The Year That Was – Part 2 of 2

Best new songs of 2021

This is the second installment of my 2-part review of 2021. Here I’m going to focus on songs released over the past 12 months, which I like in particular. The picks are based on my Best of What’s New weekly recurring feature. Part 1, which you can read here, highlighted my six favorite albums that came out over the past year.

Altogether, Best of What’s New featured more than 200 songs that were released in 2021. From there I narrowed things down to 4o tunes, which are included in the playlist at the end of this post. Following I’d like to highlight 10 out of these 40 songs. It wasn’t easy to pick those 10 tunes. In my view, that’s a good sign since it means there were many great choices.

Aaron Frazer/If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)

Kicking things off is If I Got It (Your Love Brought It), a terrific soul tune by Aaron Frazer, a Brooklyn, New York-based singer-songwriter. The song, co-written by Frazer, Dan Auerbach and David Ferguson, is off Frazer’s debut album Introducing…, which appeared on January 8 and was produced by Auerbach. Check out that neat falsetto, which is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield – so good!

Gretchen Parlato/É Preciso Perdoar

Next, let’s turn to contemporary jazz by California native Gretchen Parlato. É Preciso Perdoar is the beautiful opener of her fifth studio album Flor (Portuguese for flower) that appeared on March 5. The tune is credited to Brazilian composers Alcyvando Luz and Carlos Coqueijo, as well as Parlato – just beautiful and so relaxing!

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Dirty Honey are a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. I love their classic rock sound that has traces of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. California Dreamin’, credited to the entire band, is from Dirty Honey’s eponymous first full-length album released April 23.

Lord Huron/Mine Forever

Indie folk-rock band Lord Huron are one of the most seductive contemporary groups I can think of. Their moody sound of layered voices, jangly guitars and expanded reverb is pretty cool – very cinematic! Frankly, their latest record Long Lost, which came out on May 21, easily could have been in part 1 of this year-in-review feature. Here’s my favorite tune off that record, Mine Forever, penned by guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider who founded Lord Huron in 2010.

Jane Lee Hooker/Drive

While I’ve started to pay much closer attention to new music, I only follow very few contemporary acts. One is Jane Lee Hooker, formed in 2013 in New York as an all-female blues rock band. Drive is more of a rock ballad with a nice soulful vibe. Released as a single on May 28, the tune will be on the band’s next album Rollin’ that is scheduled for January 2022. Definitely looking forward to that one!

The Wallflowers/Roots and Wings

On July 9, The Wallflowers released Exit Wounds, their first new album in nine years. With its warm melodic roots rock, the record sounds like it could be a follow-on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Jacob Dylan’s band that brought them commercial success and two Grammy awards. Here’s one of my favorite tracks off the new album: Roots and Wings.

Son Volt/The Globe

While alternative country and Americana rock band Son Volt have been around since 1994, I had not heard of them until August of this year after the release of their ninth and latest album Electro Melodier on July 30. Check out The Globe written by the band’s founder, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jay Farrar. It’s got a bit of a Springsteen vibe, and there’s also a brief homage to The Who. Check out the Moog line at around 2:15 minutes… Love that tune!

Maggie Rose/What Are We Fighting For

Maggie Rose, born Margaret Rose Durante, is a Nashville-based country and rock singer-songwriter, who released her debut single under her maiden name in 2009, a cover of Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody. In the spring of 2013, when her first full-length album appeared, she already had adopted the Maggie Rose moniker. What Are We Fighting For is the opener of her latest album Have a Seat that came out on August 20. The great soulful tune was written by Rose, together with her longtime collaborators, guitarist Alex Haddad and Larry Florman  (background vocals, percussion).

Joey Landreth/Two Trains

While he shares a famous last name and also is a slide guitarist, Canadian artist Joey Landreth isn’t related to Sonny Landreth. But he sure as heck is talented and has a great sound! Check out Two Trains, the catchy funky closer from his third and most recent album All That You Dream, which appeared on November 26.

