The 100 Best Albums of 2021 (So Far)

(099) Little Hat – Wine, Whiskey, & Wimmen

This ’50s channeling trio from Holland pays tribute in their songs and style to relatively obscure bluesmen the likes of Lazy Lester, Titus Turner, and Isaiah Ross. You will need to listen closely to really tell that this tightly constructed set of songs was not recorded by Sam Phillips in the Sun Records studio. The opener “Clema” could have been a Fats Domino special, “Cat Squirrel” a Chuck Berry ditty, and the title song “Wine, Wimmen, Whiskey” is, of course, pure John Lee Hooker. “Boogie in the Park” is a stomper that could be played anywhere in Mississippi.

Preferring not to be labelled as retro-rockers, this multi-generational (one member is 20 something, another is his 30’s and the third is in his 70’s) band doesn’t try to revive the spirit of their heroes exactly, rather they built on the momentum and create a sound and spirit uniquely their own.

The 100 Best Albums of 2021 (So Far)

(100) Caper Clowns – Abdicate The Throne

With a whiff of Madness here, some ELO there The Danish band Caper Clowns combine Power Pop, straight ahead and even a bit of Roll into a formula that is as diverse as it is intoxicating. On Be There (The Ever Changing Tome) the band channels their best 10cc impersonation and there is more than a little Rock as well as Roll on the infectious “In Your Kaleidoscope.”

With Styx, ELO and 10cc as touchstones this record has something for everyone. If you are a fan of tightly crafted Pop nuggets, your ship has come in.

Five Cool Ones – Five New Records Released This Week (June 18, 2021)

The year is pretty much half over and while the team here at Rock is the New Roll is diligently pouring over all of the fine records released so far we still found time to secure for you some really fine new records that your ears should be excited about.

In the meantime, the highly underrated and below-the-radar Rich Ragany & The Digressions release their inner Tom Petty Meets Elvis Costello on “Heartbreakers Don’t Try.”

The Daybreakers are banging out the Blues Rock in the Sabbath and Uriah Heep mold, and that is never a bad thing.

And, Hanson, yes the “MMMMMM Bop” Hanson’s, is back with a nice slice of Cheap Trick evoking Power Pop. with a tune that features Rick Nielson on the track and also on the video. Our ears are tuned for more to come from this camp.

And, on top of all of that here are five new albums that are rocking our world this week.

Kings of Convenience – Peace Or Love

Even though they never really went away, individually they have been playing on a lot of other people’s projects, the Norwegian acoustic duo Kings of Convenience has not released a proper record in about 12 years. And, musically, as well as aesthetically nary a beat was skipped with the release of Peace Or Love.

Sophisticated harmonies, lush intricate guitar interplay, and wistful Indie Pop is the order of the day. The two songs that feature a guest turn from Feist are perfectly complementary to the nuances of the album as a whole with “Love is A Lonely” thing as sparse as you might think given the song title.

This is a good gentle mood setting of a record that would serve nicely as an afternoon-listen precursor to kicking out the jams later in the evening. If you are a fan of the new Brothers Brother record or the latest from Catus Blossoms, then The Kings of Convenience is your new mellow jam.

Husband – Cut The Light

There is not an awful lot to be found in terms of an on-line presence regarding this U.K.-based band that seems to specialize in stylistic anthems with a lead singer that floats somewhere between Bono and Iggy Pop. The songwriting is smart and evocative and the arrangements are sometimes brood-ridden and pulsating, often in the same song.

Cut The Light is their debut record, yet it sounds like the product of a band that has spent many years honing their craft. Introduce yourself with a first-listen of “What A World,” a song that has a bit of a mid-era Bowie quality to it, and work your way through “Cages,” an epic crescendo of a song that will take you on a journey in a taut, brilliantly constructed 3:04 that will leave you wanting to learn more about this enigmatic band.

Styx – Crash of the Crown

Crash of the Crown is the 17th proper Styx studio album and even after all these years under the bridge the band still sounds like Styx. And, that is a very good thing. With the core of the OG band, James Young, Tommy Shaw, and Chuck Pannoza present and accounted for going strong and sounding great, and the gang vocals led by Dennis DeYoung’s extremely able replacement Lawrence Gowen are Stirling vintage Styx.

