Years from now, when we consider the best roots albums of 2021, we will have great memories. The second year of COVID allowed artists to release music recorded either prior to the pandemic or that which was created in trying circumstances. It was a year of breakthroughs for many wonderful artists, and even a breakthrough year for particular types of roots music. The definition of Americana has never been broader and, quite possibly, the definition has never been more apt. Here are my favourite roots music albums of 2021. I’ll leave it to the reader to identify the themes.
C= Canadian A= Albertan
1 Allison Russell- Outside Child C I listened to this album several times upon release, wrote positively of it regarding the Polaris Music Prize deliberations, voted for it when the time came, and then filed it away. I thought. Five months later, it resurfaced at work, covered by a bunch of other CDs, and so I put it into the machine and listened while working. And listened again. And again. Each time through, I caught something else lyrically and musically. I then drove home, again listening to the album, and by the time I pulled into the driveway I knew it had jumped from my top five to top two. As I listened more during the subsequent weekend, I realized that in ten or twenty years, when we are discussing the music of 2021, it will be Allison Russell that continues to reveal herself.
As a document the album is amazing, but each song also works in isolation. “Persephone.” “Nightflyer.” “4th Day Prayer” is absolutely devastating, but listen to those sounds. “Poison Arrow.” “The Runner.” All amazing, capped by “Joyful Motherfuckers.” Just listen to them! I predict, when all the lists and ballots are tabulated, Outside Child will prove to be the most significant roots album of 2021.
This is an incredible recording, and one I am pleased to have as my Favourite Roots Album of 2021. Purchased download.
2 Yola– Stand For Myself Was #1 or #2 for most of this year, depending on mood. Another wonderful and revealing album from Yola, my favourite singer these past three years. Review here. Serviced download and purchased vinyl.
3 Maria Dunn– Joyful Banner Blazing C A #1 from January, and then flipped and flopped with Yola for the majority of 2021. The re-emergence of Allison Russell during December listenings settled things. I am already looking forward to seeing Maria Dunn in concert in May. Review here. Serviced CD.
4 Dale Ann Bradley– Things She Couldn’t Get Over Dale Ann at #4? It has been a powerful year for female vocalists, and Bradley again being named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year reminds us of her gentle power. Review here. Serviced CD.
5. John Wort Hannam– Long Haul C A John released one of his strongest albums. I don’t know how these folks do it, but John, Maria, Matt, and all the rest on this list surprise and astound me at every turn. I don’t know if I have ever appreciated the musician, singer, and songwriter as artist as much as I do in 2021. Review here. Serviced CD.
6. Grover Anderson & the Lampoliers– All the Lies That I Have Told We met through Twitter. It hasn’t been the same since. My latest new favourite. The song “Willie Nelson” is ideal, and the rest of the album impresses to a degree seldom encountered. The live album that proceeded this one is also impressive. Review here. Serviced CD.
7 Amythyst Kiah– Wary + Strange Oh, my. I read a lot of music writing—magazines like MOJO and Uncut, online outlets including Country Standard Time and EXCLAIM!, and elsewhere. When I cam across a profile of Amythyst Kiah several months ago, the song “Black Myself” caught my eye because of its previous inclusion as part of the Our Native Daughters project. What I read interested me, so I downloaded the album the same evening. Quite love it. It was only later that I realized I first heard her as part of the Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition project. Purchased download.
8 Matt Patershuk– An Honest Effort C A Each of his albums is different. They are all wonderful. Review here. Serviced CD.
9 Jr. Gone Wild Still Got the Jacket C A The comeback of the year, IMO. As vibrant as they ever were. Review here. Serviced download.
10 Jeremy Stephens– How I Hear It As much as I love High Fidelity, Stephens’ bluegrass band, and as much as I know he is a really nice guy, this album had to grow on me a little. But once it did, there was no going back. Review here. Serviced CD.
