2018-2020 Favorite Albums
Updated: Dec 28, 2021
Perhaps there isn’t a better way to introduce the blog than to share the Old Man’s favorite albums of the last three years. It’s also an excellent introduction to the approach that will inform the 2021 selections that are coming in December. Because this site is all about the celebration of music, I’m not going to say these are the best albums of each year. Instead, these are the Old Man’s favorite albums.
Mt. Joy – Mt. Joy
Like many early Mt. Joy fans, I got sucked into their sound through the laid-back hippie-lyric tune “Astrovan.” The song has a beautiful vibe, but the band’s self-titled album is so much more than single vibes. The opening track, “I’m Your Wreck,” sets up the album beautifully. It opens slow and then quickly builds to energize the listener while showcasing Matt Quinn’s vocal capabilities. At the two-minute mark, the band showcases one of their trademarks. A breakdown with a group sing-along. These are littered throughout the album and create memorable lines (“and whatever happens, there’s money in the mattress), not to mention memorable moments at their concerts. The second track, “Dirty Love,” is a ukulele tune that morphs into a chilled jam that perfectly sets up the next seven tracks and the heart of the album. “Silver Lining,” a favorite sing-along at live shows, delivers the “But if it's the drugs, the women, the wine, the weed” line to pull you in and then delivers the line we now share around my home the most, “And tell the ones you love you love them.” My favorite cut on the album is the overtly political “Sheep.” The lyrics in this song just work, and they work on so many levels. The question the song poses is in the lyrics, “Cause it's ruthless, and don't tell me you're ruthless too.” The album’s next five tracks “Julia” (an absolute jam session for keyboardist Jackie Miclau at live concerts), “Mt. Joy,” “Astrovan,” “Cardinal,” and “Jenny Jenkins” solidify this album as one of my three favorites in 2018.
The other two selections from 2018 were Nathaniel Ratliff’s and the Night Sweats “Tearing at the Seam (such great horns!) and Leon Bridges’ super smooth “Good Thing.”
The Regrettes – How Do You Love?
Are women lead vocalists taking over pop-punk? It seems like it may be true with bands like Beach Bunny, Sleater Kinney, The Beths, UV-TV, and Illuminati hotties (to name a few). So why this album? Because it is so fun. The album truly opens with “California Friends,” which grabs you and throws you in the passenger seat for a joy ride. The chorus breakdown that features the band yelling “well OK,” then ”no way” and “just stay” lets you know the band has spun the Ramone’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” more than a few times. “I Dare You” oozes with playfulness. It also features Lydia Night showing off a surprisingly deeper voice reminiscent of Pretenders icon Chrissie Hynde (the influence can be heard on “Has It Hit You?”. “Pumpkin” is a delight that delivers my favorite line on the album, “but now I get why Sarah was so hard to forget.” “Dead Wrong” shows the potential of the band to broaden their sound and reach but doesn’t quite deliver as a stand-alone track. I think the album should have been titled “Coloring Book” after the third song on the album. The captures the albums focus on what others think about you, love, and life. It is also quite self-aware, acknowledging the “cheesy” elements of this super fun album.
The other two albums selected in 2019 were the Black Pumas’ self-titled album and the incredibly excellent Oh He Dead self-titled album.
Ondara – Folk n’ Roll Vol.1: Tales of Isolation
This is a true pandemic album by Kenyan-born singer/songwriter J.S. Ondara. The album is uniquely haunting and intense. I hear a lot of Tracy Chapman in Ondara. This is old-school folk music along the lines of Phil Ochs, Joan Biaz, and Bob Dylan. The opening track, “Pulled Out of the Market,” is about workers losing work during the pandemic and asking, “Where is Jesus when you need him.” The song sets the stylistic tone for the album and the theme of isolation. “Mr. Landlord” opens with a simple Dylan harmonica and asks what a tenant can do to keep from getting evicted. The titles of the songs in a straightforward fashion tell you exactly what the songs are about: “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday,” “From Six Feet Away,” “Isolation Boredom Syndrome,” etc.… “Shower Song” features Ondara clapping and singing with natural echo as if he was in a shower (no instruments). Here you can hear the softness in his voice not evident in the other tracks. The lyrics open with Feels like I am getting old, pondering about the earth's formation, feels like I'm all worn out, searching for something new to pass the day. “Ultimately, he repeats the line “I’m so tired being inside.” The song seems to explore the personal way many of us found small ways to keep going during the height of the pandemic. The track I keep on my playlist is “Isolation Anonymous.” It is the “catchiest” tune on the album (if you can use that phrase for an album like this). The final track is a classic folk story. The “Ballad of Nana Doline” tells the life story of a woman from the ninth grade until her isolated death of COVID. It is both genius and depressing, as is all this album.
Other albums selected for 2020 were Taylor Swift’s Folklore (I just can’t believe I’m typing this) and Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud.