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

The Wild Feathers Soar With Melodic Rock on New Album

My paying closer attention to new releases by contemporary artists is starting to pay off nicely. The most recent albums by The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dirty Honey and Lord Huron are some that come to mind. My latest “discovery” I feel quite excited about is Alvarado, the new album by The Wild Feathers, a band I first introduced on my blog last December with a tune from predecessor Medium Rarities.

Released on October 8, Alvarado is the band’s fifth studio album. The Wild Feathers were formed in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. by high school friends Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Preston Wimberly (guitar, vocals), along with Ricky Young (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals). Ben Dumas joined on drums following the August 2013 release of the group’s eponymous debut album. Burns, Young, King and Dumas remain part of the current line-up, which also includes Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin). Wimberly left in late 2015.

The Wild Feathers combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing. And I should add catchy melodies, a joy to my pop ear I can’t deny always lingers in the background, no matter what genre of music I listen to! The group has cited Tom Petty, Eagles, The Band and Otis Redding as some of their influences. A bio on AllMusic also notes The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band – all artists I love!

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According to an exclusive preview by American Songwriter, The Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the new album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived Medium Rarities. “We made every previous studio album with Jay Joyce [a prominent Nashville producer – CMM] in these big magical studios which was awesome,” Young told the publication. “But over the years, we’ve listened back to old demos like ‘Man there was really nothing wrong with that.’ It’s kind of cool there are mistakes…those things make it unique and human.”

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the album’s opener and title track. American Songwriter noted this tune was originally written for the band’s eponymous debut album, making it the oldest track on the record. “Some songs just can’t find their way onto the actual album, but we always loved that one and wanted to record it someday,” explained Young who wrote the tune. Well, I’m glad they finally did!

Ain’t Lookin’ is a great rocker written by country singer-songwriter Jeffrey Steele together with the band’s King, Young and Burns. It’s got some nice guitar work, and that sound is just awesome!

Next up: Over the Edge, a tune written by King about some of the challenges in present day America, including violence and political division. We’ve gone too far to go back/We don’t know how to turn around/We’ve gone too far, I think that we’re/Going over the edge, going over the edge/Going over the edge, going over the edge…I can hear some Tom Petty in here.

Since I included the excellent Side Street Shakedown in my latest Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping this track and go to Out on the Road penned by Burns. While it’s certainly not the first tune that describes life as a touring musician and the challenges it can bring, it’s a nice rocker featuring some neat slide guitar action.

Off Your Shoulders, co-written by King and Young, has an Eagles vibe. I really love how this tune sounds. Once again, the guitar work is great and includes some nice harmony action. Check it out.

Let’s do one more, coz why not? Here’s Flashback, another tune solely written by King. In a flashback/Oh, we never knew how good we had it/Take me back/I wanna hold on to the memories as long as I can/Hold on to the memories as best as you can…The lyrics are on the sentimental side and perhaps a bit cliche, but I think it’s safe to assume many folks have thought about “the old times,” especially during this seemingly never-ending pandemic.

The final word shall belong to Ricky Young. Alvarado “is about us, taking the reins and being in control and doing exactly what we want to do, and taking it where we want to go—putting a blindfold on and hoping it works out,” he told American Songwriter. “By taking control musically, we can last a lot longer than just having a hit early on and trying to chase that for the rest of your career.” Well said – I certainly look forward to hearing more from The Wild Feathers.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; American Songwriter; YouTube

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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A lot of cool new music I came across this week made it tough what to include in this latest installment of my recurring feature. That’s actually a nice problem to have, at least in my book. While you may not be a Bon Jovi fan, have you ever heard the Jersey rocker do an outright protest song? I certainly had not. Or how about a cool Byrds-ey-sounding psychedelic garage band called The Reverberations? Or young and amazingly talented bluegrass and Americana artist Molly Tuttle? These are just three of the artists I’m featuring this week. Do I have your attention?

Bon Jovi/American Reckoning

While a band that has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide has probably done more than one thing right, I realize opinions about Bon Jovi are divided. On most of their 14 studio albums that have come out so far over some 37 years, I can at find at least one or two songs I enjoy. American Reckoning, released July 10, will be on the band’s next album Bon Jovi 2020, which has been pushed back until December 31, 2020 due to you know what. Both the single and the album have something in common that’s new for Bon Jovi: Political lyrics. Written by Jon Bon Jovi, American Reckoning is a protest song reflecting on the death of George Floyd caused by reckless police action. “I was moved to write American Reckoning as a witness to history,” Bon Jovi said in a statement on the band’s website, “I believe the greatest gift of an artist is the ability to use their voice to speak to issues that move us.” All net proceeds from downloads of the song will support the Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative through December 31, 2020. Kudos!

