During the week Dec 26 2020 – Jan 02 2021 I’ll feature a playlist generated by Colorado Playlist listeners and fans who voted for their favorite songs and videos from 2020. You have until December 20th to vote. Today I’m reflecting on a handful of albums (well, two handfuls).
The Colorado Playlist, Expressly & Explicitly Colorado from the 60s to Today: the biggest hits from the biggest hitmakers and award winners to some of the freshest new talent emerging from around the Centennial state.
Following that dictate, here are my picks for “Best” albums (LP/EP) of 2020. Each album link goes to the full length album on YouTube.
We can dispense with the suspense of counting down from #10 to #1. The first album off my lips when someone asks me what’s the best Colorado album of 2020 is Nathaniel Rateliff – And It’s Still Alright. It’s been #1 for me since the day I first heard it.
Nathaniel writes and sings through the prism of his pain; whether from the pain of his personal struggles with alcohol, or his divorce, or the death of his friend and record producer Richard Swift who passed away from alcoholism. This record is about “…acknowledging the heaviness of all of that and moving forward and still finding joy,” according to Rateliff.
And It’s Still Alright as well as the title track were nominated for “Album of the Year” and “Song of the Year” at the 2020 Americana Awards in September.
The biggest hits from the biggest hitmakers and award winners to some of the freshest new talent emerging from the Centennial State – in no particular order.
Superstars and hitmakers are sometimes from right next door and we don’t find out until they’re in the hitmaker / major award discussion. It seems like every year we have at least one Colorado entry in the Grammy Awards and other major music award programs.
Highlands Ranch native / Rock Canyon High School graduate Ingrid Andress is this year’s entry with several major award nominations, including Grammy nominations for Best New Artist, Best Country Song (More Hearts Than Mine) and Best Country Album for her debut, Lady Like.
- Academy of Country Music Awards – New Female Vocalist of the Year.
- Country Music Association Awards – New Artist of the Year
- Country Music Association Awards – Song of the Year – “More Hearts Than Mine”
- CMT Music Awards – Breakthrough Video of the Year – “More Hearts Than Mine”
The music scene in Colorado may be focused on Denver/Boulder and Fort Collins areas, but Paonia and Cedaredge artists produced two of the “best” Americana singer-songwriter albums of 2020, The Unending Alteration of the Human Heart from Gabrielle Louise and David Starr‘s Beauty and Ruin respectively.
A graduate of the Berklee School of Music, like Ingrid Andress, Gabrielle’s 9th album since 2006 further solidifies her quiet folk credentials. The album, best suited for quiet snowy nights by a fire, easily falls into the hallowed ground furrowed by fellow Colorado native female songwriters like Jill Sobule, Laura Veirs and Sera Cahoone. *This record was serviced to Colorado radio stations and djs by Rocky Mountain Music Network, LLC which I own and operate*
Thirty-three miles further west, Cedaredge multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter David Starr, (Starr’s Guitars) once again enlisted part-time Colorado resident musician and friend John Oates to arrange and produce his 8th album, a collection of songs inspired by Of What Was, Nothing Is Left, a novel written by his grandfather in 1972. The album features guest appearances by John Oates and award winning Americana singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale.
Heading east back into the metro, Americana-country fans will find plenty to love on the rough hewn twang of Same Shirt, Different Day, the sophomore effort from Littleton resident Rodney Rice. Same Shirt got enough national airplay to hit top-forty on the Americana Music Association radio airplay charts and #1 on the RootsMusicReport Colorado album chart. *This record was serviced to Colorado radio stations and djs by Rocky Mountain Music Network, LLC which I own and operate*
If you listen to my show (and you do, right?) you know I close out nearly every (99%) hour with an instrumental jazz track. My jazz album of the year nod goes to Ron Miles‘ Blue Note debut, Rainbow Sign. The album features fellow Colorado native musician, guitarist Bill Frisell, who was directly responsible for introducing the original recordings for this album to Blue Note Records President Don Was.
My dj roots, spinning dance music in clubs and on TOP 40 radio in NoCO from the 1970s through the early 90s, informs my long lasting love and appreciation for modern EDM and R&B albums like the epic Brain Chemistry, the Right Brain, Left Brain dual EP release from pop singer-songwriter Kayla Marque, and the more R&B/Soul oriented EDM release Free Your Mind from Big Gigantic, their first studio album in over three years.
Listen to Kayla’s Right Brain first if you want to listen in the order each EP came out. Right Brain is “…the lighter half of Brain Chemistry. This is my dreamy side.” Marque explains. Left Brain showcases Kayla’s “…darker space…”
If you preconceive what you think you’ll hear, Brain Chemistry should dispel your preconceptions of what a modern R&B based pop album can sound like. Kayla’s got mad musical DNA. Her uncle is Denver native and EWF alum Larry Dunn.
Big Gigantic‘s R&B/soul oriented Free Your Mind succeeds due to the steady EDM, funk, soul and jazz arrangements by founders Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken with emotionally uplifting soul vocals from artists like Pell, Felly, TOBi, Jennifer Hartswick, Louis Futon and The Funk Hunters.
Had they been able to tour there’s no telling just how popular this album would have become. The album has amassed over 20MILLION plays on Spotify (as of Dec 10, 2020). #roadtripmusic
Over 160,000 plays on Spotify, along with favorable reviews and online debuts from Billboard, American Songwriter, Glide Magazine and other national and local publications set up Whitacre‘s debut album Seasons for national success.
Produced by Denver’s Joe Richmond (Tennis, Churchill), four of the album’s first five songs are radio friendly anthems that fit comfortably alongside contemporaries like the Lumineers and Avett Brothers.
Speaking of Tennis. Patrick and Alaina formed their own label, Mutually Detrimental, in 2018, and their Five-Points Denver based recording studio where they produced three outstanding female voiced albums for 2020, including their latest, Swimmer.
Instead of relying on outside producers for their 5th release, they self-produced, moving their retro sixties influenced pop into richer and more expansive production elements and arrangements and moving the duo forward as credible national level producers in their own right.
That’s it … I could of course pick more than 10 to share with you, but these are the ones that rose to the top of the list. I hope you enjoy each one of these exceptional “Best Of” Colorado albums from 2020.
Chris “K” Kresge
Rocky Mountain Music Network, LLC
The Colorado Playlist