SNL performance is any indication… I think these musicians are ready to go and are going to come out firing once “the coast is clear” as they say.

It was, if I may say so, a great year at BourbonAndVinyl. I want to say a big Thank You to all the readers, commenters, and followers out there – both those joined us this year and to all of you have been around a while as well. I started this thing with a dialogue with fellow music (and bourbon) lovers in mind and this year that concept came to fruition. With musicians off the road this year, so many acts chose to put out new music or cull through their archives. I found myself writing a lot more than in previous years… sorry if that was a little overwhelming… I get excited about music and I have to share. If you’ve enjoyed B&V this year – tell a friend. All music lovers are welcome. Hopefully I’ve turned you on to something you might have missed which is our goal here at B&V.

There were huge losses this year in rock n roll, too many to enumerate. I was saddened to see Bill Withers pass away this year. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is still one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been hearing “Lovely Day” a lot on commercials lately. Glad to see Bill get some recognition. I was rocked this year by the loss of two titans of rock n roll in the B&V universe. Losing drummer/lyricist Neil Peart of Rush really rocked me. I can still remember the first time I air-drummed to 2112 in junior high school. Rush was so huge here in the heartland, Peart’s loss reverberated through everybody. Making things worse, this year we lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever strap on the instrument, Eddie Van Halen. That one left a mark. Van Halen’s music is such an integral part of my listening as young man it’s almost a part of who I am. Hard, edgy and yet funny at the same time. I loved that band from Van Halen to Fair Warning to 1984 to For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Eddie’s guitar playing was always the price of admission for me. He redefined the instrument and that doesn’t happen much, perhaps once every generation or so. His presence, warmth and smile will be missed.

So plentiful was music in 2020 it’s hard to think of an artist who didn’t put out something new or something from the archives. I barely scratched the surface this year. Elton John put out a box set entitled Jewel Box that was a 10 hour journey through demo’s, deep album tracks and rarities. It was great, albeit mellow, but I felt it was for fans only so I didn’t write about it. The King, Elvis Presley put out a 4-disc box Elvis In Nashville (clearly a play on the title his big LP Elvis In Memphis) that collected all of the country/country rock tracks that Elvis recorded over the course of 3 days in Nashville in 1970. Those songs made up the bulk of three albums including the wonderful Elvis Country. The first two discs had all the actual songs, without any studio sweetening but with the second two discs being demo’s – I love the studio chatter of Elvis hanging with musicians – it felt like a fans only kinda thing. It’s a rare year where I can pick/choose the stuff I write about… skipping Elton and Elvis, wow what a year.

There were some fun singles too. The Black Crowes re-released their Christmas classic “Dirty Santa.” I can only hope the brothers Robinson will record a new album in 2021. B&V favs Starcrawler released their cover of Petty’s “I Need To Know” with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell joining in. Greta Van Fleet released their first single “My Way, Now” from their upcoming album… All this is points toward a good 2021!

Here are my favorites from 2020. The first list is new music, stuff that musicians newly recorded. Below, I’ll furnish my list of vault/archive/live albums – where artists either went back and dug out previously recorded material or compilations and also any live albums that caught my attention. I wrote about a lot more than I’m listing here, these are just my favorites. They aren’t in any particular ranked order, it’s pretty random. Enjoy!

