In a difficult year for everyone, musicians have been especially hard hit. Once upon a time, most of their earnings came from album sales. These days they make the bulk of their living via ticket sales for live performances. When venues shut down, those opportunities dried up completely. But somehow, someway, musicians kept making music. Some of it was centered around all-too-familiar themes this year: loneliness, disparities, racial reckonings. Other songs and albums were simply expressions of where an artist is right now on their unique personal journey.
WBEZ’s Jason Marck wears a few hats. He’s a producer for Reset. And he’s the host of our music program Radio Z, which airs at 9pm every Friday. Each week, Jason figures out how to make country and house, rock and jazz, soul and folk all blend together into one delicious hand-picked mix. In that spirit, here’s some of his favorite music of 2020 from a wide variety of genres.
Sault: Untitled (Black Is) Over the course of the album, it somehow manages to encompass the entirety of Black music’s past present and future.
St. Panther: These Days There’s a lot going on here. Doo-wop, old soul, balladry…there’s hints of everything from Amy Winehouse to Lizzo to Mac Miller in there, but it’s all St. Panther.
Shoutout: Potatohead People: Mellow Fantasy
Four Tet: Sixteen Oceans Four Tet’s 10th album brings as one reviewer said, “electro-organic moments of hypnotic wonder”. Great line. Great description. I’m using it.
The Soft Pink Truth: Shall We Go On Sinning So Grace Can Increase Put the phone down, lay back, turn it up, and let the ethereal electronics mixed with jazz and choral music wash over you.
Shoutout: Theo Parrish: Wuddaji and Sam Prekop: Comma
Joshua Ray Walker: Glad You Made It His songs are painfully real. About true love fading. About loneliness. About the difficulties of confronting your demons. This is real country music.
Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee, and she’s really made a giant leap as a songwriter with this album.
Shoutout: Sam Amidon: Sam Amidon and Rose City Band: Summerlong
Cut Worms: Nobody Lives Here Anymore With its “wall of sound” type production filled with chiming guitars, upright pianos, swirling organs, horn arrangements and more it was love at first listen.
Tami Nielson: Chickaboom! an absolute dynamo of a singer that lives in this world that’s part honky-tonk, part rockabilly, part soul, part blues.
Shoutout: The Flat Five: Another World, Jim White: Misfit’s Jubilee, Daniel Knox: You Are My Friend-The Songs Of Mr. Rogers, Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways, Al Di Meola: Across The Universe
Three great Chicago drummers put out wonderful albums this year: Quin Kirchner, Jeremy Cunningham, and Makaya McCraven
Quin Kirchner: The Shadows And The Light Takes you on a stylistic journey where you can enjoy the parts or the whole with equal measure.
Shoutout: Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here By History
Johnny Iguana: Johnny Iguana’s Chicago Spectacular! The piano master in his first all-blues session as a leader.
Shoutout: Shemekia Copeland: Uncivil War
Raul Monsalve Y Los Forajidos: Bichos Loaded with slinky, greasy, sexy Afro-Latin grooves from Venezuela.
Siti Muharam: Siti of Unguja Reviving the legacy of her great-grandmother, the first woman to record an album in East Africa, and singing some gorgeous melodies from Zanzibar.
Hope this list made you want to explore and listen more.
For a fantastic mix of music you won’t find anywhere else on the radio, tune in to WBEZ’s Radio Z, Friday nights at 9pm. For each week’s playlist, Go the Radio Z Facebook Page