2020

I have gotten into the habit of documenting my listening habits over the spaces of time to seeing if I could glean anything meaningful from those statistics. With over 500 unique albums listened to over the course of 2020 I had some sifting and sorting to do.

So…?

Did I?

Did I find anything worth writing about? I think there are some insights that can be gleaned from these lists. For instance, which albums did I listen to the most based on the year they were originally released?

The top spot in that category was taken by the year 2020 with 96 unique albums listened to. This statistic did not surprise me in the least because I like listening to new music. Second place was 2019 with a significant drop to a mere 19 albums, not as many as 2020 but these were still relatively fresh and deserving of another spin around the turntable.

For third place I took a big jump back to 1971 and 1978 with 18 albums released in each of those years that I listened to. The next three most listened to years are all in the 1970s, which came as no surprise to me. In 1970 I turned 16, got a summer job and bought some records with the money from my first foray into the working world. In 1973 I graduated from high school and two days later got a full-time job with a decent salary that helped feed my appetite for music. After the 1970’s my listening jumped all over the place from 1958 to the present.

The next stat is for how I listened to all that music. Thanks to Covid-19 and isolating at home I decided to go through our vinyl collection, starting at A and going through the alphabet. I didn’t listen to every album but I did listen to 210 slabs of vinyl. iTunes came in second with 146 albums that I listened to. I only listened to three cassette tapes in 2020 and no 8-track or reel to reel tapes. I should mention that these statistics are all for full albums, I do not keep statistics for single releases or album samples.

The next category is for the most listened to artist in 2020, and the winner is Pink Floyd, with eight albums in 2020 that I listened to. ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ was the only album with two listens, which is interesting to me because I am a huge DSotM fan, 1973 right!

A line of hospital beds stretch into the distance on an overcast beach. A man sits on one bed holding a mirror. The sky is slightly purple.

Second place was Daniel Amos with eight albums and two listens to their album ‘Mr. Buechner’s Dream’. These two come as no surprise to myself or anyone who knows me, the two artists are longstanding favourites for me.

The most listened to album goes to ‘Greatest Hits’ by Various Artists. This happens every year, for some reason I like listening to compilation albums such as this one from K-Tel, which I bought in 1973 from the Hudson’t Bay store in Grande Cache shortly after I graduated from high school, if my memory serves me well there were only about a dozen of us in the grad class.

After that there was a log jam for the most listened to albums of 2020 with these all tying for the top spot:

‘Hermit of Mink Hollow’ by Todd Rundgren

‘Lateralus’ by Tool

‘Shades of Deep Purple’ by Deep Purple

‘Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs’ by Colter Wall

‘The Beatles’ by The Beatles, aka ’The White Album’.

The final observation is for the 2020 album of the year award.

Wait, I don’t do album of the year awards.

What we do have are some of my favourite listens from 2020, with a heavy emphasis on the word some.

Bob Dylan: ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’. I saw him live in concert in 2017 and that was not a pleasant experience, this album restored Dylan to my good books.

Gwenifer Raymond: ‘Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain’. I had never heard of her before this album came out, and now I can’t stop listening her. An achingly beautiful album.

Colter Wall – ‘Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs’

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1280px-westernswingswaltzes.jpeg

Colter Wall came roaring out of Saskatchewan playing honest country and western music and with this, his third release, he builds on what the first two laid down and then upped the ante.

Speaking of good C&W music, Sturgill Simpson – ‘Cuttin’ Grass ‘, entertained me for hours.

Sturgill Simpson is like Colter Wall in that I have been listening to his music since he released his first album back in 2013. His newest, ‘Cuttin’ Grass’ is both a departure and a return. It is different from his last release and similar to his first. I have played this on vinyl, and it sounds incredible.

Lucinda Williams – ‘Good Souls Better Angels’ I am a latecomer to Lucinda Williams’s music but having found it I only want to hear more and this release sounds might fine.

Neil Young – ‘Homegrown’ I have been listening to Neil Young’s music since the day before forever. This is reminiscent of some of his early stuff, more acoustic and folky.

