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

Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 is Another Early Live Gem

Live solo performance is first release in new official bootleg series

Neil Young keeps cranking out new albums. Just a little over six months after his latest archives release Young Shakespeare, the 75-year-old Canadian-American singer-songwriter issued Carnegie Hall 1970 last Friday (October 1), the first of six releases in a new official bootleg series. And just like Young Shakespeare, Carnegie Hall 1970 is a true live gem featuring solo renditions of early Young tunes on acoustic guitar and piano.

As Young notes on his Neil Young Archives website, the album captures a performance at New York City’s famous concert venue from December 4, 1970. Young makes it a point to specify that it is the early show, given there is a released bootleg for the midnight show. Not only is this a previously unreleased solo concert, but it is based on mixes made from the multi-track recording that was made by sound engineer Henry Lewy that night. The quality is superb and far superior to your usual bootleg.

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the first track Down by the River. The tune initially appeared on Young’s sophomore album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere from May 1969. This is a great stripped back version of what originally is an electric rock-oriented tune.

I Am a Child is a song Young first recorded with Buffalo Springfield for the band’s third and final album Last Time Around that appeared in July 1968. Love this version!

Next up: Southern Man, another great acoustic rendition of a tune that originally was recorded as an electric rock song. It first appeared on Young’s third studio album After the Gold Rush, which at the time of the Carnegie show was his new album that had come out in September 1970.

One of my favorite early Neil Young tunes is Sugar Mountain, a song he composed on November 12, 1964, his 19th birthday. It was first formally released as the B-side to Young’s 1969 single The Loner in the form of a live recording that been captured during a November 1968 performance. What I love about the Carnegie version are Young’s attempts to involve the audience. Since it doesn’t work, he keeps starting over, getting a bit frustrated in the process. You really can picture it!

Let’s do a tune Young performed on piano: After the Gold Rush. The title track of the above noted album is another of my all-time favorite Young songs. Some of the notes he hits sound a bit peculiar. I think Young was still in his early years of learning the piano. Nevertheless, it’s a great rendition.

I could go on and on here, but all things must pass. The final track I’d like to call out is Bad Fog of Loneliness, then a new tune that had not been released at the time of the show. In fact, it had not even been recorded yet. Young would do so in 1971 but not release the song until 2007 on the album Live at Massey Hall 1971.

Here is the album’s full track list:

  1. Down By The River

  2. Cinnamon Girl

  3. I Am A Child

  4. Expecting To Fly

  5. The Loner

  6. Wonderin’

  7. Helpless

  8. Southern Man

  9. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing

10. Sugar Mountain

11. On The Way Home

12. Tell Me Why

13. Only Love Can Break Your Heart

14. Old Man

15. After The Gold Rush

16. Flying On The Ground

17. Cowgirl In The Sand

18. Don’t Let It Bring You Down

19. Birds

20. Bad Fog Of Lonliness

21. Ohio

22. See The Sky About To Rain

23. Dance Dance Dance

Originally, Young had planned to launch his official bootleg series in April 2021 with the release of six albums. Then things changed. “But you know what happened…Fires and floods, Covid…”, he wrote on his website. Upcoming releases in the bootleg series include Royce Hall. January 30, 1971, Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Feb 1, 1971, Under the Rainbow. Nov 3, 1973, The Bottom Line. Citizen Kane Jr. Blues’ May 16, 1974 and The Ducks – ‘Trick of Disaster’ August 1977.

“Of the six releases still coming at you [now five – CMM], four [now three – CMM] are our own multi track masters, so they will sound amazing – much better than the original bootlegs you may have heard,” Young further wrote. “One of the other two is the original tape it was recorded on. We remastered it.” Sounds like Neil Young fans have much they can look forward to.

Sources: Wikipedia; Neil Young Archives website; YouTube

Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives

Solo acoustic gig from January 1971 is among the earliest concert footage of Young released to date

Since I first had learned about it a few weeks ago, I had been looking forward to the latest release by Neil Young, which came out Friday, March 26. Not only is Young Shakespeare a brilliant title, but it’s yet another highlight from Young’s archives. The live album and concert film comes only four weeks after Way Down in the Rust Bucket, which captures a terrific November 1990 live performance with Crazy Horse I previously reviewed here, and four months following the massive box set Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976.

Young Shakespeare documents an acoustic solo concert at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. Neil Young was 25 years old at the time and had just entered what arguably is the best period of his solo career. Only four months earlier, he had released After the Gold Rush. Harvest, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night were still about one, three and four years into the future, respectively.

