The final days of the year are coming up, and with that means my much anticipated year-end rundown of the Top Albums of 2021! This past year was a huge year for country music as efforts by Jordan Rowe and Troy Cartwright bookend the year with outstanding efforts featuring poignant lyrics that give off some strong Southern vibes that will reel you in hook, line, and sinker. A plethora of local Boston artists made huge impressions with their debut efforts including Juniper, Baxter Hall, and Jason Ebbs that encapsulated the true joy, passion, and unbridled enthusiasm that they brought to their music. Some unsung artists made their mark as well including Grand Rapids, MI's The Skinny Limbs and Macclesfield, UK's own Cassia that give off a unique vibe that is worthy of getting lost in. And without further delay, here is my list of the Top Albums of 2021:
Jordan Rowe - Bad Case of the Good Ole' Boy
Topping the list this year is Adel, GA native Jordan Rowe who mesmerized and captivated audiences with his debut release "Bad Case of the Good Ole' Boy". The effort will definitely leave you spellbound, and appreciate Jordan's talent that much more as he introduces you to his Georgia homeland with wonder and amazement as he leads you through incredible tracks like "Can't In A Car" as he preaches his love and affinity for trucks and how they make life truly better, "10-4", a raucous, party stomping anthem that will have you tapping your boots with joy, plus he dims the lights down low on numbers like "I Didn't Sleep Last Night" and "Mama Ain't Jesus" that makes the effort even more heartfelt, incredible, and one that you'll be hitting repeat for some time to come.
Key Tracks: "Can't In A Car", "10-4", "I Didn't Sleep Last Night", "Mama Ain't Jesus"
Joshua Bassett - self-titled
Another artist unleashing a debut effort this year was Oceanside, CA's own Joshua Bassett with his debut EP. The famed Disney star of "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" reveals his true self to the world waiting patiently to uncover the true beauty and majesty of Joshua's sound that is just begging to be heard. The leadoff single "Lie Lie Lie" has a churning guitar lick that grabs your attention from the first note, and makes you wonder who the song is really about. "Telling Myself" provides for some warm vocal harmonies that showcase Josh's crooning style and ability to change tempos on a dime. But, the one standout track that will blow you away is "Heaven Is You", a true masterpiece that really encapsulates everything Josh is as a person and musician who brings out the best in everyone he comes in contact with.
Key Tracks: "Lie Lie Lie", "Telling Myself", "Heaven Is You"
Juniper - Distance Keeps Me Distant
Boston based indie outfit Juniper unleashed their much anticipated debut album this past year titled "Distance Keeps Me Distant". The group have been building up some buzz here locally and here on the site where I interviewed the members twice for my podcast. Their no frills, straight forward indie sound has a laid back, groove laden feel thanks to the genius guitar riffs of Ahren Shreeve, the outstanding vocals of Scott Johnson, and the frenetic drum work of Alejandro Marin. Standout tracks on this one include the reflective number "Angelina", the groovetastic "Daydream (Brake Lights)", and the melodic one that pulls in elements from all throughout "More Than I Can Handle". Further proof that it'll be impossible to keep socially distant from these three immensely talented gentlemen.
Key Tracks: "Angelina", "Daydream (Brake Lights)", "More Than I Can Handle"
Baxter Hall - Somewhere In My Guitar
Boston based singer-songwriter Baxter Hall made an indelible first impression on listeners this past year with his debut release "Somewhere In My Guitar". Baxter is a total guitar virtuoso and beautiful soul who brings forth a new breed of singer-songwriter that lets the listener focus solely on the music, and become more intimate with his pure, raw, and down-home persona. Some highlights from this once include the infectious, sing-along number "Bella", the funky groove-laden "Between The Blues And A Rocky Place", and a fun, inventive take on the world we live in today "Nothing Surprises Me Anymore". Baxter is a genius guitar player and phenomenal musician who offers up a different breed of singer-songwriter that has the skills and knowledge that will take him a long way in this business.