Blue Rodeo/When You Were Wild

When You Were Wild is a great tune by Blue Rodeo, a Canadian country rock band founded in 1984 in Toronto. I first came across the group in February of this year. This tune, co-written by founders Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), is from their 15th studio album Many a Mile released on December 3. I love that beautiful warm sound!

That’s it for the 10 tracks I wanted to call out. There are many more great tunes in the below playlist. Hope you will check them out!

Finally, to those celebrating, I wish you a merry Christmas and please be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Blue Rodeo’s New Album Is Medolic Country Rock Gem

Since I featured the great lead single When You Were Wild in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’ve listened a few times to Blue Rodeo’s new album Many a Mile. I just love the warm sound of this Canadian country rock-oriented group! The band has been around since 1984 when it was co-founded by Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), two high school friends who had played together in various bands before.

Released on December 3, Many a Mile is Blue Rodeo’s 16th studio album and their first new record since 1000 Arms from October 2016. In addition to Cuddy and Keelor who write the band’s original songs, the other members include Colin Cripps (guitar, backing vocals), Jimmy Bowskill (pedal steel, mandolin, guitar), Mike Boguski (piano, organ), Bazil Donovan (bass) and Glenn Milchem (drums).

According to this review in the Toronto Star, the prospects for another album following 1000 Arms were uncertain since Keelor had been dealing with various aural conditions, including tinnitus. Apparently, the forced break from touring due to the pandemic had a positive impact on Keelor’s health. “It was a surprise to me to get Greg’s songs pretty much completed,” Cuddy told the Star. “And I was overjoyed. They’re great songs and there’s a lot of them.”

In fact, when he received Keelor’s songs, Cuddy was working on a solo project, which he subsequently put aside. “I do try to not overlap, so I had to start songwriting again,” he noted. “But I was on a good songwriting roll as well … So I could do an about-face, start writing for the Blue Rodeo record and that was a lot of fun.”

Blue Rodeo Debuts 'Many A Mile': First New Album In Five Years |  ETCanada.com

The Toronto Star also explained Keelor and Cuddy were never in the same studio when making the new album: When they needed to sing on each other’s songs — Cuddy wrote five and Keelor penned seven for “Many a Mile” — they sent each other digital stems and recorded their harmonies in their respective studios. Of course, music artists each working in separate locations is a reality that has become all too common during the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some of the outcomes!

Since I just covered it, I’m skipping the excellent opener and lead single When You Were Wild and go right to I Owe It to Myself. Featuring beautiful harmony singing, a catchy melody and a great warm sound, the tune pretty much represents the rest of the album.

Symmetry of Starlight, a slower tune with a dreamy sound, is one of the tracks written by Keeler. I’m less fond of what sounds like synth claps (starting at around 2:23 minutes into the track), but it’s a minor aspect of an otherwise beautiful tune.

Here’s The Opening Act, which sounds a bit more like traditional country. As recently as five or six years ago, I would probably have dismissed it as hillbilly music. My music taste has definitely evolved since.

Never Like This Before is a nice pop rock tune. Admittedly, Blue Rodeo aren’t exactly reinventing chord progressions here. It doesn’t matter, I still dig this song. With great singing, nice guitar and keyboard work, and yet another tune with a catchy melody, what’s not to love about it!

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Ride Your Bike. It’s another great illustration of the band’s warm sound. I also like the changes in dynamic.

According to their website, In the 35 years since forming, Blue Rodeo have sold over 4 million albums, received dozens of JUNO Award nominations and wins, played over 2,000 shows, been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, been named to the Order of Canada and have been honoured with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. This surely is an impressive record!