Part of Young’s Journey Through the Past solo tour, the Shakespeare gig happened only three days after the famous Massey Hall show in Toronto Canada. The latter concert was captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which came out in March 2007 as the second release from Young’s Archives Performance Series. A vast amount of additional albums have since appeared in the series. If I see this correctly, Young Shakespeare is the second release of Volume 03, even though it’s registered as Volume 03.5. Well, I’m not an archivist.

As reported by NME, initially, video footage of the concert was filmed by German television at the time, but it never aired. Only bits and pieces recorded by visitors that night had been floating around among Young fans. Young considers the gig as superior to the Massey Hall show, calling it “a more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall” on his archives website last year. “Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” he added. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever. ‘Young Shakespeare’ is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

I think Young may be right. The true magic of Young Shakespeare isn’t the set list. Neil Young fans have heard these songs a million times before. What I find fascinating are his announcements that illustrate what went through his mind at the time. They also convey Young’s great sense of humor. The entire gig comes across as very intimate. It’s almost like you’re in the same room with Young, and he’s chatting and cracking jokes while tuning his guitar for the next song. How about some music?

The first tune I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites: The Needle and the Damage Done. Mind you, when Young performed the song that night, it had not been recorded yet. I was included on his fourth studio album Harvest released in February 1972.

Dance Dance Dance is a track from Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album that came out in February 1971. At the time of the Shakespeare gig, it was another yet-to-be-released tune. Young cheerfully calls it hoedown music.

Here’s a medley of A Man Needs a Maid and Heart of Gold, performed on the piano. Young introduces it by saying he hasn’t played the piano for a long time and usually screws it up. He cheerfully adds, “But you’ve never heard it before anyway, so you probably think that’s the way it is, and it’ll be alright.” Obviously, Young was correct. Both songs would appear on Harvest.

In addition to yet-to-be released songs at the time, Young played some old tunes. After all, his solo tour was titled Journey Through the Past. Here’s one of them, Down by the River, a song from his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere released in May 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Sugar Mountain. Young wrote this song on November 12, 1964, which was his 19th birthday. The tune’s first official release was a live version, which became the b-side of Young’s first solo single The Loner from February 1969. It’s always been on of my favorite Neil tunes. It also cracks me up when Young says, “If you don’t know the words…just, you know, you’re all university students. Just memorize them after the first time!”

Here’s the full track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


NME notes Young Shakespeare is only predated by footage from Young’s gigs at New York’s Café Feenjon in June 1970, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Fillmore East in March 1970. Obviously, there’s also the aforementioned Live at Massey Hall 1971, so I assume NME referred to video recordings. The new release is available on CD, vinyl and major streaming platforms. The DVD is available exclusively in Young’s own store.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young/Tell Me Why

Neil Young has been on a roll releasing material from his archives. The above clip is from an upcoming album and concert film titled Young Shakespeare. Scheduled for March 26, it captures an acoustic gig at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, this is the earliest known footage of Young in concert.

Recorded three days after the famous show at Toronto’s Massey Hall (released as Live at Massey Hall 1971 in March 2007), the footage was taken for German TV. Apparently, it never aired and wasn’t released otherwise until now.

Neil Young Announces 'Young Shakespeare' Live LP and Concert Film

Tell Me Why, written by Young, is the opener of the album and film. It also is the first track of his third studio album After the Gold Rush, which came out in September 1970, only four months prior to the Shakespeare and Massey Hall shows.

While I like many of Neil Young’s electric tunes with Crazy Horse, I think oftentimes he’s even better solo with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica or piano. Notably, Young Shakespeare features various tunes from Harvest, the follow-on to After the Gold Rush, which had not been released at the time. These songs include classics A Man Needs a Maid, Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done. Following is the official film trailer.

Here’s the track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


Young Shakespeare will be available on vinyl, CD, DVD and streaming platforms. It comes on the heels of Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent live album Young released on February 26, which I previously covered here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Way Down in the Rust Bucket is a Must for Neil Young Fans

Live album with Crazy Horse is the latest in Young’s prolific releases from his archives series

Since prompted by Music Enthusiast recently and my March 4 post about Mansion on the Hill, I’ve been thinking to do more on Way Down in the Rust Bucket, the latest release from Neil Young’s archives that appeared on February 26. I guess it was only a matter of time before I would revisit what Young and former Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro have called a “definitive chapter” in the band’s history. In fact, when interviewed by Rolling Stone a few days ago, Sampedro went as far as characterizing the new live album as “the best Crazy Horse record we ever recorded.” While I cannot claim to know all of the band’s album, I know one thing for sure: Way Down in the Rust Bucket truly rocks, and Neil Young fans are going to love it!