B&V’s Favorite New Albums of 2020

  1. Ozzy Osbourne, Ordinary Man – Ozzy returned after a decade’s absence with a great new record. With producer/guitar whizz Andrew Watt helming the project and RHCP’s Chad Smith on drums, GnR bassist Duff McKagan on bass as the backing band, you knew this would be great. Cameos by Slash and Elton John were icing on the cake, Review: Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Ordinary Man’ – A Simply Extraordinary Album!.
  2. Pearl Jam, Gigaton – Like Ozzy, it had been a long time since these guys had released anything (7 years). I was a touch lukewarm on this record when it came out. It is definitely a “grower.” The more I listen to it the more I like it. The second half of the record gets a little mellow but those are some of my favorite songs. I’d love to see these guys live again, it’s been years, Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts.
  3. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters – It had been 8 years since genius Fiona Apple had released an album – I’m seeing a trend here in 2020 – but Fetch The Bolt Cutters was worth the wait. I think it may be the perfect “lockdown” album, thematically at least, Review: Fiona Apple, ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’ – Genius Unleashed.
  4. Bob Dylan, Rough And Rowdy Ways – Another artist with a huge gap since his last studio record – 8 years. Dylan had been releasing Sinatra cover LPs for much of that time so it was nice to hear self-penned stuff again. It was preceded by the mesmerizing 18 minute long “Murder Most Foul.” Great, late-period Dylan, Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career.
  5. Pretenders, Hate For Sale – Original drummer Martin Chambers returns and he and Chrissie Hynde deliver the goods on this punchy, rocking album, LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!.
  6. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Letter To You – Bruce contemplates his own mortality, inspired by the death of the last surviving member of his first band, the Castiles. I loved Western Stars, his 70s southern California noir but it’s great to hear him back with the E Street Band, Review: Springsteen’s ‘Letter To You’ – Contemplating Mortality On E Street.
  7. AC/DC, Power Up – I would have never thought Angus would be able to pull Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams back into the fold and record another spectacular album. Power Up may be my pick for album of the year – if I still picked albums of the year… Review: AC/DC’s Spectacular Return, ‘Power Up’.
  8. The Dirty Knobs, Wreckless Abandon – Former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ guitarist and “co-captain” and current member of Fleetwood Mac, Mike Campbell’s side project finally releases their debut album. There are a lot of echos of Petty here but make no mistake, this is a guitar album. It’s a lot of fun, Review: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”.
  9. Chris Cornell, Nobody Sings Like You Anymore, Vol 1 – I was tempted to put this in the “vault” list but this is all unreleased stuff that was recorded and sequenced by Cornell. He obviously planned to release it but alas didn’t live to do so. All well chosen covers, this LP underscores what a tragedy it was when his voice was silenced, Review: Chris Cornell Posthumous Release, ‘No One Sings Like You Anymore, Vol. 1’ – A Nice Surprise From An Old Friend.
  10. Paul McCartney, McCartney III – A homespun gem more in the manner of McCartney than McCartney II. This felt like a really welcome Christmas gift, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem.

B&V’s Favorite Vault/Archive/Live Albums of 2020 

  1. Neil Young, Homegrown – Another brilliant 70s era “forgotten” album from Neil. This guy has more unreleased classic albums than most artists have actual albums. This is included in the upcoming (for general release, it’s already been released to collectors) box set Archives II. If you can’t spring for the whole box set, this is worth picking up on its own, Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years.
  2. Liam Gallagher, Unplugged – The former lead singer of one of the Rock Chick’s all time favorite bands Oasis, Liam Gallagher finally redeems himself in the Unplugged genre with a great little live album, Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)’ – Unplugged Redemption?.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup Deluxe – The Stones revisit one of their sleazy-rock 70s classics. Light on bonus studio stuff it contains the great live concert recording Brussels Affair, a must for Stones fans, especially you Mick Taylor-era nuts out there, Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set.
  4. Tom Petty, Wildflowers…and All The Rest – Petty’s vision of Wildflowers as a double LP finally realized. Some lovely stuff was left in the can, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited.
  5. Prince, Sign O The Times Deluxe – Prince’s creative peak? Maybe… There are so many great tunes that never saw the light of day in this box, it’s perhaps his last masterpiece, Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches.
  6. Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary – In my review I quibbled about the lack of unreleased studio tracks (really just one new track) and disjointed live stuff, but this is such a landmark album, everyone should check this out. Leave it to Ozzy to appear on both these lists in 2020, Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?.
  7. Lou Reed, New York – One of Lou Reed’s true masterworks. If you don’t have the album, you need this. If you do, you need this for the live tracks – the entire album played live, Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’.
  8. U2, All You Can’t Leave Behind 20th Anniversary Box – An album with special meaning for the Rock Chick and I… I already had the bonus tracks but if you don’t they’re definitely worth a listen. The concert included from the tour, in Boston is incendiary, Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’.
  9. Pearl Jam, MTV Unplugged – Only 7 songs long but soooo worth it. I’ve waited and hoped for years that Pearl Jam would finally release this spectacular performance, recorded shortly after their debut album. This is such a legendary performance…Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!).
  10. Keith Richards, Live At the Hollywood Palladium – Keef takes his wonderful backing band, The X-Pensive Winos out on the road. This expanded edition gives us three additional tracks recorded that night. It’s just a great, live album, Review: Keith Richards + The X-Pensive Winos, ‘Live At the Hollywood Palladium’ Box Set.

If there is an album I missed on these list in your opinion, please share in the comments. I’m always open to new music and I do hate to think I missed something…

I hope everybody held it together during this rough and tumble 2020. Hopefully our little B&V corner of the rock n roll universe helped keep you moving down the road this year. I wish everyone a happy, safe New Year. I don’t think we’re out of the dark yet, but I think there is light at the end of the tunnel… and with any luck, it’s not an oncoming train.

It’s a dark ride, take care of each other out there. I’m certainly looking forward to a better 2021.

Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?

I recently wrote a piece reflecting back on my first Led Zeppelin LP purchase (LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’). In it, I discussed the uphill battle I faced trying to catch up with all the great music that had come out in the twenty years before my “rock awakening” in the late 70s. It’s not like I could stream back then. I was busy buying what was current and trying to selectively and quickly build an album collection of all those great, older records at the same time. I will admit, the emphasis of my purchases back then was more slanted toward what was current. I had the Stones’ Some Girls, Van Halen’s debut LP and ZZ Top’s Deguello, to name but a few. I didn’t realize it at the time, but most of what I was drawn to in the early stages was blues based. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I even had the Blues Brothers’ (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) LP, Briefcase Full of Blues. That was a great backing band – Steve Cropper and Matt “Guitar” Murphy on guitars. 

I don’t know why but I was very slow on the uptake when it came to a genre that I absolutely love now, Heavy Metal. Certainly the Van Halen album I had qualified as Heavy Metal, but not much else in the record crate really came close. Metal was where the link between blues and rock and roll was permanently severed, so maybe that was what caused my early hesitancy. My mother had a friend who I’ll call, “Mrs. Smith,” whose kids were the same age as my brother and I. My brother had been buying music for several years prior to my getting into music and I was always taping stuff from his collection. It was a cheap way to build my own music collection. I remember taping and subsequently wearing out Hot Rocks, the Stones greatest hits package that my brother owned. Mrs. Smith heard I was monastically up in my room taping any music I could get my hands on and kindly volunteered to bring a stack of her kids’ records over for me to tape. I’m sure my mom was down in the kitchen complaining about me being “music crazy,” when I should have been, in her mind, “girl crazy.” Mom probably wasn’t wrong. 

A few days later when Mrs Smith dropped by, and she always seemed to be dropping by, she had a stack of records with her. I thought I was open to anything and hauled them up to my room with some blank cassettes. I started glancing at some of these records and I will say, they gave me pause. I recall scratching my head when I looked at the cover art for the first album in the pile, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: 

“What the Hell is this? Is that a 666? What is going on at the Smith house?” I wondered aloud. Anybody who knew me when I was younger would probably tell you, I was a bit of a wild child. Actually people would probably say that about me now as well. Most people would have assumed I’d see that album cover with its ghoulish images and been all in on Sabbath. Oddly, I had enough exposure to the Catholic church that the whole thing freaked me out a bit. I’m not proud of that. When I dropped the needle on the LP, I quickly stopped taping the album. The music sounded like an invading army. The lead singer, whoever that was (I had no idea who this Ozzy Osbourne was), sounded like he was in pain. The next record was Judas Priest’s British Steel and I’m sad to admit, it didn’t fare much better to my young, tender ears. It was too fast, too hard. I don’t think I taped any of those albums that day. 

As fate would have it, only a few months later I was in the car and heard this great track, “Neon Nights” on the car radio. Who is that? That’s a great track. I mean, this couldn’t have been more than six months after Mrs. Smith’s album visit and now I was into metal? I bought that great Black Sabbath LP, Heaven And Hell, their first with amazing vocalist Ronnie James Dio almost immediately after that (Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era). The cover art on that album didn’t inspire fear in me… it made me smile. Oh, how soon I was corrupted! I’m not even sure I realized that I’d held an LP from the “classic” line-up of Black Sabbath merely six months earlier. In fact, with the change of vocalists I’m not sure I even knew they were the same band. Dio was so much more…operatic than Ozzy and I was a clueless teenager. 

