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The Sound Cafe Magazine Top 20 Albums Of 2021

By Stevie Connor.

It amazes me that during these unprecedented times, there have been so many fabulous creations released into the world, I feel very blessed to have been sent so much wonderful music from around the world to listen to, and feature in The Sound Cafe Magazine. I'd like to personally thank the artists and their teams for the amount of work that goes into making their albums, and, to their media people who get the music out into the world, to people like me, we truly appreciate you all for your tireless work.

Out of the many features we have published in 2021, I have picked 20 albums that I think you, the reader, would enjoy listening to.

I hope you have a wonderful festive period and wish you all the very best for the coming year.

Thank you for supporting us and the artists we write about.

Explore... Engage... Enjoy...

Top Picks For 2021

Billy Strings: Renewal

One of the top emerging artists across all genres of music, Billy Strings has made his most ambitious album to date with Renewal, a 16-song collection that effortlessly positions him as a singular talent—one who reveres the history of the acoustic music that inspired him, while pushing it forward into new spaces and audiences through his incredible live shows. Serving as a reflection of Strings' diverse musical influences, Renewal reaches well beyond bluegrass with elements of heavy metal, jam bands, psychedelic music and classic rock—even though it's still primarily an acoustic record.

Allison Russell: Outside Child

Allison Russell has released her first ever solo project, the highly anticipated Outside Child (produced by Dan Knobler) on Fantasy Records.

The poet, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, activist and co-founder of Our Native Daughters and Birds of Chicago, unpacks her youth in searing detail throughout Outside Child. She had released four songs from the record prior to today’s release including, “The Runner”, “Persephone,” “Nightflyer” and “Montreal".

Born and raised in Montreal, Russell imbues her music with the colors of her city – the light, the landscape, the language – but also the trauma that she suffered there. It is a heartbreaking reflection on a childhood no one should have to endure, and at the same time a powerful and warm statement of hope – asserted from a place of healing, of motherhood, of partnership – and from a new home made in Nashville. The record features contributions from many of the artistic family members she has found there including producer Dan Knobler, Erin Rae, Jamie Dick, Joe Pisapia, The McCrary Sisters, Ruth Moody, Yola, and her partner JT Nero.

The Black Sorrows: Saint Georges Road

Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows announced the world-wide release of Saint Georges Road on September 10th through Ambition Records. To celebrate this milestone – and to make this record truly special – Joe Camilleri reunited with Grammy nominated Peter Solley - producer of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons’ breakthrough album Screaming Targets (‘79) that featured Joe’s first Top 40 hits, Hit and Run and Shape I’m In.

Saint Georges Road showcases 11 original tracks written by Joe Camilleri and his long-time writing partner Nick Smith.

Serena Ryder: The Art Of Falling Down

Toronto-based vocal powerhouse Serena Ryder is a platinum-selling artist adored by fans, peers and critics alike, in part due to her raw and earnest songwriting, and beautifully electric live performances. She has received numerous accolades, including six prestigious JUNO Awards, a MuchMusic Video Award for Best Rock Video for “Stompa.”, and a Canadian Screen Award for Achievement in Music–Original Song. Ryder received the Margaret Trudeau Mental Health Advocacy Award and she has been the face of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign for several years.

With her newest album, The Art of Falling Apart, Serena invites listeners to join her mental wellness journey and helps us understand the importance of sitting with the uncomfortable moments and the wisdom in their messages.

Mànran: ÙRAR

With 11 incredible years at the heart of the traditional music scene and three hugely successful studio albums under their belt, the unstoppable supergroup show no signs of slowing down as they gear up for the release of their fourth record.

Showcasing intuitive instrumentation and song, this primarily self-penned body of work from the seven-piece sees the soaring album live up to its Gaelic title, meaning ‘fresh’ or ‘flourishing’.

The first Mànran record to feature Scottish songstress Kim Carnie and guitarist Aidan Moodie, ÙRAR sees Mànran’s traditional sound pushed in a new reflective and exhilarating direction, marking an exciting new chapter for the multi-award-winning group.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram: 662

On Friday, July 23, Alligator Records recording artist Christone "Kingfish" Ingram released his highly anticipated second album, 662.

