Country music (for those who want to call it such nowadays) is among the mot popular of genres across the musical universe. From radio to television, it seems like it is inescapable. Just look at how many so-called country musicians get onto all of the karaoke contests across all of the TV networks. Look at all of the pomp and circumstance around all of the country music awards shows on television. While country music gets so much attention, sadly its brethren (of sorts) in the realms of bluegrass, Americana and folk get far less attention and credit from the mainstream. This is the case despite the reality that all of the genres are so tightly interwoven. That is why each year, Phil’s Picks has put them all together into one year-end list honoring the best of all four of those genres, which are all really part of one bigger family of music.
This year has seen plenty of notable releases from across those genres, too. Case in point is Delta Rae’s latest album, The Dark. This group, originally from Durham, North Carolina, has walked that blurred line of country and Americana so well over the years and continues to do so to this day, and its new record proves that so well. Bela Fleck’s latest album, My Bluegrass Heart, is unquestionably among the best of the year’s new bluegrass albums, on another hand. Ronnie Milsap also returned with a great new, pure country music record in the form of A Better Word For Love, showing that thankfully, real country music is not dead yet. Even Alan Jackson – another pure country artist – thankfully released new material this year that is noteworthy in the form of Where Have You Gone. The record is another nice reminder that there is still hope for real country in a sea that is so awash in pop music that masquerades as country. All of these records and more are part of Phil’s Picks’ 2021 Top 10 New Country/Bluegrass/Americana/Folk Albums list.
As with each list done annually, it consists of the year’s Top 10 New titles, plus five additional honorable mention titles. That brings the total to 15, yes, but the title remains, Top 10. Those honorable mention titles just deserve their own special recognition.
Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks’ 2021 Top 10 New Country/Bluegrass/Folk/Americana Albums list.
PHIL’S PICKS 2021 TOP 10 NEW COUNTRY/BLUEGRASS/FOLK/AMERICANA ALBUMS
John Hiatt with the Jerry Douglas Band – Leftover Feelings
Delta Rae – The Dark
David Crosby – For Free
Bela Fleck – By Bluegrass Heart
Ronnie Milsap – A Better Word for Love
Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band – A Miner’s Life
Alan Jackson – Where Have You Gone
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – The Future
Langhorne Slim – Strawberry Mansion
Blackberry Smoke – You Hear Georgia
Valerie June — The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raise The Roof
The Felice Brothers – From Dreams to Dust
Son Volt – Electro Melodier
Rick Faris – The Next Mountain
That’s all for this year’s list of top new Country/Bluegrass/Americana/Folk records. It is still not the end of this year’s top new music lists, though. Still on tap are lists for the year’s top new rock and hard rock/metal albums, new live CDs, and the year’s top new albums overall. That is all on the way, so stay tuned!
Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and country music songstress Alison Krauss returned this month with their second new release in the form of Raise The Roof. The 12-song, standard edition (Target offers the record in a deluxe edition that features two bonus tracks, bringing the total to 14) is the duo’s first new record in 14 years, and will receive support with a tour planned to launch in the new year. The 53-minute record is, at least in the ears and mind of this critic, a mixed bag that maybe was not entirely worth the exceptionally long wait. That is not to say that the album is a failure, but it could have been better at the same time. The record’s main positive (and negative) is its sequencing. This will be discussed shortly. A much clearer negative is the issue of record’s lyrical content. This will be discussed a little later. Another semi-positive comes in the record’s musical content. This will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Raise The Roof. All things considered, they make the album one of the lesser of this year’s new albums that, again, simply proved to not be worth the wait.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ recently released album, Raise The Roof is a record that sadly will not have everyone wanting to raise the roof. It is not a failure, but it is also not a complete success. This is proven through the duality in the album’s sequencing. The sequencing is both positive and negative because it starts off weakly with its brooding opener, ‘Quattro (World Drifts In).’ Honestly, things do not really even start to pick up until the record reaches its fourth song, ‘Trouble With My Lover.’ The song’s arrangement immediately conjures thoughts of Peggy Lee’s rendition of Little Willie John’s classic song, ‘Fever.’ From there, things do finally pick up and remain relatively stable at least until the record’s end. So again, the negative of the sequencing is thankfully only temporary. To that end, it is not enough to be too problematic, but is still unavoidable in talking about the record’s shortcomings even with its more positive side in mind. While the sequencing is mostly a positive, the record’s lyrical content proves negative, but again not to the point that it makes the record a failure.
