The Best Saskatchewan Albums of 2020
The Top 10
It’s been another fantastic year for Saskatchewan music! From outstanding singles, EPs, and albums, to international concert stages (pre-pandemic), our artists have been busily making their presence heard at home and beyond our borders. From the albums released in the past year, we assembled our Long List of 42 albums and put it to public vote.
We are pleased to present your Top 10 for 2020. Due to ties, there are 15 albums named.
This project is to promote and celebrate Saskatchewan music. We seek to raise more awareness of our province's music and celebrate our artists’ many successes over the past year. The top album as determined by the poll receives the 2020 Saskatchewan Music Award for "Album of the Year."
#1 Tenille Arts: Love, Heartbreak & Everything In Between
Our #1 spot in The Best Saskatchewan Albums of the Year, and recipient of the 2020 Saskatchewan Music Award for Album of the Year.
Raised in Weyburn, and currently working in Nashville, Tenille Arts has had quite the rise these past few years. A few numbers: over 78 million lifetime streams. A digital audience of over 341,000. 172,000 lifetime Shazams. Tenille's sophomore album, Love, Heartbreak & Everything In Between was released in January and in the first week reached #10 Current Country Albums & #5 Top New Artist Albums Charts, #3 Country Albums & #10 All-Genre Albums on iTunes. It’s yielded Top 10 Canadian hits "Somebody Like That" and "Everybody Knows Everybody." Within a month of the album coming out, she performed on The Grand Ole Opry, The TODAY Show, performed for the third time on the Bachelor TV show and sang "O Canada" at the NBA All-Star game. She also picked up the Canadian Country Music Association’s 2020 Rising Star Award in September. It’s that powerful voice that gets you first; then the songwriting doubles down. Tenille wrote two of the songs on the album solo, and partnered with the likes of Allison Veltz, Whitney Duncan, Derek George, Alex Kline, Palmer Lee, Josh Logan, Lizzy McAvoy, James Slater, Grant Vogelfanger and Adam Wheeler on the other 10 cuts. Kline, Vogelfanger and Wheeler, along with Matt Rovey, have production credits on the collection.
#2 JJ Voss: Come Along With Me
With influences such as Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, Johnny Cash and Jim Cuddy, Regina’s JJ Voss “aims to make relevant music that addresses social issues, and takes a stand for what’s right.” The Regina-based Voss was raised on a farm near Cupar SK, and was drawn to the guitar from a young age. Inspired by great songwriters, he hit the road from high school on, with shows from small towns to big festivals, and later stages in Germany, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Colombia and Mexico. With 2020 Sask. Country Music Awards for Roots Artist and Video of the Year, plus a nomination for Songwriter, JJ’s raspy vocals make a textured delivery of his songwriting. He’s also nominated for Roots/Folk Artist of the Year at the 2020 Saskatchewan Music Awards. Come Along With Me is “a thought-provoking journey of unorthodox subject material that is a side step from the standard fare offered up in the genre. It's a record about respect, love and positivity, on top of tackling many of the tough social issues of the day” (Exclaim). The record was produced by Murray Pulver (along with one track by Jason Barry), and backed by a complement of excellent players.
#3 Jesse Brown: Where To?
With so many people stressed about their lack of work or health or social interaction, Jesse is there to help create a backdrop for his listeners soul-searching and need for calm. A pianist, composer, recording artist and teacher with more than two decades of experience composing and performing music, Jesse runs a piano studio in Saskatoon where he spends countless hours teaching, composing, recording and releasing music, as well as writing and publishing piano music books. He’s collaborated with many other composers to create beautiful music, and backed up countless local musicians as a live and studio player. Now working with NY-based Sonder House label, one of the leading modern classical labels in the world, he’s seen his reach increase even further with a prolific number of singles and albums released over the past several years. His music has been featured on countless playlists, including notably piece “Whispered Winds” (a collaboration with Rich Batsford) added to the 6-million-follower Peaceful Piano Spotify playlist, among others; with editorial placements of his music on Apple Music, Deezer, and Amazon Music in 2020. He currently has over 800,000 monthly listeners just on Spotify; an incredible achievement. Jesse was nominated for Experimental / Contemporary Artist of the Year at the 2018 and 2019 Saskatchewan Music Awards, and is nominated again in 2020, along with a nomination this year for Single of the Year for "Notes from Tom," a collaboration with Tom Merrall (which has alone achieved over 7million Spotify streams this year).
#4 The Garrys: Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Original Score)
In October 2019, after months of cloistered writing and rehearsal, surf-rock sister trio The Garrys took to the stage of the historic Roxy Theatre for a one-time performance of a new original live score, written to accompany Benjamin Christiansen's 1922 silent film and horror cult classic "Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages". The following Halloween, after months of painstaking editing, selections from this score were released as a cohesive, self-produced double-vinyl album. This was an ambitious project for The Garrys, stretching them artistically and allowing them to explore dark and experimental new sonic territory. On previous albums, they’d dipped their toes only momentarily into the foreboding dread that Häxan exudes. Fans will no doubt recognize the layered blood harmonies and minor-key surf riffs, but will also find something novel (and even disturbing) in the addition of brooding and nightmarish new sounds, built on psych-heavy guitars, accordion drones, dramatic brass melodies, swirling synth and pedal effects, and witchy incantations. Taken together, this double album makes for a haunting, dynamic, and cinematic listening experience that moves The Garrys further to the “doom” side of “doom-wop”.
