Top 100 Albums of 2021

From The Shiva’s to the Coral, all the way to Teenage Fanclub and beyond there was no shortage of finely tuned and highly polished records to savor this year. We did the work so you don’t have to. Just click on the album title to listen for yourself courtesy of the staff at Rock is the New Roll.

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 Rock, 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.

99

Lovebreakers – Primary Colours

Sunshine Punk and Roll is the order of the day on this one. Hailing from Birmingham England with hooks aplenty there is an underlying edge to the otherwise jaunty guitar work presented here that lends to the theory that this debut record will be the start of something big for the band. Looking for a touchpoint, look no further than The Arctic Monkeys or the accessible side of The Replacements.

98

Radio Days – Rave On!

Catchy melodies, loads of hooks everything that Power Pop should be. The breeziness of the Rubinoos with the punk ethos of Elvis Costello rules the day on this one.

97

The Bablers – Paychadilly Circus

From “Lost Weekend” John Lennon to Pink Floyd to Paul Simon all of your favorite touchpoints are in full bloom on this one. Even Crazy Horse-era Neil Young floats his raft down this river. You likely have not heard of this band. Right this wrong post-haste.

96

Aquarian Blood – Bending The Golden Hour

Memphis husband and wife duo touches the third rail of Country, Psychedelia, and Folk on this Americana-noir treat for the ears. Listen to this one with headphones on.

95

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.

94

Britton Patrick Morgan – I Wanna Start A Band

Kentucky-based Britton Patrick Morgan conceived this record around his childhood fantasy of starting an all-star 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. 

93

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 the record grooves and sways like Sonny and Cher on date night.

92

Pink Chameleons – Peace & Love

Picture yourself in a dark, dank basement in the middle of SOHO in New York attending a Ramones after-party three drinks away from a new tattoo 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 ears. Sort of MC-5 meets Blue Cheer.

91

Marinero – Hella Love

Blending and wrapping Serge Gainsbourg, Ennio Morricone, and Burt Bacharach textures around sometimes Pet Sounds worthy vintage production techniques. A gorgeous record on every level.

90

Babe Rainbow – Changing Colours

Just engulf yourself in the bassline on the song “Ready For Tomorrow and, like us, you will be all in, chips to the center of the table. Fun, bouncy, and vibrant is the order of the day from this group of Aussies with “Rainbow Rock” and “California” already reserving themselves steady rotation on our summer playlist that we have yet to create.

89

Weezer – Van Weezer

Using Van Halen as a spirit animal rather than simply mimicking their sound, the record, weighing in at a taut 31 minutes, is full of festival-worthy anthems, most notably the rousing “All The Good Ones,” and the sparkling Power Pop Fountains of Wayne inspired “Beginning of the End.” 

88

Tony Joe White – Smoke From The Chimney

Dan Auerbach and his cronies at Easy Eye Sound have done it again with the release of Smoke From The Chimney, a set of long-lost demos from Tony Joe White polished and shined with assistance from Jody White, Tony Joe’s Son. Taking a set of tapes that included only voice and guitar Auerbach added a full band and pedal steel along with some of the best session guys in Nashville to bring the songs to life.

87

West of Texas – Heartaches, Hangovers & Honky Tonks

Pull-on your boots, tighten up your stetson, leave your spurs at home, and head to the Honky Tonk courtesy of the best Western swing record of the year. The Willie by way of Asleep at the Wheel opener “My Whiskey Life” is a perfect introduction to a band that makes no bones about it. They like both kinds of music, Country and Western.

86

Silver Synthetic – Silver Synthetic

Covering many of our treasured musical touchstones including Beachwood Sparks, Tom Petty, Wilco, and Green on Red, this New Orleans combo that features members of BOTTOMFEEDERS as well as Jeff the Brotherhood combines analog Rock and Roll, Country Rock, and shimmering harmonies into a blend that plays well with just about any musical taste. Don’t sleep on this one unless you want your ears to leave you for a more musically hip head.

85

The Pink Stones – Introducing… The Pink Stones

A sparkling debut album this time of the Cosmic Cowboy variety. Bringing inspiration from Gram Parsons, Mazzy Star along with the Brothers Burrito, this one ebbs and flows from late-night laments to last-call honky-tonk tear meet beer Haggard worthy tomes.

84

Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real – 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.

83

La Femme Paradigms

One of the more interesting and eclectic listens you are likely to come across this year, Le Femme, with their intoxicating blend of Krautrock, Surf Rock, Serge Gainsbourg French-Noir, and Psychedelic 13th Floor Elevator vibes will take you back to Hugh Hefner’s grotto and George Jetson’s man-cave in one trippy listen. 

82

Cristina Vane – Nowhere Sounds Lovely

With influences ranging from Robert Johnson, Skip James, and the Appalachian hill country, it is no wonder that newcomer Cristina Vane has released one of the more sparkling debut records of the year. After completing a five-month mini-tour of the American South playing bars, coffeehouses, and house parties Vane set up residence in Nashville in an attempt to capture her rock kid in an old musical-soul sound on record for the first time. 

81

Ex Norwegian – Sings Jimmy Campbell

With Sings Jimmy Campbell the band Ex Norwegian enlists the help of like-minded musician friend-fans of the largely overlooked Liverpool singer-songwriter Jimmy Campbell on a set that celebrates the life of an artist that should have reached much higher levels of fame and is widely described as the John Lennon that never left Liverpool. The song featured here, “Paris, You’re in Paris” is about as good as a pop song you will find this side of Big Star.

