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James Wilson’s Music Review of 2021

Time for me to share my Music Review of 2021. Considering how the world has been, this year could have been a flop with the world of music. Personally, it’s been a great one. Some have been from artists already on my radar, and others new to my ears. As always, the majority were by unsigned/independent artists. Other than that, I have found myself listening to lots of pop-punk, revisiting classic bands and singing along has helped me keep upbeat during the world’s craziness.

Usually, I’d be listening to EP’s and albums, but this year has had me repeating a few specific songs. These include the thoughtful “Brother” (By Art Block) and storytelling charm of “Lucrezia” (by Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights). The Attention Seekers have taken me down memory lane as they talk about my home town of Newcastle with “Seven Bridges”. The two which stood out the most and had me singing along were “What is a life?” (by Third Lung) and “Hypnotech” (By Ego).

There were so many quality albums/EP’s set free throughout the year. Selecting my favourites has been a difficult task. Unfortunately, some of them did not make my final five, including the beautiful acoustic sounds from Steve Grozier (with All That’s Been Lost) and James Forest (with All Shades of Purple). Also missing the list was the bluesy double bill from Half Deaf Clatch (Metamorphosis and A Secret Life) and the funky goodness by The Allergies (with Promised Land). Let’s not forget the superb release by Michael Baker (with How Come You Sleep)

But, let us talk about the ones that made the cut (click the links to read more):

5) Downer by Bet Smith

Smith has a voice that never fails to capture my attention. She sings with such a beautiful tone filled with emotion. It is a trait that continues to flow throughout her album Downer.  Not only that, but she uses this talent to maximum effect to elevate her storytelling qualities further. It’s a combination that stands out during the superb track “I Would Rather Run”. It’s just one of many reasons why you need to give Downer a listen.

4) Don’t Turn Out the Lights by Skinny Knowledge

I’ve spoken about listening to music that makes me smile. Well, Skinny Knowledge debut album Don’t Turn Out the Lights has been a popular release flowing through my ears. The guy behind it all, Andy Smooth, loves what he does. It comes across in his music. He has assembled a loud, anthemic rock album that makes you want to sing along. There are so many outstanding moments that I have had on repeat. These include “Don’t Turn Out The Lights”, “Not Coming Down”, and the punktastic “Take The Blame”. For a debut, it pulls no punches and means business.

3) The Clovis Limit Tennessee Transition by Mike Ross

Those who know me can confirm that I have a soft spot for blues music. So, like every other year, there has to be an entry on my list of this genre. As much as I am a big fan of Mike Ross, his album The Clovis Limit Tennessee Transition gave me something I didn’t know I needed from him. A bluesy re-imagining of some of his songs. Its traditional bluesy foundations shine from its opening track, “Driftwood”. He says the release  “is about the most authentic interpretation of me as a singer and guitarist that I can offer”. It is a quality that makes this collection of songs shine so much. A great example of this is “Grow In Your Garden”. It is a gorgeous listen from beginning to end. 

2) Violence & Virtue by Kingdom Keys

I could not be much happier when I heard that Kingdom Keys were returning with a new album. I am a massive fan of their debut EP, Keys to the Kingdom. There was concern that their time away would affect their music. No need to worry as Violence & Virtue delivered everything I wanted and more. There was a new edge to their sound, as showcased with their lead single, “War”. They came back with a bang, but they showed they could slow things down with tracks such as “All I Know”. It is an all killer no filler album that excels further with the epic “Book of Wolves”. It all comes together to create a collection of songs that surpasses their impressive debut EP.

1) Cashville by VOLK

I have been a fan of VOLK since their debut EP Boutique Western Swing Compositions. From then, each subsequent release showed an evolution in their sound. However, nothing could prepare me for what they delivered with their debut album Cashville. They hinted at what was to come when they dropped their single “Welcome to Cashville”, with its relentless rock energy. However, there was a lot more on offer than that. The album showcased a band that fine-tuned every aspect of their music to deliver something exceptional. Even the few re-worked older tracks by them felt new. Some of the songs are wild and raucous, but all in a good way. But VOLK are much more than that and offer a lot of depth within Cashville. With “Old Palestine (TX)” offering some stunning storytelling and “Revelator’s Bottleneck” bringing some bluesy goodness. Just give it a listen and let their music do the talking. 

With 2021 finally over, my ears are getting ready for 2022. I have releases that I’m excited to hear, with some already getting prepared to review. Other than that, my ears are open to hearing what new tunage the upcoming year will have to offer.

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