Well it’s been a long year by anyone’s standards but as a form of group therapy, we decided for the first time in years to try and come up with a list of our favourite albums of the year. Today we count down numbers 10 to 6, tomorrow it’ll be 5 to 1, and then on Wednesday we’ll look at some other stand-out choices from writers for the the past 12 months. Here we go – the essence of 2021 in ten albums.
Number 10: Trevor Sensor “On Account of Exile, Vol. 1” (High Black Desert)
Honestly it’s difficult to stress just how good Trevor Sensor is – so good that he released two albums in 2021 and it’s hard to pick out which is the stronger as they essentially form two parts to the same glorious recording, The songs themselves are superb, but it’s Sensor’s Dylan on steroids voice which as we described as “an instrument that seems to transcend simple words and, at times, produces sounds that imply feelings.” It’s a genuinely astonishing album.
Number 9: James McMurtry “The Horses and the Hounds” (New West)
In a recent interview for Americana-UK.com, Appalachia musician Charles Wesley Godwin said he was currently “obsessing” about James McMurtry’s tenth album, and it’s easy to understand why. Turning in an album with a cogently melodic (and in this case a kind of throwback rockier) sound is nothing new for McMurtry. And equally, McMurtry has a long-established gift for getting under the skin of some radically different lives in his songs and presenting them in a way that’s sometimes harrowing, sometimes wryly humorous, sometimes both. But on H&H, McMurtry’s smashed through even his own scarily high bar for well-turned roots rock music and profound, clear-eyed empathy. (AF)
Number 8: Emily Scott Robinson “American Siren” (Oh Boy Records)
All the songs on the third album by Colorado’s Emily Scott Robinson album are delivered with a sparse folk-tinged backing which allows the songs themselves to cut through and shine. Yet despite the musical presentation, at its heart ‘American Siren’ is a country album, exploring the familiar emotional issues of love, heartache and loss. Signing to Oh Boy would seem like a good fit for Robinson. If the label is to be part of his great legacy, one can imagine that with this release John Prine will be affording himself a big legal smile from up above. (CW)
Number 7: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss “Raise the Roof” (Rounder)
The question has to be asked – Is ‘Raise The Roof’ merely ‘Raising Sand’, Volume 2? It is and it isn’t, and overall comes across as a more nuanced album. In part, this is down to the song selections. In addition to forgotten blues and soul gems, Plant’s affinity with UK folk music is given an airing, resulting in two of its most successful songs. Plant and Krauss (and producer T-Bone Burnett) are to be congratulated for this endeavour. On its own, it’s an impressive listen and if it sends listeners scurrying to Spotify to listen to Jansch or Briggs or Haggard, then all to the good. (PK)
Number 6: Billy Bragg “The Million Things That Never Happened” (Cooking Vinyl)
Bragg’s first solo album since 2013, reflecting on the first year of the pandemic, finds him quite comfortably ensconced in what might be termed his happy space, the politics are all present and correct and the songs range across American soul, folk and country styles. In addition, there’s a fine sense of introspection and reflection – Bragg, now in his sixties, looking back. it may be Bragg’s best album so far. If he’s not careful, he might be in the running to be considered as a National Treasure. (PK)
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