Steve Earle and the Dukes – ‘Ghosts of West Virginia’ All I knew about Steve Earle was his big hits, Guitar Town and Copperhead Road. Until last year, when I started streaming some of his music, and then this album came out and now I have my ear glued to his music.

The Avett Brothers – ‘The Third Gleam’ I keep ‘Emotionalism’ and ‘The Carpenter’ in fairly steady rotation, at least once a year and now this recording will start that round dance with them.

Colter Wall, Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Steve Earle and The Avett Brothers are all to the Country and Western music of today in same way that Willie and Waylon and the boys were to the Nashville establishment back in the ”70s. Outlaw country isn’t dead; it’s alive and well in the hands of folks such as these.

Kronos Quartet & Friends – ‘Long Time Passing: Kronos Quartet & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger’ The Kronos Quartet hasn’t laid down a lousy album, ever. This record is story telling at its finest.

Shabaka and the Ancestors: ‘We Are Sent Here By History’ This album is jazz, new jazz, attention-getting jazz. Smooth and raw and emotional. It is good music, nothing more and nothing less. I also nominate this for album artwork of the year. It is stark but it conveys a message by forcing us to focus on what is shown.

This brought to mind the album cover of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division, stark but striking in the same way. I also listen to ‘Unknown Pleasures’ frequently.

I hope you have enjoyed your 2020 musical experience, if nothing else it provided a soundtrack to the year through the gift of music. Some of these albums created a distraction away from the shit show that 2020 was. Demi Lovato created the best commentary on 2020 with her song ‘Commander In Chief.’ Music also provided more than a few moments of pure pleasure. For each of the artists in this list and to all of the artists that I listened to but who didn’t make the final cut, thank you.

pee.s. this picture disc was number 500 for 2020

Colter Wall

I like country and western music. I like traditional C&W, most of all. I, therefore, like the music of a young man from Saskatchewan by the name of Colter Wall.

Colter Wall hails from Speedy Creek, Sask. and comes good stock, his father was the premier of Saskatchewan from 2007-2018. Colter started his musical journey listening to AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and learning to play their songs on guitar. A few years later Colter heard Bob Dylan singing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, and that song sent him spinning off away from classic rock to classic folk music. He listened to the likes of Woody Guthrie, Dylan’s primary influencer, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who was also heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie as well as Dylan himself thus coming full circle.

Colter was also really into the music of  Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams. Wow, that would be a mind-bending concert lineup. I also might add that I have featured most of these artists on my turntable recently, which should come as no surprise given my fondness for classic country music. Colter Wall has also been on my iTunes turntable, and I can’t get my hands on his vinyl for various reasons.

Colter sings songs of your typical fodder. Lost loves is a given of course, no matter what genre you sing in, and Colter adds the song, “Kate McCannon”, reminiscent of early folk and bluegrass.  He knows how to write a smart catch phrase. A good example is from the song “You Look To Yours” on his eponymous album:

“Two folks in our condition

We’ll never leave this bar room with our pride

So go about your earthly mission

Don’t trust no politicians

You look to yours and I will look to mine”

He gets a little jab in towards his Dad in the middle of a brilliant turn of phrase.

From the same album, Colter throws in a cover song, a tribute to one of his influencers, Townes Van Zandt. The song is “Fraulein” which is a vintage C&W song written by Lawton Williams and initially released in 1957 by Bobby Helms. “Fraulein” is a standard of the genre with cover versions from the likes of Stonewall Jackson, Hank Snow (I’m partial to this one), and Chuck Berry even took a swipe at it and created what I consider a waste of good vinyl.

Fast forward to 2018 and Colter Wall released his sophomore recording “Songs of the Plains”. After being on the road doing shows from the east to the west coast and many stops in between, Colter laments that he is homesick for the wheat fields of southern Saskatchewan.