The lyrical content featured in Raise The Roof is so problematic because it is mostly the same thing from one song to the next – love gained and lost. Throughout the record, those overarching themes are so prominent. Even early on, audiences get the theme in the form of the album’s second song, ‘The Price of Love.’ This is one of the many songs in this record that focuses on lost love. It opens with Krauss singing, “Wine is sweet and gin is bitter/Drink while you can/You won’t forget her/You talk too much/You laugh too loud/That’s the price of love/The debt you pay with tears and pain/The price of love/It costs you more when you’re to blame.” Plant joins in with Kraus in the song’s chorus. The whole statement here is, as noted, one of those oh woe is me songs about love lost. The mood that these lyrics set alongside the song’s musical arrangement is melancholy to say the least. Some will appreciate that mood and the wording in the lyrics, but others will likely be far less receptive, even if they are going through so much of what is in this song. It really does make the song problematic in its own right. Add in that, again, love gained and lost is pretty much all that the songs’ lyrical content presents, and the problems only continue from here.
‘Going Where The Lonely Go’ continues to show the problem with the record’s lyrical content. Herein is yet another song that is just about love lost. That is made clear as Krauss sings in the song’s lead and second verse against the decidedly melancholy honky tonk style musical arrangement, “Rolling with the flow/Going where the lonely go/Anywhere the lights are low/Going where the lonely go/Making up things to do/Not running in all directions/Trying to find you/I’m just rolling with the flow/Going where the lonely go.” Now herein lies even more problem, not just with the lyrics, but with the music, too. The lyrics present the song’s subject as someone who is over that significant other. This is someone who is moving on, yet the song’s musical arrangement is so sad and melancholy. It really does not match. Meanwhile the lyrical theme is again that of a relationship that has met its end. It is anything but unique, but rather more of the same from Kraus and Plant in this record. It further detracts from the engagement and entertainment.
‘Can’t Let Go’ is yet another example of audiences getting more of the same, lyrically from this album. Herein is yet another song whose lyrical content is melancholy as it focuses on a broken relationship. This is made clear as Kraus sings, “Told you, baby/One more time/Don’t make me sit all alone and cry/Well, it’s over/I know it/But I can’t let go/I’m like a fish out of water/And a cat in a tree/You don’t even want to talk to me/Well, it’s over/And I know it/But I can’t let go.” The song’s second verse is similar with the mention of the candle “burning bright” and the subject feeling like he/she has “been shot.” What is so interesting is that in this case, the song’s musical arrangement is in direct contrast what with its energy. In the same breath, that energy helps to translate the sense of denial that the song’s subject feels in this case. To that end, the song works. Yet at the same time, the song’s lyrical content is still so much in the same vein as the other songs examined here and the rest of the album’s entries. Keeping that in mind, that audiences get the same kind of lyrical content from one song to the next, it detracts noticeably from the record’s presentation. It is not enough to make the album a failure, but it still certainly does take away from the album’s engagement and entertainment.
