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2020 Staff Picks: Music

By Skokie Staff Adult Services

Our expert staff members look back at the year and share their favorite titles.

  • Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex

    2020 by Bolan, Marc

    Thanks to producer extraordinaire Hal Willner and his fantastic list of contributors, the music of Marc Bolan rocks my world--again. The fresh take on T. Rex is so creative and unexpected. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • Artemis

    2020 by Artemis

    I confess that I’m a jazz novice, but when I heard about a new CD by an all-star multicultural, intergenerational, all-women’s band, I had to check it out. Listening to the spirited flow and smooth collaborative effort definitely transported me to a better space. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • Blackbirds

    2020 by LaVette, Bettye

    LaVette reinterprets these favorite songs, and she makes them completely her own. Her powerful voice drips with truth and pathos, and you can feel her music. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • Dark Matter

    2020 by Boyd, Moses

    Boyd is one of the stars of an exciting movement of young, hungry jazz musicians based in London. And like his peers, his version of “jazz” is expansive, incorporating elements of club and pop music. Dark Matter, his first full-length solo album, is one I put on when I need more spring in my step. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Gaslighter

    2020 by Dixie Chicks

    The group formerly known as The Dixie Chicks released their first album in more than 14 years. Gaslighter shows that they are no longer concerned with "fitting in" to the country music box. All they're concerned with is making great music. Recommended by Becca.

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  • I Think I'm Good

    2020 by Overall, Kassa

    Songs from this album kept popping up on shuffle whenever I was taking walks this year and stopping me in my tracks. I’m a big fan of how fluidly it meshes its hip hop with its jazz and its jazz with its hip hop. The album that emerges is both loose and marvelously fine-tuned. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Innocent Country 2

    2020 by Homeboy Sandman

    I love the earthy, organic quality of this lovely hip-hop album. It’s introspective, mellow, and beautifully crafted. Quelle is given lots of warm pockets to explore life and remind us, like Curtis Mayfield before him, to keep on pushing. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Lianne La Havas

    2020 by La Havas, Lianne

    La Havas isn’t reinventing the wheel here on her third full-length CD, and you know what, I’m perfectly fine with that. Her graceful voice is placed front and center, buffered by lush, soulful production and a great selection of laid-back grooves. This is solid neo-soul, made and sung with care. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Mixing Colours

    2020

    I first fell in love with Roger Eno’s pastoral piano pieces in the late '80s. Here, his more famous older brother Brian joins him in adding his patented ambient textures. It’s a deceptively powerful album and like all the best ambient music, it’s perfectly content to “accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular.” Recommended by Chris.

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  • Never Will

    2020 by McBryde, Ashley

    Country Music in 2020 continues to be, sadly, populated by same-sounding, country-lite male voices. So a new CD from Ashley McBryde is a reason to celebrate. “Hang In There Girl” has been my anthem for 2020 while “First Thing I Reach For” and “Velvet Red” are as country as it gets. “Martha Divine” joins the list of great country cheating revenge tales, this time with a twist. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • Nick of Time

    2020 by James Hunter Six

    British R&B singer, songwriter, and guitarist James Hunter is blessed with a gut-bucket voice and an uncanny ear for timeless melodies. I love the grit and croon of his magical voice. Here, he continues to explore vintage '60s R&B, soul, and doo-wop (3 great things that taste great together!), although this time there are welcome touches of Latin soul and swing in the mix. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Saint Cloud

    2020

    This beautiful folk-rock/Americana album dropped at the end of March 2020, which felt like the longest month of my life. A reviewer for Rolling Stone says it better than I could: this album "vividly maps a healing path." Recommended by Laurel.

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  • Song for Our Daughter

    2020 by Marling, Laura

    It’s been so much fun listening to Indie-Folk artist Laura Marling grow as an artist over the last decade. Like Joni Mitchell (a huge influence), she’s blessed with both a distinctive voice and virtuoso guitar chops. As with her previous album, Marling continues to expand her sonic palette, adding lovely strings and other delicate production touches. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Suite for Max Brown

    2020 by Parker, Jeff

    A few years back, Parker, one of my favorite Chicago-based guitarists, moved out to L.A. This is his first work since the move, and it further refines his dusty post-rock (he is a key member of Tortoise, after all), jazz-inflected work. Recommended by Chris.

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  • Surrender Your Poppy Field

    2020 by Guided by Voices

    Thirty albums in, this band still keeps it exciting. Do you like The Beatles and/or The Small Faces and fell sad that they're not around anymore? Give this a shot. Recommended by Adam.

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  • Tea for the Tillerman 2

    2020 by Stevens, Cat

    For the 50-year anniversary of the release of this album, Yusuf Cat Stevens remade the entire thing. I love all the changes, additions, and reworkings, especially the new version of “Father and Son,” in which Stevens and his producer lifted the son’s part from a recording of Stevens at the Troubadour in 1970. His voice was strong then and now it reflects decades more experience. Recommended by Sharon.

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  • That's How Rumors Get Started

    2020 by Price, Margo

    Although technically Americana music, Price’s new album crosses country, rock, Americana, and some pop to make an eclectic mix that is one of my favorites of the year. The title track is my favorite as the narrator grapples with a “friend” who tells lies about her behind her back. Definitely different than her previous more country-sounding CDs, That's How Rumors Get Started pushes envelopes and musical boundaries to produce something special. Recommended by Lynnanne.

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  • The French Album

    2020 by Osorio, Jorge Federico

    Osorio is a local artist (Mexican born, classically trained in Paris) who records for Cedille Records (a Chicago-based record label). He is one of my favorite pianists and this album does not disappoint. Includes sailor songs as well as Debussy, Faure, and a host of others. Inspired playing and beautifully executed as always. His interpretations are exquisite--so nuanced. Recommended by Mary.

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  • Fetch the Bolt Cutters

    2020 by Apple, Fiona

    Apple's first album since 2012 is a work five years in the making, and it is like nothing I've ever heard before. I listened to it on a loop for weeks. Recommended by Becca.

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  • Adès Conducts Adès

    2020 by Ades, Thomas

    When I first heard this new CD, I was immediately mesmerized by the technicality and beauty of the works. Seemingly out of heaven, this music will transport you to new levels of introspection and joy. Thomas Adès wrote the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra for the pianist Kirill Gerstein, and the composer himself conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the work’s world premiere, last year. This live recording captures the zany energy of Adès’s composition, which at times sounds like the spontaneous revolt of a lounge pianist spinning off on his own trajectory. Adès modernizes rather than reinvents the concerto form. One of NPR's Best of 2020 Music selections. Recommended by Mary S.

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  • Debussy, Rameau

    2020

    Víkingur Ólafsson’s interpretation of those elements that unite the music of Debussy and Rameau is pure genius! Yes, they were both French, but they lived almost 100 years apart. Yet this Icelandic pianist displays the vigor, robustness, and nuances employed by both composers in ways never heard before. Truly one of those CDs that will be played over and over. Another Best of 2020 selection by NPR. Recommended by Mary S.

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