It's the next chapter in the still-unfolding story of the 22-year-old guitarist, vocalist and songwriter from Clarksdale, Mississippi. Ingram describes 662 (the number is northern Mississippi's telephone area code) as "a presentation of my life in and away from the Delta." The album overflows with hard-hitting original songs, jaw-dropping guitar work and deep, soul-possessed vocals. Rolling Stone declared, “Kingfish is one of the most exciting young guitarists in years, with a sound that encompasses B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.”

Joe Bonamassa: Time Clocks

Recorded in New York City, the album rediscovers Bonamassa at a newfound peak with heartfelt songwriting and an unparalleled Blues Rock prowess. Time Clocks is a testament to his credentials and a toast to his longtime fans.

His new sound has a raw and vital flavour, combined with a resolute skill that can only be gained through years of perseverance and unyielding dedication. It’s Joe Bonamassa at his finest, ready to rock.

KC Jones: Queen of The In Between

KC Jones has always been curious. It’s what compelled her to achieve excellence in old-time fiddle, singing, guitar, and percussive dance as a teenager. It’s what brought her to Southwest Louisiana, where she soon learned Cajun French and began writing and performing original songs in dual languages with progressive Cajun bands like Feufollet and T’Monde.

Now, it’s what has laid the groundwork to knit her myriad musical and cultural interests—what she casually refers to as “obsessions”—into an impressively cohesive collection of original songs on her debut solo record, Queen of the In Between. The record draws upon a remarkable range of styles—from classic country to psychedelic rock to contemporary indie roots singer-songwriters. Yet it’s not simply a meld of seemingly disparate influences; Queen of the in Between dazzles in its ability to speak to the universality of human emotion.

Brandi Carlile: In These Silent Days

In These Silent Days, the highly anticipated new studio album from six-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, performer, producer and New York Times Best Selling author Brandi Carlile, has been released.

Inspired by the mining of her own history while writing this year’s #1 New York Times Best Selling memoir Broken Horses (Crown), In These Silent Days was conceived of while Carlile was quarantined at home with longtime collaborators and bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth.

Jenny Colquitt: Something Beautiful

Emerging artist Jenny Colquitt encompasses a unique combination of Americana, indie and folk rock and pop. Jenny has released her debut album, Something Beautiful, which is available to download and stream across all mainstream digital platforms. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced listen a month or so ago, and was very impressed.

With a voice that uniquely combines the melodic undertones of artists such as Eva Cassidy and the rawness of Alanis Morissette, she writes with soul, lyrical vulnerability and style to accompany her musicality both through keys and guitar.

T. Buckley: Frame By Frame

On his new album Frame By Frame, T. Buckley delivers another collection of original, soulful folk-rock that has made him one of the most talked-about artists from western Canada over the past several years.

By embracing both the dark and light on Frame By Frame, Buckley proves once again that he is a true songwriting craftsman. That skill has been on display since 2008 when he first appeared on the scene with the T. Buckley Trio, producing four full-length albums and an EP, all crammed with images of forgotten lovers, sunken-eyed truck drivers and the unassailable rural spirit.

Biffy Clyro: The Myth of the Happily Ever After

Scottish alt-rock giants Biffy Clyro share their latest project The Myth of the Happily Ever After on Warner Records. As the follow-up to their most recent internationally acclaimed album A Celebration of Endings, the 11-track record is a homegrown project that represents a rapid emotional response to the turmoil of the past year.

Biffy Clyro have emerged from their independent beginnings to become Britain’s premier rock band. Their three most recent albums A Celebration of Endings (2020), Ellipsis (2016) and Opposites (2013) both shot straight to #1 in the U.K. charts with millions of copies sold, and the band boasts more than 950 million streams worldwide to date.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Raise The Roof

Released in 2021, recorded at Nashville's Sound Emporium Studios, sessions for Raise The Roof began in late 2019 and wrapped just weeks before the world went into lockdown. Like Raising Sand, T Bone Burnett produced the collection, which delivers a cosmic collision of early blues, country deep cuts, revolutionary folk-rock and lost soul music written by legends and unsung heroes like Merle Haggard, Allen Toussaint, The Everly Brothers, Anne Briggs, Geeshie Wiley, Bert Jansch, Ola Belle Reed, Brenda Burns and more.