80

Ryley Walker – Course In Fable

Dialing in his shapeshifting influences ranging from Blues, Prog-Folk, Desert Rock to Experimental, this song-set may be the most fully formed and accessible record he has released so far in his eclectic career. 

79

Dr. Lonnie Smith – Breathe

The king of the Hammond B-3 grooves his way through a set of tunes that would fit in quite nicely at Austin Powers’ bachelor party. 

78

The Dust Coda – Mojo Skyline

Channeling Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, and Humble Pie in almost equal measures, the song “Bourbon Pouring” could have easily been a Faces song, and the closer, “It’s A Jam” would have fit perfectly on any of the early Nazareth albums. It would not be a stretch to picture these guys opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the day.

77

Brigitte DeMeyer – Seeker

With a vibe that brings to the ear, Rikki Lee Jones and Sheryl Crow at her most languid, the songs are mostly low-key in all the best of ways. “Wishbone” and the slow burn of “Louisiana” are must-hears. 

76

Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

Normally running like the wind from an artist that would have 57 million listeners on Spotify, this one is a notable exception. From Ballads to anthems the musical soundscapes are navigated expertly, and somehow the record is fresh and finely aged at the same time.

 

75

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

With repeated listens this is a record that will reveal itself to you. Dark in places, somber in others, the revelatory songwriting is next-level genius.

74

Bones Owens – Bones Owens

There is the spirit of Garage Rock, The swagger of Roadhouse Blues, and the swampy vibe of Creedence all dancing in the moonlight within the debut record from an artist who has his mojo working full tilt.

73

Charley Crockett – 10 For Slim: Crockett Sings James Hand

This time out the ever-prolific Charley Crockett pays tribute to the recently passed away Honky Tonk legend James Hand with a set of ten os Slims songs that run the spectrum from straight-up barroom laments to Honky Tonk battle cries.

72

Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

This wholly original bass-forward guitar band from the Lou Reed speak-sing vocals to the New Order evoking guitar riffs deserves a close watch if this striking debut record is a look into the future.

71

Liz Phair – Soberish

Almost Exile In Guyville Part 2, the queen returns to claim her throne proving once again that despite fine efforts from Lucy Dacus, Snailmail, and Soccer Mommy few carry the female empowerment torch as brightly as Liz Phair.

70

The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy

After returning to action in 2019 and now turning around in relatively short order with their latest, Open Door Policy, the cinemascope aural landscapes the band is famous for are front and center from the opening bell. 

69

John Paul Keith – The Rhythm of the City

Walking that magical sweet spot between Sun Records Blues, Stax Soul, and smooth R&B, every song has Beale street soul embedded very deep in the DNA that pours out with every guitar chord, horn riff, and gospel refrain. This love letter to Memphis resonates on every level.

68

DeWolff – Wolffpack

Deliberately avoiding standing on the shoulders of Rock and Roll giants, Dutch retro-rockers DeWolffust doesn’t quite imitate the great classic bands of the past as much as they build on a template of infectious melodies, delicious organ riffs, and swirling guitars to create their unique sound. Touchstones here would be Deep Purple by way of Thin Lizzy.

67

Mojothunder – Hymns From The Electric Church

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. If you are looking for a touchpoint, go no further than Bad Company and The Black Crowes.

66

Robert Finley – Sharecroppers Son

Sure, we 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 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.

65

Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant

By some stretch, the grooviest album of the year, Matt Berry takes a break from his gig as a vampire in What They Do in the Shadows to release another set of interestingly thrown-back inspired songs that could have easily been the soundtrack of Austin Power’s bachelor party. With a Burt Bacharach production palate, the arrangements are near perfect placing the organ solos, hipster horns, and spooky vocals in just the right places at just the right time. 

64

The Staves – Good Woman

The sister trio’s first self-penned record in six years, the group has drawn from heavy real-life experiences including the death of their mother, a couple of dissolved relationships, and the birth of eldest Emily’s child to use as inspiration for what it means to be a good woman. Think Carole King and First Aid Kit for comparisons.

63

Yola – Stand For Myself

Never shy about extolling the virtues about what they are doing at Easy Eye Sound down there in Nashville, it seems we feature one of their records every week, this time they may have come out with their best of the year with Yola’s new one, Stand For Myself. Building on the foundation of her debut record, Walk Through The Fire, released in 2019, this time out she displays her chops as a first-class songwriter along with all of her other skills,

Blending Americana, Pop, and soul as effortlessly as a bird in flight this time she blends classic ’70s R&B, horns, and vintage organ to create a sound that is vintage-cool while at the same time polished and smooth. The break-out single “Diamond Studded Shoes” evokes Tina at her snarling best, the title track is a burning every-person anthem. The Donna Summer disco splendor of “Dancing Away The Tears” shows off the sonic splendor of a perfect artist-producer pairing the likes of which we haven’t seen since George Martin was in the sandbox with his mates.

Quite possibly the best sophomore release from any artist in recent memory, this one is a keeper that just might be the best Soul record released in the last 10 years.

62

Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Much to the dismay of his hard-core Progressive Rock fan base, and to the immense pleasure of the rest of us, the reigning king of Progressive Rock is exploring his inner Pop and Electronica sides. 

61

Matthew Sweet – Catspaw

With Catspaw, his third record since joining the mass exodus out of Los Angeles, Matthew Sweet has returned to the studio for another set of Power Pop Wizardy. Turning the guitar dials up just a bit, this record has a raw sound with a bit more of an edge than we may be used to from this Fuzz-Pop maestro. Rooted firmly in the ’70s there is a Sweetheart of the Radio era Byrdsian smoke swirling in the air as well. Feel free to inhale. 