While the lyrical content featured in this record detracts noticeably from the album’s presentation, its musical counterpart makes up for that issue at least to a point. As noted in an examination of the songs here, that is made clear. The musical arrangements do well in their own right to help translate the emotion in each song’s lyrical approach. What’s more, the arrangements are unique of one another, too. The record opens with a light, piano-driven neo-folk piece that echoes influences of songs from Fleetwood Mac, what with the harmonies and subtle vocals. ‘The Price of Love,’ which immediately follows, is something of a neo-folk rock composition. Meanwhile, ‘Go Your Way’ bears a sort of country music approach. Plant’s vocal delivery here in its style and sound actually works surprisingly well. As the album progresses into ‘Trouble With My Lover,’ listeners get more of a bluesy style composition before things change again in its immediate follow-up, ‘Searching For My Love.’ In this case, audiences get a light, pop/country/rock style composition a la the Eagles. From there on through to the album’s end, the arrangements continue to change, ensuring together with the noted arrangements, listeners’ engagement and entertainment. Looking at the record’s bigger picture, it is really this item and the sequencing of the arrangements that really keeps things just interesting enough for audiences. Keeping that in mind, those two elements prove to be the album’s saving graces. That is even with the problems that the sequencing poses in mind along with the problems of the record’s lyrical content. Overall, the sequencing and the musical arrangements do just enough to make Raise The Roof a work that won’t leave audiences raising the roof, but will ensure the album is worth hearing at least once.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ new album, Raise The Roof is not a record that will make audiences want to raise the roof. At the same time though, audiences will agree that it is worth hearing at least once. That is thanks in part to the sequencing. While the sequencing causes the record to start off slow, it thankfully does pick things up not too long after the fact, and keeps them moving from then on. It also ensures that the album’s featured musical arrangements keep changing and in turn keep listeners engaged and entertained. These elements do just enough to make up for the shortcoming that is the record’s lyrical content. The record’s lyrical content is problematic because it lacks any real originality. Every single song focuses on either love gained or lost. There is no fun lyrical content, nor anything serious. It is all just that overarching theme of relationships, which really does become boring rather quickly. Even with that in mind, it is not enough to doom the album, but rather keep it from becoming one of the year’s top new albums.
Raise The Roof is available now through Rhino Records. More information on the record is available along with all of Robert Plant’s latest news at:
Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Mascot Label Group/Sony
The Magpie Salute will release its new album next week.
The band is scheduled to release High Water II Oct. 18. Pre-orders are open now. The album will be available on CD, 2LP and digital platforms through Eagle Rock Entertainment domestically, Mascot Label Group in Europe, Australia and New Zealand and through Sony in Japan.
High Water II‘s release will come a little more than a month after the band released its new EP In Here. The band debuted the lyric video for High Water II‘s lead single ‘In Here‘ on Aug. 13.
High Water II was recorded simultaneously with its predecessor High Water at Dark Horse Studios in Nashville, TN. High Water was released in 2018, also through Eagle Rock Entertainment in the U.S.
Front man Chris Robinson talked briefly in a recent interview about the new album.
We’re all really happy to put out the second half of High Water,” he said. “Since its inception, I always viewed it as a single piece. High Water II will tie together both albums into a whole journey.”
Robinson produced High Water II. Alison Krauss makes a special guest appearance on the album, as an added bonus.
More information on High Water II is available online along with all of The Magpie Salute’s latest news at:
Dave Stewart still has it. Every time that the former Eurythmics member has released a new album, he has reinvented himself to great success. His new album, “The Ringmaster General” is no exception. While his most recent album, “The Blackbird Diaries” (2011) had a touch of country in it, this new album seems more focused on country, even going so far as to include a song titled, ‘A New Song For Nashville.’ Of course, country isn’t the only style that Stewart covers on this release. The album opens with the semi-psychedelic radio ready rock song, ‘I Got Love.’ He pairs up with Joss Stone for this song. The pairing is no coincidence as the pair recently toured together. And it makes for a fun start to the album. They sing on this song, “I got love/but I feel so bad.” The lyrics don’t seem like they’d go with the jamming, up-tempo music. But all together, it works very well. The addition of the sax part on this song adds an extra little flare, too.
‘I Got Love’ is followed up with a more mellow song in ‘Just Another Fall.’ Stewart is joined on this song by singer/songwriter Diane Burch. And just as [Joss] Stone’s vocals were a welcome addition to ‘I Got Love’, Birch’s vocals make ‘Just Another Fall’ work just as well. This song comes off lyrically as one centered on the topic of relationships as the pair sings to one another, “I could hardly believe it when you said you had an open mind/I was so excited/I was in love/I was so blind/cracks appeared in the ice/ but they were pretty/just like Venice lace/I could see what was gonna happen/as the lines/they appeared on your face.”
“The Ringmaster General” has its share of fun up-tempo songs. But it also has more deeply emotional songs such as his duet with country star Alison Krauss on ‘Drowning in the Blues.’ Krauss’ voice is as beautiful and powerful as ever even in its gentility. Stewart expertly matches her take on the song, too. The song’s music is a perfect emotional match for the pair’s sound. It catches every nuance of the song, all while adding its own extra emotion, making it one of the album’s best songs. It would be no surprise if this song becomes one of the album’s many singles.