“Our Wonderful Lives” could have been from the Grand Illusion sessions, “Reveries” has a bit of a rock savoir-faire inherent in the song that would have fit in nicely on Pieces of Eight, and “Monster” could have even come from the Equinox days.

Starting from the Queen sounding opener “The Flight of Our Lives” to the closing refrains of “Stream” This a great record by a once, now, and future great band.

The Tremelo Beer Gut – You Can’t Handle …. The Tremelo Beer Gut

Sort of the Danish version of Los Straitjackets, the capsule bio of the band that declares “If you were to listen to just one Danish instrumental, Spaghetti Western, surf band influenced by Dick Dale, Duane Eddy and Ennio Morricone, who has been intermittently making music since 1998, make it The Tremolo Beer Gut” pretty much tells you all you need to know about these Surf-Noir rockers.

This new release coming 13 years after their last proper long-player is another rousing slab of retro rockers that are tight, surf-inspired originals that stand on the shoulders of Dick and Duane but also maintain a personality all their of their own thanks to the bobbing and weaving of the textures with different nuances exposed song to song. The relaxed swing of the bluesy “Date at the Slow Club” would be among the slower songs in the set with the Spy-Noir of “Codename Tremstar” ramping up the Austin Powers vibe several notches.

With Jon Spencer along with his wife Cristina making an appearance on the Surf-Western influenced “Hey Hello,” The stage is set to light up the Tiki torches, crank up The Mai Tais, and party like it’s 1959.

Amy Helm – What the Flood Leaves Behind

Returning to her dad’s studio built in Levon’s Woodstock home, Amy Helm delivers a set of gospel-tinged beauties that bring the funk with “Breathing,” plays it forward with Dad’s mandolin on “Are We Running Out of Love,” and professes true love on “Terminal B.”

With every song ringing true and honest with clear vocals in the Mary Chapin Carpenter mold along with a set of songs that seem to embrace the past while at the same time setting the dials towards an optimistic future. 

“Sweet Mama” may be one of the best songs that your ears enjoy all year.

Five Cool Ones – Five New Albums Released This Week (June 11, 2021)

As we scramble to put together the best albums of the year (so far) list there are still a ton of really good records to digest. For the Rockers out there Kiss has released a from the soundboard live album from 2001, and we are not sure why, and Black Sabbath have remastered their 1972 album sabotage. 

Billy F. Gibbons has a new video out and, yes there are girls and cars front and center as you would expect from the ZZ Top frontman.

Sir Tom Jones paid a visit to the NPR Tiny Desk for a performance of cuts from his latest record. “Another Cup of Coffee” is worth the price of admission alone.

And, Rich Ragany & The Digressions bring their Elvis Costello meets Tom Petty stylings to the front of the line with their new song that celebrates the challenge of just taking on the day.

On top of all that there is a bevy of new tune-slices to savor this week. Here are five of them we particularly like.

Sleater-Kinney – Path of Wellness

Going a bit back to their roots with Path of Wellness, Sleater-Kinney’s latest release, and the first in quite some time without drummer Janet Weiss is a rocker of a record that takes textures of the best of ’90’s girl-power Rock and Roll. 

There is more than a little Patti Smith dusting in “Down The Line,” “Complex Female Characters” is a powerful snarling anthem, and “Bring Mercy” could have been a protest anthem from the seventies.

For a band that never really breaks up but seems to disappear for years at a time, the beauty in their art is that they seem to come back around at the exact time when they are sorely needed.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

One of the more anticipated records of the year, Wolf Alice after teasing us with several singles is finally out with their new record, Blue Weekend.

Much more dialed back here than the back of the arena howl of 2017’s Vision of Life, this set of songs were designed to be played in more intimate settings perhaps even on the set of …Later With Jools Holland. That’s not to say that there is not a lot to like here, there certainly is. “Delicious Things” is a swooping Florence and the Machine-worthy anthem, “Lipstick on the Glass” is exquisite Dream-Pop escapism, and “How Can I Make It Ok” is Ellie Rowsell and the band’s version of a power ballad.

Sandwiching the entire set between the opening slow burn of “The Beach” and the end of the evening whirling dervish beauty of the closer “The Beach II” tells us that trying to figure out what is around the corner for this band might be very much a fool’s errand.