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings/Hello in There

For some 28 years, country, folk, bluegrass and Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch has been writing and performing with her musical partner David Rawlings. The two first met during a music audition at Berklee College of Music in Boston where Welch majored in songwriting. Following her graduation in 1992, she moved to Nashville. Rawlings soon followed and they started to perform as a duo. After getting a record deal with Almo Sounds, they met T-Bone Burnett who had seen them perform. Burnett produced their debut album Revival, which like most of their records appeared under Welch’s name in April 1996. Welch and Rawlings have since released five additional studio albums. Hello in There is from their most recent release All the Good Times Are Past & Gone, a covers album that came out on July 10. The tune was written by John Prine and included on his 1971 eponymous debut album.

Will Hoge/Midway Hotel

Will Hoge is a singer-songwriter from Nashville, Tenn. According to Wikipedia, which characterizes his music as Americana and southern rock, Hoge grew up in a musical family that influenced him. After enrolling in Western Kentucky University with plans to become a high school history teacher and basketball coach, Hoge realized music was his calling. In 1997, he released an EP with his band at the time Spoonful, but it wasn’t successful and the group disbanded. After self-releasing a live CD and his first studio album Carousel, Hoge managed to get a deal with Atlantic Records in early 2002. While it was short-lived, it resulted in his major label debut Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in March 2003. Hoge has since released seven additional studio records, as well as various EPs and live albums. Midway Motel, co-written by Hoge and Ricky Young, is the opener to Hoge’s most recent studio album Tiny Little Movies that appeared on June 26. I can hear some John Mellencamp in here.

Grace Potter/Eachother (feat. Jackson Browne, Marcus King & Lucius)

Grace Potter is a 37-year-old bluesy, roots rock-oriented singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actress, hailing from Waitsfield, Vt., who has released various albums solo and with her former band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the early 2000s. While studying theater at St. Laurence University, she met drummer Matt Burr. Together with bassist Courtright Beard, they formed the initial lineup of indie rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. In 2004, they self-released their debut album Original Soul. Four additional albums followed. In 2015, Potter’s solo album Midnight appeared. Potter left the band in 2017, shortly after announcing her divorce from Burr with whom she had been married since 2013. Another solo album, Daylight, appeared in October 2019. Eachother is Potter’s latest single released on May 22. Written by her during the early days of the pandemic, the ballad features Jackson Browne, blues artist Marcus King and indie pop band Lucius. Check it out!

Molly Tuttle/Helpless (feat. Old Crow Medicine Show)

Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems Molly Tuttle is what you could call a wunderkind. It’s virtually impossible to do full justice here to the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, banjo player and guitarist, who is focused on bluegrass and Americana. Tuttle is noted for her outstanding guitar skills, and she can definitely sing as well. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in a musical family. Her father Jack Tuttle is a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. Her siblings Sullivan and Michael play guitar and mandolin, respectively. Molly started playing guitar as an 8-year-old and three years later already performed on stage with her dad. At age 13, she recorded her first album with Jack. In 2015, she joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Her debut EP Rise appeared in October 2017, followed by her first full-fledged album When You’re Ready in April 2019, which climbed to no. 5 and no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers and Independent Albums charts. Her multiple accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards and Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association in 2017 and 2018. Molly who has lived in Nashville, Tenn. since 2015, has a new covers album scheduled for August 28, …but I’d rather be with you. It doesn’t include her beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless, which she released on May 22 and features Nashville-based Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show. The tune first appeared on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu album from March 1970.

The Reverberations/Under Your Spell

Let’s wrap things up with some really cool rock. The Reverberations are a five-piece from Portland, Ore. Their Bandcamp profile characterizes their music as “’60s influenced psychedelic jangle.” Based on what I’m hearing on their latest single Under Your Spell, that description hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the band has hardly published any information about themselves. Neither their Bandcamp nor their Facebook page provide any background – I don’t get it! Discogs lists two albums, Mess Up Your Mind (2016) and Changes (2019, along with various EPs and singles, dating back as far as 2015. Based on their photos on Facebook and Bandcamp, these guys don’t exactly look like high school kids, and with their Byrds-ey guitars, they certainly don’t sound like it. Whoever is familiar with my music taste knows that’s a sound I never get tired of. On Under Your Spell, which is the B-side of the band’s most recent single Palm Reader, I also love the keyboard work. And check out the lovely psychedelic cover art. Damn, now I feel I’m literally under their spell!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bon Jovi website; Apple Music; Grace Potter website; Molly Tuttle website; The Reverberations Facebook and Bandcamp pages; YouTube