In a year as strange and unsettling as 2020 the continuity of the new music release schedule kept me sane at times when normality felt far away.
As the year unfolded certain songs became constant companions and welcome friends. My choices are songs that got me personally through the year rather than any attempt to tell anyone what is ‘best’. All songs appeared on albums released in 2020 which have been reviewed on Highway Queens.
So without further ado, here are the twenty songs that have helped me endure 2020:
20) The Secret Sisters – Late Bloomer
A stunning piano ballad that was a comforting reminder to have patience and optimism for a better future.
19) Kyshona Armstrong – Worried Mind
This uplifting song about leaving your worries behind was classic, vintage soul at its best.
18) Best Coast – For the First Time
Recovery, sobriety, transformation and gratitude are the central themes of this inspiring song.
17) Indigo Girls – Country Radio
If you’ve ever felt like only a song can know you then you might identify with this lonesome ballad about the comfort of country music.
16) Emmy the Great – Dandelions/Liminal
Lovely, sunny, wry indie pop with a timely message about embracing the divergent paths that life sends us on. Just perfect.
15) The War and Treaty – Five More Minutes
Despite its upbeat tone, pain lingers behind this soulful release – the song was written as a plea against suicide. When these two talented vocalists sing together they might actually have the power to save a life.
14) Nadia Reid – Oh Canada
Listening to this bittersweet song about dreaming of travel was a perfect tonic to such lonely and separated times.
13) Lucinda Williams – Big Black Train
This eerie and haunting song with lyrics about impending doom, destruction and death really captured the mood of the year for me. Lucinda sounded world weary, ragged and even afraid – feelings I’m sure we could all identify with.
12) Laura Marling – Song for our Daughter
Bold, stark, direct – this song was a wise warning to young women in the music industry sung by someone who has lived it and survived.
11) Ashley Ray – Off the Wagon Again
Ashley Ray was my favourite new artist discovery of the year and this song was one of the stand outs from her fantastic album Pauline. If you’re ever felt weak or given in to temptations you swore you were done with then this song is for you.
10) Lianne La Havas – Bittersweet
Lianne sings of picking up the broken pieces of life, trying to begin again on this achingly beautiful track. My favourite vocal performance of the year – elegant and emotional.
9) Malin Pettersen – Wildhorse Dream
A dreamy song filled with wanderlust was exactly what I needed to hear during this year of confined existence. Malin Pettersen’s angelic voice made you feel like you too were freewheeling through the skies on a journey to somewhere, anywhere.
8) Della Mae – Headlight
A powerful and gut wrenching song about the atrocities women face and the importance of working together to help each other in the struggle. Della Mae have been really underrated this year which is a shame considering how moving and inspiring this song is. Plus who doesn’t love an emotional fiddle solo?
7) Margo Price- Prisoner of the Highway
It is ironic indeed that a song about touring and life on the road was released in the year when everyone was sent home to think again. Margo’s song was a mix of classic rock and uplifting gospel inspired soul which sounded as fresh as freedom itself.
6) Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War
Uncivil War offered a bandaging of the wounds opened by the deep divisions in our society. A heartfelt Americana anthem of healing and hope.
5) Ashley McBryde- Hang in There Girl
I don’t know about you but there were many points this year when I just really needed someone to sing ‘hang in there girl’ to me over and over again. Ashley never will let us down.
4) Whitney Rose – Thanks for Trying
Every song on Whitney Rose’s album was an absolute stunner but this one really stood out and only grew as the year rumbled on. Combining lyrical defiance with classic rock and roll it perfectly summed up how I felt about 2020. You didn’t ruin my life, but thanks for trying.
3) Brandy Clark – Who You Thought I Was
In the year where we lost the legend that was John Prine, his legacy as the songwriter’s songwriter only grew. Brandy Clark used a quip Prine made on stage as the title to the most inventive and beautiful country song of the year, ruminating on identity, love and heartbreak in the way only she can.
2) Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross
Jaime Wyatt’s Neon Cross is one hell of an album and the cathartic title track felt like a powerful statement of intent from an artist who has been hustling for a breakthrough her whole life. Misery, pain, suffering, failure and defiance are all channeled into a song of true grit and guts.
1) The Chicks – Gaslighter
When the rest of this godforsaken year becomes a faded memory I will still cling to the overwhelming joy of the moment when I first heard this song. One day soon we will scream this together in a packed arena, fists in the air, knowing that we all survived hell and came out stronger. Broken but not defeated we march onwards to 2021.
I also compiled a playlist of my favourite cover songs of the year: https://open.spotify.com/user/highwayqueens/playlist/7AdLlYlPfUUq28989V8Xw4?si=OKo6Duz6QcSSja_hiKp22Q