60

Civic – Forecast

Avoiding all of the current musical trend, genre, or sub-genre, this Melbourne band on their debut record spits out furious, infections, and urgent Rock and Roll. The Ramones, The Clash, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Dropkick Murphy’s, they all coalesce on this one.

59

The Legal Matters – Chapter Three

Splashing around in the sunshine pop pool in places, daring to tackle Pet Sounds production in others while all the while carrying the overarching aura of Paul McCartney’s Wing’s brethren, the best word to describe this Pop masterpiece would be awesome.

58

Storefront Church – As We Pass

There is an impending feeling of doom around every corner of this dark side of the street of a record. Described as Thom York washing up on Chris Isaak’s retro noir coastline this one is best consumed high ball in hand while debating the state of the universe with Tom Waits.

57

Motorists – Surrounded 

Meshing together the irreverent pop-centric qualities of Camper Van Beethoven along with the controlled ramshackle energy of The Replacements, Toronto band Motorists will bring to mind many of your favorite ’80s college-rock bands.

“Vangloirous” has a bit of early REM dusting about it, “Latent Space” throws some krautrock in the mix, and “Walled Garden” has a “Radio Free Europe” vibe going for it. “Turn It Around” even as a Jarvis Cocker and Orange Juice aura that is refreshing to hear. 

This one is about as solid a debut record as we have heard in quite some time.

56

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. 

55

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.

54

The Black Keys – Delta Kream

A down and dirty, greasy love-fest to the Mississippi delta. Recorded in one single ten-hour session, the Key’s laid-back delta swagger is perfect for this set of roadhouse-worthy tunes. From the lead-off song “Crawling Kingsnake” to the slinky Kimbrough song “Walk With Me” and on to the Tony Joe worthy take on Burnside’s “Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” this is about as close as you can get without actually being there live at Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ Mississippi Juke joint.

The Coral – Coral Island

53

Mining many of the genres that your ears hold sacred including but not limited to Garage Rock, AOR, Psychedelia, Post-Punk, and Power Pop, this is a semi-concept album based on the band’s collective experiences at various seaside resorts on the West coast of England. The songs on weave together beautifully with brief spoken-word interludes that serve to give the entire proceedings a real first-person point-in-time feel.

52

Hearty Har – Radio Astro

With brothers, Shane and Tyler Fogerty leading the band, this terrific set of Psychedelic, Classic Rock, and vintage synth sounds is a stand-alone work of musical art. Chock full of slinky and hooky songs the ’60s vintage spooky organ plays well with the Tom Petty on acid overall esthetic.

51

Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror

Pearl Charles has finally found her voice. After experimenting with Garage and Psychedelia, here, she sticks the landing with a laid-back blend of Southern California Beach Soul and late ’70s Country Pop.

50

Sweet Crisis – Tricks On My My Mind

With Bad Company and Free as primary touchstones here is the most fun you can have without digging out your old bell-bottom pants. The immense closer Living Live on the Edge is about as good as Classic Rock gets.

49

Jason Isbell – Georgia Blue

Inspired by his promise to record a tribute album to the state of Georgia should the election turn to a democratic blue, Jason Isbell puts politics aside to deliver a solid setlist that pays tribute to the songs and artists associated with his home state. 

48

Joy Crookes – Skin

 A sure-fire candidate for debut record of the year Joy Crookes’ new record is a blend of Amy Winehouse neo-soul, Nina Simone sultry jazz, and the silky smooth vocals of Ella Fitzgerald.

Standouts “When You Are Mine” and “Wild Jasmine” offer more contemporary song diva fare, while “Poison,” along with the title track, is a girl and her piano offering up some late-night noir.

Especially powerful is “Unlearn You,” a song about the lasting effects of domestic violence. Give this one a spin or three on your turntable, and your ears and soul will be exponentially rewarded.

47

Pokey Lafarge – In The Blossom of Their Shade

With touchstones that include Western cinemascope, 50’s exotica, 60’s doo-wop, and 40’s big band, it is a wonder that LaFarge can meld these disparate styles into a contemporary tapestry the way he does on this record. If you are up for a road trip the likes of which you likely have not experienced since riding with Ryan and Tatum O’Neill in Paper moon, it’s time to begin your journey.

46

The Courettes – Back In Mono

What year is it? Is it time to put on my ascot and get ready for Austin Powers’ bachelor party? Yes, on all fronts, courtesy of The Courettes and their latest release, Back In Mono, a record that is the grooviest album of the year, or of recent years for that matter.

45

Illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More

Sarah Tudzin, the singer, songwriter, producer, and overall girl-genius behind the Illuminati Hotties, delivers a solid set of pop-punk tunes that is eccentric, off-kilter at times, and altogether refreshing.

Self glossed as “tenderpunk,” the blend of punk, Indie Rock, Desert Psych, and Pop seems to provide a perfect siren for those late-twenties young adults that are leaving their childhood behind and blasting into full-fledged adulthood.

44

Ducks Ltd. – Modern Fiction

All of the cool-band touchstones are present and account for when it comes to the Toronto-based duo, Ducks Ltd. Big Star-worthy jangle-pop chords, Replacements ramshackle splendor, and Indie Rock grandiosity that could have appeared on the Pixies Doolittle record are all represented on this record.

The opener “How Lonely Are You” hits on all cylinders while “Sullen Learning Hope” puts the jangle in jangle pop. “18 Cigarettes” is a slow-burning corker that would have been quite neighborly with The Replacements Let It Be album, and “Twere Ever Thus” has a bit of an Elvis Costello flair in its DNA.