Brad Marino – Looking For Trouble

With more than a little Greg Kihn in the DNA of Brad Marino and his latest record Looking For Trouble, if you are looking for a record that will make you smile and take you back to the carefree no-responsibility days of your youth this is your jam.

There is a tinge of slightly less frenetic Flamin’ Groovies on “Looking For Trouble,” a dusting of Devo by way of The Knack on “Something For Nothing,” and The Ramones as produced by Phil Spector come to mind with a listen of “What Do You Know.”

With more hooks than an episode of “dangerous catch,” there is not a bad song in this batch of Power Pop perfection. This is Rock and Roll at its accessible best. If You love Rockpile, The Romantics, The Greg Kihn Band, or even The Georgia Satellites, you will love this record.

Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real – A Few Stars Apart

Generously prolific during his year in lockdown Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, turns off the news and gets a bit more philosophical on his latest record, A Few Stars Apart.

Where Willie the elder starts and Lukas begins is an ever-present question on this album with “We’ll Be Alright” a perfect touchstone that could have easily been a hit single on Dad’s Red Headed Stranger and is a tune that will likely turn up on our top songs of the year list.

The song “Wildest Dreams” could have been a Tom Petty song, and the perfectly placed closer “Smile” has Lukas smiling and contemplating acceptance and forgiveness while he lays out in the sun. Sounds like a great thing to do.

Aquarian Blood – Bending The Golden Hour

An intoxicating new find here in the halls of Rock is the New Roll, Aquarian Blood is a Memphis husband-and-wife-duo that blends Country, Americana, and Psychedelic Folk into a blender that is uniquely mysterious as well as highly listenable.

“Waited” sounds like it could have been recorded in Joshua Tree State Park with the coyotes howling instead of their home studio in Memphis, “Alabama Daughter” has an eerie low-fi vibe that grabs your ears and drags them close to the speaker, while “Night Train” is a spooky noir sounding tune that would fit in quite nicely as the theme song for a new season of True Detective. 

Not their first album, but clearly their most ambitious. 43 songs were ultimately recorded for these sessions before the “Sophie’s Choice” selection process whittled them down to 17, clearly indicating there may be another record hitting our shores in the relatively near future. And, that is a very good thing.

Five Cool Ones: Five New Records Released This Week (May 28, 2021)

Don’t look now but the year is almost half over. And, so far, it has been a semi-spectacular five months on the musical scene. Many of our favorite and soon-to-be favorite artists are getting back in the studio and starting to crank up their tour dates. It won’t be long before we are back to normal and attending concerts will be a thing once again.

The Tea Party (no not that one) is 0ut with the scorcher “Summertime”, a song that deserves to be on your upcoming summer playlist.

The Damn Truth is telling just that with their new record Now or Nowhere featuring singer Lee-La Baum’s Beth Hart worthy vocals and the high-voltage single “This Is Who We Are Now.”

And, Swedish Glam rockers Velvet Insane get their full Glam on with “Backstreet Liberace.” Don’t look now, but it is 1973 all over again.

And, on top of those tasty morsels here are five new records that are worthy of your ear-time this week.

Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia

For their latest effort, Charlie Starr and the boys jump right on the horse that brought ’em, that is a good-time Southern Rock that is part Allman Brothers, part Black Oak Arkansas, and entirely cool. From the opening salvo by way of “Live It Down” to the easy flow of “Ain’t the Same” the entire record goes down easy like a good bottle of bourbon.

With a couple of guest turns courtesy of Jamey Johnson on “Lonesome For A Livin'” and Warren Haynes bringing up the guitars a notch on “All Rise again,” the formula might not be changing but when Southern Rock is played with this much genuine purpose and passion, case in point the driving anthem “All Over The Road,” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix.

Texas – Hi

Semi-named after the classic noir film Paris, Texas, the Glasgow band Texas and lead singer Sharleen Spiteri has released their first album since 2017’s Jump On Board, and it’s a good one. The genre-bending title track featuring a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan is quite good, “Sound of My Voice” could have been a Bangles single back in the day, and “Moonstar” could have been a hit for Lucinda Williams.

