10) Andrew Marlin – Witching Hour
-Early in 2021 the memories of 2020 were quite strong. It felt like coming out of a traumatic year and like there wouldn’t be any sense of normalcy ever again. But one thing that has always helped me right my compass is listening to classic music that connects with my roots. When Mandolin Orange announced a new direction, I wasn’t sure how to feel. However, finding this collection of pieces from Andrew Marlin’s songwriting really helped. It’s thoughtful and has a nice blend of contemporary and old time styles that really worked for me. It restored my heart more than I hoped. If you only have time for one, check out “Hawk is a Mule” or the longsuffering, heart-achingly honest, “Too hot to move.” If you are an American southerner or have lived there for any length of time, these songs will speak to your soul.
9) Melissa Carper – Daddy’s Country Gold
-I am completely flabbergasted by this album and this remarkable artist. It’s like listening to a time capsule. Melissa Carper has an old soul, that’s for certain. There’s a mystical energy to the recording style that genuinely makes it feel like an older, more traditional time in music history. Shades of jazz, blues, and certainly roots country come through. If we gave genre-specific album of the year awards, this album would probably win the Americana award. Carper’s soft vocal style feels like it’s been weathered in the speakeasies and honky tonks that inspired the music. The production on each track is absolutely outstanding. The whole album is good, but if you only have time for a sample check out “Back when” and “I almost forgot about you.” This is a wonderful trip back in time and an artist that Americana fans will want to follow for years to come.
8) Abby Holiday – When we’re far apart I fall apart
-If you know anything about my taste in music, you will be surprised to see an indie pop album this high on my end of year list. But hear me out — Abby Holiday is INCREDIBLY TALENTED and I love this album. Everything works so well. The melodies are golden, the lyrics are relatable, and Holiday’s vocal is absolutely incredible. The feel-good indie pop vibes balance really well with the heartsick sensibilities in several of the songs. The last track on the album “Nothing from me” is going to be on best songs of 2021 list for sure. The dynamic production on “Nothing from me” is exactly what makes this album so great. Throw on some headphones and vibe out with this whole album. You’ll love it, trust me.
7) Zan Fiskum – Sleeping Problems
-I don’t know if there is a genre descriptor for the beautiful music that Zan Fiskum produces. It’s really well written indie pop meets folk if I had to describe it. But let’s not bury the lede here; Zan Fiskum is an incredibly gifted vocalist. This music rises above the crowd because Fiskum’s voice brings it to life with vibrant and engaging energy. “Darlin I have loved” is really good with its layered vocals and atmospheric style. “Come Home,” though, is the track that really won my heart for this album. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. It was the lead track on our Coffeeshop Playlist for much of the year (deservedly so). The artful indie pop energy of this album is really something special and I am glad to share it with our readers here.
6) Andrea von Kampen – That Spell
-If you’ve been following my writing in the past few years, you’ll know I am a huge fan of Andrea von Kampen. Her songwriting is exquisite. The 2021 release That Spell was absolutely stunning and I am happy to feature it here. What has always made von Kampen’s work good is amazing acoustic guitar work with an outstanding vocal. That formula is still present on the new album and, if it’s even possible, has actually gotten better. The lyrical imagery has a literary flair to it. As von Kampen has expressed in the past, she’s heavily influenced by Dylan as well as actual literary sources such as Willa Cather. Tracks like “Celilo” show that expressive acoustic style extremely well, complete with a hat tip to none other than folk royalty Woody Guthrie. “Take back thy gift” and “Magdalene” are my favorites on the album, but they are all really good. Something about the way von Kampen shifts with vocal intonation is unlike anyone making music today. Fans of the Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins style of acoustic folk music absolutely need to know Andrea von Kampen’s incredible talent.