Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 2: Sara Evans and Mike & The Moonpies Cover Classics, Plus More!

When an artist covers a song or an album, it’s either feast or famine. It’s often the latter because the artist too often falls into the trap of recording a straight-ahead, exact replica of the original. And this quite frankly is boring. Why would I want to hear a cover of, let’s say Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”, if you’re just going to do it exactly how they did it? I’ll just listen to the original instead.

No, the best covers are when an artist takes and reinterprets the songs, giving them a fresh coat of paint and reinvigorating them in the minds of the listeners. So while Sara Evans is an artist that I rarely listen to at times, her Copy That album that covers songs from multiple genres across multiple eras intrigued me when I came across it. I say she’s an artist I rarely listen to because of all the boring, vanilla radio singles that a lot of people seem to like. But they put me to sleep and I would much rather listen to her early career material, which better showcases her talent. Not to mention I didn’t forget her great performance on the country tribute album to The Doobie Brothers.

Evans picks the perfect opener in “If I Can’t Have You,” the disco hit made famous by the Bee Gees and Yvonne Elliman. Evans brings a ton of passion and energy to her vocal performance, feeling right at home on this yearning love ballad. “Come On Eileen” is one of those one-hit 80s rock songs that has always got on my nerves due to radio overplay and the cheesy nature of the delivery. But I just can’t get enough of Evans’ interpretation, as the hints of fiddle and Evans’ clearer take on the song makes it a catchy ear worm. I also enjoy how the bridge speeds up and crashes, giving the song an infectious frenetic feel.

Poco’s rock-country hit “Crazy Love” is a gem I didn’t know about and again fits Evans like a glove, as she keeps enough of the original’s feel while making it feel modern. Evans and Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet beautifully harmonize on Kenny Loggins’ “Whenever I Call You “Friend”” and I would say like their version more than the original, has less of a soupy feel about it. Evans’ best vocal performances on this album are arguably her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning” and John Mayer’s “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye,” as she absolutely belts it on each track.

Old Crow Medicine Show appropriately joins her on Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” and this is a combination I didn’t think I would enjoy so much, as their discographies are so contrasting. But they surprisingly work well. Finally, Evans once again wins me over on a classic rock song that gets overplayed on radio, The Knacks’ “My Sharona.” The blaring guitars being in front and center with Evans impassioned performance hooks me immediately and I would argue she once again surpasses the original of one of her covers.

If this album slipped through the cracks for you I would suggest checking out, especially if you’re like me and listen to multiple genres of music. It’s just a really fun album that you can tell Evans and her band enjoyed making and this is undoubtedly felt by the listener as they sing along to these familiar tracks.

Sara Evans though wasn’t the only band to recently make a great covers album, as Mike and the Moonpies dropped a surprise album of Gary Stewart songs. But Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart isn’t just Stewart songs, but previously unheard songs from the underrated country star. Being a fan of Stewart and Mike and the Moonpies coming off what I considered the best country album of 2019, I was eager to sink my teeth into this one.

It doesn’t disappoint, as Mike Harmeir and his band certainly do justice to the King of Honkytonks’ tunes. It doesn’t necessarily start off the strongest with “Bottom of the Pile,” as I would consider it one of the lesser songs on the album due to it’s repetitiveness. But second track “Smooth Shot of Whiskey” is an immediate favorite of mine. Harmeir is joined on vocals surprisingly by Midland frontman Mark Wystrach and they sound so good together. I say surprisingly because Texas country music doesn’t exactly like Midland due to their “lack of authenticity” and regularly like to compare the Moonpies and Midland. But if you pay attention on social media these bands have always been chummy with each other and they should because each fall into the same style of country music.

The album’s title track might be my most favorite on the record, as Harmeir stretches his vocal range to great effect. It adds the emotion that is much needed on this heartbreak drinking song, not to mention Harmeir’s higher notes are unforgettably good. It’s slightly disappointing there aren’t more country rockers on this album, as that’s what Stewart is most well-known for in his career. But it’s not surprising either, as these songs mostly come from Stewart’s 80s material, which is decidedly more mellow. But we do get one great rocker with “Dance with Barbara,” a rowdy honky tonker about wanting to hit the dance floor with the woman of everyone’s eye in the bar.

