The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife  “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz, at its core, this still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After having compiled this weekly recurring feature for about nine months, I’ve developed a pretty good methodology to find new music. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, the madness doesn’t include the mainstream charts. Sometimes it’s pretty easy, other times it requires more work. This week fell into the latter category. I’m still quite happy with this new installment that features various flavors of rock, including alternative, kickass classic, indie and country.

Glom/Merit

Glom from Brooklyn, New York are a classic alt-rock inspired, fuzzy alt-rock act, according to their profile on Bandcamp. Based on this interview with Two Story Melody from March 2019, it sounds like while members of Glom have been friends and played together in various bands since their early high school years, the group only formed in 2017. Bandcamp lists Sean Dunnevant (guitar, bass, vocals), Peter Beiser (guitar, piano, vocals), Sahil Ansari (guitar, drums, percussion, synthesizer), Jonathan Crandall (synthesizer, piano, percussion), Jonathan Harwood (percussion) and Jordan Wolfe (drums, percussion, synthesizer). Merit, written by Dunnevant, is the title track of Glom’s new album released yesterday (Dec 4). It’s a quite catchy tune. Based on sampling a few other tracks on the album, these guys seem to have a knack for melodies that are easy on the ears.

Greta Van Fleet/Age of Machine

Age of Machine is the second single from Greta Van Fleet’s next album. When the kick-ass rocker appeared yesterday, the Michigan band also revealed their second full-length studio release will come out on April 16, 2021 and be titled The Battle at Garden’s Gate, Spin reported. “There was a lot of self-evolution happening during the writing of this album that was prompted by experiences I had, experiences we all had, so a lot of contemplation occurred,” explained vocalist Josh Kiszka.  “It’s reflecting a lot of the world that we’ve seen, and I think that it’s reflecting a lot of personal truth,” observed guitarist Jake Kiszka. “I suppose that everything has changed except what got us here in the first place,” added Sam Kiszka, the third of the Kiszka brothers and bassist of the band that also includes drummer Danny Wagner. Greta Van Fleet’s classic rock orientation has generated lots of excitement and, as you’d expect, some criticism over its Led Zeppelin-influenced sound. I think the new single provides more evidence that Greta Van Fleet have evolved in finding their own unique style. Really looking forward to hearing more from that album!

Juniper/Angelina

Juniper are an indie rock band from the Boston area. They were formed in the spring of 2017 by Scott Johnson, Ahren Shreeve and Alejandro Marin. In September that year, they released their eponymous debut EP. Another EP, For the First Time, came out one year later. On their website, Juniper describe their sound as “unique” with “diverse influences of alternative rock, folk, R&B and bedroom pop” – the latter being yet another genre I had not heard of before. Currently, they are working on their debut album. Meanwhile, here’s their new single Angelina. And, nope, the lovely young woman in the video isn’t Angelina.

The Wild Feathers/My Truth

Let’s wrap it up with The Wild Feathers, a country rock band founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. According to a bio on AllMusic, they prefer the term “American” over Americana when describing their sound, which falls somewhere between the earnest, neo-Southern rock of the Black Crowes, the bluesy swagger of the Black Keys, and the wide-open-road country-rock of the Eagles. The band’s current lineup features founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, playing with artists like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. My Truth is a new original song from the band’s most recent fourth album Medium Rarities, which according to a review in Glide Magazine is a collection of covers, demos, B-sides and a handful of new tunes. My Truth is a great track co-written by King, Young and country singer-songwriter Brett James.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bandcamp; Two Story Melody; Spin; Juniper website; Juniper Facebook page; AllMusic; Glide Magazine; YouTube