If 2020 saw a lot of shared songs then 2021 took that to an even higher level – and the reasons are surely the same: more home time due to the inability to tour much, and a desire (and a practical need!) to make new music. It has certainly kept the email Inbox full – and in case anyone who has submitted something was wondering then yes everything gets a listen… everything. The Good, the… umm not so good and the… yes, even the really not so good. This has meant that a lot of Tracks don’t get through to being featured, but it also means that what does get through is, or should be, really good which has made making a “Best of Tracks 2021” list rather difficult.
But there has to be a list and this is it – using the now traditional approach of leaving out Track releases that also double as News stories about (say) Bruce Springsteen and old songs from the ongoing Chain series. As Track Editor there’s my favourite of each month, and there’s the readers’ favourite of each month and one or two “honourable mentions” – songs that were good, but not quite the Track of the month by either measure.
So let’s hop into the time tunnel and set the date for December 2020. Christmas was about to be cancelled, Covid ravaged the land, tours were getting postponed, and entertainment venues were bracing for restricted access. What a time that was, eh?
Without a doubt the song of the month was the superb contrast of vocals that was iskwē & Tom Wilson‘s ‘Blue Moon Drive’ which just oozed with mystery and suppressed passions.
Honourable mentions: Charles Ellsworth’s ‘Blessed’ questioned the betrayal of the American Dream to the moral pauper of the almighty dollar, and pointed out that somehow the rich just seem to glide through all the disasters…..odd that.
Readers’ Choice: Ok, an old song but a runaway popular choice by the readership – blame it on the season if you will but Steve Earle‘s ‘Christmas In Washington‘ got a lot of plays.
And already there were so many good choices, but the infectious power-pop influenced ‘ I Want You Around‘ from Sour Ops was a pedal steel triumph.
Honourable mentions: although clearly coming under the heading of “the big name band” it’d be wrong to exclude Drive By Truckers from this list as ‘Tough to let Go‘ captured the political madness still swirling around at the start of 2021.
Readers’ Choice: And clearly we were all in agreement that what we really needed was some Byrdsian jangle, and Triptides surely supplied that on ‘It Won’t Hurt You‘
Amythyst Kiah took a song from her Our Native Daughters repertoire and gave it a full rock make over for a stunning ‘Black Myself.‘
Honourable mentions: Continuing a bit of an emerging theme, the re-imagined garage rock of Cool Ghouls was more than pleasing on ‘Helpless Circumstance.‘
Readers’ Choice: Was a very classy pick, from the latest release by Steve Cropper, it was ‘Far Away‘ the readers favourite (see what we did there?).
Speaking of emerging themes, we make no apology for the number of times that Northern Belle will get a mention in this list, ‘No Rush‘ was simply gorgeous.
Honourable mentions: a perfect – and we do mean perfect – slice of americana straight from Canada was provided by Gabriel Minnikin on ‘Under her Heels.‘ And every vinyl junkie could relate to Jon Klages‘ ‘God Bless the Columbia House Record Club.‘
Readers’ Choice: In contrast to the sunny glimmer of Northern Belle, it was the unease and a hint of latent peril conveyed through the guitar and vocal on Janet Simpson’s ‘Slip‘ that you, dear reader, really dug.
Over the past few years the music of singer-songwriter VanWyck has become a solid favourite around these parts – and ‘Annekin’s Bay‘ was no less so.
Readers’ Choice: Showing that a good cover can make for a great listen, Dusty Wright gave us ‘Friend Of The Devil‘ to much acclaim.
On May 7th there was the accurate prediction that this could be song of the month, it was Turner Cody and the Soldiers of Love with ‘Telling Storys‘.
Honourable mentions: It was by all measures appropriate that May should bring us a fine example of “weird folk” in the form of the ethereal ‘Long Exposure‘ from Dot Allison.
Readers’ Choice: Lake And Lyndale sang of old things that you’re fond of – the lucky jeans, the first car handed down through the family and maybe also a relationship that can be stitched back together again in ‘Worth Saving.‘ One of the most country-ish songs to run in 2021.
Late bloomer Kashena Sampson had a new song, ‘Whole Lot Better’ from new album ‘Time Machine’, and it was a stunner.
Honourable mentions: June was a particularly difficult month to pick from – the list just got so long! But relistens really are needed for The Flatlanders, Cathy Jordan and Seamie O’Dowd and another fine song from iskwē & Tom Wilson.
Readers’ Choice: With no disrespect to Jason Mcniff it’s likely that the fact that ‘One Two Many Mornings‘ is a Dylan song helped out on making this the pick of the readers’ pops in June.
A very fine song from the very fine album ‘Demons‘ was the atmospheric ‘Candy‘, from Two Cent Revival.
Readers’ Choice: Danny George Wilson’s song ‘Can You Feel Me?‘ described as a marriage of REM and sonic experimentation was a popular choice.
The Grahams had rifled through their record collections for lush inspiration from sweetened soul and seventies vibes, the result was ‘Beyond the Palisades.‘
Readers’ Choice: You are, it seems, rather fond of honky-tonking, and Moot Davis’ ‘Lassoed and Lost‘ honked your tonk in August.
It was too beautiful for words, but fortunately you just can listen to Caroline Marie Brooks’ ‘Nightdrive‘, truly lovely.
Honourable mentions: the incredible musicianship of Nora Brown, the classic folk/bluegrass of Jr Williams and an end of hope song from Chris Beal all impressed. Lot of trains on the tracks that month.
Readers’ Choice: It was Jeremy Pinnell ‘Red Roses‘, which is the kind of song that smells of a consoling whisky and the salt of tears which picked up the virtual spins in September.
Autumn was rich with wonders this year, ‘100 Proof‘ was a classic soft-spoken folk tale of how to approach life, and Julian Taylor‘s version was a dream.
Readers’ Choice: just when we were starting to worry about your straight country leanings there was the reassurance that you’re Funky Cosmic Cowboys too, with the excellent King Corduroy ‘Cosmic Blues Redux‘.
Something that was becoming clear by now was that there was a definite turn in the shape of Tracks – less of the openly home-recorded, Covid lockdown material and a feeling that there was a change in the air and it was time to reinvigorate and get the band back together. And things may not have panned out so well, but Aoife O’Donovan was ready to knock socks off with ‘Prodigal Daughter‘.
Honourable mentions: So many, Track Editing was truly no chore in November! A sort of third mention for Northern Belle who make up part of Silver Lining, the youthful Ken Pomeroy was so impressive, as was the Indie-folk of Amy Jay. And, yeah, you know what – another song from VanWyck just served to wet the appetite for the upcoming album.
Readers’ Choice: It’s a wonderful song, so thanks for choosing it on my behalf, if you hadn’t it’d have certainly been somewhere in the above list. I speak of course of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and their take on Jansch’s ‘It Don’t Bother Me‘.
And so all that remains is to reveal the absolute hands-down readers’ favourite from a full year of Tracks. And it was… by a large margin… Danny George Wilson ‘Can You Feel Me?‘ Take another listen, you clearly like it!