It should be said too for those unfamiliar with Gary Stewart’s work that many of his songs center around debauchery, drinking and the darkness that can accompany it, as these themes were very much part of his life. So in a way it can make listening to this album a bit repetitive to listen to at times. But if you’re in the mood for these type of songs, it has this in spades. “The Gold Barstool” and “Finished Product” are darkly humorous takes on over-drinking. But Stewart wasn’t a one-trick pony either, as “I’m Guilty” is a really enjoyable bluesy, soulful love song. While Harmeir delivers a great vocal performance here, I can’t help but wonder what Stewart would have sounded like on it with his trademark vibrato.

The most heartfelt song on this album is saved for last. “Heart a Home” is a devastating and haunting heartbreak song about a man yearning for an ex that’s unexpectedly walked out on him. I would love to know why Stewart never cut this song, as it’s so damn good. The lyrics painstakingly paint a vivid picture of heartbreak and Harmeir delivers a vocal performance that’s worthy of the lyrics.

Mike and the Moonpies continue to prove why many are quickly considering them one of the best acts in country music right now, as they’ve now released two great, back-to-back surprise releases. Not to mention the respect they pay towards Stewart is classy and a true homage to the late country star. If you’re a country music fan and not familiar with Stewart, I hope this urges you to dig into it because it’s a real joy. Also I recommend checking out my friend Zack’s recent piece on Stewart at The Musical Divide to get even more context on the career and life of Stewart.

While many acts struggle to release a good cover song, Sara Evans and Mike and the Moonpies both manage to release great cover albums. Check them out!

Sara Evans – Copy That – Solid 8/10

Mike and the Moonpies – Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart – Strong 8/10


And more…

  • The Last Bandoleros finally released an album available for listeners in the United States, a live album titled Live from Texas. It’s a solid mix of pop country and Tex Mex. But I still remain puzzled by how this act is marketed and positioned.
  • Another album released weeks ago I want to highlight is Thundercats’ It Is What It Is. This is my favorite release from him yet, mainly due to the fact it’s his most concise and tightest album yet (clocks in at 37 minutes). While I enjoyed his previous album Drunk, it’s admittedly a bit of a taxing listen. As Thundercat always does though, he delivers silky smooth beats and dark humor that elicits chuckles. “Dragonball Durag” in particular always makes me laugh when I hear it (you’ll know the line when you hear it that makes me laugh the hardest). But Thundercat also balances this album out with more sober, melancholy songs too, as he spends multiple songs addressing race issues in America and mourning the loss of his friend/rapper Mac Miller.
  • Grady Smith brought to my attention a surprising remix of Barbara Mandrell’s “Sleeping Single In a Double Bed” and even more surprisingly I really enjoy it. This new dance remix take by Dave Audé makes this classic song dancy, fun and decidedly modern. While it’s understandable that this is annoying and ruffles the feathers of some country listeners, this electronification of country music is only going to continue. And I know this may sound naïve, but I believe that this can help bring in more younger listeners to the genre and entice them to check out older country music. It happened with the country station on Grand Theft Auto V, so why not with this?
  • Cam has dropped yet another enjoyable song in “Redwood Tree.” This song is about reflecting on the passage of time and learning that you don’t truly appreciate things until you lose them. I cannot wait to hear another full album from her, as her debut album showed so much potential.
  • One last thing: I’m taking a break from the blog to spend time with my family and friends. I didn’t get to see or spend a lot of time with them during the quarantine, so now I want to focus on spending time with them. Thanks for understanding!

As always thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below!

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

Back in the day, Country Perspective would spend around a month doing end of the year posts, recognizing the best and worst across several categories. While it was fun in a way, it was also quite tiring. And I imagine it had to be quite tiring for the reader too. After all I imagine you read several other music blogs and year-end posts. Speaking also as a reader of many blogs, it gets old after reading so many of these posts when really these things have two major points: 1) Giving proper recognition to the absolute best in music and 2) Giving you the listener a potential new album/artist to listen to. Plus, it’s fun to compare lists.

So with my lack of interest in doing so many year end posts and this blog having it’s major focus on albums, this is going to be the only best of 2019 post, the best albums of the year. It was a pretty good year for albums, as there were so many good ones across multiple genres. While there were some disappointments that stood out for me, pleasant new surprises more than made up for them (you’ll see some of them made the top 10 even). While it certainly didn’t touch the best years of this decade (hello 2014), 2019 is one of the better years of music in the 2010s (I’ll be doing my best of the decade posts in 2020).

