The Year that was 2020 – Part 1 of 2

A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months

At first, the thought of writing a year in review type post didn’t look very appealing. After all, it’s safe to assume most of us can’t wait to kiss 2020 goodbye and erase it from our memories. This certainly describes my sentiments in many ways. But while the past 12 months brought unprecedented challenges, including for the music business, I think not all was doom and gloom. Initially, this was supposed to be one post. Then, it got longer and longer, so I decided to break it up in two parts. Here’s part 1

The good and the bad…

On the positive side, the music industry recorded rising revenue fueled by streaming. As Music Business Worldwide noted in September, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported a 5.6% year-over-over increase in total U.S. recorded music retail revenue to $5.6 billion for the first half of 2020. This included a 12% surge in streaming music revenue to $4.8 billion. If streaming kept that pace in the second half of the year, it would be up one billion year-over-year. However, according to this Billboard story from earlier this week, growth in streaming volume has stalled since the end of June.

At the same time, the concert business, the main source of income for most artists, is in the toilet. The Los Angeles Times recently reported America’s largest concert promoter Live Nation experienced a nosedive in revenue of 98% and 95% during the summer and fall, respectively. The same article also stated 90% of independent performance venues will close for good without government aid, while long-established venues like the Troubador in L.A. are hanging on but face an uncertain future. This doesn’t only put the livelihoods of many artists at risk but also of all the folks working at performance venues or whose job are otherwise tied to live entertainment.

New music kept coming out

Despite COVID-19, new music continued to be released throughout the year – lots of it. In fact, at least some of this activity can be explained by the pandemic. Artists who weren’t able to tour found themselves with more time on their hands to work on new material. New albums by Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney are just some of the examples that come to my mind in this context.

I’m happy new music was a major theme for my blog in 2020, more than ever before. As frequent visitors know, I’m not talking about music you can find in the present mainstream charts. As of this blog post, I reviewed more than 20 new albums. That’s only counting new original music, not other releases, such as new installments from Springsteen’s great live bootleg series or James Taylor’s cover album of the American songbook. Yes, while I know next to nothing about American standards, I did review that album and enjoyed listening to it!

Frankly, I could have reviewed more new albums. I didn’t. In addition to lack of time, part of the reason was because of Best of What’s New. This weekly recurring feature on newly released music, which I launched in March, focuses on songs rather than entire albums.

It’s gratifying to me that except for one time due to a death in my close family, I posted new installments each week, meaning I’ve been able to discover new music week after week I found decent enough to write about. Keep in mind this is the same guy who as recently as last year kept complaining how “terrible” contemporary music is! I forgot one important qualifier: Music that’s in the mainstream charts. Let’s take a look at some of the new music I wrote about over the past 12 months.

My favorite new albums

While it’s hard to narrow things down, from the 20-plus new albums I reviewed the four ones I feel most excited about are AC/DC/Power Up (released November 18), Walter Trout/Ordinary Madness (August 28), Norah Jones/Pick Me Up Off the Floor (June 12) and Ruby Turner/Love Was Here (January 24). Following is a tune from each:

AC/DC: Shot in the Dark (Power Up)

Shot in the Dark, the album’s great lead single, is classic AC/DC and makes you feel you just time-travelled back to 1980. Like all other tracks on Power Up, it was co-written by Angus Young and his older brother Malcolm Young during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. You can read more about Power Up here, a must listen to for AC/DC fans.

Walter Trout: Wanna Dance (Ordinary Madness)

I love Walter Trout, a no BS artist and decent guitarist who has lived through dramatic ups and downs. Perhaps, he’s the ultimate blues rock survivor! Here’s Wanna Dance. “I had Neil Young and Crazy Horse in mind when I wrote the tune,” Trout told American Songwriter. Dancing is a metaphor for enjoying and celebrating every moment in life, since We ain’t gonna live forever, as Trout sings. He knows all too well. This is one hell of a blues rocker! See here for more about Ordinary Madness.

