best-americana-albums-2020

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The 25 Best Americana Albums of 2020

In 2020, Americana artists empathetically dealt with the things that bind us together and keep us apart. The albums on this list encourage hope for the future based on a belief in the human spirit.

20. The Jayhawks – XOXO (Sham / Thirty Tigers)

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Previous Jayhawks’ records primarily featured the work of leader Gary Louris (or if one goes back far enough Louris and Mark Olson). XOXO features significant contributions from every longstanding member in the band. Each one is in charge of how his/her songs were arranged and recorded, as well as their parts on the co-written material. The album’s title was intended as a nod to Elliot Smith’s sensitive masterwork XO. Indeed, songs such as “Homecoming” and “This Forgotten Town” would fit right in with Smith’s delicate yet noisy oeuvre. XOXO does not have a cohesive theme as much as a consistent sunshiny tone in the land of gloom: the silver lining to the dark cloud. Even the sad songs seem to contain a wistful smile. We may be “Living in a Bubble” due to COVID-19, where Big Brother and the television news seem to control how we see the world when we are afraid to go outside, but things could be worse. “Life may be full of trouble”, but it beats the alternative. And there are ways to escape and find our sanity, if only momentarily. – Steve Horowitz

19. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions (Southeastern)

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Reunions, the seventh studio album from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is a powerful and reflective release. Whereas the album was created on the heels of the anxiety caused by commercial and audience expectations, Reunions lacks any notes of trepidation. Rather, Isbell and the 400 Unit revel in strength and collectivity. That album is fueled by explosive solos and back-and-forths, finding the musicians garnering inspiration in each other’s talents. This sense of unity is also channeled outward. “What’ve I Done to Help” ponders the role of the individual, especially as guilt and hopelessness seem so overpowering. More so, on “Be Afraid” he defends the use of his cultural platform and music to trumpet his political beliefs. For Isbell, the strength he demonstrates now is the result of his struggles. Contending with sobriety, parenthood, and childhood trauma, Isbell delivers his lyrics as a testament affirming that trials often lead to empowerment. The message is universal and a poignant rumination in 2020’s wake. – Elisabeth Woronzoff

18. The Northern Belle – We Wither, We Bloom (Die with Your Boots On)

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One of Americana’s biggest head-turners in 2020 hails from Norway. The Northern Belle became a blip on the Americana radar this year with We Wither, We Bloom. Navigating rocking, high-octane arrangements with soaring crescendos and crisp, tasty guitar tones and harmonies, the septet have often drawn comparison to 1970s-era Fleetwood Mac and others that fall within the “desert rock” aesthetic. The band ultimately creates an atmosphere all their own thanks to the efforts of powerhouse frontwoman Stine Andreassen acting as the soulful staple to their sound. Expressive, ebullient, and instantly impressionable, We Wither, We Bloom is one slick production that tastefully elevates Americana further onto the pop stage. – Jonathan Frahm

17. Charley Crockett – Welcome to Hard Times (Son of Davy)

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Charley Crockett’s old school style country-western blues songs take place in the present with an overlay of the past to show the connections between the modern world and its historical antecedents. His lyrics feature such tropes as bad outlaws, fast horses, gruesome killings, deceitful lovers, and such. Crockett’s also a romantic who peppers his tunes with words like “darlin'”, “my dear”, “honey”, and other sweet endearments even though he knows his relationships with lovers will never last and end with betrayal or even murder. The melodic accompaniment often features strummed banjos, steel guitars, saloon piano playing, and other past affectations. Crockett’s tracks could be obscure folk songs sung around the campfire dressed up for recording, except they are not. Crockett wrote all the material except for Red Lane’s “Blackjack County Chain”, a violent chain-gang/revenge song. Lane’s song fits right in with the other 12 cuts in terms of its evocation of good and evil and how the line between them is often grey and fuzzy. – Steve Horowitz

16. William Prince – Gospel First Nation (Glassnote)

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Observing the general discord caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, William Prince looked inward to find healing. Gospel First Nation is the culmination of Prince’s inner reflection, reflecting on the crossroads between two seemingly unrelated topics: Christianity and growing up in the First Nation. Gospel First Nation is a firsthand account of Prince’s childhood, recalling the roots of his faith and culture to examine how they inform each other. It’s best told in the album’s title track, penned by Prince, but exists throughout the album’s entirety.

Countrified takes on “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, “Does Jesus Care?”, and his own father’s “This One I Know” round out Prince’s worldview. Altogether, Gospel First Nation intrigues with its expression of an Indigenous, Christian upbringing, but keeps listeners going with its expression of serenity and hope in such a time of uncertainty. Prince never preaches to his audience, earnestly expressing his faith in the way that others may think that they exhibit it, but so often fall off the mark. – Jonathan Frahm

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