Favorite 2020 Iowa Album Releases
Mark Simmet's favorite album picks for 2020 show the diversity of Iowa's musical talent.
2020 will be remembered as a year of challenges. For musicians, those challenges centered on the recording and especially the live performance of their songs. Here are nine noteworthy 2020 albums from Iowa artists that were favorites of mine, listed in the rough order of their release.
Brian Johannesen - Holster Your Silver
The Iowa City based songwriter and musician released his second album early in the year, and we were able to have him on live for an IPR broadcast from xBk in Des Moines. His set that night and the music on this album highlight what makes Americana from the middle of the country so special.
Avey Grouws Band - The Devil May Care
The Quad Cities is an excellent home base for a blues band (although vocalist Jeni Grouws lives in Decorah), but this group transcends regional distinctions. Their debut full-length hit the Billboard Blues charts top ten soon after its release, with songs that expand on the notion of what a blues song is.
Jordan Sellergren - Sweet, Bitter Tears
Another Iowa City based artist, Sellergren had previously used the moniker "Milk & Eggs," but moved on to using her actual name for this album. Evolution was also apparent in a fuller band sound, with Sellergren playing electric guitar rather than the fingerpicked acoustic style she had used previously. It was a move that really worked for these songs.
TWINS - Dream On
One of the things I've always liked about this Waterloo band is their respect for the artists and bands of the past. That kind of inspiration isn't unusual, but the interesting thing is what TWINS do with those influences. For "Dream On" the group shifted focus from rockers and power pop to their own blend of heartfelt Americana.
MarKaus - Burn The Boats
Technically an EP rather than a full-length album, but the seven songs deliver the message that MarKaus wants you to hear. The Des Moines hip-hop artist brings soul and jazz elements to the proceedings on this appealing collection of tracks, nicely produced with contributions from DJ Episode and guitarist King Wylde.
The Hats - Middle of My Countryside
The Hats are from Mason City, and were unknown to me when this album arrived in the mail this past summer. I soon found myself enjoying the album's down-home acoustic instrumentation and Paul Weitzel's wry lyrics.
Jim Swim and ADE - Michelin Astronomy
Alright, so this is another EP, but the four tracks together are a delight for a short (or any length) attention span. Iowa City hip-hop artists Tyler James (aka Jim Swim) and Bayo Ajose (aka ADE) have a bright future ahead.
William Elliott Whitmore - I'm With You
William Elliott Whitmore lives in way southern Iowa (Lee County), and "I'm With You" is his eighth album. It's his first of original songs in five years. The songs were written before the events of 2020 began to unfold, but there is real comfort to be found in Whitmore's folksy and spirited ruminations on the world we find ourselves in.
Catfish Keith- Blues at Midnight
The country blues that emerged in this country in the early part of the 20th century is a pure and timeless sound, dated primarily by the recording technology of that time. In our own time, there are a few performers keeping that sound and spirit alive. Iowa City based Catfish Keith is one of the best. And he's been doing it for 19 albums now. The new one is "Blues at Midnight," with new versions of some of the songs he has written over his 40-year career.