While I’m not suggesting that Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner was a best song of any year, 2021 has been a cracking year for Americana. Looking back at my album reviews I have given more 8 and 9 out of 10s than in 2020. So, does that mean that global pandemics and lockdowns are good for the creative process? It may be that with the pressure to meet a release schedule largely off, more time was spent on honing songs, and on getting them recorded right rather than quick. Where in previous years many albums had at least one or two bits of filler, there seemed to be a focus on getting every song right in 2021.
There were a number of excellent EPs. Best was Rachel Sermanni’s ‘Swallow Me’. I called this “an intimate, meditative EP of thought-provoking songs”. And playing it again six months after I reviewed it, the quality of songs like ‘Brighton House’ and ‘Love my Love’ reminds me just how many great songs I’ve heard this year. John Jenkins was another artist whose album was made by the song writing. Hearing him play them live in a small pub room in Bath without the arrangements from the record was confirmation that the songs are what makes an album. Not the bells and whistles that are sometimes used to cover deficiencies in the material.
Every so often a review pops up on the pages of AUK and you think, “I wish I’d had that to review”. Top of that list this year is Lady Nade’s ‘Willing’, with Chloe Foy, Leah Shaw and Los Lobos close behind. We can’t catch them all however and one of my albums of the year, Josienne Clarke’s ‘A Small Unknowable Thing’ escaped our attentions altogether. Seek it out, you will not be disappointed.
Reissues were another area where more thought had gone into compiling and packaging. Would Reg Meuross have had a six-album retrospective package in a year where the artist and his representatives were busy booking shows and looking at new material? They were an early highlight of the year. At the other end was Bruce Cockburn who you could possibly see as Meuross’ Canadian equivalent. His 2 disc best of was perfectly formed and not bloated out with the lower grade material record companies seem to love using to create Super De Luxe Editions.
One big positive in the wider musical world was Kevin Brennan MP’s Private Member’s Bill on proposed reforms to how musicians are paid for their work. While this is sort of bill rarely makes it into law it was a good shot across the bows of Spotify and the like. A commitment from the Government to look at the issue further backs up the culture select committee’s inquiry last year. Alec Bowman eloquently set out the artist’s side of the problem for us this time last year. This is an issue that isn’t going away, the main snag being that it needs to be tackled internationally as well as in this country.
Every year it seems that I discover an artist who has passed me by for some reason. This year Jonathan Smith’s look at Nanci Griffith’s ‘One Fair Summer Evening’ in our Classic Americana Albums series prompted me to look at her music and I’ll be writing about that soon. The same series sent me back to listen to old acquaintances with new ears as well. Jonathan Wilson and The Palace Brothers among them. So, if you are short of something to listen to Americana UK is the place for great new music, and great music you may have missed. Bring on 2022.