Favorite Albums of 2021

2021 was a pretty good year for music. I listened to a LOT of stuff: some new, some old, some new material from older bands. While I do listen to a good variety of music (classical, pop, jazz, country, reggae, folk), my wheelhouse is blues, rock and metal. That’s honestly most of my listening so it’s no surprise that all of my favorites fall in there.

Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate

The Battle At Garden’s Gate

I’ve always been a fan of Greta Van Fleet, and their latest album shows continued growth and maturity. The Battle At Garden’s Gate is an album that really feels epic; with vast, sweeping sonic landscapes, and great performances end to end from every member. There’s a palpable passion coming through the recording. I also love the diversity of the album – there are quiet piano parts, epic guitar solos, great keys, bass, drums… There are straight-forward, catchy hooks as well as and long sonic journeys. This album has everything, and it’s all great. The production and mix are top notch. Crank up a good stereo and listen to the bass in Age of Machine – it sounds incredible. It took me a listen or two in order to get into it, but the album just keeps getting better. Highly recommended. Rating: A+

Highlight Tunes: Broken Bells, Caravel, Age of Machine

The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock & Roll

Death By Rock & Roll

I’ve listened to a little bit of their stuff over the years. I liked it, but nothing really grabbed me. Death By Rock & Roll is stellar end-to-end. It’s one of those “not a bad track on it” types of albums. From the hard-rock title track to the acoustic ballads, every song holds its own. The album has nice diversity but keeps a common theme. Taylor Momson delivers and incredible and passionate vocal performance. If you wanted to rock in 2021, this is a place to go. Fantastic record end to end. Rating: A

Highlight Tunes: Death By Rock & Roll, 25, And So It Went, Harley Darling

Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks

Time Clocks

Each Bonamassa record hits me differently – some I like a lot, some I don’t like as much. I wasn’t a big fan of his previous record, Royal Tea. Given that, Time Clocks wasn’t an album I was excited about up front. It was on my radar but I didn’t have a lot of anticipation built up. The 3 singles released didn’t grab me, although that seems to be the case more often than not with his records. I usually like the deeper tracks better. When I got the album, though, I was really pleasantly surprised. The 3 singles grew on me upon repeated listening, and the album also gets stronger as it progresses. Many of those later songs grabbed me on first listen, which makes Time Clocks a really compelling whole. Joe’s guitar work is stellar, as always. There’s a nice diversity of tunes. I read somewhere a description of Joe’s music as “cinematic blues,” and I think that sums it up well. I would have rated it just a little higher (perhaps an A instead of A-) but the title track has a few awkward lyrics, though nothing cringe-worthy; and there are one or two songs I tend to skip. Overall though, I think it’s his best complete work in a while. It’s always great to have an album come out of the blue like this and really connect. Rating: A-

Highlight Tunes: Questions & Answers, Hanging On A Loser, The Heart That Never Waits

Other Albums I Enjoyed In 2021

There are a lot of other great albums in 2021, and here are a few that are definitely worth a listen

  • King Buffalo – The Burden of Restlessness – this is a band I had never heard of, but gave a listen to purely based on their incredible album artwork. It’s a huge, heavy slab of psychedelic doom, fantastic for running, driving, working, or focused listening. The driving groove is incredible, the guitars are continually interesting and the lyrics are cool.
  • John Nemeth – Stronger Than Strong – this is an artist I found out about through Blues Music Magazine, and I really dig his swamp blues style. He’s got a great voice and great songs on this record and if you’re looking for something cool and fun outside of the “big names” it’s definitely worth a spin.
  • Sue Foley – Pinky’s Blues – I’ve been a fan of Sue Foley for a while, and this is her first album in a few years. She’s the real deal and does traditional blues as well as anyone out there, but Pinky’s Blues has the subtle variety that all great blues records have. She doesn’t veer into pop or metal or anything like that, this is a blues album, but it covers a range of intensity and emotion. Her sultry voice is of particular notice, as is the impeccable classic blues rhythm to her playing. This is of my favorite traditional blues albums in a long time.
  • Iron Maiden – Senjutsu – any new Iron Maiden album is cause to celebrate, and Senjutsu has some great stuff. I really liked their last record, Book of Souls, and this is right up there. It’s full of epic songs, and there are great riffs and performances through and through.
  • The Black Keys – Delta Kream – I wasn’t a huge Black Keys fan, but this year I’ve turned around on them. I got a few of their older records from the library (Let’s Rock in particular), and Delta Kream grabbed me right away. It’s back to the basics, groove-heavy, hill-country blues done right.
  • Doctor Smoke – Dreamers and the Dead – another random “youtube recommended it and I liked the album artwork” finds. I was blown away by this band, and if you’re into metal with a killer groove, you’ll dig it. Great vocals, cool songs, and a huge-sounding slab of doom worth your time.

On The Radar For 2022

The album I’m most looking forward to in 2022 is Eric Gales‘ new record “Crown,” produced by the power team of blues/rock production of Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. A few years ago I was burned out on blues/rock, but seeing Eric Gales live restored my faith. He’s a force of nature, and I can’t wait for this album.

A late arrival on my 2022 Hype Train is the newly-announced Steve Vai album “Inviolate.” Steve Vai is one of my all-time favorite musicians, so every new album by him is reason for celebration.

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