Ana Lee is WMOT’s ear to the ground for emerging and local artists working in our remarkable hometown, and she filters all she hears – live and on record – into the Local Brew, the weekly show and daily feature she’s hosted since April of 2019. Now she’s taken stock of 2020 and picked ten albums particularly worthy of remembering as the year comes to a close.
For Ana Lee, and for the artists she surveys, it’s been a year of adapting, interpreting and feeling deeply. “I’ve been blown away by the level of commitment from these artists who want to say how they feel, and I think that is so important because we get comfort from that, at least I do,” she says. “When I hear a song that moves me, I will play it over and over, and I saw that en masse this year.”
Of course, this year, tips about great artists and new music was arriving in the mailbox or online instead of her usual circuit of live venues. “Due to the pandemic, the way that I find music has changed drastically,” she says. “I’m not out in clubs where I always try to get there to catch the opening bands and I often find artists that way who I’m blown away by. Or being out and talking to friends. Now I’m out there on social media asking, ‘What’s new?’ ‘What have you got?’”
As always with Music City, they got quite a lot. Here are Ana Lee’s notes on the records, with edits by Craig. Happy Hunting in 2021.
Ben de la Cour - Shadow Land
The 2016 Kerrville New Folk contest winner conjures devastating stories and the sounds to bring those stories to life on his fourth album. Ben delivers these songs with grit and passion and believability. He needs to be heard!
Amanda Broadway Band - The Ache
Amanda Broadway has been singing around Nashville for years now. She’s a regular with Acme's Music City Toppers, in King Corduroy's band and many others. This soul/R&B project is her debut release, and she knocked it out of the park. The vocals and musicianship are impressive as is the songwriting.
Kyshona Armstrong – Listen
Kyshona Armstrong and Amanda Broadway both released their albums at a joint show at the end of February, a shining example of how Nashville artists collaborate and have each other’s backs. Armstrong is a force, vocally and lyrically, and with this her fifth album, the world is noticing her committed voice and moral authority.
India Ramey - Shallow Graves
India Ramey was an assistant district attorney in Alabama before pursuing her songwriting dream in Nashville, and her songs often reflect her experiences. This album is about justice and she puts every ounce of herself, as well has her penetrating blue voice, into these performances. The writing, the production, the persona. It's a bit dark but undeniably real.
Great Peacock - Forever Worse Better
This band has worked really hard over almost 10 years, entertaining here at home and working the road on constant tours. With this release, their first to enter the American chart in the top 30, the songs are a culmination of life experiences, road experiences and sheer determination to be heard in a year of no live shows. Their roots-rock sound has evolved, achieving a locked-in grandeur on this release.
Brian Wright & The Sneak-Ups - Lapse of Luxury
Songwriter, producer, guitarist and label-owner Brian Wright brings gritty rock n roll with catchy melodies and some pretty intense stories on Lapse of Luxury. “Heavy Metal Shed Kids” shook me when I first heard it performed live over a year before the album's release. It's a quietly powerful narrative, and mostly true, the artist says. It's not the only one.
The Danberrys – Shine
Ben DeBerry and Dorothy Daniel are a Nashville husband-and-wife duo I've been following for years, and I feel like they've really hit their stride with this release. Deep, personal songs that resonate with a wide audience, thanks to the gorgeous harmony singing and overall musicality.
Jarrod Dickenson - Ready the Horses LP and Under A Texas Sky
Jarrod Dickenson's Ready The Horses has been ready for release for a couple of years but tied up in legal stuff with a label in Europe. The songs and moody soul country sounds were worth the wait. He also released an EP of cover songs that pay tribute to the music of his home state of Texas, with arrangements and vocals that breathe new life into songs by Guy Clark and more.
Brit Taylor - Real Me
Brit Taylor has been writing and pitching songs in Nashville for several years, but she wanted to sing them herself, leading to this impressive debut. The first track I heard, "Back in The Fire" reminded me of Bobbie Gentry and immediately made me want to hear more. Co-writing with Dan Auerbach and Pat McLaughlin, she showcases her Kentucky roots as well as her modern style. Watch for a breakout in 2021.
Iron Range - Future Fortunes
What a lucky find. The members of Iron Range have been touring with Nashville singer songwriter Austin Plaine as his backing band. During the lockdown, Ben Garrett of Iron Range produced and played on Austin's forthcoming release. But he also led these sessions, producing tracks that made me want to listen again and again. You’ll hear heartland rock punched up with jangly guitars and fine harmony singing.