Though there were many noteworthy releases, I chose to keep this list small. The albums from where my songs of the year playlist came from were in contention. These five rose again and again to the top.
5. Clara Engel – Hatching Under the Stars: Reminiscent of The Decemberists’ groundbreaking 2009 release The Hazards of Love, this artist from Toronto shaped a unique musical narrative. Adapting to our pandemic world, Engel’s use of remote recording proves ingenuity serves both the creative and resourceful.
4. Jacob Faurholt – Wake Me Up: Crafting an intimate study of life during this surreal year, Faurholt’s inner portrait starkly dissects each flash in time throughout this year. Recorded at home, this collaborative effort includes musicians from around the world. This album creates the perfect union of lyricism and musicality.
3. Passenger – Patchwork: Michael David Rosenberg, who performs as Passenger, began performing live on social media in 2020, creating a space for connection as the lockdowns began. His creativity flowed, and he eventually released Patchwork, benefitting The Trussell Trust, working to fight hunger in the United Kingdom.
2. The Suitcase Junket – The End Is New: Multi-instrumentalist Matt Lorenz smashes the traditional storyteller’s persona here on this Renew Records release. With genre-defying artistry, each nuanced shift, directed by producer and keyboardist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), suggests The Suitcase Junket’s trajectory as an artist will continue to soar.
1. Evan Wardell’s In Like a Lion/Out Like a Light: Wardell’s stylistically original take on the San Francisco sound suggests his East Coast influences have served up new twists in songwriting. Wardell’s creativity refocuses our shared experiences, hitting all of those classic themes of love, death, addiction, confusion, and adolescent angst. There is magic in this man’s artistry, tripping along with each dynamic shift in mood throughout these eleven songs. Sheer listening pleasure.