The album captures a gig of Young with his long-time backing band Crazy Horse, which happened on November 13, 1990. About two months earlier, they had released Ragged Glory. The concert at The Catalyst, a nightclub in Santa Cruz, Calif., took place before the band embarked on an intense 53-date tour to support the album in January 1991. The tour was documented in the albums Weld and Arc, which both came out in October 1991. Located close to Young’s Broken Arrow ranch, The Catalyst holds about 800 people – sounds like a great venue to experience live music!

But don’t tell Poncho it was a warm-up gig. “I hate when people say, “These were warm-up shows for the tour”, he emphasized to Rolling Stone. “We did two shows. Do they really think they were warming us up for a giant tour? That’s more for us. It’s giving back to the community. We played in Santa Cruz. It’s really close to Neil’s place. That’s so most people could come to see us.”

Apart from songs off Ragged Glory like Country Home, Fuckin’ Up, Farmer John and Mansion on the Hill, Way Down in the Rust Bucket also features goodies from various other Neil Young albums, such as Cinnamon Girl (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – 1969), Sedan Delivery (Rust Never Sleeps – 1979), Like a Hurricane (American Stars ‘n Bars – 1975) and Cortez the Killer (Zuma – 1975). The live album is available in triple vinyl, CD, DVD and streaming formats. In addition to all tracks on the vinyl, CD and streaming versions, the DVD includes one extra tune, Cowgirl in the Sand, another track from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with opener Country Home, which is also the first track on Ragged Glory. Unless noted otherwise, all tunes were written by Young.

Here’s Farmer John. Originally an R&B song, the tune was co-written by Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry who also first recorded and released it as Don & Dewey in 1959. Sampedro told Rolling Stone the band recorded their cover in just one take for Ragged Glory. Their performance at The Catalyst only was the second time they played it. “It wasn’t quite as good, but we never played it before” [live], he noted.

Let’s do another track from Ragged Glory: Fuckin’ Up, a Young-Sampedro co-write. Asked during the above Rolling Stone interview, Sampedro confirmed Fuckin’ Up was first recorded during rehearsals for Young’s appearance on Saturday Night Life in 1989, where he was backed by Sampedro, Charley Drayton (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums). However, they switched it up during rehearsals. “Steve was playing my guitar and I love to play drums,” Sampedro said…I started playing the drums and we were getting into it.” Young has said he wants to put out the SNL rehearsals as an album – looks like another archives release to me! Meanwhile, here’s the live version from Way Down in the Rust Bucket.

Time to take a look at some of the goodies from other Young albums. Here’s Homegrown, the title track of the album Young initially had planned to release in 1975 but then decided to abandon at the last minute and put out Tonight’s the Night instead – a classic Neil move! Though, of course, Homegrown eventually appeared in June 2020.

Yes, it’s been played over and over, including in my blog. And while I don’t see myself being in a crowded hazy bar anytime soon, Like a Hurricane from American Stars ‘n Bars remains one of my all-time favorite Neil Young tunes that still blows me away. As such, I simply couldn’t skip it. Plus, this version is killer! 🙂

Not that I want to glorify violence, but speaking of killer, I’d like to wrap things up with what in my book is another absolute Young classic: Cortez the Killer, from Zuma, a 1975 album Neil recorded with Crazy Horse.

“I love this record,” Sampedro raved about Way Down in the Rust Bucket. “Neil plays great, unbelievably great. He’s just electrified. “Country Home” sounds like a country tune I never heard in my life. He just takes it to all kinds of different levels. He nails “Cortez.” He nails “Danger Bird” and “Over and Over.” He’s just playing so good and the band played really good.”

The last word shall belong to Young. We were in the pocket as soon as the lights went down that night at the Catalyst, he wrote on his website. I really love this memory and sharing it with all of you! We are so lucky to have this one. If you were there, our love goes out to you [man, I wish – you should have invited me, Neil!] Now this record and film brings that night to everybody! While it’s safe to assume no album can replace the experience of actually having been there that night at The Catalyst, I still take it!

BTW, Neil Young has been prolific with releases from his archives. Only last year, he put out three: Homegrown, Return to Greendale and Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976. The next one is already scheduled for March 26: Young Shakespeare, an all-acoustic solo gig recorded at Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn., on January 22, 1971, just three days after Young’s legendary Massey Hall show.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Neil Young website; YouTube