Killers and crowd-pleasing epics: Helen Jones’s Review of 2021

Sadly, still no shows for me in 2021 (an autoimmune disorder means I’m operating with an abundance of caution), but hey, at least there has been a great raft of studio albums to keep me entertained.

Morgan Wade put out an excellent debut solo album with ‘Reckless’. “You said you hate the smell of cigarette smoke / You only used to smoke when you drank / When you lived in Chicago / Unsure where the wind blows / I wish I’d known you in your wilder days,” she laments regretfully on the excellent single ‘Wilder Days’. Elsewhere, Charles Wesley Godwin released the follow up to 2019’s ‘Seneca’ with ‘How the Mighty Fall’. ‘Blood Feud’ is (excuse the pun) an absolute killer track with a roaring ‘Nutbush City Limits’-style beat.

The underrated Madi Diaz released the blistering ‘History of a Feeling’ this year. If you can hear ‘Crying in Public’ without having “I don’t wanna be crying in public” screaming in your head for days afterwards, then you’re a better person than I. In fact, it’s the kind of raw emotion of a break-up album Kacey Musgraves should have been able to put out instead of the decidedly underwhelming ‘star-crossed’. Indeed, if albums full of raw unbridled emotion are your thing, you might want to check out ‘Lonesome’ by Evan Bartels as feeling is something he could never be accused of skimping on. The lead single ‘Shotgun’ is a searing masterpiece on mental health struggles.

As a follow up to his utterly enjoyable 2018 album ‘I Rode the Wild Horses’, Ross Cooper gave us the ‘Chasing Old Highs’. Let me tell you, there is nothing that will get you through a winter lockdown day quite like defiantly blasting ‘Hello Sunshine’. Aimee Mann released the album come ‘Girl, Interrupted’ musical soundtrack ‘Queens of the Summer Hotel’; while the songs aren’t as instant as some of her other work, it’s impossible not to enjoy it – especially if you have some knowledge of the source material she drew from. Mason Lively released his self-titled second full length album and I don’t mind admitting that I was shocked with just how enjoyable I found it, the bluesy ‘Devil on My Tail’ being something of a highlight.

Given that Yola has one of the most powerful voices in Americana today, she predictably released a vocal masterclass with the personal and genre defying ‘Stand for Myself’. Hannah Dasher released the ‘The Half Record’ EP, a key release if you enjoy your country loud, brash and irresistibly catchy. Another promising debut EP came from Jensen McRae with ‘Who Hurt You?’ featuring the kind of great songwriting (see ‘Wolves’ and ‘White Boy’) that generates excitement for a full release. Speaking of such, Candi Carptener’s side project with singer-songwriter Josh Doyle We Are Roswell released their debut EP ‘Here Comes the Church of Rowell’. The songs are fresh, vibrant and fun, and I can’t wait for more.

It is no surprise to anyone that Brandi Carlile managed to bring out yet another crowd pleasing epic of an album in ‘In These Silent Days’; ‘You and Me On the Rock’ is a blast of pure sunny Joni Mitchell-esque joy. Although less optimistic, Emily Scott Robinson’s ‘American Siren’ was equally impressive in an unsurprising way for anyone who has followed her. Each song was so richly woven, her voice so beautiful, that it’s a transportative pleasure to listen to time and time again.

2021 was the year we finally got a full length album from throwback country vocalist Charlie Marie, and while the bar of expectation was high, I’d say it met it. ‘El Paso’ is what seems like a very traditional country song, until you get to the chorus and we’re offered the curveball that we’ve become accustomed to expect from Marie: “He left me in a lonestar state / He left me on a sunny day / He left me with the desert sand / He left me at the Rio Grande / He left me for a man”.

Throwing this last one in as a bit of a curveball, but trust me when I tell you ‘Pressure Machine’ by The Killers is more Americana than a lot of music that describes itself as belonging to the genre. If you only know the band from anthemic pop-rock like ‘Mr. Brightside’ – and the fact they collaborated with Bruce Springsteen earlier in the year isn’t enough to sway you – this album proves that they really are worth a second look. Songs like ‘Quiet Town’ and ‘In Another Life’ are a masterclass in storytelling.

Who knows where 2022 will take us in this unpredictable Covid-19 world that we know live, but whether I get to any live events or not, at least music will always be there to help me through the hardest days.

About Helen Jones 66 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Helen, for drawing my attention to Emily Scott Robinson. What a delightful find on a dreich December Monday! She is a great lyricist as well as having a beautiful voice.

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