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: Mike Campbell’s New Band The Dirty Knobs, ‘Wreckless Abandon”

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While I could – on a very personal level – argue that 1994-1995 were my worst years, I believe I’m safe in saying that on a more universal level 2020 has been the worst year of all our lives. With all the general suck-iness and downright awful shit that has happened in 2020 I have to admit… and I don’t say this about many years… it’s been a great year for rock and roll. I looked back at some of my old “best of” lists for past years and more than once I fell into quoting Don Henley, “it was a pretty good year for fashion, a lousy year for rock and roll.” I certainly can’t say that about 2020. Unable to tour, many bands from AC/DC to Springsteen & the E Street Band put together new albums. If there wasn’t new music, many artists from Neil Young to the Stones put out great stuff from the archives. I’ve been so awash in new music (or vault stuff) that I’ve found myself writing twice a week this fall… which is probably better for me than the folks who actually read B&V… 😉

Lately, one vault release I find myself returning to most often is Tom Petty’s box set for his landmark album Wildflowers, entitled All The Rest, Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited. It’s an easy box to get caught up in. While Wildflowers was a Petty “solo” album, just like all his other “solo” stuff, Petty’s “co-pilot” and main collaborator was guitarist Mike Campbell. Campbell can play pretty much any stringed instrument he chooses to pick up. I remember the first time I got to see Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert. It was June 26th of 1985 on the Southern Accents tour and man was I blown away. In retrospect the Confederate flag as a back drop was an awful mistake… I’m not sure we all understood the bad symbolic importance of that particularly odious flag. Also, Petty had those awful lamb chop sideburns. I heard his wife at the time offered to donate money at Live-Aid if he’d shave those off. I’m with her on that, I promised my sainted grandmother I’d never grow facial hair, but I digress. That hot June night in 1985 I was mesmerized by not only Petty but the tall, skinny guy with the curly hair standing to his right, Mike Campbell. When Campbell played the guitar solo on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” I almost swooned and I’m a pretty rugged guy or at least I like to think so.

That concert was the first time Campbell’s greatness really crystalized for me. I recognized him from, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, watching videos on MTV. I had most of Petty’s back catalog at the time and saw that Campbell co-wrote a lot of the best songs but I’m not sure I realized what a force of nature he was until actually seeing him “light the sky on fire” as my friend Stormin’ says. I quickly realized that night, all those great riffs (like on “You Got Lucky” a synth laden track where the guitar is the star) were courtesy of Mike Campbell. People talk about the great collaborators in rock and roll: Paul McCartney and John Lennon or Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but people ought to speak more about Petty and Campbell. I don’t think you could find two people with more synergy than those two guys. I’m not sure Petty realized what a truly valuable collaborator Campbell was until Mike co wrote “Boys of Summer” with Don Henley. It was a bigger hit than anything off of Southern Accents and at that point I think Petty decided to expand Campbell’s creative input. I’m just guessing on that. Rolling Stone magazine has Campbell at number 79 on their list of 100 best guitarists and frankly I think that’s low. Way low.

I wondered what would happen to Mike Campbell after the tragic death of Tom Petty (RIP Tom Petty, 1950 – 2017, A Devastating Loss: The Composer of the Soundtrack to My Life Is Gone). Mike is truly one of the most talented, important guys in rock and roll and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s an “unsung” hero, he should be getting more attention than he does. It was with some surprise that I heard that Campbell joined Fleetwood Mac after they’d cut ties with Lindsey Buckingham (Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way). Campbell’s long association with Stevie Nicks probably made that a no brainer. I was excited to hear Campbell talk about playing some of that old Peter Green stuff from the Mac. Alas, it doesn’t look like this latest configuration of Fleetwood Mac will be doing any recording. Instead, Campbell has released a new album with a band he’s had as a side project for quite a while, the Dirty Knobs. I love the name. This isn’t Campbell’s first band on the side… The Rock Chick discovered and played me the great LP by the Blue Stingrays. It’s a surf rock gem, Friday Night Music Exploration With the Rock Chick: Blue Stones, Blue Stingrays, although Campbell and the rest of the Heartbreakers chose to remain anonymous on that album.

In the run up to the release of the Dirty Knobs’ new album, Wreckless Abandon, Campbell had said that this was a heavier, more raw-boned album than the Heartbreakers stuff. While that is mostly true, so alike were Campbell and Petty in their style and approach that it’s hard not to listen to this and hear an echo of the Heartbreakers. Well, the Heartbreakers without the keyboards, this is a guitar record. It would be easy to think of this as a recording of stuff that Campbell would turn over to Petty as a demo tape, not that there is any sort of an unfinished aspect to any of this great music. Even the Rock Chick said, upon playing this album, “Wow, he really sounds like Petty.” The Dirty Knobs, besides Campbell on vocals/guitar are guitarist Jason Sinay, drummer Matt Laug, and bassist Lance Morrison. One of them sings with Campbell on “Loaded Gun,” but I’m not sure who.

The album begins with the first single and title track, “Wreckless Abandon.” The track starts with a sitar and then the band kicks in with a great rocking groove. I will admit up-front that Campbell’s voice is a little thin and perhaps even reedy in a few places. I still like the vocals on this record. I know a lot of people get nervous when the guitar player steps up to the microphone. A lot of people head for the beer line when Keith Richards gets to the mic, but his tracks are always my favorites on Stones’ albums. I know that only I feel that way… well, me and my old roommate Drew. “Wreckless Abandon” is the kind of great rock and roll you just don’t hear anymore, sadly.

The band quickly goes country-rock for the duet with Chris Stapleton on “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” It’s a down home bunch of fun. It’s right back to the rock and roll for “Sugar.” “Sugar” is probably the heaviest song on this album. It reminds me a touch of “Honey Bee” by Petty. I love the lascivious chorus, “She’s got the sugar, oh yes she does…” As I tell the Rock Chick, I didn’t marry you because you could cook… ahem. “Southern Boy” is another great rocker. I’m considering adding it to our playlist about trains (Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”). “I Still Love You” is another heavy rocking track with some big riffs. I’ll say it again for emphasis, this is a guitar album!

Perhaps my favorite song on the record is, perhaps not surprisingly, the ballad “Irish Girl.” I love the acoustic guitar and harmonica. I had a girlfriend in college who told me one time that I was always drawn to ballads because I was a basically sad person but you can’t always trust your girlfriends. Certainly not that woman… Another personal favorite is a song that runs through my head every day at work – “Fuck That Guy.” Sure it’s funny and Campbell mostly speaks the lyrics vs singing them, but it’s just such an appropriate song for these days when civility has died. The world weary manner that Campbell says the title…”yeah fuck that guy” is priceless. “Don’t Knock The Boogie” is another spoken word track and is a bluesy tribute to John Lee Hooker. It’s really just an excuse to let Campbell riff and I’m ok with that. “Ana Lee” is another sweet, acoustic ballad. “Loaded” is another heavy rocker. This album is just loaded with guitar, as you would expect from Campbell.

If you’re like me and you’re missing Tom Petty, Wreckless Abandon may just scratch that itch. But more broadly than that, if you like guitar, riff-rock this is your album. There’s a lot of rock and roll but there’s also some blues, ballads and a little bit of country rock. It’s basically all the things Mike Campbell does well which turns out to be everything. Enjoy this one with the volume turned up to 11.

Cheers, and as always be safe out there folks. It’s a dark ride, take care of each other this holiday season, which for me is a season to be endured.