Largely unknown on one side of the pond, the radio-friendly semi-retro sounds from a Band that has been around for more than 30 years deserve a better listener fate. If you like The Pretenders, you will love this little band from Scotland.

Mojothunder – Hymns From The Electric Church

An early contender for Rock and Roll record of the year, the latest and hopefully breakthrough album by Kentucky-based four-piece Mojo Thunder covers all the touchpoints. Uplifting anthems, vocals that melt like butter, gang harmony, check-check-check this one has got it all.

The best comparison here would be Bad Company by way of the Black Crowes most notably on the Hook-laden “Fill me up” and the slow burn lighter inducing “Soul.” The best contemporary Southern Rock band this side of Blackberry Smoke, there is not a bad song to be savored here. “Blackbird” comes close to Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Untitled #69 is Jimi by way of The James Gang. 

Move over Rival Sons and Greta Van Fleet, the bandwagon to save Rock and Roll is filling up fast and these guys are right on your heels.

Britton Patrick Morgan – I Wanna Start A Band

Britton Patrick Morgan, another one of the fine artists hailing from Kentucky, conceived this record around his childhood fantasy around around starting an all-star band. And, based on the title track of the record it would be one hell of a band. He’s got Levon Helm on drums with Emmylou backing, Derek Trucks playing slide for Marvin Gaye with Professor Longhair on piano. Joni Mitchell and Stevie Ray are also band members of this team terrific. 

With a style that brings to mind the vocals of Tony Joe White and the songwriting of John Prine virtually every song on this record will please your ears. “When I Think About You” is vintage whimsical Prine, “Baxter. KY” is a travelogue love ode to his hometown complete with the old man at the Dairy Queen cutting cards and telling lies, and “Southern Gothic Love Story” is the next great murder ballad.

Sugar Candy Mountain – Impression

Drawing comparisons to Os Mutantes, the Flaming Lips, and even Brian Wilson in some quarters Sugar Candy Mountain produces vintage-sounding throw-back Rock blending ’60s West Coast psychedelia with Folk and contemporary Pop influences. With strong Jellyfish as well as Donovon inspirations “Sally Ballerina” grooves and sways like Sonny and Cher on a date night, “In a Flash” is a hazy tripped out lava lamp ride worthy of a Keith Moon lost weekend binge, and “No One Can See” has singer Ash Reiter doing her best Grace Slick spirit dance.

Good old-fashioned escapism is in short order these days and sorely needed. “The End” will have you going down the rabbit hole with Alice, and “The Love Between” has some Tropicallia mojo about it that will have you reaching for a Mai Tai.

Best enjoyed with an outside stimulant of your choosing in the safety of your own home. Start with the hazy hipster “Gussie” or “A Window Is Opened and work your way around this instant Psychedelic classic. 

Five Cool Ones: Five New Records Released This Week (May 21, 2021)

Don’t look now, but summer is right around the corner. The music is getting brighter, bands are getting back in the studio and are heading back out on the road, and the Rock is definitely rolling as the weather gets warmer.

The Scottish band Texas is getting ready to release a record later in the year on the strength of their ABBA-inspired “Mr. Haze.”

One for the ladies, Michael Buble is releasing songs from his Live From Tour Stop 148 DVD with the word on the streets that he is prepping for a tour in the very near future.

And, Sweden’s own Rock Band Eclipse, with a sound sort of like a very heavy Bon Jovi, have come up with the best Saturday night party anthem to hit our ears in quite some time with “Saturday Night (Hallelujah).”

And, yes, of course, there’s more. Here are five particularly cool records that we are spending some ear-time with.

Robert Finley – Sharecroppers Son

Sure, we really didn’t even need to listen to this given that it is a Dan Auerbach Easy Eye Sound production to put this one on the list, but then we would have missed out on a really great Blues record. Showcasing his voice and immense slide guitar talents to knob-twirling perfection, the album combines, Blues, Rock, Soul, and Gospel to detail 10 ten songs that tell the story of a life hard-lived. From life in the city streets to life in jail and the cottonfields, Finley and Auerbach take you deep down into that world weary well.

Scorching the earth more than Blues men half his age on “Make Me Feel Alright,” and laying his life bare on “My Story” there is never a doubt that you are listening to an artist that has scrapped along for whatever success he is having and is highly appreciative.