43

Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days

In These Silent Days, the latest from Brandi Carlile is quite simply a tour-de-force. With elements of 70’s singer-songwriter along with a genre-defying sensibility courtesy of producers Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, it wouldn’t be a stretch if we were to find out that Carlile is actually the love child of Elton John and Joni Mitchell.

With a voice that floats somewhere South of k.d. Lang and North of Susan Tedeschi with songwriting chops to match, it is a good thing that Carlile has taken time off from riding with the Highwomen and resurrecting Tanya Tucker’s career to deliver one of the best albums of the year.

42

Jesse Malin – Sad and Beautiful World

Taking over from Lou Reed as the king of New York, Jesse Malin has so much to say that he felt he needed a double album to fit it all in. Fifteen songs of all killer, no filler, the first two sides have a gentle American tilt while the last part of the record rocks things up a bit CBGB style. And, both sides of the musical coin are terrific.

Given that the record was written and recorded in a somewhat fragmented fashion due to various Covid-19 protocols inherent in the recording process, it is surprising that there is a continuous feel flow to the album. “Todd Youth” for our ears is the best cut on the record, but a time investment of just under one hour on this one will make you a better person.

41

Mickey Guyton – Remember Her Name

As one of the few women of color to make a name for herself in country music, Mickey Guyton is an overnight sensation ten years in the making. And, it should only take one quick listen of “Remember Her Name,” the opening track from her debut album, to realize that she is a powerhouse, genre be-damned.

The messaging inherent in recognizing differences and embracing who you are is delivered brilliantly in “Love My Hair,” “Black Like Me” is autobiographically stunning, and “Smoke” could have been a woman on fire Tanya Tucker anthem from the ’60s. There is even a drinking song thrown in for good measure with “Rose'” ‘my kind of drink, pretty in pink.’

This album is a vital record from an artist that will be around for a very long time.

40

Charley Crockett – Music City USA

On the shortlist for classic country album of the year, Charley Crockett’s Music City USA covers all of the bases, including George George, Hank Williams, all the way to Bill Withers and beyond.

With the songwriting perfectly complementing his syrupy voice, “Are We Lonesome Yet,” and “The World Just Broke My Heart” are at the head of the class as standout tearjerkers.

The title track harkens back to Hank Sr., and the cover of “Skip A Rope” presented here wanders slightly into murder ballad territory, while “I’m Working” has a bit of New Orleans Jazz tilt. Whether it is Texas Swing, Classic Country, ’80s George Strait, or ’70s Outlaw Country, Charley Crockett can do it all

39

The Delevantes – A Thousand Turns

The Devalantes, brothers Bob and Mike Delevante, offer close-knit, skin-tight harmonies against a backdrop of infectious melodies, taut songwriting, and sparkling musicianship.

Sharing DNA with Neil Young and Tom Petty by way of The Bodeans, “Little By Little” is perfect mid-era Neil Young, “Come and Go” could have been on a 90’s John Hiatt record, and “If You Let It” brings the Everly Brothers into the mix.

There is no bad song on this record. A contemporary ear-guide might be Ray LaMontagne, but every tune presented here seems to sit on its own mantle, each one more tuneful than the last. “Junk Man” is downright Dylanesque, and “A Lot of My Mind” could have been on any of the early Byrds records. This exciting new find will be getting a lot of ear-play for many months to come.

38

The Vaccines – Back In Love City

Once you get past the aural oddity that the opening refrain of the title track, “Back In Love City,” has a bit of “Built This City,” the Starship hit in its DNA, you can kick back with a power-pop gem of a song and an earworm of the highest order. And the hits, don’t just stop there. 

“Alone Star” is a stadium rousing anthemic ear-de-force, and “Headphones Baby” shows off the band’s lyrical dexterity rhyming Thesaurus with Boris along with Americana and Nirvana on a song that is as euphoric as you will have heard all year.

Set against the fictional metropolis of love city, this one is an escapist record of the highest order and will be towards the top of any reputable end-of-the-year best-of list.

37

Colleen Green – Cool

There probably is not a better title that could have been chosen for this latest record by Collen Green than Cool. The pace is slow and collegial, with a meandering vibe that will take a few spins to hook you.

From the guitar-pop semi-swagger of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” that brings to the mids-ear just about every Sheryl Crow song to the slow burn of “Highway,” and the almost Krautrock drone of “Natural Chorus,” there is a sense of movement on this record that will drag you along for the ride. 

36

Samantha Fish – Faster

The best female Blues guitarist this side of Bonnie Raitt, Samantha Fish, has officially delivered her freshest and most consistent record to date. Certainly leaning more towards the rock side of the blues-rock duality, the scorching opening title track sets a rocking mood that would make Lizzy Hale blush. The slinky and evocative “All Ice No Whiskey” veers toward the sensual side, and the closest she gets here to a ballad, “Imaginary War,” rings through like an Alanis Morisette lover scorned anthem. “Crowd Control” would be a perfect song for Bonnie Raitt to cover, and even the semi-reach here, the collaboration with Tech N9ne, is listenable even when the rap and the fury kick are on full display.

Blues, Rock, Pop, all are handled with equal aplomb here. The varied textures displayed along the journey make this a nuanced listen that will check off many favorable Boxes. 

35

Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul

A stunning fresh voice, Black Acid Soul, the debut album from Lady Blackbird (Marley Munroe), is a sparsely elegant masterpiece. Accompanied mainly by Deron Johnson, the go-to piano player for Miles Davis, the singer delivers a haunting set of Nina Simone-inspired tunes that could have been released in the ’60s instead of in the present and produced in the legendary Studio B in Sunset Sound.

