New Holiday Albums: The Best of 2020

One of the most essential parts of the holiday season is the music we listen to with our family and friends. This year, we especially need to come together to celebrate (virtually or in person), so we’re offering our list of the most comforting and inspiring holiday albums that have been released over the past few months. Included are brief reviews of our top six holiday albums of 2020, including releases from Leslie Odom Jr., Warren Wolf, the original cast of Hadestown, Amber Weekes, Lynda Randle, and Pentatonix. Also included is a list of honorable mentions, since there were too many amazing albums released this holiday season to cover in depth. Although this Christmas and holiday season may be a bit different from what most of us are used to, we hope these new music selections will help make this Christmas feel just as special as the last.

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Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, Vol. 18

 

Title: Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 18
Artist: Various
Label: Blues Images
Format: CD + Calendar
Release date: September 8, 2020

 

The Blues Images team strike a resonant chord again this year with their annual blues calendar and CD package. The wall calendar, featuring a historic advertisement for Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Pneumonia Blues” on the cover, displays additional photographs and graphical artwork that help bring to life the classic Pre-War blues classics included on this year’s audio selections. Beautiful photographs of Peg Leg Howell, Bertha Henderson, Ramblin’ Thomas, Victoria Spivey, and Blind Boy Fuller will help pass the months of 2021 as the calendar’s pages are turned, including a stand-out photo of Lead Belly and Martha Promise on their wedding day in the month of July.

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New Box Set and Books Commemorate Bob Marley’s 75th Anniversary

 

Title: The Complete Island Recordings
Artist: Bob Marley
Label: UMC/Island
Format: 11CD box set, vinyl reissues
Release Date: December 4, 2020

 

Fans of Bob Marley will have no shortage of Marley-related releases to choose from this holiday season. In December, UMC/Island will release The Complete Island Recordings, a new 11CD box set featuring all nine Bob Marley & The Wailers studio albums recorded for Island Records as well as two live albums (Live! and Babylon By Bus). The set spans a decade, beginning with 1973’s Catch A Fire and concluding with 1983’s Confrontation, a posthumous album released two years after Marley’s death. Additionally, on November 20, Universal is reissuing the same 11 albums and the compilation album Legend on vinyl as half-speed mastered editions. A third set of these albums, which are being pressed at the legendary Tuff Gong International headquarters in Kingston, will also be released on vinyl on December 11. The Tuff Gong set features the original Jamaica-recorded version of Catch A Fire, which is without overdubs, longer fades, and two extra tracks from the sessions.

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Jimi Hendrix Experience – Live In Maui

 

Title: Live In Maui
Artist: Jimi Hendrix Experience
Label: Experience Hendrix L.L.C./Sony Legacy
Formats: 2-CD or 3-LP + Blu-Ray set
Release date: November 20, 2020

 

Rarely a year goes by without a new release from the Hendrix archives and 2020 is no exception. This year’s offering, Live In Maui, features both the audio and video documentation of the “Rainbow Bridge Vibratory Color/Sound Experiment” concerts performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Hawaii on July 30, 1970, plus a new documentary and liner notes that chronicle the story behind the making of the film Rainbow Bridge. As is the case with the majority of these posthumous releases, the results are a mixed bag. For most Hendrix fans, however, there is likely enough new, high quality content to warrant the purchase of this three disc set. First and foremost, there’s the music, a remarkable live performance previously available only on bootlegs, offered here in superb sound, newly restored and mixed by Eddie Kramer and mastered by Bernie Grundman.

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Prince – Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.

 

Title: Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Ed.
Artist: Prince
Label: Warner
Formats: 8-CD or 13-LP + DVD Box Set
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Any Prince fan on your holiday gift list would likely be thrilled to receive the new edition of Sign O’ The Times, one of the Prince’s most memorable albums now offered as a super deluxe box set. Featuring 92 tracks across eight CDs plus a DVD and a 120-page illustrated hardcover book with essays by Dave Chappelle, Lenny Kravitz, and various Prince scholars, this set can be considered a bargain. In addition to the original 1987 double album remastered by Bernie Grundman, the other CDs include 63 previously unreleased tracks ranging from single remixes and B-sides to live songs plus a complete concert performance recorded in Utrecht, Netherlands, on June 20, 1987 during the Sign O’ The Times Tour.