Hitting the high notes on the uplifting “Starting To See” and taking it low and slow on the pathos-driven “I Can Feel Your Pain” I will stand on The Black Keys coffee table and proclaim Sharecroppers Son the best Blues album of 2021.

Pink Chameleons – Peace & Love

Picture yourself in a dark, dank basement in the middle of SOHO in New York attending a Ramones after-party, and you pretty much have a bead on what is going on here. Short, semi-fuzzy Garage Rock Psychedelic nuggets that drill into your chest cavity and swirl around your years. Sort of MC-5 meets Blue Cheer.

A retro, in all the best of ways, listen, the Psych-romper “Hot Dog” is a revelation, the opener “Death By Bliss” is a great introduction to the core values of the band, and even the semi-out of character instrumental “Horsewalk” is a groovy way to catch your breath.

The Reverend Shawn Amos – The Cause of it All

Should you not be overly familiar with The Reverend Shawn Amos and his oeuvre, the son of Famous Amos is a terrific Blues singer in the Keb ‘Mo mold. His latest, The Cause of it All,” is a stripped-down affair with mostly Amos an acoustic guitar, and an occasional harmonica as accompaniment.

The version here of “Baby, Please Don’t Go is not to be missed, and “I’m Ready” is delivered with a voice coming from someone who has earned it. Somewhat of a departure from his prior records that have more of an Americana bent featuring members of Crazy Horse as well as The Jayhawks, this latest album takes you back to the roots with a passionate take on “Hoochie Coochie Man” as exhibit A.

Trapper Schoepp – May Day

Trapper Schoepp, a band not a person, delivers Gram Parsons-inspired Alt-County songs like it’s California in the ’70s or Austin in the late ’90s. Sort of The Replacements meets Uncle Tupelo with a big batch of Old ’97s thrown in for good measure, there is not a bad song on this record. 

“I Am a Rider” is a highlight taking you back to the Ryan Adams Gold  days, “Paris Syndrome” displays fine sibling harmonies in the Everly’s mold, and “Yellow Moon” could have been a Dawes song. This one will be on heavy rotation for you with subsequent listens and is already ear-marked for top ten album honors.

Marinero – Hella Love

With Hella Love, Jess Sylveste performing as Marinero has delivered a love letter to not only his sailor father, Marinero means sailor in Spanish, as well as his Mexican American mother, while at the same time bidding a fond adieu to his home city of San Francisco as he moves his home base to Los Angeles.

Blending and wrapping Serge Gainsbourg, Ennio Morricone, and Burt Bacharach textures around sometimes Pet Sound worthy vintage production techniques on songs like “Outerlands,” many San Francisco landmarks are name-checked here including the rainbow tunnel between S.F. and Marin County as you enter or leave the Golden Gate Bridge, and “Minuet for the Mission” that honors the Mission District the Mexican American section of the city where his mother was raised. And, of course, no tribute to the city by the bay without a mention of the ever-present fog that prompted Irish actor James Quin to proclaim “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” would be complete, and here the jazzy “Through the Fog” fits the bill quite nicely.

A gorgeous record on every level.

What We’re Listening To Wednesday (May 19, 2021)

There is the scent of Rock and Roll wafting through the halls of Rock is the New Roll this week as all ears start to turn towards the summer when Rock is king and good times are sure to be the order of the day.

Ayron Jones not only has a strong set of pipes but doesn’t sleep on the dude’s guitar skills. Here, with his latest single “Take Your Time” he delivers the ballad in full “Wind Cries Mary” mold.

And Speaking of Stevie Ray, here, with his band Cardinal Black, Chris Buck has returned with his version of Texas Blues, Welsh style.

Never one to shy away from a good power ballad, here the Picturebooks team up with the bombastic Lizzy Hale of Halestorm fame on a slow burn of a song that will shake rattle and roll you.

Billy Gibbons is priming his retro fueled car and getting ready to launch a new record. Here, on the video from “My Lucky Card” Billy heads to the Joshua Tree Desert Honky-Tonk Pappy & Harriets barbeque restaurant and music venue most probably visiting the ghost of Gram Parsons while he is there.

And, since we are huge fans of the over-the-top Survivor Roller disco sound of Night Flight Orchestra their new single “White Jeans” had to make our list.