But before I get to my top ten albums of 2019, I want to list some honorable mentions that weren’t quite good enough for the top ten, but still good albums that I recommend you check out…

Honorable Mentions

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

10. Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met

Dirty, grimy and nasty is how I would describe the sounds and lyrics of this album. And I love it! The entire Griselda hip-hop collective is fantastic and rightly getting their due now that they’re signed to Eminem’s Shady Records (check out the album they dropped in November). But the star is undoubtedly Benny The Butcher and this album is the proof. All of his work is great, but this is an excellent entry point. When the king of coke rap in Pusha T endorses your coke rap (dropping a great feature on this album too), well you know you’re doing something right.

9. Cody Jinks – The Wanting

While I wouldn’t put the The Wanting as Cody Jinks’ best work, it’s certainly close and features maybe the most badass album cover of 2019. This album offers deep introspection on life, passion and love. The instrumentation is varied, going from slow ballads to rockers. And he did this all while dropping another album the week before that just missed this list. Jinks is undoubtedly one of the hardest working artists in music today and I was impressed by what he accomplished in dropping two great albums within a week of each other. If you’re someone looking to get into country music, Jinks is one of the first you should check out.

8. Dee White – Southern Gentleman

This album was released all the way back in January, but you should not forget about it. Dee White proves himself to be one of the most promising new country artists to watch with his debut album Southern Gentleman. White’s voice evokes memories of Roy Orbison and George Jones and he’s only 19-years-old. And while he feels like a classic artist in every sense, his lyrics are still modern. There are several great storytelling moments on this album and White even holds his own with fantastic vocalists like Ashley McBryde and Alison Krauss. I can’t wait to hear more from Dee White.

7. Tyler Childers – Country Squire

Country Squire is an incredible album and with its perfectly short run time, you’ll find yourself replaying it again and again. While some were disappointed by this follow-up to Purgatory, I was instantly impressed with this album. What’s great is these are old songs that have been played by Childers live for years and with live music being what pays the bills for artists, it only makes sense to record these songs. While we’re still due for Tyler Childers’ absolute best work, this is a pretty damn good album to play while we wait for it.

6. Michaela Anne – Desert Dove

Michaela Anne delivers an amazing album in Desert Dove. It’s full of smooth and breezy songs that only take a couple of listens to truly enjoy. Like my good friend and fellow music writer Zackary Kephart says, this album is quite similar to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour and that was my top album of 2018. So if you enjoyed that album, this is a must-listen. This also feels like Anne’s breakout moment, as she finds the sound and themes she needed to truly show her full potential and prove herself as an artist that should be on your radar if you love country music or just great music in general.

5. Kishi Bash – Omoiyari

Omoiyari is a wonderful album full of beautiful lyrics and sounds that cover an important topic in American history that more people show know about. Why Kishi Bashi is not more covered by music journalists I’ll never know, but this music reviewer is telling you that you need to check him out. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who writes his own lyrics and can cover a wide variety of sounds so damn well. On this album he masters the chamber pop/orchestral pop sound while giving you an informative history lesson too. As a music nerd and history nerd, it’s a double win!

4. Mike and The Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

So I would be remiss if I didn’t point that my top four is clearly ahead of the rest, being that they all received 10/10 ratings, with each at one point or another getting consideration for Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year. And out of all them, this was my biggest surprise of 2019. Mike and the Moonpies deliver something special with Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold. It’s fantastic in both sound and songwriting. The group clearly left their comfort zone. It honors the tried and true, while delivering something that feels new too. This is a band for me that went from releasing two albums I couldn’t get into at all to releasing an album that I can’t find a single fault in.

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana 

I found hip-hop in 2019 to be pretty disappointing. But I never find the work of Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib to be disappointing, as this duo once again delivers big with Bandana. After delivering a classic in Piñata, they manage to nearly match it, which absolutely blows my mind. Gibbs raps his ass off on this album, delivering some of his best bars ever, while finding a great balance of bangers and humor while also offering introspection on more serious topics like when he was falsely accused of rape and systematic racism. Madlib brings some of the best beats in the game, picking some excellent samples as he always does. If there’s one hip-hop album you listen to this year, it’s this one.

2. Sturgill Simpson – SOUND & FURY

SOUND & FURY from start to finish feels like one long song, as it’s both cohesive in sound and lyrics, telling several stories that tie into overarching theme of Simpson being angry at a lot of things in the world, but when it comes down to it he’s most angry at himself and what he let himself become. Each track explores the flawed thoughts and actions of a flawed man. This album sounds like early to mid 70s music and sounds like the eccentric, frenetic sounds of Jeff Lyne and Electric Light Orchestra meets the in-your-face, sneering lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The amount of care and detail given to every aspect makes this one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2019 and yet another excellent album from Sturgill Simpson.

Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year…

1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

If you still think of Carly Rae Jepsen as just the “Call Me Maybe” girl, well you’re just plain wrong. Because when she released Emotion and Emotion Side B, she showed me that there’s not a better pop artist making music today. Jepsen further proves with Dedicated that she just gets pop music: the over-the-top production, the overwhelming emotions, the catchy hooks, exciting themes and everything in-between. It’s appropriate she has an album named Dedicated considering she writes hundreds of songs for each album and spends months culling down to the final track list. This true dedication to her music shines through on every lyric and sound on this album. It’s a complete album from front to back, touching on the several emotions of love through the many trials and tribulations of a relationship. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit that the “B cuts” for this album are equally as great in quality. Not only is this the best album of 2019 in my mind, but one of the best of the 2010s.


Thanks for reading! Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019 below and feel free to offer your own list. Also feel free to ask me about any music releases/news from 2019 too (think of it as a 2019 music AMA), as my late start didn’t allow me to discuss everything I would have liked to discuss.

Album Review — Mike and the Moonpies’ ‘Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold’

I’m going to be quite blunt with you because the context is important: I was not a fan of any of Mike and the Moonpies’ albums up to this point. On paper this is a band that should appeal to me, but every time I listened to one of their previous two albums I would listen to it a few times and then have zero desire to go back and listen to it again. Their music lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But on their newest album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold, the band finds that something because this is an album I’ve had on repeat since it’s surprise release.

Opening track “Cheap Silver” right away showcases the new sound of Mike and the Moonpies, as they went to Abbey Road Studios in London, England and recorded this album with the London Symphony Orchestra. Talk about a curve ball from a country band, especially from Texas. And man does it work. It’s silky smooth sound put to the lyrics that put you in mind of a dim lit, smoky bar are a perfect pair. As a fan of yacht rock, I’ve always wondered what yacht country would sound like and I think this is it. I love it and I want more!

“You Look Good in Neon” keeps the album sailing in the yacht country direction. It’s a song about a one-night love on the dance floor, where alcohol and neon lights make a man fall for a woman that if he was sober and in regular lights he wouldn’t even tell his friends about. It’s a great song, as all the little details do a great job of painting the scene in your head and I particularly like the wordplay and delivery of the line “This is your last chance/To prove me right and do me wrong.”

“Danger” is not only my favorite track on the album, but perhaps the best song the band has ever recorded. I really enjoy the storytelling in this song, as a father tells his son of his life and passes down the lessons he’s learned to help his son. There’s some great messages in it too about never giving up and fighting for something more. Most importantly it feels like it comes from a place of genuineness and sincerity and I can immediately feel this when listening to it. You can’t really fake a song like this one and get away with it.

“Young in Love” is one of the classiest sounding country songs I’ve heard in recent memory. I don’t know about you, but when I hear this song I picture a well-dressed crooner on a stage in a packed ballroom full of couples in formal wear slow dancing. That’s how classy this song feels to me. “Miss Fortune” features more fantastically smooth sounds from the band, as that 70s, Laurel Canyon sound really shines through. I really hope this sound is something the band doesn’t lose going forward because they pull it off so well.

“If You Want a Fool Around” is another excellently written song about a man reaching out to the woman he foolishly broke up with and he never got over, who has moved on and fell in love with someone else. The biggest strength of this song is of course the chorus, which is the double meaning of “if you want a fool around.” It refers both to himself, the fool who left her, and it’s also inviting her to cheat with him, despite her being happy and in love, which also makes him a fool. It’s brilliant and clever songwriting.

“Fast as Lightning” is a fun driving song that best showcases the usual sound of Mike and the Moonpies and the London Symphony Orchestra. After the moments of hard-hitting songwriting on this album, I enjoy lighter, breezier tracks like this one to mix it up. The final track “London Homesick Blues” is a fitting conclusion to the album, as the band does a great job covering this excellent Gary P. Nunn song. You can’t really go wrong with a song from him and this fits the overarching theme of the album perfectly.

Mike and the Moonpies deliver something special with Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold. It’s fantastic in both sound and songwriting. The group clearly left their comfort zone. It honors the tried and true, while delivering something that feels new too. This is a band for me that went from releasing two albums I couldn’t get into at all to releasing an album that I can’t find a single fault in. If you haven’t done so yet, go listen to this album.

Grade: 10/10