Premier Guitar editors reveal the records that helped them cope during COVID-19 quarantine. Plus, their most-anticipated releases of 2021.
We made it. To the end of a year that has already gone down in infamy as one of the weirdest (and worst) in decades.
As the pandemic turned the world upside down nine months ago, many musicians and their livelihoods were heavily impacted. No concerts, no touring, album release dates postponed, restricted studio access, and let’s not forget the dangers of actually being in the same room with other humans (sometimes that’s necessary to make songs). But let’s try to forget all that for a moment and focus on what really matters: music! The silver linings of tough times can be sweet: beautiful and amazing albums were made this year, connecting us isolated social distancers, and helping us tread water.
At best, this list will open up some new tunes for you to spin at home this holiday season as you’re welcoming a new year ahead. At worst, you can just skip what you don’t like. (But surely listening to any of these albums would be better than reliving this year!) Either way, let us know which albums were your favorites in the comments below.
As we say good riddance to 2020, we wish you this sentiment with more oomph than you know: Happy Freakin’ New Year!
I’ve sought refuge during the pandemic—mental deliverance and comfort food for the soul—in my roots. Blues has long been a source of the latter for me. And Mississippi Suitcase is elemental: a celebratory bonfire, radiating Parcek’s virtuosity, creativity, and musical intelligence.
It’s not simply his world-class and richly original guitar playing, which dances on an emotional high wire between transcendent invention and deep tradition, or his songwriting, which illuminates all the corners of our humanity, that makes him such an important and hauntingly expressive artist in today’s blues and roots scene. Or even the way his singing breathes with life and wisdom. There’s also his ability to reframe classic material, whether by Sonny Boy Williamson or Lou Reed, in a way that’s respectful of history and yet resonant in the present. He can be wild and unpredictable, yet resolute as granite. And, like a bonfire, he burns. He is truly a master, and I love this album.
Delicate Sound of Thunder
Pink Floyd has been my shelter in this year’s storm. I revisit everything in the band’s and David Gilmour’s catalogs constantly, finding warmth in the weirdness and beauty, and in the empathy of their finest lyrics, and uplift in Syd Barrett’s and David’s performances. So it felt like this reissue, recorded during the 1987 Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, was a gift made for me. The remastered sound and the performances are killer—a sonic, psychedelic spa I can soak in infinitely, and there’s music not on the original release, including the wordless wonder “The Great Gig in the Sky.” And while I love Syd’s left-field virtuosity, nobody has a more beautiful, burnished tone than David, and the delicate precision of his bends and phrasing cut to my heart. I really get lost in his playing, in the best way possible. Adding to my Floydian refuge was the also-just-reissued book Barrett: The Definitive Visual Companion, by Russell Beecher and Will Shutes, packed with early photos of Syd, with and without the band, and his paintings and drawings, including work through the early mid-2000s. It’s a fascination look inside a wonderful and difficult mind.
Henry Kaiser, Mike Watt, Vinny Golia, Wayne Peet, and John Hanrahan
A Love Supreme Electric: A Salvo Inspired By John Coltrane—A Love Supreme & Meditations
This two-album set answers a theoretical: What if Coltrane had survived cancer and joined Miles Davis in pioneering electric jazz? Five of the world’s finest improvisors weigh in via compositions from the two brilliant ’Trane albums in the title. There’s a lot of mystery, satisfaction, and surprise in these 12 performances, as instrumental voices blend and fracture, melodies skyrocket and flare, and notes tumble in a stampeding herd or slowly and elegantly stretch like lazy cats in the sun. Kaiser’s guitar playing is full of energy and invention, but, honestly, so is everyone’s. At times there are clear nods to Sonny Sharrock, who was himself a Coltrane disciple, and the improv supergroup Last Exit. During pandemic isolation, this rune to chaos and control (and Coltrane, of course!) is a marvelous reminder of freedom—and a reminder that free jazz has always been about human, rather than musical, liberation.
Most-anticipated 2021 releases: Please, Tom Waits … please, this year! Any unreleased Sonny Sharrock, R.L. Burnside, or Junior Kimbrough recordings. More great discoveries and productions from Dan Auerbach and his Easy Eye label. And new music from Julian Lage, Anthony Pirog, and Valerie June.