A Playlist For Armageddon: Best Albums Of 2020 

Let’s be honest, 2020 sucked ass. This has been a year like none other in so many ways. Although we have a lot to be thankful for, the past twelve months have been about as much fun as having your ball-sack stapled to a plywood floor with a nail gun. 

Between the end-of-the-world virus that turned out to be anything but, the corrupt election south of the border and the deep governmental rot in my own country, it has been a year to forget. (Unfortunately forgetting is out of the question considering the implications these things have on our future.)

While many artists opted to shelve planned albums in 2020, we were gifted with new music to help us prepare for the end of days. The Soundtrack to Armageddon: Year One was filled with a number of solid releases; these are my top picks.

The Dirty Knobs – Wreckless Abandon

Tom Petty’s right hand man and best friend for more than 40 years, Mike Campbell returns to the music trenches with a stunning collection of pop-rock. Campbell, whose guitar wizardry and songwriting were an integral part of Petty’s Heartbreakers, picks up the rock and roll torch from his late mate on Wreckless Abandon. From the shimmering and jangle pop of the title cut, Campbell and his band serve notice they’re not here to be a Heartbreakers knock off. Although there isn’t a weak song in the bunch, stand out tracks include the chunky “Sugar” and the razor sharp “Fuck That Guy.”

Ward Davis – Black Cats And Crows

Like the cover art, Black Cats And Crows is a darkly sketched affair. Davis, who was at one time touted as the next big thing in Nashville, sounds nothing like the cardboard cutout clowns that have become Music City’s stock and trade. “Sounds Of Chains,” a swampy track that recalls the Allman Brothers, is a double murder/death row tale with a twist. “Ain’t Gonna Be Today,” “Papa And Mama” and the title cut are equal parts outlaw country and southern rock. The album highlight is Davis’ fiddle stoked take on “Colorado,” a song he co-wrote with Cody Jinks (a song that appears twice on this list). 

AC/DC – Power Up 

The good news? AC/DC’s new album sounds like AC/DC. The bad news? AC/DC’s new album sounds like AC/DC. That old joke may be as stale as 2014’s Rock Or Bust – which was more bust than rock – but it never gets old. Power Up does in fact sound like AC/DC, and that’s a good thing. Balls-to-the-wall tracks like the hook-laden “Shot In The Dark” and the serpentine “Money Shot” contain riffage on par with some of AC/DC’s best songs. “Demon Fire” finds Brian Johnson calling up the ghost of Bon Scott. Power Up is easily the band’s best album since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge.

Cody Jinks – Red Rocks Live

A couple years ago at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville, during a Time Jumpers show, Cody Jinks strolled out of the crowd, up on stage and proceeded to blow everyone in attendance away. Jinks’ studio output has been uneven, and so far no producer has been able to capture the singer’s honky tonk stained voice on record. Red Rocks Live is an old-school disc that clocks in at 1 hour and 40 minutes and comes as close to capturing Jinks’ voice in its natural environment than anything before it. The Waylon-esque “I’m Not The Devil,” the pointed “Cast No Stones” and the aching “Colorado,” are album stand outs. 

Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You

Letter To You, record live off the floor with the E Street Band in only five days, is rife with the same characters and storylines fans have come to expect from the Boss, but there’s something different this time around. Maybe it’s the live feel, or the fact the album was recorded at Springsteen’s home studio in New Jersey, but the twelve track collection sounds more like a group of equals than a giant star and his backing band. The rollicking title track, the organ-drenched “If I Was The Priest” and the jangly “Ghosts” find Bruce and the E Street Band locking together like never before. 

Tom Petty – Wildflowers & All The Rest (Super Deluxe Edition)

Tom Petty’s 1994 masterstroke Wildflowers was originally intended to be a double album. Talked out of the massive release by the head of his record label, Petty settled for a single disc. All The Rest gives us the 25 track version plus extra discs containing demos, live and alternate takes. Petty’s version of “Leave Virginia Alone” blows Rod Stewart’s cover out of the water, while the home recordings, including “Wildflowers” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” alone make this collection worth owning. Live recordings of “Honey Bee”and “You Wreck Me” showcase the potency of The Heartbreakers on stage.

(December 2020)