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.

LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!

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“He’s got a curly tongue and a curly tail, but mostly he’s got hate for sale” – Pretenders, “Hate For Sale”

Could any of us expected, this far down the line, this gift of a fabulous Pretenders’ album? I, for one, needed this record!

I was an early adopter on the Pretenders. Their seminal debut album Pretenders came out when I was in high school and I bought it immediately. I think of the album cover as iconic. I have always considered the Pretenders to be a punk band, but since their first record didn’t come out until 1979 in the UK and 1980 in the US (and I’ll admit I thought it was 1978) perhaps they were post-punk or even New Wave or Next Wave? Labels be damned in this case. Ohioan guitarist/singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde was living in London in the 70s immersed in the punk scene when she formed the original Pretenders’ with James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass) and her once and future drummer Martin Chambers (if I can sneak in a T.H. White reference).

The songs on that first album still blow me away. The Kinks’ cover, “Stop Your Sobbing” was the first single, but that isn’t the track that sticks out in my mind – although it is great. The opening salvo “Precious” was a call to arms. When she sang in “Tattooed Love Boys” the lyric “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for…” I was smitten. “Kid” and “Mystery Achievement” remain favorites today. Although I’m going to admit – with a touch of embarrassment – the song that drew me in was the big hit single, “Brass In Pocket,” an admittedly “pop” tune.

There’s a reason that song hooked me. I was a sophomore in high school and in my Study Hall (aka “free period”) there was a girl who was a senior. She was tall with long legs and dirty blonde hair that always seemed to be in a fashionable mess. As a lowly sophomore I never had the temerity to even look her in the eye let alone speak to her, she was a vaunted senior, high above me socially – such is the fear and inexperience of youth. There were two sides of Study Hall, the silent side for well, studying, and then the social side. I know this can’t be true but I have this memory that they played music on the social side of Study Hall. While it may be apocryphal, I have this memory of her walking toward me in an angora sweater, to her gaggle of friends – who I viewed with a mix of awe and fear – while that song played in the background…its like the whole world slowed down… My memory is like a scene from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. There’s just something about a strong woman like Chrissie Hynde singing and that senior who was also pretty damn strong that stuck in my psyche. Paging Dr. Freud.

The Pretenders’ success continued on their strong sophomore effort, creatively named Pretenders II, in 1981. “Message Of Love” and “The Adultress” continued the riff rocking theme established on the first album. Especially commendable is the guitar playing of James Honeyman-Scott. Then tragedy struck. The band fired Pete Farndon because of his drug addiction…namely heroin. I read somewhere that Honeyman-Scott was the one who insisted on Farndon’s dismissal but who really knows outside the band? Ironically, two days after sacking Farndon, Honeyman-Scott died from what Wikipedia calls “cocaine-intolerance,” which sounds like an O.D. Less than a year later Farndon drowned in his own bathtub. That’s Allman Brothers level tragedy. And then, as the saying goes, there were two – Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers.

Somehow, Hynde and Chambers were able to shoulder on. It took three years, but the follow up, 1984’s Learning To Crawl with Robbie McIntosh manning the guitar and Malcolm Foster on bass may have been their biggest album. It had the huge songs “Back On the Chain Gang,” and “Middle of the Road.” The latter song finds Chrissie confessing, “I’m going home, I’m tired as Hell, I’m not the cat I used to be, I’ve gotta kid I’m thirty-three.” I have to admit, after that stunning success, I sort of lost track of the Pretenders. I was always aware they were out there. I’d hear the occasional hit on the radio like “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” but I wasn’t paying the same level of attention to them. I also knew that there had been numerous line-up changes, including Chambers coming and going. When they were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame – Chambers thanked the “drummers who’d been keeping my seat warm” and Chrissie quickly jumped to the mic and said, “I had to remain true to the music.”

It would be easy to describe Hate For Sale as the Pretender’s best album since Learning to Crawl or quite possibly since Pretenders II. Its really that good – in this case, believe the hype. However, that does discount some of the fine music the Pretenders have put out since the early, salad days. Their last album, 2016’s Alone produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach felt more like a Chrissie Hynde solo project. The record companies like to press artists into “staying with the brand” and force people like Billy Corgan or Chrissie Hynde into putting out solo albums under the moniker of the old band. However, if you go back to 2006’s Breaking Up the Concrete you’ll discover a great Pretenders’ record. Despite Chambers being replaced by famous session drummer Jim Keltner, Concrete felt more like a “band” record.

That band feel carries the day on Hate For Sale. It’s really nice to see Martin Chambers back on the drum kit for the first time in ages – although he does play drums on tour, its nice to see him back in the studio with Hynde. I think they have a chemistry that can’t be duplicated. Joining Hynde and Chambers are James Walbourne on guitar, Nick Wilkinson on bass with Carwyn Ellis on keyboards. Hynde’s wit and wisdom are fully present in these lyrics. What I really like is that she cowrote all the songs with Walbourne which again, gives this more of a full band feel. The rockers are energetic and punchy. The ballads are beautiful and wistful. This is truly a complete Pretenders’ record without a dud on it.

The title track opens the record. They actually have a false start that they kept on the song. It sounds like a band jamming, losing the thread but being tight enough to pull it back together. I thought it was kinda cool. “Hate For Sale” is punky, energetic with a great riff. It’s the perfect kick off to this album… and even has some nice harmonica. “Turf Accountant Daddy” is another strong rocker with a big riff and galloping gait. “I Didn’t Know When To Stop,” with crashing drums and guitars (and again, harmonica) has a great guitar solo and simply rocks. I also liked the atmospheric “Junkie Walk,” with its fuzzed out guitars and heavy riff. I actually added that one to our Heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.

“The Buzz” was the first single from the album and it’s a great pop-rock tune. Hynde provides us with her typical great vocal on the track. The woman is a legend. It’s their best single in a long, long while. “Lightning Man” is a great reggae tune. I saw the Pretenders open for the Stones in Chicago years ago and Hynde said on stage, “The Stones have brought us a lot of great things but one of the best was spreading reggae to a bigger audience.” The Pretenders certainly deliver on this track – I put it on my Rockers Playing Reggae list, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” may be my favorite track here. It just sticks in my head. It’s got a great rockabilly feel and Bo Diddley beat. I find myself mumbling “I didn’t want to be this lonely but losing you was a relief…” Ah, mixed emotions. “Maybe Love Is In NYC” is another bang up track. With all of these great songs, this record should be as big as Learning to Crawl. 

There are the classic, Chrissie Hynde ballads, sung with full emotion. “You Can’t Hurt A Fool” has another great Hynde vocal. “Crying In Public” is a heart wrenching track with Hynde singing over piano. Ballads aren’t for everybody, but I dig these two. The Pretenders do everything they do well perfectly on this album.

Hate For Sale is the kind of late-career gem that B&V was created to extoll. It’s just so great to hear a classic band pull it together and release something this vital and alive this far into their career. I’d love to see some of this played live, but alas, pandemic. I urge every rock fan out there – or Pretenders’ fans out there – to check out this rewarding album.

Be Safe!