This isn't comprehensive, and I'm not a music critic. This is simply a roundup of local (Memphis area) recordings that were released in 2020 that I felt like you should know about if you don't already. I've gotten to meet a lot of the folks who made this music, and I can vouch for the ones I know as cool people, too. Hope you'll check out some of these artists (click album title for link), and thanks for your support of local music!
Tony Manard - Tin Can QuaranTina
Tony is the kind of songwriter who had 13 unrecorded songs laying around when the quarantine hit and was prepared to record them in his backyard camper that he calls Tin Can Tina. While the speed with which these were put down and the simplicity of the instrumentation (mainly solo voice and guitar) would suggest an album of “demos,” something about Tony’s confident delivery and the immediacy of the performances makes it feel more like a super clean soundboard recording of a live show. Alternatingly funny, profound, profane, and sweet, this album is worth your time by itself, but also suggests a deep bench of potential material for future Tony Manard & the Big Ole Band recordings.
The City Fathers - Broken Hearts and Backyard Wars
This is one of my favorite albums, whether local or not, that came out this year. We played a show with The City Fathers at Growlers in January shortly before the shutdown when they were readying this record for release and loved their sound and songs. It’s a real shame that they haven’t gotten the chance to play shows behind it because it’s good old-fashioned rock and roll with hooks and great sounding drums and guitars. While there are a lot of stylistic change-ups on the record (bits of soul, new-wave, and punk in the garage-band mix), there’s also a continuity of sound and aesthetic that holds it together as a musical piece. Catchy songs well played that leave me nodding my head like my favorite Buffalo Tom albums.
Jeff Hulett with Jacob Church - Safe @ Home
This may be the purest “quarantine” record of the records I’ve listed here as these songs were, I believe, written and recorded remotely and released fairly early in the shutdown. Sweet, reflective, and full of heart, the record looks at the bright side of the time many had to slow down, look around, and appreciate friends, family, neighbors, and the comforts of home. Like most of Jeff’s work, the arrangements are often offbeat and unexpected while still serving and elevating the songs. My understanding is that a lot of that is owed to collaborator Jacob Church on this record, and I plan on keeping up with him more closely.
Bailey Bigger - Let’s Call It Love (EP)
Bailey opened for the Monday Night Card at Otherlands in one of the first “plugged in” full band shows we ever did in early 2016. We were all struck by her voice and skilled acoustic fingerpicking on her original songs and covers. It was hard not to also be struck by her youth at age 15. Since then, she’s gained more and more attention for all the right reasons and seems poised to break out to a national audience. Her recently released three-song EP (as well as her previous excellent work) indicate that she’s deeply felt and captured the feelings, moods, environments, and relationships that she’s passed through in the years since that show at Otherlands. Her talent has attracted some of the best musical players in the Memphis area so the songs are fully realized and hauntingly beautiful.
Two Way Radio - Succinct Extinction
I’d be so mad if I had recorded an album like this ten years ago and no one had heard it because it hadn’t been released. Like, I’d be upset every day. Built with complex layers of instrumentation and vocals, there is so much to take in on this record (it’s barely been out a week, so I’m still taking it in), and yet it sounds and feels effortless. Kate Crowder has a voice and vocal approach that stand out and stand alone while she sings her stories of the trials and triumphs of growing up, and I got the vibe that all of her fun musical friends had showed up to support and commiserate with her and a recording session broke out. It’s a fun, amazingly rich album that finally gets the release that it (and we) need.
Ted Horrell - Keep Your Distance (EP)
It’s not cheating, I do love this little record. One brand new song (Safe at Home (March, 2020)) and two (Makes Me Tired and Simply) that I’d been kicking around for nearly twenty years and fit the shutdown mood, I finally took the opportunity to try some home recording and remote collaboration with members of the Monday Night Card. Mainly recorded late night/early morning in a quiet house after the family had gone to bed, the remotely recorded touches from Natalie Duncan (piano), Dru Davison (saxophone), and Anna Pearson (violin) along with bassist Casey Smith bring out both the melancholy and contentment I was feeling at the time.