Albums Of The Month – December 2020

Our Top Five Releases

Will Kimbrough – Photo: LTTL

Top Five Releases

December 2020

By Rob Dickens

Chris Stapleton

Starting Over


13 November 2020

There are plenty of references to Chris Stapleton on this site, throwing untold praise his way (search his name and watch the cascade of articles). His debut album Traveling was my absolute favourite of 2015.

Starting Over is its equal. A debut can have a lot of pent-up material which sets a very high standard but the range of emotions conveyed here represents a maturity of writing that is extremely impressive (there’s less songs about whiskey for sure!).

Growling swamp rock, blistering bluesy ballads and country soul are all on display in this triumphant collection.



Gillian Welch

Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 3

Acony Records

30 October 2020

The Americana/folk darlings Gillian Welch and David Rawlings make fine use of the pandemic with this, the third and final instalment of the unearthed and celebrated cache of home demos and reel-to-reel recordings (forty eight songs in all).

Like the earlier volumes, Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs, Vol. 3 was recorded between the making of two classic releases Time (The Revelator) and Soul Journey. This instalment offers irrefutable proof of their stellar collaboration history and the ability to tap into this simple (seemingly to the listener), authentic and pioneering musical zeitgeist.

How so many excellent songs that appear here did not make the cut to earlier releases is a sterling monument to their musicianship.


John Shipe

The Beast Is Back

Involushun Records

25 September 2020

You don’t see many double albums released these days. The ambition is admirable in this, John Shipe‘s twelfth project.

Shipe hails from Eugene Oregon (coincidentally as does Tyler Fortier – see Last Year’s Man below). The serendipity continues as The Beast Is Back was produced by Fortier, and what a fine job he does here.

There’s a brutal honesty at play in this eighteen-song collection – mature love songs, playful paeans, foot-stompers and empathetic slow burners. Shipe’s clear and modulated vocals are a feature (his voice reminds me of the great Joe Henry) and the production values are first rate, cobbling together some of the Pacific Northwest’s finest – employing pedal steel, piano and organ, strings, horns, mandolin, fiddle and banjo.

The Beast Is Back brims with an assortment of treasures.


Via Broken Jukebox Media

Last Year’s Man

Brave The Storm


13 November 2020

Back to Eugene Oregon. Last Year’s Man is the pseudonym of producer and songwriter Tyler Fortier who shows us his front-man chops with a sublime debut album Brave the Storm.

Low-key and hypnotic, this is a remarkable debut.



Via Broken Jukebox Media and Public Display PR

Will Kimbrough

Spring Break

Daphne Records

23 October 2020

I finally managed to see Will Kimbrough live this year. After many attempts during my visits to the USA, it was in fact on Australian shores that the deed was finally and happily done – at the Port Fairy Folk Festival on 7 March this year.

There was some growing disquiet about COVID-19 that day and within a week or two, border closures and lockdowns became the big news, meaning that Kimbrough and other international artists had to hasten home.

Fast forward eight months and Kimbrough’s Spring Break is proof positive that he has been using the intervening time wisely (my experience of his Australian set list showed little or no inkling of these new songs, with a heavy emphasis on his earlier album I Like It Down Here).

It’s a more acoustic offering and a topical reflection of our troubled times. “My Right Wing Friend” sets a timely note of tolerance, opining that different political views are much less important than friendhips:

“Here in 2020, social distancing / When the virus took John Prine, we cried ‘there goes my everything’ / Now we’re all Sam Stone, alone without a name.”

“The Late Great John Prine Blues” is a fitting tribute to the gifted musician who tragically passed away during the pandemic. Two songs with Prine mentions is almost enough of its own to feature in this column.

Spring Break adds assuredly to this lower Alabaman’s storied discography.



Our Top Five Releases

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Author: Rob Dickens

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