Norah Jones: Flame Twin (Pick Me Up Off the Floor)

I had been aware and always liked Norah Jones and her piano-driven lounge style jazz for ,any years, but had never explored any of her albums. I’m glad Flame Twin from her seventh studio album Pick Me Up Off the Floor finally changed this. Written by Jones, the tune injects a dose of blues, which rarely if ever is a bad thing in my book. I also dig the Hammond B3 accents from Pete Remm who plays electric guitar as well. And, of course, there are Jones’ great soothing vocals and piano playing. Like other songs on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the tune was inspired by poetry. My review of this great album is here.

Ruby Turner: Don’t Cry Over Yesterday (Love Was Here)

Don’t Cry Over Yesterday was the track that made me listen to Love Was Here, a beautiful classic soul album by British soul, gospel and R&B vocalist Ruby Turner. I hadn’t heard of Turner before, even though she’s performed since 1983 and worked with other artists like Bryan FerrySteve WinwoodMick Jagger and UB40. “Discovering” great artists like her is part of the reason why I love music blogging. If you’re into ’70s style soul, I’d encourage you to check out this album, a true gem! You can read more about it here.

Other new 2020 studio releases I’d like to call out include McCartney III (Paul McCartney), Letter to You (Bruce Springsteen), Bless Your Heart (The Allman Betts Band), Hate for Sale (Pretenders), Rough and Rowdy Ways (Bob Dylan), Homegrown (Neil Young), Self-Made Man (Larkin Poe), Blues with Friends (Dion), Early Morning Rain (Steve Forbert) and El Dorado (Marcus King).

In part 2 of this post, I’m revisiting the Best of What’s New feature and concerts before wrapping things up with final thoughts.

Sources: Music Business Worldwide; Billboard; Los Angeles Times; Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

13 thoughts on “The Year that was 2020 – Part 1 of 2”

  1. The live venues…it’s just a shame. No telling how many have lost their lease because of what has gone on…
    I’m surprised at how many of the classic artists that has released albums. Dylan, Young, Springsteen, McCartney, Starr, AC/DC, and many more. I’m happy they did…Dylan being the biggest surprise to me.

    I’ve enjoyed your new feature Christian. I go to three to four blogs with newer music. It’s good to hear what is going on and I do like some of it. I probably couldn’t stomach the top 40 but the other I like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re definitely right about the havoc this pandemic has caused to live music. The prospect that so many performance venues may never come back is a tragedy.

      Amid all the doom and gloom, it was definitely nice to see that so much new music continued to come out. And you’re definitely right about the classic artists. As much as I love Paul McCartney, I have to say the standout to me are AC/DC. Their brand of kickass rock & roll is just awesome!

      I’m also happy to have come across many artists I had never heard of before. More about that in part 2. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan is probably mine…I didn’t think he would come out with another. AC/DC was good also and I am happy to hear them back again.

        I’m hoping once this is over some of the venues may come back….Have a good night Christian

        Liked by 1 person

    1. New Zealand has done a remarkable job in taking the virus seriously and making the tough decisions needed to get it under control. Action based on decisive leadership and science will always trump golf and fiction!

      As a lover of live music, it really hurts me to see what’s going on in the concert business. Many livelihoods are going to be destroyed, and I’m not only talking about musicians.

      At the same time, it worries me when I see folks on Facebook including musician and other friends continue to gather at venues for concerts. Yes, some of that has happened outdoors and with certain measures in place. Still, at a time when the virus raging out of control in this country, frankly, I think it’s crazy!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Our prime minister is a very good communicator but needs to deal with a few issues this term like crazily escalating house prices – we bought our current house for $263K in 2013 and it might sell for $650K now. Makes it real hard for young people to get into the market.

        My wife got me concert tickets for Christmas – no international acts so we’re going to a local act instead who gets to play multiple times at a big venue.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruby Turner und Jools Holland habe ich vor ein paar Jahren live erlebt: Sehr britischer und perfekt inszenierte Boogie-Abend mit einer starken weiblichen Stimme. Ruby steht eindeutig in der Tradition der grossen schwarzen Jazz- und Blues-Sängerinnen des letzten Jahrhunderts.

    Liked by 1 person

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