The material on the album encompasses compositions by writers as diverse as Merle Haggard (“Going Where the Lonely Go”) and the mysterious blueswoman Geeshie Wiley (“Last Kind Words Blues”)—and even a Plant-Burnett original, “High and Lonesome”—in arrangements even more evocative, spare, and hypnotic than those on Raising Sand.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: The Future

For The Future, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats escaped to his new Broken Creek Studio outside of Denver to write an album’s worth of songs, shedding light on their unique observations and songwriting reflecting on our current times. While recognizable, the new work has evolved and pushes the band to a new level.

The Future was produced by Bradley Cook (Bon Iver, Kevin Morby, The War On Drugs) and R.M.B. — the production trio of Rateliff, Patrick Meese of The Night Sweats and James Barone (Beach House), the team behind Rateliff’s acclaimed 2020 solo album And It’s Still Alright.

AHI: Prospect

Toronto musician AHI (pronounced EYE) has released his new studio album Prospect, an uplifting, original, soulful collection of ten inspired songs that blur the lines between roots, folk, pop, and soul.

Prospect follows a breakout stretch for the JUNO-nominated Canadian songwriter, including his national TV debut on CBS This Morning and a Tiny Desk Concert, eventually leading to tour dates with the likes of Mavis Staples, Patty Griffin, Michael Franti, and Lauren Daigle at iconic venues like Radio City Music Hall, Red Rocks, and The Greek Theatre.

Angélique Kidjo: Mother Nature

Angélique Kidjo Cements Her Legacy As One Of The Most Singular And ExtraordinaryVoices In International Music With 'Mother Nature'. Cements Her Legacy As One Of The Most Singular And Extraordinary Voices In International Music With 'Mother Nature'.

As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across national borders. Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.

Shane Cook & The Woodchippers: Be Here For A While

London, Ontario based Shane Cook & The Woodchippers have released their debut album Be Here for a While, which brings together years of collaboration with fellow musicians Emily Flack (Leahy) on piano, vocals and dance, Joe Phillips (The Art of Time Ensemble) on double bass and guitar, and Kyle Waymouth (five-time national step dance champion) on guitar and dance.

This album has taken several years from concept to completion and you can tell from the superbly crafted compositions and arrangements which are a modern, exhilarating approach to fiddle tunes, song and dance. Be Here for a While has already garnered two Canadian Folk Music Award 2022 nominations for “Instrumental Group of the Year” and “Traditional Album of the Year”.

Grace Pettis: Working Woman

Award-winning singer/songwriter Grace Pettis has released her highly-anticipated debut full album on MPress Records titled Working Woman.

The record features an all-female/non-binary band, and was produced by singer-songwriter Mary Bragg and mixed by 2x Grammy® award winner Shani Gandhi. The rest of the credits on the album include an all-female/non-binary team as well, including co-writers, the photographer, and the graphic designer. Featured artists include Indigo Girls ("Landon"), Ruthie Foster ("Pick Me Up"), Dar Williams ("Any Kind of Girl"), The Watson Twins ("Never Get It Back"), Gina Chavez ("Mean Something"), and Mary Bragg ("Paper Boat").

Curtis Salgado: Damage Control

Damage Control is being hailed as the best album of Salgado's long career. Produced by Salgado, Damage Control is packed with soul-searching, street-smart, vividly detailed, instantly memorable songs.

With a career spanning more than three decades, Salgado, a six-time winner of the Blues Music Award for Contemporary Soul Blues Male Artist Of The Year (most recently in 2021), is a one-of-a-kind talent whose music is as compelling as his story. From co-fronting The Robert Cray Band to leading his own band (and recording nine solo albums) to helping transform John Belushi into “Joliet” Jake Blues to touring the country with Steve Miller and Santana, he is a true musical giant.

Jesse Cook: Libre

What happens when you let multi-Platinum/Gold award-winning producer, composer, and guitarist Jesse Cook’s Spanish guitar off-leash with Algerian multi-instrumentalist Fethi Nadjem and some 808 trap beats? You get Cook’s newly-announced album, Libre. The release of Libre continues this string of Cook revisiting his distinct repertoire down newly explored sonic streets.

But while it may sound like a new style for both long-time fans and those newly gathered across Cook’s thousands of concerts and millions of livestream views the world-over, reconnecting with an 808 sound takes Cooks all the way back to his beginnings.


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