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Little Richard – Expanded Editions of Reprise Albums

In a year that has brought many heartbreaking losses, one of the greatest was Little Richard, the undisputed architect of rock and roll who died on May 9, 2020 at the age of 87. Along with his peers, pianist Fats Domino and guitarists Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Richard secured a place in the rock n’ roll pantheon for Black musicians in the 1950s and managed to hold onto that success for the next 60 years through recordings and live performances. Though a number of compilations have been released in the past that cover his early years with Specialty, OKeh, and Vee-Jay Records, his recordings for Reprise Records in the 1970s have been somewhat neglected. Thanks to the reissue label Omnivore Recordings and producer Cheryl Pawelski, fans can now enjoy expanded CD editions of three of Little Richards’ Reprise releases as well as his 1986 Warner Bros. release, all with new liner notes by Bill Dahl.

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Chubby Checker and the 60th Anniversary of The Twist

 

Title: The Twist
Artist: Chubby Checker
Label: ABKCO
Format: 7” vinyl
Release date: September 25, 2020

 

Sixty years ago, Philadelphia teenager Chubby Checker released his iconic version of “The Twist.” Dropping in the summer of 1960, the single hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 on September 24, 1960. Originally a twelve-bar blues song written and released a year earlier by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, it was Checker’s rendition that caught the attention of Dick Clark, who invited him to perform on American Bandstand. The rest, as they say, is history. Checker’s song spurred a worldwide dance craze, eventually earning him a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of “The Twist,” ABKCO Records is offering several commemorative releases of Checker’s recordings.

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The Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection

 

Title: The Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection
Artist: Various
Label: Stax/Craft
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 13, 2020

 

The Gospel Truth: The Complete Singles Collection is a two CD compilation of all of the gospel music singles released from 1972-1974 by the Stax subsidiary label, Gospel Truth.  One of the many highlights of this set are the opening tracks by the most popular artist on the label, Bishop Rance Allen and the Rance Allen Group, who perform “Just My Imagination (Just My Salvation)” and the song popularized by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Up Above My Head.”

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Evelyn “Champagne” King – The RCA Albums 1977-1985

 

Title: The RCA Albums 1977-1985
Artist: Evelyn “Champagne” King
Label: SoulMusic Records (dist. Cherry Red)
Format: 8-CD Box Set
Release Date: September 24, 2020

 

This 8-CD release from David Nathan’s SoulMusic Records features the eight RCA albums recorded between 1977 and 1985 by the iconic Evelyn “Champagne” King. King is one of the primary purveyors of R&B and dance music that helped fuel the disco movement of the late 1970s. The RCA Albums, distributed by Cherry Red Records, is the first-of-its-kind deluxe box set including reissues of all eight albums, handpicked bonus tracks, and essays on King’s time with RCA by two renowned writers.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Con Funk Shun – Confunkshunizeya: The Mercury Anthology

 

Title: Confunkshunizeya: The Mercury Anthology
Artist: Con Funk Shun
Label: Robinsongs
Format: 2CD set
Release Date: September 24, 2020

 

Con Funk Shun was one of the premier funk and soul ensembles of the ’70s and ’80s. Led by the vocals of Felton Pilate and Michael Cooper, the group produced eight Top Ten R&B hits and the No. 1 chart topping single, “Ffun,” in addition to four consecutive Gold albums. Confunkshunizeya, the first double CD career anthology of the supergroup, includes 32 tracks from Con Funk Shun’s golden years and the full 12” version of “Ffun.”

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Sade – This Far

Title: This Far
Artist: Sade
Label: Legacy
Format: 6-LP vinyl box set
Release Date: September 2, 2020

This Far, the new Sade vinyl box set, offers brand new half-speed masters, courtesy of Miles Showell at Abbey Road. The first of its kind, this set includes all six of the soul singer’s acclaimed albums on pure 180-gram black vinyl. Showell worked from high resolution digital transfers of the stereo master mixes and from the original analog studio tapes, resulting in exceptionally clean and detailed audio that remains faithful to the band’s intended sound.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

Beyoncé – Homecoming: The Live Album

 

Title: Homecoming: The Live Album
Artist: Beyoncé
Label: Columbia
Format: 4-LP vinyl set
Release Date: December 4, 2020

 

The first African American woman to headline the Coachella festival, Beyoncé received immediate acclaim from fans and critics alike following her April 2018 Homecoming performances. Her concert celebrated Historically Black Colleges and Universities with over 100 dancers, a band, and special guest performers including J Balvin, Jay-Z, and a nostalgic Destiny’s Child reunion with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. This new 4-LP set includes over two dozen songs from the live performances that thrilled over 125,000 concertgoers on those April weekends.