Last Thursday, Blue Rodeo announced a 25-plus-date tour across Canada to support their new album. The tour is supposed to kick off this Friday, December 10 in Kitchener, Ontario. The last currently scheduled gig is on March 26 in Halifax, Nova Scotia – keeping fingers crossed everything will go as planned! The current tour schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Toronto Star; Blue Rodeo website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday and this means time to take another look at newly-released music. This week, my picks include pop punk and country rock from Canada, alternative rock from the U.S. and I guess you could call it alternative folk by a South African singer-songwriter. Except for the last track, all songs are on albums that came out yesterday (December 3).

Like Pacific/Hollow Tears

Kicking off today’s music revue is Canadian pop punk band Like Pacific. Formed in Toronto in 2010, the group currently includes Jordan Black (lead vocals), Luke Holmes (lead guitar, backing vocals), Greg Hall (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Brad Garcia (bass) and Taylor Ewart (drums, percussion). In May 2011, they self-released their debut EP The Worst…. After three additional EPs, the band’s first full-length album Distant Like You Asked appeared in February 2016. It reached no. 25 in the U.S. on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. Hollow Tears is a track from Like Pacific’s third and new full-length studio Control My Sanity. The tune is credited to all members of the band and producer Sam Guaiana. As somebody who doesn’t listen much to punk, the fairly melodic character of Like Pacific’s music makes it pretty accessible.

Failure/Submarines

Failure are an American alternative rock band from Los Angeles, which initially came together in 1990. In 1992, they signed with independent label Slash Records and released their debut album Comfort in December that year. After two additional studio albums, the band broke up in November 1997. In late 2013, they reunited. Failure have since released three additional albums including their latest titled Wild Type Droid. Their current line-up features co-founders Ken Andrews (vocals, electric guitar, bass) and Greg Edwards (electric guitar, bass, piano, percussion), together with Kellii Scott (drums). Here’s Submarines, co-written by Edwards and Andrews. Not quite sure what drew me into this tune. I find it weirdly catchy.

Blue Rodeo/When You Were Wild

Canadian country rock band Blue Rodeo were founded in 1984 in Toronto. They were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. Fifteen additional studio albums have since appeared, including Blue Rodeo’s latest Many a Mile. Here’s the opener When You Were Wild, co-written by Keelor and Cuddy. Check out that beautiful warm sound – love it!

Alice Phoebe Lou/Me & the Moon

I leave you with new music by South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou, who first entered my radar screen in July 2020 when I covered her then-latest single Touch. Borrowing from that post: Lou grew up on a mountainside in South Africa, attending a local Waldorf school that cultivated her innate love of music and the arts. She made her first visit to Europe at 16, a life-changing journey that first saw her taking her songs to the streets. Lou returned home to finish school but as soon as she was able made her way back to Europe, specifically Berlin. Armed with just her guitar, a small amp, a passel of distinctive original songs, and an utterly intoxicating voice and charm, she soon built a devoted fan following, not just in Berlin but around the world as tourists and passers-by from faraway places were so captivated by her music that they began sharing it amongst friends and social media. Lou self-released her debut EP, MOMENTUM, in 2014, followed two years later by her acclaimed first full-length, ORBIT. Me & the Moon is from Lou’s latest album Child’s Play, her fourth that came out on December 2nd. I like this!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Another Sunday morning means it’s time for another selection of six tunes that don’t reflect any overarching theme. Pretty much anything is fair game as long as I like it. In general, I also aim to make these posts a bit eclectic. This installment includes beautiful new age style harp music (a first!), soulful blues, country rock, pop, pop rock and edgy garage rock.

Andreas Vollenweider/Behind the Gardens, Behind the Wall, Under the Tree…

Andreas Vollenweider is a harpist from Zurich, Switzerland. His instrument is no ordinary harp but an electro-acoustic harp he created. A New York Times article from October 1984 characterized his music as “swirling atmospheric”, evoking “nature, magic and fairy tales.” This story appeared ahead of Vollenweider’s U.S. tour debut at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in October of the same year. According to Wikipedia, he was introduced by Carly Simon who had come across his music the previous year. Vollenweider ended up collaborating with Simon 10 years later on his first album to include vocals. He also has worked with Luciano Pavarotti, Bryan Adams and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Behind the Gardens, Behind the Wall, Under the Tree… is the title track of Vollenweider’s second studio album from 1981. To date, he has released 13 additional albums. Until the other day when I randomly remembered his name, I had completely forgotten about Vollenweider and his beautiful and relaxing music. It’s perfect to kick off a Sunday morning.