The second track of this album has a song titled “Saskatchewan 1881”. Be it 1881 or 2018; the sentiment is the same, the “Toronto man” is looking to profit off of the sweat from the brow of the prairie men and women. The song also cautions us not to be “pickin’ fights with no Mennonites”, a sentiment that Corb Lund levelled at another prairie staple, the Hutterites. 

“Well it was truck after truck, we all got stuck

‘Cept the big old four by Hutterite truck

We all thought “Lord, are we in luck!”

But he wouldn’t come anywhere near us

Mighty neighbourly, mighty neighbourly”

The songs of Corb Lund and Colter Wall intersect many times which is no surprise what them being two prairie lads. Corb laments the passing of time on the song “We Used To Ride ’em”.

The wind still blows the dust across the exhibition grounds

The chute still creaks and moans and echoes saddle broncin’ sounds

The horses all wound up the same as the ones that came before

But we don’t ride ’em anymore”

I don’t ride ’em anymore either, and I shed a tear because  “The Trains Are Gone” and with them the castle spires of the prairies, the elevators that announced what town you were driving through in bright, bold letters on their sides.

“The trains are gone, the trains are gone

Spent like the coal they once rolled on

The rails don’t hum, the ‘bos don’t bunk

No brake-men yodelin’ those rail yard songs”

Railway tracks crisscrossed through my family with uncles that worked the rails for their whole lives and others like myself that only achieved a brief taste of that way of life.

The remainder of Colter Wall’s album “Songs of the Prairies” continues the theme of flat land livin’. Fast forward to 2020 and Colter Wall delivers another suburb album, “Western Swing & Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs”. That is one excellent album title and opens the album with an equally excellent song about just that.

This album also graces us with a couple of cover songs, “Big Iron” by the quintessential cowboy singer, Marty Robbins. Colter Wall doesn’t veer too far away from the original and Colter Wall delivers the lyrics smoothly with his baritone voice. He follows this gunfighter song with a tribute to two names that are eponymous with guns, Henry and Sam, a reference to the 16-shot repeating rifle designed by Benjamin Tyler Henry and Samuel Colt.

A tip of the hat to his mentor, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, follows with the mysterious song “Diamond Joe”. Diamond Joe has quite an interesting back story, and you can read about it here: https://nativeground.com/diamond-joe/

Next up is “High and Mighty” a song that is about as country and nearly as cowboy as you can get, it is about a horse in the rodeo named High N Mighty, owned by the stock contractors Brown and West. High N Mighty was named Bucking Horse of the Year for Canada in 1974 and 1976. Leo Brown, the Brown in Brown and West lived in Czar, Alberta for a spell and I babysat in his home. I still marvel at his trophy room. He also let me use his snowmobile, which was lots of fun. That would have been in about 1971, in 1981 I was riding bare-back in the Northern Alberta Amateur Cowboys Rodeo Association. I did six rides and got bucked off six times. I knew when to quit, and now I just listen to cowboy records and go to the occasional rodeo as a spectator.

Getting back in the record groove after my rabbit trail we have “Talkin’ Prairie Blues”, not to be confused with “Talkin’ Veterinarian Blues”.

One of my favourite songs to play on guitar is “Ghost Riders In the Sky” written by Stan Jones, who also wrote the song “Cowpokes”, that Colter covers here. He then rounds out the roundup with two original songs, “Rocky Mountain Rangers”, which is a bit of Canadian history and “Houlihans at the Holiday Inn”. Throwing Houlihans has a couple of meanings. It could be a method of throwing a lasso, typically in a corral where space is limited. It could also be cowboy slang for raising a little hell, perhaps in the Holiday Inn while on tour.

So there we have an overview of Colter Walls music up to today. I would encourage you to listen to all three of his albums as well as chasing down all the rabbit trails.  Ian Tyson, Corb Lund, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Stan Jones, Marty Robbins, Bobby Helms, Stonewall Jackson, Hank Snow, and yes, even Chuck Berry’s version of Fraulein.

All music is good music; there is just some that I like better than others.

I wish happy listening to everyone and play safe.