Centerline's Top 10 albums for 2020
1. Terrance Simien and his Krewe De Monifique, Ancestral Grooves (Music Matters Records): Hate to fall back on calling Simien’s respectful homage “a spicey musical gumbo” but that’s exactly what it is, what with Louisiana-honoring tunes like the closing “Tribute to Art, Allen and Mac” (Art Neville, Allen Toussaint and Mac Rebbenack) and key collaborators James Andrews and Keith Frank, not to mention daughter Marcella, who vocally holds her own with the respective brass band trumpet master and zydeco accordion ace.
2. Lisa Loeb, A Simple Trick to Happiness (Furious Rose): After focusing on children’s songs, Loeb remembers the grownups with a subdued, reflective adult album (“Life can change like the weather,” she sings in “Another Day”) that in a few years the kids are going to appreciate just as much.
3. Michael Doucet, Lâcher Prise (Compass Records): Top Cajun band BeauSoleil’s founder/fiddler, to translate the French album title, does in fact “let go” with the help of a band of young Southwest Louisiana musicians (also called Lâcher Prise) able to deliver his more expansive musical vision with appropriate aplomb.
4. Dr. L. Subramaniam, Beyond Borders, Volume I (Subramaniam Entertainment): Esteemed Indian classical violinist Subramaniam, in addition to his work in the Southern India Carnatic music tradition, has been equally involved in world music, this star-heavy set (among them wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, daughter Bindu Subramaniam, Stephane Grappelli, George Duke, Larry Coryell, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and Ernie Watts) even featuring Chicago blues harmonica legend Corky Siegel on the lovely “Lullaby” while rivaling his 1999 album Global Fusion in obliterating genre boundaries.
5. Maria McKee, La Vita Nuova (Fire Records): Listening to Maria McKee is an experience unto itself in her artistic depth, spirituality and intensity, and the 13-year gap between this album and its preceding Late December only heightens a stunning sense of awe.
6. Elvin Bishop & Charlie Musselwhite, 100 Years of Blues (Alligator): Guitar king Elvin Bishop and bluesharp hero Charlie Musselwhite, both Blues Hall of Famers with over 100 years of playing between them (documented in the closing titletrack), are naturals together on a sparing album (the two are joined only by pianist/guitarist Bob Welsh) with an approach perfectly depicted in witty standout track “Old School.”
7. Molly Tuttle, ...But I’d Rather Be With You (Compass Records): Somehow bluegrass singer-songwriter/banjoist-guitarist Tuttle manages to deliver a remarkably cohesive set of covers from the wide-ranging likes of FKA twigs (“Mirrored Heart”), Karen Dalton (“Something On Your Mind”), Grateful Dead (“Standing on the Moon”), Harry Styles (“Sunflower, Vol. 6”), and in the case of the Rolling Stones, the best cover of the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” imaginable.
8. Ledisi, The Wild Card: Ninth studio album from Ledisi, on her new Listen Back Entertainment indie label, finds her in familiar territory: second-to-none vocalist in R&B--or really, any genre--with new songs that cinch her stature.
9. Mandy Barnett, A Nashville Songbook (BMG): Mandy Barnett shows why she’s long been heir to classic pop country queens with respectful but personal takes on classic country fare from the likes of Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”), Harlan Howard (“Heartaches By the Number”) and Roy Orbison (“It’s Over”), along with Dave Berry’s big 1964 Brit-pop hit (and minor U.S. Brenda Lee entry) “The Crying Game.”
10. Patty Smyth, It’s About Time: Smyth’s voice is as welcome as an old friend’s phone call, and her first non-holiday solo album since 1992, with six originals and excellent covers of “Downtown Train” and “Ode to Billie Joe,” recertifies her stature as one of rock’s great female vocalists.