Reflecting influences as diverse as Billie Holiday, Chaka Khan, and Gladys Knight, the version of Nina’s “Blackbird” delivered here is a nuanced gem, and “Five Feet Tall” is a torch song with a touch of Amy Winehouse DNA in it. The instrumental title track, as a closer, is a perfect way to wrap up an album that will be considered one for the ages.

34

Pearl & The Oysters – Flowerland

You don’t have to go much past the opener “Soft Science” to figure out the Joire de vie on Flowerland, the latest psychedelic wonder from Pearl & The Oysters.

’60’s French Pop, space-age ’90s pop, and Austin Powers fab-mojo all come together to create a nostalgically forward sounding record that seems lost in time. While Syd Barrett, mid-era Beach Boys, and Jellyfish might be accurate touchpoints for this band, these guys are their very own unicorns. Rather than pick out a single song, this record is better digested as an entire entity. Put the needle down on the opener and let the rest of the album wash over you, enhancing your spirit and adding some soul inspiration to your life.

33

Robert Ellis Orrall – 467 Surf and Gun Club

Named after the physical address of Infinity Cat Recordings, the song “Welcome to Paradise,” featuring a guest vocal from the late-great Leon Russell, is worth the price of admission alone. Putting forth a laid-back Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello vibe Robert Ellis Orall seems to be the person that enters your life when you need him most. Whether he is singing about just hanging out after hours in the studio as he does on “Anthem 47” or channels his inner beach boy on the Pop-terrific song, “Iceberg,” there is something delicious and bacon-wrapped to digest around every tune.

After all, who wouldn’t want to jump in on his party that includes rib-eyes, a case of Millers, and a few Fat Tire brews, with some implied herbs thrown in for good measure “Here in Our Backyard.” And if you need a break from listening to the new Beach Boys deluxe edition of Feel Flows, a few listens of the title track “467 Surf and Gun Club” will be just what the doctor ordered. 

32

Tim Easton – You Don’t Really Know Me

Pulling your ears back somewhere between John Hiatt and Bob Dylan, roots rocker Tim Easton delivers a wanderlust record reflecting on life, the joys of slowing down, and dealing with life at the crossroads.

The opener “You Don’t Really Know Me” could have been on the latest John Hiatt record, “Voice on the Radio” evokes the ghost of John Prine, and Speed Limit is an uptempo number reminiscent of prime Tom Petty.

Play this one late at night with a glass of bourbon and an engaging heart. Soul sufficiently cleansed, play it again. This one’s that good.

31

Shinyribs – Late Night TV Gold

The band Shinyribs is that cool uncle that comes to visit, gets you drunk, introduces you to all of the great music, and leaves your parents to clean up the mess and get you back on the good foot. Their latest, “Late Night TV Gold,” hits in all of the right spots with the horn adorned “Party While You Still Can” causing an involuntary movement of the feet and “Rhythm of the Night” evoking the “have another one after the last one” spirit of avoiding the last call. 

The kiss-off anthem “24 Hours From Tulsa” is pure Shinyribs fare, and the title track “Late Nite TV Gold” takes yet another swerve into the land of Tom Waits. Eclectic, in the best of ways, a new record from Shinyribs may not be life-changing, but it might be as close as you are going to get for a while.

30

Shannon & The Clams – Year of the Spider

Twelve records in, the punk, garage, surf-noir ’60s vibe for Shannon and her clams seems as freshly restored as a ’65 Mustang convertible. And, just as fun. With Dan Auerbach and his band of knob twirlers at Easy Eye Sound once again at the helm on this one, the arrangements seem more robust, and the songwriting is the band’s best to date. The entire package seems to be another step forward in establishing the band as more than a vintage novelty act.

“Mary Don’t Go” shimmers with a surf by way of a girl group vibe, “Leaves Fall Again” has the DNA of a Morricone Western theme, and when Cody Blanchard takes the microphone on “Flowers Will Return,” the results are no less impressive. Multiple listens of this one will yield other-worldly results.

All in, this is a terrific listen with plenty of texture and surprises around every corner to keep things interesting and exotic.

29

Chrissie Hynde – Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan

Technically released on digital platforms in May, Chrissie Hynde’s tribute to Bod Dylan hit the shelves in physical form this week. Charting the deeper waters of the Dylan Canon, the Pretenders frontwoman wraps herself completely around “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” floats like a butterfly in the petals of the story song “Blind Willie McTell,” and begins the parade with a Pretenders worthy version of “In the Summertime” from the somewhat obscure Dylan album, Shot of Love.

With a prolific display of Dylan tribute records of late, this one stands apart given how deep into the well this one goes and the fact that when you close your eyes and listen to her voice on “You’re A Big Girl Now” in particular, you’d swear you were listening to Bob’s sister.

28

Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

In these days of online singles released in dribs and drabs in advance of a proper record release, the anticipation of a proper full-length sometimes builds up to an unbearable frenzy. And, for our ears, this is one of those highly anticipated gems. After initially being introduced to the record via the Laurel Canyon-inspired song “Sanctuary,” it was as clear as the ears on our head that we were in store for an exciting listen when the proper record was released.

Holing up in his North Carolina basement at the start of the pandemic, MC Taylor used the current state of affairs as a mood-setter in an attempt to get under the covers of some of the deeper issues behind all of the turmoil swirling around him. With a certain Bob Dylan quality, the record lays bare the fragility of the moment with the gospel-tinged “It Will If We Let It.” “Glory Strums (Of The Long Distance Runner),” a song that could be the distance cousin of a classic Fleetwood Mac tune, and “Mighty Dollar,” telling it like it is. The poor man loses, the rich man wins.

