Well hello again, and a Happy New Years’ Eve. We’re taking a look at some 2020 albums from Kentucky musicians that may have come in under your radar this year (here’s part 1). A few of you gave me some suggestions after yesterday’s post—feel free to drop more in the comments.
I’m also including a Spotify playlist at the end with song selections from 40+ Kentucky artists, and I’m always looking to add to it. It’ll make for a great soundtrack as you prepare for your Auld Lang Zoom and 12:01 a.m., at which time the whole world will return completely to normal and we’ll forget all this ever happened. Let us know how it goes, Australia!
Kelsey Waldon, “They’ll Never Keep Us Down”
The pride of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, used her quarantine time to put together a collection of cover songs, many of which were inspired by the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the ’60s and ’70s. Her version of Neil Young’s “Ohio” and Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” stand out in particular. Waldon’s mesmerizing bluegrass-tinged vocals give these songs an authenticity that’s just as powerful in today’s world as the one they were written in.
Brother Smith, “Palms and Fingertips”
Wes and Aaron Smith, brothers from northern Kentucky, have made names for themselves as two of the most gifted multi-instrumentalists in the state. On a given night, you can probably find one or both of them with local groups playing guitar, fiddle, drums, keys, bass, harmonica, basically anything an unsuspecting venue forgot to nail to the floor. Their latest release under their own band name is a James Taylor-inspired folk-rock album ripe with feel-good melodies and clever wordplay (the opening track about finding Jesus at the bar is called “Immaculate Consumption”). Also be sure to check out the “Group Dynamics” singles they released this year.
Kentucky John Clay, “Down Here Where I Am”
It’s a Blaze Foley tribute album. That might be all I have to say to get you to check out this record from Pikeville native Kentucky John Clay. He crafted some really inspired arrangements that give the songs just enough new life to make them sound like they were written in the mountains. Clay called in some incredible collaborators for this one, including Aaron Bibelhauser, John R. Miller, Chelsea Nolan, and—no lie—Michael Cleveland, who contributes his legendary fiddle to “If I Could Only Fly.” I’d pay good money to see this album performed live in 2021.
Trippin Roots, “Modern Man”
On to central Kentucky, where Woodford County rockers Trippin Roots are possibly the hardest-working band in the Bluegrass. They’ve crafted a unique southern rock sound amid a relentless schedule of live shows—find them a bare spot on your floor, and they’ll give every ounce of energy they have to it. And their second album is a great showcase for that energy. The title track is a fun, riffy rocker, and “Built on Sand” is destined to be a late-night live anthem for the audience to scream-sing along with.
Kristofer Lee Bentley, “Wonder Blue”
Floyd County’s Kristofer Bentley has been part of a handful of Kentucky bands over the past few years, most notably as one half of Sundy Best, but he’s quietly been building an impressive catalog of his own. Many of those can be heard on his 2017 release with The Revival, but “Wonder Blue” finds him completely stripped down, seemingly recorded outdoors with just his acoustic guitar and earnest voice. His songs often explore spirituality, rebirth, and finding joy in the journey, and this release is no exception.
EPs to check out
I didn’t have time to get to so many of the central Kentucky artists who have released EPs this year, but here’s a few that are well worth your time:
Abby Hamilton, “Afraid of the Dark”
Magnolia Boulevard, “New Illusion”
Elizabeth Varnado, “Elizr”
Lylak, “Suite for Spirits”
Grayson Jenkins, “Hand Me Downs”
Logan Carver, “Send More Birds”
Finally, as promised, here’s that Spotify playlist. Leave a comment or tweet me @tylersyoung with some suggestions of artists/songs to add to it, and I’ll include them. Happy listening, and a happy new year!