#5 The North Sound: As The Stars Explode
"As the Stars Explode, the sophomore outing from Saskatoon-based country roots rockers the North Sound, is a slick, radio friendly record punctuated by the songwriting guile and instrumental prowess of Blackfoot singer-songwriter Forrest Eaglespeaker backed by Nevada Freistadt's tight, crisp harmonies" (exclaim!) Formed in 2014 by Forrest Eaglespeaker supported by his partner Nevada Freistadt, The North Sound was created as a way to share stories in keeping true to Forrest’s Blackfoot identity and traditions from Treaty 7 Territory. The North Sound has had three singles reach number one on the Indigenous Music Countdown as well as Saskatchewan's MBC Radio, and has received three Sask. Country Music Award nominations; two for Roots Artist and one for Emerging Artist of the Year. Sharing the stage with the likes of Blue Rodeo, Kathleen Edwards, Eagle and Hawk, Derek Miller, Susan Aglukark, Celeigh Cardinal, Logan Staats, and many more, The North Sound has performed at multiple venues and festivals across Canada and the United States. The North Sound also has two 2020 Saskatchewan Music Award nominations this year – for Roots/Folk Artist of the Year, and Indigenous Artist of the Year.
#6 Ellen Froese & Campbell Woods: Farm Boy Sings The Blues
Hailing from a dairy farm in the heart of Saskatchewan, Ellen Froese swiftly made her presence known in the Canadian music scene. As a solo act or with her rockin’ back-up band, the Hot Toddies, as well as a founding member of successful bluegrass/folk group In With The Old, she has balanced multiple projects for the last few years, earning accolades along the way. Whether performing a folk traditional, a rock 'n' roll classic, or her own compositions, Froese handles it with an air of authenticity – all tempered with a healthy dose of humour and self-deprecation. (She’s also nominated for Roots/Folk Artist of the Year at the 2020 Saskatchewan Music Awards.) Meanwhile, Ontario’s Campbell Woods released his debut record in 2017 and has been on the road ever since, performing everywhere from Vancouver to Halifax to Nashville to Austin. He sings “soft songs about hard luck,” rooted in the tradition of Townes Van Zandt. Last summer, Ellen and Campbell recorded this folk album at Sunnyside Dairy Farm outside of Saskatoon, engineered and mixed by Jill Mack. “As cheeky as it is wise, and just as light as it is grounding, this 10-track album is full of steady harmonies, reverberating acoustic guitars that diffuse into every corner of the soundscape, and quippy lyrics that prompt crooked smiles” (Cups N Cakes).
#6 Jay & Jo: Victory
Smack dab in the middle of the strangest year ever, the songs of Victory spill out onto the quiet streets and bring some much-needed hope and humanity to hard times. A single, sharp breath starts off the album with the introspective intro track Inscape. The album moves like a dance, touching on themes of disillusionment (False-Bottomed World), personal loss (Ought to be Loved), perseverance in life’s storms (Safe in the Waves), and the questions that come with a personal and faith crisis (Grand Canyon). The title track Victory is seated in the middle of the album, reaching its arms over all other tunes and draping them in an overarching theme of hopeful resilience. Produced by Hal Schrenk and released in July 2020, this album spoke into the truly universal experience of suffering that has hit the world this year. The release has been nominated for multiple Saskatchewan Country Music Awards, and was one of Planet S’ top 3 albums of 2020.
#7 Aaron Karpinka: Tender Heart
This singer/songwriter from Saskatoon a reputation for unwavering positivity, a trait that’s appreciated perhaps more than ever this year. As one half of the Karpinka Brothers, he’s released four LPs and shared stages with everyone from John K Samson to Gordon Lightfoot. Now on Tender Heart, Aaron steps out with a staggeringly honest and personal solo debut. The record details a year that can only be described as full of soaring highs and crushing lows. He was married, bought a new home and landed a big promotion at work. He was also held up, lost a close friend to suicide and was the one to discover the body. His songwriting shines a light across it all, tackling love with charm and humour, while addressing mental health and seeking professional help with startling sincerity. Aaron is backed on the album by a cast of respected musicians including Marissa Burwell, Andy Beisel, Chris Dimas, Jon Neher, Ethan Anderson and Gage McGuire for a lively and careening album that is at once both hilarious and heartbreaking.