27

Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader

As fine a debut record as our ears have had the pleasure of hearing in quite some time, you can pretty much get where the band is coming from when Mia Berrin sings “You should ask your mother what she means, she says Stay away from girls like me.”

Outcast odes aside this is an up-tempo roller coaster ride of on-point songwriting, peppy festival-ready anthems, and highly accessible Indie Rock arrangements from the vantage point of an outsider that has seen what life is on the inside, and is perfectly happy living life on the fringes.

The song “Head Cheerleader” almost has an ’80s fornicating under the football bleachers John Hughes feel about it, and the Joan Jett inspired “Drunk Voicemail” is worth the price of admission alone. 

Come to experience the angst, but stay for the Tommy James meets the white rabbit rendering of “Crimson and Clover”

26

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 only to come back better than ever, the beauty in their art is that they seem to come back around at the exact time when they are sorely needed.

25

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.

24

Teenage Fanclub – Endless Arcade 

With their 11th album and first without founding member Gerard Love, Teenage Fanclub may have dialed down the jangle from their Jangle-Pop formula just a tad, but fear not, the melodic maestros are still very much at the top of their game.

From the Folk-Rock Psychedelic splendor of “Come To Me” to the Zombies evoking gang harmonies on “Back In The Day” Endless Arcade is a relaxed and inspiring listen. “The Sun won’t Shine on Me” bridges the gap between Vintage-Pop and contemporary issues-based songwriting quite nicely and “Living With You” plays the Byrds formula and signature Fanclub sound to perfection.

Spend some time with this one then drift your ears back to the early classic albums Songs From Northern Britain, Bandwagonesque, or even Thirteen. Sure, they may have been gone for a while, but with this new record, it’s like they never left.

23

No-No Boy – 1975

No-No Boy is the latest nome de plume for multimedia artist and Asian studies scholar Julian Saporiti. On this record, Saporiti explores WW-2 Asian American internment sites, present-day immigrant detention facilities, and refugee camps.

While the entire set is thought-provoking, the centerpiece here is the song “The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming.” Inspired by a visit to a museum in his home state of Wyoming where he noticed a picture of a large swing band with Asian faces much like his staring at him from behind a fenced-in prison yard. After getting over the stunning visual of this unicorn-worthy picture of an Asian swing band that here-to-fore he never knew existed, No-No Boy proceeded to learn more about the inspirational photograph. As it turns out, the photo is of a group of Asian Americans that were interred in a detention camp in Wyoming during the Second World War. Forming a collective of like-minded musicians behind prison walls the swing band would play for local proms and VFW halls in the area and then were returned to prison once the performance was over. 

No-No Boy approaches his subject matter using a template of Traditional Folk, Rock, and Americana to take us on a journey that is not always comfortable, but always revelatory.

22

The Gold Needles – What’s Tomorrow Ever Done For You  

Once your ears regain their sensibilities and get over the shock of listening to the opening title track on this one, a song that brings to the minds-ear what The Grass Roots would have sounded like if they were a Country Band, and on the Moody Blues evoking “I Get The Pressure” there is a realization that sets in that record is a must check out album of the highest order.  

With their cover version of the Hollies “Have You Ever Loved Somebody” the U.K. band does indeed make the song their own coming close to matching the original, and with “Dead Man’s Hand” their rock credentials are presented at the door in fine fashion on a song that could have been written by Buck Dharma and Blue Oyster Cult.   Every song’s a winner here, that’s for sure, and if you still are not a believer give the Pink Floyd-inspired wonderment of “Realm of the Black Dog” a spin.

21

The Moons – Pocket Melodies

The Paul Weller personally endorsed band, The Moons, singer Andy Croft was part of Weller’s backing band, don’t stray too far from the Modfather vibe on this, their first album after a six-year hiatus.

The touchtones are as varied as you would expect given the pedigree with influences the likes of ’60’s Garage Rock, British Invasion, Brit-Pop, along with the Weller go-to genre, Power Pop.

Every song on this one is next-level cool. “Sleep” has a Sgt. Pepper era Beatles meets The Kinks aura about it and could have been produced by George Martin himself, “Maybe I’m The Perfect Man (For You)” could have been on an early Style Council record, and the orchestral George Harrison-Esque ballad “Here I Am” might be the best song of the bunch. “Far Away” even has a bit of Doug Sahm in its DNA.

20

Aaron Lee Tasjan – Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!  

Blending Americana and Blues along with good-old ’70s era singer-songwriter flair, Aaron Lee Tasjan never fails to deliver intoxicating, exquisitely produced music of the highest order. With clear production nods to The Travelling Wilburys on “Up All Night,” cool era Jeff Lynne E.L.O. on “Computer of Love” and Roy Orbison by way of Brian Wilson on “Dada Bois.”

The retro textures of the record never seem to overwhelm the proceedings and only serve to complement the modern production and knob-twirling that is ear-pleasing at every turn.

19

Midnight Sister – Painting the Roses

There is no sophomore slump going on here with Painting the Roses, the fine new record from the Stylized-Pop mavens, Midnight Sister.

Delicately mood-setting from the sultry “Satellite” on to the disco dancefloor worthy “Limousine” calling for you to put on your Sunday Dancing shoes there is nary a miss-step on this one. “Wednesday’s Baby” is a love song to a dog, and the opener “Doctor Says” is a great string-laden introduction to the album and to a band that deserves more attention.