Chicken Shack/I’d Rather Go Blind

My dear longtime friend and music connoisseur from Germany pointed me to this beautiful song recently. Coincidentally, around the same time, Music Enthusiast mentioned the band Chicken Shack in an installment of his previous four-part series about Fleetwood Mac’s middle period. So what’s the connection between Chicken Shack and the Mac you might ask? Christine Perfect (later Christine McVie) who sang lead and played keyboards in Chicken Shack before recording her eponymous solo album Christine Perfect and joining Fleetwood Mac in late 1970. Chicken Shack released I’d Rather Go Blind as a single in 1969, scoring a no. 14 on the British charts. Written by Ellington Jordan, the tune was first recorded by Etta James in 1967 and appeared on her seventh studio album Tell Mama from February 1968. Perfect’s vocals on Chicken Shack’s cover are – well – just perfect! BTW, Chicken Shack are still around, with the current lineup including founding member Stan Webb (guitar, vocals).

Blue Rodeo/Hasn’t Hit Me Yet

Canadian country rock band Blue Rodeo were founded in 1984 in Toronto. They were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. They have since released 14 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, 1000 Arms, came out in October 2016. Blue Rodeo have enjoyed significant success in Canada. Hasn’t Hit Me Yet was co-written by Keelor and Cuddy who together with Donovan are part of Blue Rodeo’s current lineup. The tune is included on the band’s fifth studio album Five Days in July from October 1993, their best-selling record in Canada to date.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range/The Way It Is

The debut album by American singer-songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby with his backing band The Range quickly became one of my favorites when it came out in September 1986. After I hadn’t touched it in many years, I listened to it again about a week ago – turns out I still like it. Hornsby went on to record two additional albums with The Range. His fourth studio album Harbor Lights from April 1993 was the first solely credited to him. Four additional solo albums and four albums with his touring band The Noisemakers have since come out. Hornsby also was a touring member of the Grateful Dead in the early ’90s and has collaborated with numerous other artists. After his first two albums with The Range, Hornsby had dropped off my radar screen. Here’s the title track of his debut. Both the album and the tune enjoyed major international chart success. Not hard to understand way – it’s pretty catchy pop.

Rainbirds/Blueprint

For some reason, the above Chicken Shack tune trigged my memory of German pop rock band Rainbirds. Other than the fact that both tunes feature female vocalists, they really don’t have anything in common – funny how the brain sometimes works! The group around singer-songwriter Katharina Franck, which was formed in Berlin in 1986 and named after a Tom Waits instrumental, enjoyed significant success in Germany with their first two albums. After the band dissolved in 1999 and Franck pursued a solo career, Franck reformed the group in 2013 with a new lineup. Another album appeared the following year. While Rainbirds haven’t released new music since, the group still appears to exist. Blueprint, co-written by Franck (guitar, vocals) and fellow band members Michael Beckmann (bass) and Wolfgang Glum (drums), is from Rainbirds’ eponymous debut album released in January 1987.

The Kinks/All Day and All of the Night

I felt this Sunday Six needed a dose of real rock. The Kinks and All Day and All of the Night looked like a great choice. I love the raw sound, which is very much reminiscent of You Really Got Me, the band’s third single from August 1964 and their first no. 1 in the UK. Written by Ray Davies, All Day and All of the Night came out in October of the same year. It almost matched the success of You Really Got Me, climbing to no. 2 on the British charts. In the U.S., both tunes peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Oh, get ’em hard!

Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; YouTube