Key Tracks: "Bella", "Between The Blues And A Rocky Place", "Nothing Surprises Me Anymore"
AJ Marks - Love To Hate Me
Boston native AJ Marks made his presence known to listeners with his debut release "Love To Hate Me". AJ is best known as being part of the Boston collective Black Diamonds some years back, and AJ has transformed from playing harder edged music to a softer, more pop based appeal that has captivated and wowed listeners from all over. The standout track on this one is "The Switch", a guaranteed earworm that you'll be hitting on repeat and not get sick of with its impeccably produced style and lush pop sensibilities. The EP's title track adds some guitar elements to give it a more broad based appeal that caters to listeners from other genres also. The lead off track "I Can't Kiss You When I'm Sober" is an infectious, downright enjoyable track that captures AJ's spirit, essence, enthusiasm, and charisma that you can feel bouncing right off the record.
Key Tracks: "The Switch", "Love To Hate Me", "I Can't Kiss You When I'm Sober"
The Skinny Limbs - Jade
Based out of Grand Rapids, MI comes the mellow laced indie sounds of The Skinny Limbs. A band that may be foreign to you, but you'll become well acquainted with in due time with their laid back style that puts a great emphasis on production, and building upon the vibes of everyone involved to create a quality record that everyone can be proud of. A partnership between brothers Max, Nate, and Jake Knoth with Mitch Garcia create an escapist paradise that you'll want to be a part of right away. Standout tracks include the vivacious "Color of Morning", the catchy and endearing title track, plus the warm weather vibes beckon you on "Persistence" that will make you want to crack open a beer and dig your toes in the sand with these delightful and talented fellas.
Key Tracks: "Color of Morning", "Jade", "Persistence"
Cassia - Magnifier
From across the pond in Macclesfield, UK comes the British indie rock trio Cassia. The band have a strong indie vibe with hints of Vampire Weekend thrown in, but with a style and swagger that is all their own and one that doesn't need a whole lot of explaining and just does it's own thing. Some tracks to keep an ear out for include the inescapable and breezy "Right There" that shows off the band's creative resolve right there in the open. The band's ode to the weekend "Gotta Get Through Til' Monday", and the band's uber chill rocker "Slow" that shows the band's ability to change tempos that is also indicative of the band's staying power and ability to make you feel part of the action.
Key Tracks: "Right There", "Slow", "Gotta Get Through Til' Monday"
Jason Ebbs - The Deep End
Another local artist that made a big wave this year is Jason Ebbs who released his terrific sophomore EP titled "The Deep End". The follow up to 'Superego' sees Jason taking his jovial and unique personality and injecting it all throughout his music to put everything in perspective and in living color. Key tracks from this one include "Not Even Over", a track that just reeks of summertime drives with the windows down and moonroof open that will make those special moments with the ones you care about that much enjoyable. "Clementine" is a catchy, infectious joyride that sets things off right into the stratosphere and shows no signs of letting up whatsoever. It's little moments like this that make Jason such an enjoyable presence to be around.
Key Tracks: "Not Even Over", "Clementine", "Baby Blue"
The Aubreys - Karaoke Alone
Fronted by Finn Wolfhard of "Stranger Things" fame comes the full length debut release by The Aubreys called "Karaoke Alone". The band is an offshoot of Finn's prior band Calpurnia with the drummer of that band Malcolm Craig on board to create a band that has the same sound of Calpurnia, but with a fresh lyrical outlook on how to navigate through life during a pandemic. My favorites from this one include "Resale", with a steady, driven acoustic melody coupled with the mellow drum beats to give it a strong charge right out of the gate. "Same As You" shows the band's ability to diversify their skillset, and get really creative as musicians who dig deep. The album's title track offers up some fresh musical ideas that show Finn and Malcolm's ability to communicate effectively as musicians also.
Key Tracks: "Karaoke Alone", "Resale", "Same As You"
Troy Cartwright - Halfway To Houston
Based from Dallas, TX comes the much anticipated new EP from Troy Cartwright "Halfway To Houston". A mainstay on this site for several years, Troy spent some time here in Boston at Berklee College of Music where he learned how to hone and evolve his skills that have led him to where he is right now. This EP is poised to break Troy right into the mainstream with beautiful tracks like "Shine On Me" that shows Troy's heartfelt sensibilities come to life, The steady, anthemic "Breaking Every Heart In Texas" that shows Troy's ability to constantly craft harmonic bliss on a dime. The album's title track is one to behold, and is a full on production that shows everything coming full circle, and shows just how much of a natural talent Troy is who has become a integral part of my musical family.
Key Tracks: "Shine On Me", "Breaking Every Heart In Texas", "Halfway To Houston"