11 Joe Nolan– Scrapper C A Review here. Serviced CD.
12 Valerie June– The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers For a few weeks this spring, my favourite singer in the world. I bought all the earlier albums, and bought this one two different ways. Absolutely love this music. Songs with Carla Thomas are just the start; “Why The Bright Lights Glow” and “Stay” along with “Stardust Scattering” and ensured I returned time and again. Purchased download and vinyl.
13 Lilli Lewis– Americana Discovered Lilli Lewis as stories broke that a country band had embargoed her on a streaming service. I was curious. I bought the album the same evening. Gorgeous. Favoured songs included “Copper John,” “A Healing Inside,” “My American Heart,” and “Fly.” Musically, 2021 belonged to the women. Purchased download.
14 Rod Picott– Wood, Steel, Dust, & Dreams Review here. Serviced CD.
15 Nathan Bell– Red, White and American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here) Review here. Serviced CD.
16 Nobody’s Girl– Nobody’s Girl Review here. Serviced CD.
17 John Hiatt & the Jerry Douglas Band– Leftover Thoughts Review here. Purchased vinyl and serviced download.
18 Sunny War– Simple Syrup Review here. Serviced CD.
19 Taylor Rae– Mad Twenties This has been the year when country (whatever that is) and soul (you know it when you feel it) merged to a degree seldom before experienced—smooth, captivating, and absolutely gorgeous. Taylor Rae isn’t Yola or Amythyst Kiah, but dang, isn’t she good? Review here. Serviced CD.
20 Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry– Purple Kittens Roots? Why not: all rock and roll is roots, right? Lots of fun, terrific songs. Well worth discovering. One day I’ll get to Cambridge. One day. Purchased download.
And now, here are my #21- #30 Roots Albums of 2021. The order is a bit loose because, opinions change depending on mood and where one is listening. But these are 10 more of my favourites of the year.
21 Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass– Bluegrass Troubadour Review here. Serviced CD.
22 Dar Williams– I’ll Meet You Here Review here. Serviced download.
24 Swift Silver– Swift Silver Review here. Serviced CD.
25 Darin and Brooke Aldridge– This Life We’re Livin’ Review here. Serviced CD.
26 Various Artists- Industrial Strength Bluegrass Music loosely unified around a theme, several of today’s most impressive bluegrass talents unite to celebrate the musical legacy of industrial dystopia of the American south. Purchased download.
27 Della Mae– Family Reunion I didn’t know this mini-album existed until November. Glad I tripped across it. Includes a Hazel Dickens song, and that’ll usually get my attention. Purchased download.
28 Mary Hott with the Carpenter Ants- Devil In The Hills: Coal Country Reckoning Review here. Serviced CD.
29 Rob Lutes- Come Around C Review here. Serviced CD.
30 Maia Sharp– Mercy Riding Review here. Serviced CD.
Check back for Fervor Coulee’s Top Twenty Roots albums of 2021. And here is the next bit:
Here are some of my favourite roots albums that didn’t sneak into my Top 30 of 2021, all highly recommended based on tastes and preferences:
Joyann Parker- Out of the Dark Review here. Serviced CD.
Wilson Banjo Co.- Six Degrees of Separation Review here. Serviced CD.
Jason Ringenberg- Rhinestoned Review here. Serviced download.
The Kody Norris Show- All Suited Up Review here. Serviced CD.
T Buckley- Frame By Frame C A Serviced CD.
Kat Danser- One Eye Open C A Review here. Serviced CD.
Dave Richardson- Palms to Pines Review here. Serviced download.
Domenic Cicala- Come On Over: The Honky Tonk Duets Review here. Serviced CD.
Tenth Mountain Division- Butte La Rose Review here. Serviced CD.
Garrett Wieland- What Keeps the Heart Afloat Review here. Serviced CD.
Malcolm Holcombe- Tricks of the Trade Review here. Serviced CD.
Michelle and Jason Hannan featuring Howard Parker- Cheater’s Waltz Review here. Serviced CD.
Shannon McNally- The Waylon Sessions Review here. Serviced download.
Alan Bibey & Grasstowne- Hitchhiking to California Review here. Serviced CD.
All worthy of attention.