Ozzy, mired in alcoholism and drug addiction had been fired from Black Sabbath. Living in a hotel, drinking and drugging, a record company guy Don Arden sent his daughter Sharon out to sign Ozzy. She would later become his manager… and his wife. Ozzy quickly formed a band that was supposed to have been a new group named Blizzard of Ozz. The record company wanted to call it “Sons of Sabbath,” which Ozzy rejected. Somehow Ozzy found one of the greatest guitarists ever, Randy Rhoads to lead the band (Artist Lookback – Ozzy & Randy Rhoads: A Match Made In 80s Metal Heaven). The guy played nothing like Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. He was powerful yet nimble… more in the Eddie Van Halen style. He also recruited Bob Daisley to play bass and Lee Kerslake (who just passed away, sadly) to play drums. Rhoads and Daisley wrote a majority of the songs that would appear on Blizzard of Ozz while Ozzy continued drinking and drugging (and mostly sleeping under the drum riser during rehearsals). The results were nothing short of spectacular. Blizzard of Ozz became the name of the album, not the band, and when released it was released as an Ozzy solo album. He was the name, but it’s a shame they couldn’t hold the band concept together. 

I was over at a friend’s house when he put Blizzard of Ozz on his mom’s stereo. I had heard “Crazy Train,” and for whatever reason didn’t take it seriously. Through out the years I was guilty of not taking Metal acts, songs or albums seriously, a malady I’m gladly over now. All I knew about Ozzy was this “wild and crazy guy” act. Yeah, we get it Ozzy, you’re crazy. But then I heard the album. It is simply one of the landmark Metal LPs of all time. “I Don’t Know,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Crazy Train” were radio staples and stone cold classics. “Goodbye to Romance” was a surprisingly great ballad, meant as a farewell to his former bandmates in Sabbath. It’s the deeper tracks that hooked me though… “Suicide Solution” about the late Bon Scott drinking himself to death was great had showed some depth. “No Bone Movies” was actually an anti-porn song. “Revelation (Mother Earth)” is probably the first Heavy Metal track about the environment. After hearing the album at my friend’s place… yes, I taped the album. Sadly, my first actual Ozzy LP purchase was to be the follow-up, the equally majestic Diary of a Madman. 

I find it hard to believe that it’s been forty years since this legendary album came out. In that time the LP has seen its share of controversy. Sharon Osbourne being the ghoul that she is tried to minimize Daisley and Kerslake’s contribution – going so far as to release the album with new bass/drum parts recorded by other musicians. A sin she fixed in the 30th anniversary edition. Daisley had to sue to get credit as a songwriter. Both Daisley and Kerslake helped write Diary of a Madman and played on the LP – but weren’t credited on the album sleeve, they weren’t even in the photos. Thanks Sharon. Those four guys – Rhoads, Daisley, Kerslake and Ozzy had an amazing chemistry. It would have been nice to see what would have happened if it’d been allowed to continue… Sharon’s greed and Randy’s untimely death will keep us all wondering it seems. 

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy had released an “Expanded Edition.” A momentous album of this stature deserves a big 40th anniversary package… If you don’t already own this album – by all means, purchase it immediately! However, if you do, and most of us do own this record, the question remains, is there anything in this package that would drive you to rebuy it? I have to say, no. There is a B-side track, “Looking At You, Looking At Me,” that’s been out for years that everyone should check out. There’s a live track “You Said It All” that was released previously on an Ozzy live EP. There’s a couple of studio outtakes that were included in the 30th Anniversary Edition. Then there is a handful of six live tracks from the Blizzard tour. They’re nice tracks but its all a bit disjointed. There just isn’t that much new material or compelling reasons to rebuy this 40th Anniversary package. It seems like this is Ghoul Sharon’s latest cash-in. I would have hoped they’d have an entire show from the Blizzard tour to include here, the way the Stones included Brussels Affair in the latest Goats Head Soup box. That would have been worth the price of admission here. I hear Daisley has some tapes but Sharon didn’t want to have to pay for them… I think she’s hurting Ozzy’s legacy. 

Regardless of Sharon’s shady financial motives, Blizzard of Ozz remains one of my favorite Ozzy albums and one of my favorite albums period. This is one to play extremely loud… maybe with a pint of something strong to nip at while you’re flying your Devil Horn hands in the air! 

Cheers! And be safe out there! RAWK from an acceptable, safe distance folks.