Tunes & Tomes: Favorite 2020 Albums & Books

Some favorite albums from 2020

Tami Nelison – Chickaboom!

Tami Nelison is a Canadian powerhouse of talent. Stumbled on a track from this album last year while scrolling through Youtube and was hooked. A combination of golden-age country, rockabilly raunch & sweet soul. Neilson writes and performs all her own songs with a band that includes her brother, guitarist Jay Neilson. Every track on the record is good but a few favorites are “Queenie Queenie,” “Any Fool with a Heart,” “You Were Mine” & “16 Miles of Chains.” For the life of me I can’t understand why Neilson isn’t a major star and much better known. Amazing record

Shadow Show – Silhouettes

This groovy girl trio from Detroit is inspired by garage bands and sixties psychedelia. Shadow Show is just a lot of fun to listen to. Their latest album is full of catchy tunes with good beats & great harmonies. A couple of favorite tracks are “The Alchemist” & “Dreamhead.” Highly recommended if you enjoy psychedelic garage retro rock as much as I do.

Matt Berry – Phantom Birds

Matt Berry’s (yes – the same Matt Berry from What We Do in the Shadows) latest album is not his best but I still enjoyed enough tracks to consider it a shoo-in for my list. Heavily influenced by country rock artists such as Gram Parsons, Phantom Birds is a slow and melodic record with a lot of twang. My favorite tracks are the ones with a classic rock groove such as “Moonlight Flit” but it’s nice to see Berry exploring new ground and his voice is as lovely as ever.

Holy Trinity – Holy Trinity

This album inspired by Russian folk tales (among other things) is my favorite album of the year. It was certainly the one I listened to the most! Holy Trinity is an extraordinary band from Moscow heavily influenced by 1960s/1970s occult rock as well as bands like The Doors, Deep Purple and Jefferson Airplane. They perform and record all their music on vintage equipment so it has an authentic “old school” sound. I’m especially enamored by their amazing keyboardist and powerhouse female vocalist, Diana. A few of my favorite tracks on their debut album include “The Golden Calf” and “The Light of Samarkand.”

Some favorite books from 2020 and the final addition to my “Four Favorites from 2020” recommendations if you’re still reading.

A Luminous Republic by Andres Barbos

Discovering Barbos early last year was such a treat. He’s Spanish writer and poet influenced by decadent and gothic fiction who often employees a child’s perspective. Barbos is a master of mood and building tension and his work has a cutting and dark melodic tone. I believe this is his first full-length novel translated into English and I suspect it may have been partially inspired by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 horror film Who Can Kill a Child? I recommended Barbos’s short novella “Such Small Hands” last year and I would start with that if you’re new to his work before diving into this full-length novel.

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

Good reference book that contains biographies and mini bibliographies of women horror writers. Why in the hell aren’t there more books like this? (angrily waving my fist in the air while I curse the patriarchy!) Most of the information wasn’t exactly new to me but I appreciated how it was collected and organized. This type of material is typically academic in nature, but the writer’s easy-going approach makes it accessible to anyone and everyone.

Sundown Motel by Simone St. James

When I want an easy, breezy read I often turn to gothic romance novelist Simone St. James. Her work often takes place during or in the aftermath of WWI, but her last two books have had modern settings. Her latest tale is an eerie mystery that takes place during the 1980s and involves a young woman in search of her missing aunt and a haunted hotel full of deep dark secrets. Not my favorite St. James book but a fun read nevertheless.

I’m Gonna Say It Now: The Writings of Phil Ochs edited by David Cohen

I listened to Phil Ochs a lot during the last 4 years. He was a bright light in an ugly world where I saw so many of my fellow Gen Xers who once railed against the system suddenly turn into shitlibs. But enough about me and my American nightmare. Let’s talk about Phil Ochs! Ochs was arguably Bob Dylan’s only real competitor for the American folk hero crown, but alcoholism, depression, and paranoia (following years of being hounded by the FBI) got in the way of his success and he committed suicide when he was just 35 years old. This book collects a bunch of his writing – including some film reviews which I will share on Cinebeats soon! – and provides some much-needed insight into his worldview while spotlighting his incredible grace and wicked sense of humor. A fascinating addition to the catalog of work left by one of America’s greatest folk musicians.