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FAVOURITE AU & NZ ALBUMS 2020

Lists! We have a couple for you as usual as we wind down at the end of another year. I won’t rabbit on about the trials and tribulations of 2020, the good news was that the music still came down the pipeline with the same amount of quality and reward. We’ll have our overall list of favourite Americana/alt-country/folk albums out tomorrow but first, here are the twenty releases from Australia and New Zealand that caught our ear in 2020.

A notable mention must go to Andy Golledge’s Namoi EP which is just so damn good that it nearly masqueraded as an album and elbowed its way onto the list.

20. Melody Moko – Two Kids & A Radio – SPOTIFY

19. Team Love – Team Love

18. Van Walker – Ghosting

17. Stephen Grady – Wonder

16. Darren Watson – Getting Sober For The End Of The World

15. Andrew Tuttle – Alexandria

14. SPERB3R – Think On Your Feet REVIEW

13. James Ellis & The Jealous Guys – Country Lion

12. Emma Swift – Blonde On The Tracks

11. Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams – Plastic Bouquet

10. Fanny Lumsden – Fallow

Fanny Lumsden wrote and recorded her finest work to date and found an artistic sweet spot at the mid point between Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch. “Fallow is Lumsden digging deep and finding gold. Sure, sadness and loss are recurring themes but through it all one gets the sense of an artist taking stock of a moment in her life, documenting it with unflinching honesty and integrity and looking ahead to silver linings.” REVIEW

9. CJ Stranger – Hey Stranger

One of the surprise releases of the year that sounded fully-formed with some laidback, effortless songwriting and playing. Catchy as hell!

8. Mitch Dean – Holding Back The Levee

An impressive debut! Musically it sounds like Chris Robinson sitting in on a session with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. *full disclosure – I worked on the publicity for Mitch’s debut solo album.

7. Tami Neilson – Chickaboom!

Tami’s trajectory continues into the stratosphere on this album that’s as much soul, rockabilly and gospel influenced as it is country. “On her latest album, Canadian-Kiwi Tami Neilson strips things right back to the core essence of song, rhythm and particularly a spotlight on her exceptional voice.” REVIEW

6. Sunset Stranger – Your Home Town

I’d heard the songs of Stephen E. Stanisic in his past iteration as Eddie Nuardo and been really impressed, but this felt like a full realisation of the songwriting, recording and band sound. A wide range of styles, executed superbly.

5. D.C Cross – Terabithian

Darren Cross released the second of his solo acoustic guitar explorations and went deeper and wider this time around. “Amid textural field recordings he filters his playing through billowing, weightless reverb which adds an ambient shroud of nostalgia to the music, like an organic New Age meditation tape that tugs on heartstrings and memory – that innate urge to return to comfort and safety.” REVIEW

4. Tracy McNeil & The Goodlife – You Be The Lightning

Tracy’s album has been a huge success in a challenging year with touring decimated. The good stuff still cut through and this was a perfect example of that, gaining awards and widespread recognition for the maturity and consummate sound of the album’s songs. “McNeil’s voice is in stunning form throughout, never overcooking the emotion, blending it with aching and sweet melancholy. So many of these songs sound familiar, steeped so strongly in a sound that references Fleetwood Mac, Gram Parsons and that point on the highway where country meets soul.” REVIEW

3. Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys – Late Night Essentials

It’s been a long time coming but finally Sydney’s Caitlin Harnett has released her second album and captured the essence and soul of the electric currents of her full band who have conquered stages across the inner west over the last couple of years. The real success though is the songwriting. “Harnett’s early sound has been replaced with more reflective, unhurried, deep grooves, born of life’s highs and lows, mistakes made and lessons learnt. Built on a sweet and soulful rolling sound, there’s just the right amount of bite and twang in the guitars and a solid swing in the rhythm section.”

2. Suicide Swans – Through The Years

The QLD gang grab a clean sheet of paper and revisit tracks from across their albums in new and fascinating settings, with the lasting impression being the strength of the songwriting of the Kyle Jenkins-led group.

1. James Thomson – Golden Exile

Thomson returns with his third album, and his most accomplished work to date. Golden Exile is a record that will bring to mind the loose rhythms and grooves of The Rolling Stones and the melodic nuance of The Beatles. Throw into the mix that sweet intersection of 70s folk rock and country soul and you’ve got an early contender for local album of the year.

Thomson has always had the ability to create his own languid tempo and warm, flowing sound and to achieve that on this record the Novocastrian drew on a mainly Melbourne cast of players including Roger Bergodaz (engineer, drums), Tracy McNeil (backing vocals), Sean McMahon (guitar), Steve Hadley (bass) and Shane Reilly (pedal steel, keyboard). Their treatment of Thomson’s stories and relationship dissection is restrained and in perfect taste. They rock when they need to, gently intertwine when required. Above all, they highlight Thomson’s voice and the way he constructs his songs with economy and that sleepy melancholic voice.

‘Sunday Girl’ is the closest Thomson’s got to a pop song, ‘Roll Away The Stone’ is smoky, winding blues, while ‘See The Wheels’ could roll on forever with its effortless groove. ‘Fatal Ribbon Highway’ is a dreamy slow dance, cosmic, heavy-lidded and sparkling and just one example of the diversification Thomson has brought to his impressive songwriting on Golden Exile.

INTERVIEW: James Thomson – Coal City Gold

20. Melody Moko – Two Kids & A Radio

19. Team Love – Team Love

18. Van Walker – Ghosting

17. Stephen Grady – Wonder

16. Darren Watson – Getting Sober For The End Of The World

15. Andrew Tuttle – Alexandria

14. SPERB3R – Think On Your Feet

13. James Ellis & The Jealous Guys – Country Lion

12. Emma Swift – Blonde On The Tracks

11. Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams – Plastic Bouquet

10. Fanny Lumsden – Fallow

9. CJ Stranger – Hey Stranger

8. Mitch Dean – Holding Back The Levee

7. Tami Neilson – Chickaboom!

6. Sunset Stranger – Your Home Town

5. D.C Cross – Terabithian

4. Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife – You Be The Lightning

3. Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys – Late Night Essentials

2. Suicide Swans – Through The Years

1. James Thomson – Golden Exile

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