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

Larkin Poe Largely Stick to Their Great Old Guns on New Album

“Self Made Man” mostly features sister act’s familiar brand of roots-oriented blues rock

While breaking new ground can be exciting, sometimes it makes sense to stick to your old guns, especially if your fire power is as mighty as the raw and high-energy roots-oriented blues rock by Larkin Poe. And that’s pretty much what sisters Megan Lovell and Rebecca Lovell have decided to do on their fifth full-length studio album Self Made Man, which appeared today.

I really dig Larkin Poe, so if you’ve visited the blog in recent weeks, chances are you’ve seen some of my previous posts. If you’re new to this band, which at its core is the Lovell sisters, and would like some background, you can find it here. Without further ado, let’s get to some music.

The album kicks off with what essentially is the title track: She’s a Self Made Man. Co-written by the sisters, this tasty blues rocker nicely sets the stage for the record. Typically, Rebecca takes the role of the front woman, providing lead vocals and guitar, while her 2-year-older sister Megan plays smoking lap steel fill-ins and sings backing vocals. Here’s the official video.

I’m going to skip the next three tunes – Holy Ghost Fire, Keep Diggin’ and Back Down South – since I already previously covered them here, here and here. Together with the title track, each of these songs already appeared as singles leading up to the release of the album. Instead, here’s Tears of Blue to Gold, another co-write by the sisters, which illustrates Larkin Poe isn’t a pure breed southern blues rock one-trick pony but also blends in other music styles – in this case country rock.

Every Bird That Flies introduces some keyboards, which I understand are played by Rebecca as well. This adds some welcome variety to the soundscape. The other standout to me here is Megan’s lap steel work. The sisters co-wrote this tune with singer-songwriter Pat McLaughlin, who like them is based in Nashville, Tenn. It’s got a cool vibe.

Next up: Scorpion written by Rebecca. This tune has a great riff and a nice driving beat. Check it out!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Easy Street. Co-written by Rebecca and Megan with Tony Esterly, another Nashville-based singer-songwriter, the tune is an interesting mix of gospel, country and blues. It’s also a nice illustration that Megan and Rebecca sound great harmonizing together.

According to this review by Glide Magazine, other musicians on the album include Tarka Layman (bass on three tunes) and Kevin McGowan (percussion). In addition, blues rock artist Tyler Bryant plays lead guitar on Back Down South.

Like Larkin Poe’s predecessor Venom & Faith from November 2018, which by the way topped the Billboard Blues Albums chart and received a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Self Made Man is self-produced by the sisters and appears on the band’s own label Tricki-Woo Records. While I think it’s fair to say the latter may explain the relatively basic sound quality, it does give the album a bare bones character that I find charming.

I’m going to leave you with another nice clip of a recent Behind the Mic live streaming performance presented by American Songwriter. It gives you a great idea about these two engaging ladies and their infectious energy together.

Sources: Wikipedia; Glide Magazine; American Songwriter; You Tube

Clips & Pix: Larkin Poe/Back Down South

Back Down South is the fourth and latest single from Larkin Poe’s upcoming new album Self Made Man slated to come out on June 12. They announced the release on Friday via their Twitter handle.

If you’ve visited my blog before, chances are you’ve seen previous posts I did on sisters Rebecca Lovell (guitar) and Megan Lovell (lap steel guitar). For this tune, they teamed up with Tyler Bryant, a 29-year-old blues rock guitarist from Texas, who based on Wikipedia seems to be some kind of wunderkind I should probably check out.

The tune is a nice illustration of Larkin Poe’s approach to blend traditional blues and rock with contemporary sounds like synth claps. Admittedly, I prefer real hand clapping or drums for that matter but also respect what I assume is an attempt to create a more updated sound.

Self Made Man definitely is on my radar screen.

Sources: Larkin Poe Twitter feed; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Larkin Poe/Keep Diggin’

Keep Diggin’ is the third tune from Larkin Poe’s upcoming fifth studio album Self Made Man scheduled to come out on June 12th. Yesterday, they announced the premiere of the song’s official video on their YouTube channel.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written and raved about sister act Rebecca Lovell (guitar) and Megan Lovell (lap steel guitar). For example, you can read about their previous album Venom & Faith here.

I just find the energy and enthusiasm these two young ladies bring to their music infectious. Their harmony vocals sound amazing as well. Based on the clips on their YouTube channel, Larkin Poe must be great live, and I hope to get a chance to see them at some point. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the new album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Lakin Poe Facebook page; Larkin Poe Twitter handle; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of new music that caught my attention

My exploration of new music continues with the latest installment in the new recurring feature.

Larkin Poe/Holy Ghost Fire

Holy Ghost Fire is the second single from Larkin Poe’s upcoming fifth full-length studio album Self Made Man, slated for June 12. Previously, I covered this band here, which have been called the “little sisters of The Allman Brothers,” given the southern flair of their blues and roots rock. Larkin Poe are 29-year-old Rebecca Lovell (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums) and her one year and four months older sister Megan Lovell (vocals, lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards), who have performed under that name since January 2010. With kickass guitar playing and great harmony vocals, these two young ladies are just amazing, in my opinion. Apart from recorded music, they have a very active YouTube channel that among others includes their Tip o’ the Hat fun video series featuring stripped-back covers of many well-known rock and blues tunes.

Daniel Merriweather/Rain

This 38-year-old R&B artist, who hails from Melbourne, Australia, has been active professionally since 2002. He has worked with UK songwriter and record producer Mark Ronson, who also produced Merriweather’s solo debut album Love & War from June 2009. It peaked at no. 2 on the UK charts. His catalog to date also includes two EPs and various singles, the most recent of which is this tune, Rain, which was released last Friday, April 3. What caught my attention here are the vocals and the groove, which remind me a bit of Earth, Wind & Fire.

Jack Savoretti/Andrà Tutto Bene

I used to listen to Italian music much more often in my teenage years than I do nowadays. So I’m particularly happy I came across this ballad by Jack Savoretti, who Wikipedia describes as an English acoustic solo singer of Italian descent. Since 2007, he has released six English language studio albums. His most recent one, Singing to Strangers from March 2019, became a chart-topper in the UK. Among others, it includes a co-write with Bob Dylan, Touchy Situation. Released last Friday, April 3, Andrà Tutto Bene (everything will be fine) not only is Savoretti’s first song in Italian but also a tune to raise money for Policlinico San Martino Hospital in Genoa, Italy to support the town’s fight against the coronavirus. As NME recently reported, Savoretti penned the beautiful tune together with Italian fans during a writing session he recently broadcast on Instagram Live. I love the idea to combine music with a cause, especially one we can all well relate to.

Danielle Cormier/Berlin

Danielle Cormier is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, the 23-year-old is a pure and powerful voice for the new age…she credits her love for the arts to seeing her first Broadway show at five years old. From there Cormier learned to play the piano, guitar, performed in many school plays and regional theatre productions. Then, she began to write. In 2017, Cormier released her debut album Fire & Ice, for which she wrote nine of the ten original tracks. Thanks to producer Adam Lester, who also plays guitar in the band backing Peter Frampton during his current farewell tour, Frampton contributed lead guitar on one of the tunes. Berlin, a lovely folk-oriented song, is Cormier’s most recent single released on February 28.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; Danielle Cormier website; YouTube