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

Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers Are Back And In Full Blossom

First new album in nine years picks up where Bringing Down the Horse left

I completely missed the release of Exit Wounds, the new album by Jakob Dylan’s band project The Wallflowers, even though I had heard of it back in May. I also don’t recall seeing it in Apple Music’s new releases on July 9 when it appeared – very strange! Well, I’m glad I finally came across it over the weekend.

The first new Wallflowers album in nine years features melodic roots rock and a warm sound. In many ways, Exit Wounds feels like it could have been the follow on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Dylan’s band that brought commercial success and two Grammy awards. The one big difference is there are no obvious hits like One Headlight and my favorite, 6th Avenue Heartache. Still, after having listened to the 10 tracks a few times, I find this new album pretty enjoyable.

Produced by Butch Walker, who has worked with Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Green Day and many other artists over the past 20-plus years, Exit Wounds is only the seventh studio album by The Wallflowers in three decades. Initially formed as The Apples in 1989 by Dylan and his childhood friend and guitarist Tobi Miller, the band changed their name to The Wallflowers in 1991. After six studio albums and a series of line-up changes, Dylan turned The Wallflowers into a project in 2013, relying on hired musicians for his recurring tours.

Why did it take nine years since Glad All Over from October 2012 to make a new Wallflowers album? “When you get started, you feel you’re going to lose traction and it will all slip away if you don’t keep maintaining it,” Dylan told Spin during a recent interview conducted as part of a major feature story. “That phase passes at some point, and then you have a career, and you can make records when you’re inspired.”

As the Spin story rightfully adds, there was also the 2018 documentary Echo in the Canyon, for which Dylan was the executive producer and interviewed artists like Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Tom Petty – apparently, a close to four-year engagement from start to finish! Last but not least, Dylan had actually written the songs for Exit Wounds prior to the pandemic and wrapped up the recording more than a year ago, but decided to hold the album’s release.

Time for some music. Here’s the opener Maybe Your Heart’s Not in It No More, a nice mellow tune and one of three tracks featuring singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne on backing vocals. I think her and Dylan’s voices blend beautifully. The reflective and downcast lyrics represent most of the album. “We all have exit wounds as much as ever,” Dylan explained to Spin. “Whether we’re going to a better place or making a lateral move, we can’t get there from here without them.”

Roots and Wings is among my early favorites. The tune was also released separately as the album’s lead single on April 9, peaking at no. 6 on Billboard’s Triple A Airplay, aka Adult Alternative Airplay – frankly, a chart I had not been aware of. Who can keep track of Billboard’s seemingly ever-expanding charts. A review by Riff Magazine calls the sound “Springsteen-esque” and notes the harmony vocals were provided by Butch Walker. Which ever way you want to characterize it, the song is one of two tracks I find most memorable.

Darlin’ Hold On is another mellow tune that features Shelby Lynne sharing vocal duties with Dylan. In this case, beyond backing vocals, she also gets to sing a verse by herself. Quite pleasant.

And since I really dig how Dylan’s and Lynne’s vocals blend, here’s the third track featuring her on backing vocals: I’ll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up).

Let’s do one more: Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden, my favorite tune on the album at this time. Dylan explained to Spin the rocker is an homage to Tom Petty. Evidently, the two of them had bonded. The above noted conversation for the Echo in the Canyon documentary was Petty’s last on-camera interview prior to his death. “‘Who’s That Man’ is a straight-up tribute to Tom Petty, his music, and his style, and I hope he notices somewhere. I can’t say enough about his positivity and encouragement. It was very moving to have him pass, and it affected me greatly, so there are moments of not just influence, but a tip of my hat in appreciation that I hope he’ll hear.”

While I’m not sure I would have picked up on the Tom Petty influence, I kind of wish Dylan had included one or two additional more up-tempo rockers on the album. Most of the remaining tracks fall on the mellow side. After a while, this can get a bit repetitive.

A few words about the other musicians on Exit Wounds, based on the Spin story: Apart from backing vocals, Walker contributed guitar, keyboard and percussion. Additional musicians included Aaron Embry (keyboards), Val McCallum (guitar), Whynot Jansveld (bass, mastering) and Mark Stepro who played drums on all but one track that featured Brian Griffin.

Except for McCallum, which Spin noted played on The Wallflowers’ fourth album Red Letter Days from November 2002, Dylan put together an entire new band to record Exit Wounds. Given that, it’s kind of remarkable how much it resembles The Wallflowers in the ’90s. “It was important for me to make a pure Wallflowers record,” Dylan emphasized during his interview with Spin. Making it clear he’s always been in charge, he added, “I started this band. This is my band. It doesn’t matter who is or who isn’t around anymore.”

The Wallflowers will do a U.S. tour starting next month. The 20-date engagement will kick off in New Braunfels, Texas (San Antonio area) on August 18 and wrap up in Nashville on November 20. Starting in May 2022, The Wallflowers are also scheduled to tour the U.S. and Canada for three months, together with Matchbox Twenty. The current schedules for both tours are here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Riff Magazine; Jambase; YouTube