The Best New Music I Listened to in 2021

Well, here we are at the tail end of another year. It feels like just yesterday that I was rounding up 2020 and looking forward to 2021 but here we are. It has been another busy music year with live shows starting to return and lots of artists delivering delayed albums and those lockdown cover albums exploring the music that influenced them down the years. So, without further ado let us get into some of the albums that left an impression on me in 2021.

662 by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram

I was deeply impressed with Christone Ingram’s debut album Kingfish in 2019. I was struck by the wisdom in his vocals, lyrics and guitar playing well beyond his 19 years. That same wisdom beyond his years is present on his follow up album 662. This time around, though, he does bring some soul influences to his blues rock sound, most obvious on Another Life Goes By; he even ditches the electricity altogether on the acoustic You’re Already Gone. The former song has some heavy subject matter but he manages to handle it rather deftly without ever sounding preachy or sanctimonious, always a sign of a top song writer. Keep an eye on this guy, he has a bright future ahead.

Bridge Over Troubled Dreams by Delta Goodrem

Its hard to believe I’ve been listening to Delta Goodrem for almost 20 years. I loved her debut album in 2003 and I’ve been following her ever since. This album feels much more personal than previous albums and signals a return to more organic instrumentation rather than the electronic detours on some of her in between albums. On this album you will hear the account of how she came into the world two months premature, to stories of her battle with home sickness as she got more famous, and the story of the surgery complications that led to the paralysis of a nerve in her tongue and having to re-learn to speak unsure of whether she will ever sing again.

Emily Scott Robinson - American Siren

Emily Scott Robinson keeps getting better. I first discovered her in 2019 with her Travelling Mercies album, then in 2020 her song The Time For Flowers is what we all needed in that particular year, and now we get American Siren which I think is her best work yet. Yes, some of the subject matter does go over some well trodden ground with a song about a soldier returning from war, summer love and the wisdom of age; but her own articulate insight and poetic delivery somehow makes them sound new. The best song of the album for me is Let ‘Em Burn which may be a piano driven ballad but it has all the emotional intensity of a heavy metal song. It’s not often that a song stops you in your tracks making you hit repeat but this is one of them.

Jason Eady - To The Passage of Time

Some people write songs, Jason Eady writes sermons; little nuggets of expression filled with wisdom and stellar story telling. You don’t just sit down to be entertained, you also end up coming away feeling like you’ve learned a little something about life, love and loss. From the opener, Nothing on You to the one everyone was talking about, French Summer Sun (which will stop you in your tracks and make you a little misty eyed), to the closer and title track there will be some small lesson to take away from the lyrics.

Charles Wesley Godwin - How The Mighty Fall

Far too much music, particularly in the modern mainstream, is just a collection of sounds and words; it lacks the conviction and soul of someone who has lived what they are writing or at least conceived the stories from deep inside their heart. This is not the case with Charles Wesley Godwin. Not many song writers can better express the hardships of growing up in rural communities in a world where such communities are forgotten and left to terminal decline. He brings a tremendous sense of Appalachian soul to his craft and while he hasn’t achieved the heights of Chris Stapleton or Tyler Childers, I suspect it won’t be far off for him.

Sturgill Simpson - The Ballad of Dood and Juanita

A lot has been written about how this is Sturgill Simpson’s fifth album and how it has been well publicised how he once said that he would only make five albums in his solo career. Only time will tell how accurate that is but what I do know that this album is a fabulous example of story telling through music. The story follows Dood, a wild child from Kentucky, as he meets and falls in love with Juanita, the “good woman” who tames the outlaw. When Juanita is abducted by outlaw Seamus McClure, Dood sets out with his trusty mule Shamrock and faithful hound Sam to exact vengeance upon Seamus. On the journey he is saved by Cherokees, buries Sam, and finally kills McClure. Sturgill sounds more comfortable with his art throughout the western folk tale than I think he has sounded in years. All in all I would say his return to a bluegrass sound has been a huge success.

The Pretty Reckless - Death by Rock & Roll

This is an album that was written in the aftermath of a devastating time in the life of the band. In 2017, the music world shook when Chris Cornell, a big influence on front woman Talyor Momsen, took his own life (The Dirty Reckless were touring with Soundgarden at the time and even had a gig booked the night the news broke), then less than a year later producer (and close friend to Taylor) Kato Khandwala died in a motorcycle accident sending her into a spiral of depression. The result of all of this is an intensely introspective and personal collection of songs with cameo appearances by Matt Cameron and Kim Thayall of Soundgarden as well as Tom Morello that are well worth a listen or 10.