18

Lucero – When You Found Me

More Calexico than Old’ 97’s these days, Ben Nichols and the boys deliver a 3:00 a.m. noir record that that goes down smooth like a fine batch of bourbon. Mid-tempo rockers “Good as Gone” and “Back To Ohio” are fine mood-changers while “Pull Me Close Don’t let go” is an atmospheric wonder.

Classic rock sounding without any semblance of a retro feel, this one is for Lucero OG’s as well as for fans of widescreen Americana.

17

St. Vincent Daddy’s Home

St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, bares her soul and chronicles her turbulent relationship with her father on this retro-tinged affair that evokes the ghost of Pink Floyd, Sly Stone, and thin white duke era David Bowie. Having been incarcerated in 2010 and recently released, the album pays homage to the vinyl that her father introduced her to as a girl.

16

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

Stop for a moment after a critical listen to “Harmonia’s Dream,” from the latest War On Drugs record, and silently digest that you might be listening to one of the best bands to come around in the last decade. And, now, six records in, the band has painted their masterpiece. Mixing folk, Laurel Canyon Psych, Indie Rock, and Americana into a lava lamp blender of neo-Classic Rock splendor that brings the past forward and frames the present with pastoral wonderment.

15

Robert Jon & The Wreck – Shine a Light On Me Brother

Carrying the torch passed down from The Allman Brothers down to The Black Crowes, Govt. Mule, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and beyond, Robert Jon & The Wreck have firmly implanted themselves as one of the best Rock Blues-Boogie bands on the planet. From the opening salvo of the title track that travels the same tracks as Bob Seger’s Live Bullet and the subsequently ebullient “Every Day,” the band sounds classic and fresh at the same time.

With one foot standing squarely on hallowed ’70s rock ground as displayed on “Aint No Young Love Song,” a song that would have been perfect on any of the prime cut Seger or Mellencamp records, and the other leg straddling the blues it is no wonder that the band has opened for Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, The Black Crowes and rockers Rival Sons.

14

Starlight Campbell Band – The Language of Curiosity

The second album from husband and wife duo Suzy Starlight and Simon Campbell is a retro-tinged feast for the ears. With The Faces, Bad Company, Deep Purple, and Peter Green all coming to the mind’s ear it is no wonder that this record hits all of the ’70s British Rock sweet spots.

“Bad Sign” could easily have been on the Derek and the Dominos record, “Take Time To Grow Old” would have snuggled in right next to Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac, and the scorcher, “Said So” with the “you really got me” riffage would have been a Kinks concert staple.

13

Hayes Carll – You Get It All

When you carry with you a musical muse the likes of Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and John Prine, and your outlaw doppelganger is Ray Wylie Hubbard, you must be the real deal. And, Hayes Carll certainly is.

With his latest record, Hayes goes a bit back to his gritty musical roots with the help of wife Allison Moorer on backup vocals for several tracks including “You Get It All,” a song of marital contentment from the chapel to the hearse, “Different Boats” and the upbeat “You Keep Me From Being Found.” This is a true-to-form Texas troubadour at the peak of his powers.

12

The Flatlanders – Treasure of Love

Taking one more ride down the trail, Texas Outlaw icons Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock are out with their first proper record since 2012’s The Odessa Tapes. Long-time friends going back to their days hanging out in Lubbock, Tx deep in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, here, the three amigos cover a variety of Country and Bluegrass classics that were unearthed from tapes that were buried deep in the vaults of Ely’s home studio in Austin. The songs were recorded with Butch, Jimmie, and Joe sitting around telling stories and swapping songs.

With Lloyd Maines jumping in to co-produce the record, the demos were brought to life brilliantly with “Moanin ‘of the Midnight Train” standing out with all three voices in perfect form, and the prison ballad “Give My Love to Rose” a spine-tingling classic.

11

TK & The Holy Know-Nothings – The Incredible Heat Machine

Don’t let the fact that Taylor Kingman, frontman and major-domo for TK & The Holy Know-Nothings, self glosses his band’s music as “psychedelic doom boogie” stop you from giving this one a couple of turns around the dance floor. 

From the opener, “Frankenstein” a Doug Sahm fronting Whiskeytown vibe grabs you and staples your ears to the speakers. “Serenity Prayer” is Steve Earl at his rebellious best, and “Laid Down and Cried” sounds like it comes from the outlaw spawn of Chris Stapleton and Merle Haggard. And, who among us hasn’t been too stoned to find their beer as lamented on “I Lost My Beer,” a song that would have been perfectly handled by Jerry Jeff Walker or Bobby Bare.

If you are looking for just one recent-vintage cosmic cowboy outlaw country circle of life album to place on your mantle, look no further than this Old 97’s by way of Jerry Jeff Walker-inspired gem.

10

The Shivas – Feels So Good//Feels So Bad

As a scorching live band, The Shivas turned their creative juices to the studio since they have not been able to tour since 2019. 

With founding members Jared Molyneaux as singer and Guitarist, along with Kristin Leonard on drums as co-conspirator songwriters, the resulting vibe is contemporary psychedelic, vintage-cool, and go-go worthy hip, sometimes all in the same song.

“Rock Me Baby” has a girl group backed by the Troggs vibe, “Don’t Go” highlights Leonards immense vocal prowess, and “Tell Me That You Love Me” could have been the song played for the first dance at Austin Powers’ wedding. The gang vocals on “If I Could Choose” are worth the price of admission alone.

This textured listen will put your ears on notice that they are about to embark on a most enjoyable time travel journey from days gone by to the present and beyond. 