Reviewed by Chloe McCormick

The Kanneh-Masons – Carnival of the Animals

 

Title: Carnival of the Animals
Artist: The Kanneh-Masons
Label: Decca
Formats: CD, LP, Deluxe CD + Book
Release date: December 18, 2020

 

London’s “young, gifted and classical” Kanneh-Mason family have joined together with friends for a retelling of Camille Saint-Saëns classic children’s suite, Carnival of the Animals, paired with Michael Morpurgo’s Grandpa Christmas. Performers include the four oldest family members who currently study at the Royal Academy of Music—pianist Isata, cellist Sheku, and violinists Braimah and Konya—with their younger siblings including 18-year-old pianist Jeneba, 15-year-old violinist Aminata, and 11-year-old cellist Mariatu. Recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, this album marks the first release to feature all seven of the famous siblings performing together.

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Ella Fitzgerald – Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes

 

Title: Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes
Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
Label: Verve
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 2, 2020

 

There can be no dispute: Ella Fitzgerald is one of the elite vocalists in the history of jazz. In my opinion, Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, presents one of the most enjoyable concert recordings in her career. Accompanied by Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass and Stan Levey on drums, the rhythm section provides a solid foundation for Ella’s creative and intensely personal performance – absolute perfection. This is a newly discovered treasure. Verve first released Ella in Berlin (1960) on LP from a concert on February 13, 1960, then Ella Returns to Berlin (1991) on CD from a concert on February 11, 1961, but overlooked, until now, this third performance in Berlin from her concert on March 25, 1962. The stereo sound mix, remastered from the original tapes, closely captures Ella’s voice, giving listener’s the impression they are sitting right in front of her in the auditorium.

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George Benson – Weekend In London

 

Title: Weekend In London
Artist: George Benson
Label: Provogue/Mascot
Format: CD, LP
Release Date: November 13, 2020

 

For the first time in 30 years, 10-time Grammy winning guitarist and vocalist George Benson has released a live recording highlighting his favorite hits and improvisational skills. Weekend In London, which harkens back to his groundbreaking 1978 Weekend in LA, pays homage to many of the guitarist’s career peaks that effortlessly fused jazz, R&B and pop. Although Benson has played at some of the biggest venues in the world during his acclaimed six-decade career, this newest release features his performance at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, an intimate 250-seat venue with exceptional acoustics that has been hosting the world’s most influential jazz musicians since 1959.

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Bootsy Collins – The Power Of The One

 

Title: The Power Of The One
Artist: Bootsy Collins
Label: eOne/Sweetwater
Format: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend Bootsy Collins is back, hitting us with The Power Of The One, his 25th album release. Bootsy has been a huge influencer in the popular music community for generations. As a bass player, he was one of the first to use effect pedals, particularly the MU-Tron III, which provided the envelope filter necessary to create the squealing synth-like sound featured on many of the songs he recorded as a member of Funkadelic. He was also a progenitor of the slide technique which is used in many of today’s different genres of music. Rolling Stone’s current list of the “50 Best Bassists of All Time places Bootsy at #4, stating that he “redefined soul and funk bass playing in the Seventies, and, by proxy, rap and pop in the Eighties and Nineties. . . You can hear his influence in practically every bass player to come since…” 

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Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War

 

Title: Uncivil War
Artist: Shemekia Copeland
Label: Alligator
Format: CD, Digital
Release date: October 23, 2020

 

Reigning blues queen Shemekia Copeland delves deep into the divided heart and tarnished soul of America on her latest release, Uncivil War. The follow-up to her 2018 album, America’s Child, Copeland again teams up with Nashville guitarist/producer Will Kimbrough, who casts her signature vocal style into a spellbinding Americana brew. Assisting with this effort is an all-star cast featuring singer-guitarist Jason Isbell, rising young Delta blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, lap steel guitarist Jerry Douglas, bluegrass mandolinist Sam Bush, legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), roots guitarists Duane “King of Twang” Eddy and Webb Wilder, plus The Orphan Brigade on background vocals.

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Benjamin Boone – The Poets Are Gathering

 

Title: The Poets Are Gathering
Artist: Benjamin Boone
Label: Origin
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: October 16, 2020

 

Composer-saxophonist Benjamin Boone continues his fascination with poetry and jazz on his latest album, The Poets Are Gathering. The Cal State University Fresno professor, who has released two previous collections devoted to this pairing, notes that jazz and poetry have been inextricably linked since the Harlem Renaissance. Following the tradition of artists such as Langston Hughes and Charles Mingus, who collaborated on the album Weary Blues (1958), Boone’s new project features eleven acclaimed poets—including Black poets Tyehimba Jess, Patrick Sylvain, Patricia Smith, and Donald Brown, II—who narrate their own works. Boone, who performs on soprano and alto sax, leads the various backing ensembles, featuring contributions from guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer Ari Hoenig. Recorded over the last three years, the content reflects the political and social turmoil of the present, providing “up-to-the minute, ripped-from-the-headlines” messages.

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