#8 Saintvicious: Saintvicious
This Saskatoon hard rock band includes members Madison Erhardt on vocals, Ryan Kimmerly and Robyn Dolezsar on guitars, Dan Mason on bass and Charlie Barnard on drums. “There’s no question that the high-octane rock from Saintvicious lives up to the latter half of their name. The Canadian outfit premiered in 2018, comprised of long-time friends who were unsparing in what they love in heavy music. Gaining notoriety in their circles by executing brash riffs with rouse and fury onstage, Saintvicious is an exhibit of rock n’ roll, with all its bruises and attitude.” (Bloody News webzine). Saintvicious independently released their self-titled debut in late 2019, mixed and mastered by Josh Wildhorn (ex-Dragged Under, Designer Disguise). Counting varied influences among their members, they’ve got a ‘Canadian rock’ sound that’s “just on the cusp of heaviness before being a metal band.” The band toured through Western Canada in support of the release prior to the pandemic.
#8 Skizza: Things I Found
Skizza's newest full-length project was primarily written and recorded in the early days and weeks of the covid-19 quarantine as a bright and playful diversion from the stresses of 2020. If his last album was about using struggle as fuel for personal growth, then his new album is about the importance of taking the time to appreciate and enjoy just exactly how far you've come. As a rapper, Skizza is equally capable with weaving intricate patterns of wordplay and rhyme scheme as he is with telling emotive, introspective stories, or delivering playful punchlines. Wide topical and conceptual space as well as catchy hooks maintain the listener's interest across the 15 tracks. Soulful, organic production featuring lush melodies and vintage sample work grounds the emotional center of the project as something simultaneously modern, and yet nostalgic.
#8 Yvonne St Germaine: Sorrow Road
As a Metis singer/songwriter and multiple award winner, St Germain’s goal is to minister through song. Her music brings healing, motivation, praise or just a relaxed atmosphere. She aims to put her own twist on Country Gospel, and to touch the heart and soul of her listeners. "It has been a tough journey the past 14 years in this particular genre. I am unlike the artist you will see in the secular charts or written biographies. I like to take chances and challenges when it comes to music. For myself the biggest award or reward is reaching people to bring joy and thankfulness through song. How can one go wrong by singing about the one who gave us all this amazing gift," she explains. The album was helmed by Glen Enns, producer and co-producer Sheldon Corbett, with a host of musicians lending their talents.
#9 Marshall Burns: Dogs and Booze
Burns’ first solo album leans into traditional country, delivering his songs in a retro-nodding storytelling feel and with titles such as A Shot at the Bar, (Don’t Let That) Bottle Suck You In, and Steel Players. Well-established in the Saskatchewan music scene with bands like The Alley Dawgs, The Lonesome Weekends and long-running indie darlings Rah Rah, Dogs and Booze has been in the works for a few years, coming to fruition in late 2019. Guitar pickin’ licks, fiddle and steel bring the songs to life.
About the BSA Badge
The original photography used as the background of our badge is by Colin McLellan, a Regina-based artist and photographer working under the name Apocolyptic Cow. Colin also works on the crew of live shows in non-pandemic times, and is a member of IATSE Local 295. This elevator shot was taken near Horizon SK. To see more from Apocolyptic Cow, and inquire about prints for purchase, visit www.facebook.com/colin.mclellan.3.
#10 3 Moonjask: Lunar Elixir
Lunar Elixir is 3 Moonjask’s third release from Adhesive Sounds. Completely recorded and mixed in-house on reel-to-reel, the Moonjask are back at it again. Lo-fi deep cuts, underground pop hits, and aesthetic realness are preserved on tape. The trio are re-defining electronic music using only the 3DS’ and Korg M01-D. Creating a surreal stage look that focuses your attention on the sounds, members of the group perform fully masked in unique creations, while performances have taken them as far as Japan.
#10 Factor Chandelier: First Storm
Western Canada-based prolific producer Factor Chandelier is back with a new full-length album dedicated to his son. A culmination of two years of touring, collaborative projects, and fatherhood, this record is his most thematically in-depth and sonically expansive project to date. "First Storm" sees Factor merging genres to give his signature production a fresh melodic mood. The album is comprised of new instrumental tracks and vocal features from Factor's frequent collaborators Ceschi, Myka 9, Kay the Aquanaut, Cadence Weapon, Mestizo, Dope KNife, Onry Ozzborn, Nomad, and Taylor Jade. Factor has gained significant attention for his consistent output of original, thought-provoking music that pushes the envelope of traditional hip-hop. The album was self-produced in his Chandelier Studios.
#10 Midnight Gallows: Attack Warning Red
“Mitch Rogers and Jason Thiry are dangerous partners in crime on this new album and they complement each other perfectly. They’re like arcade duo Lucky and Wild as Rogers steers and Thiry obliterates baddies from the passenger seat” (Cups N Cakes). Midnight Gallows is a two-piece Doom and Stoner Metal band from Regina. Veterans of punk rock road warriors Royal Red Brigade, in Midnight Gallows these two have reinvented themselves with a new, heavier sound and a penchant for doom drenched grooves. Inspired by the spartan challenges of writing as a two piece, they have crafted a dark new recipe that is rich, full bodied and heavy. Attack Warning Red, produced by Chris Dimas, is the result of years of song crafting as a team and showcases the pair’s ability to weave together multiple styles and genres. Encompassing a broad range of moods, the album swings between explosive heaviness and atmospheric guitarwork. Mixed tempos and aggressive riffs colour themes of dread and euphoria that guide the album over an underlying sense of malaise.