9

The Felice Brothers – From Dreams To Dust

Light and Breezy, From Dreams To Dust, is the first record released by The Felice Brothers since the critically acclaimed Undress in 2019. Leading off with “Jazz on the Autobahn,” a tune that is in contention for song of the year, to the mildly political “To-Do,” the story nuggets on display here are a bit on the eccentric side with a deep affinity for Richmond Fontaine and Deslondes real-life-noir storytelling.

Bringing to mind a slightly less verbose Bob Dylan or a distant relative of James McMurtry, the breezy stroll that the brothers Felice take you on will alter your mind. And, after listening to “Inferno,” you might feel differently about Kurt Cobain.

8

Daniel Romano – Cobra Poems

If there is such a thing as Pop-Swagger, Daniel Romano has it and then some. Along with his band, Daniel Romano’s Outfit, the prolific one, has released more than a dozen records spanning the genres from Matthew Sweet pop to country crooner, singer-songwriter, and beyond. Each one, seemingly better and more interesting than the last one. 

Here, the band exercises all of its powers on a set of songs that range from the Marc Bolan T-Rex-inspired “Tragic Head” to the slow-burning Lynryd Skynyrd meets Elvis Costello aura of “Nocturne Child.” The low and slow road ballad, “The Motions,” a song featuring the band’s secret weapon, Julianna Riolina handling the vocal duties, is worth the price of admission alone. 

7

Heartless Bastards – A Beautiful Life

The Heartless Bastards are a powerful Americana three-piece fronted by vocal powerhouse Erika Wennerstrom. Opening with the anti-gaslighting anthem “Revolution,” the band’s first album in six years, the song pulls no political punches and this Ying to the Yang of “How Low,” that comments on the depths folks will go to achieve what they want regardless of the impact on others. 

The palate of songs presented here is about as diverse as you can get. “Photograph” is a cosmic cowboy, rambling masterpiece worthy of a Grateful Dead jam, “When I Was Younger” could have been a country-crooner classic from the ’70s, and “The River” featuring the violin of Andrew Bird is a swirling beauty.

If you like your Americana with a bit of realism mixed with psychedelic and atmospheric jams, then your ship has just come in.

6

James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds

In what might be his best to date, Larry McMurtry, with his latest record, The Horses and the Hounds, shows that the ability to craft a memorable story with believable characters doesn’t fall far from the artistic tree. Every tune on this one is a short story in a song. Whether he is singing about reclaiming a 30-year long-lost love as he does on the opener “Canola Fields” or when he is pondering a friend’s death on “Vaquero,” the passion and intricate feelings of each protagonist is palpable.

There is not a bad song within this set. If you like your short stories with an Americana bent and more than a touch of Rock and Roll, this is your jam.

5

Jose Gonzales – Local Valley

Local Valley, his first proper album since 2015’s Vestiges and Claws, spotlights Jose Gonzales at his pastoral best. Part Nick Drake, part Jim James, the virtuoso Lyndsey Buckingham style guitar work against the hushed vocals and textured production make this one a sipping an Americano in the garden listen.

Melodic and existential, “Valle Local” is hypnotic escapism at its best, “Lilla G” has a Belafonte rhythm to it, and the garden vibe of “Honey Honey” is about as calming as a song can get. 

Spend some solitude time with this soul-inspiring, heart-enhancing beauty of a record.

4

Paul Weller – Fat Pop

The Modfather is back, and it’s like he never left. Despite releasing about a record per year, Weller never fails to bring the musical goods. A bright cheerful record even amid these gloomy times, the entire album seems fresh and original with no sense of languishing in the textures of his prior output.

3

Margo Cilker – Pohorylle

Planting herself firmly on NPR’s 11 Oregon artists to watch list in 2021, newcomer Margo Colker has lived up to the building and produced one of the best debut records of the year. Travelling the road between selfhood and her profession, Cilker takes us with her on a journey from the dive bars of Oregon to the pastoral beauty of the Basque Country of Spain. Vocally, there is a Nikki Lane by way of Tanya Tuker vibe with a real resemblance to that other Margo, Margo Price as well.

As a woman split between two places as she laments on “Wine In The World,” and “That River” where the heroine in the song leaves town just as the moon comes up, there is a wanderlust to the album that makes for a diverse and wonderful listen.

2

The Coral – Coral Island

Mining many of the genres that your ears hold sacred including but not limited to Garage Rock, AOR, Psychedelia, Post-Punk, and Power Pop, this is a semi-concept album based on the band’s collective experiences at various seaside resorts on the West coast of England. The songs on weave together beautifully with brief spoken-word interludes that serve to give the entire proceedings a real first-person point-in-time feel.

1

Robert Plant & Alison Krause – Raise The Roof

Mixing Blue-Eyed Soul with Bluegrass Folk Robert Plant and Alison Krause get the band back together for a rousing set of cover songs that perfectly complement the pair and brings out the pastoral side of the Golden God.

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, the creative force behind Raising Sand, the multi-Grammy winning collaboration released in 2007, include the immensively soulful Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces “Searching For My Love,” Lucinda William’s lilting “Can’t Let Go,” and “Quattro (World Drifts In)” courtesy of Calexico.

As one would expect, the musicianship on this one is above reproach. The song selections are as electically cool you will find anywhere, case in point Allan Toussaints’s ” Trouble With My Lover” and The Everly Brother’s “The Price of Love.”

And, if you are prone to laying down a bet the over under for the Grammy count is 4. Take the over.

Author: falconi5

A place for musically minded folk to get together and share ideas, reviews, and basically spread the word.

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