And then there was one. That’s right, Phil’s Picks is finally down to the last of its annual music ear-ender lists. The last of this year’s music-related “best of” lists is the proverbial peak of the mountain in the form of the year’s top new albums.
This year’s list of the top new albums is diverse to say the least. It features new releases from across the musical universe. From jazz to world to rock and even some bluegrass, this year’s list represents how much the musical universe produced this year.
As with every other list from Phil’s Picks, this final music-related list for this year features the Top 10 new releases and five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15, all of which deserve their own share of applause. Without any further ado, here for your consideration is this year’s Top 10 New Albums.
PHIL’S PICKS’ 2021 TOP 10 NEW ALBUMS
Liquid Tension Experiment – 3
Gabor Lesko – Earthway
Devin Townsend – The Puzzle
Doug MacDonald Trio – Toluca Lake Jazz
Allison Russell – Outside Child
Walking Papers – Light Below
Dobet Gnahore – Coleur
Brasuka – Life With Passion
Peter Welker — Sidemen
Nik Bartsch – Entendre
Madre Vaca – The Elements
Billy F. Gibbons – Hardware
Marc Ribler – The Whole World Awaits You
Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems – Still Dirty
Gordie “Crazylegs” MacKeeman – Folk For Little Folk Volume 1
That’s it for this year’s music lists, but it’s not the end for this year’s “best of” lists. From here, the attention turns to the best of this year’s new TV and movie offerings, beginning with the year’s top new documentaries. Stay tuned!
Singer/songwriter Allison Russell’s debut album, Outside Child is one of the most unique and powerful musical presentations released so far this year. The 12-song record is really a surprising record because of its musical and lyrical content. The depth and impact of that collective content, which is largely autobiographical about Russell’s own life, resonates so loudly in its simplicity. One of the songs that serves so well to illustrate that impact comes early in the form of ‘Nightflyer.’ This song will be discussed shortly. ‘The Runner’ is another example of how the combination of the album’s musical and lyrical content makes the record so impacting. It will be discussed a little later. ;All of the Women’ is yet another example of the power in this record’s simplicity. It will be discussed later, too. When this song is considered along with the others noted here and the rest of the album’s works, the whole makes Outside Child one of the biggest surprises of 2021 and one of this year’s best new overall albums.
Allison Russell’s debut album Outside Child is a surprisingly powerful first offering from the singer/songwriter. That is proven from beginning to end of the album’s 53-minute run time through its combined musical and lyrical content. It touches listeners in ways that they never would have expected, and sticks with them long after the album ends. That is proven early on in the form of ‘Nightflyer.’ The musical arrangement featured in ‘Nightflyer’ is a soft, gentle composition that is grounded in Russell’s subtle vocal delivery and even more subdued performance on guitar. The addition of the organ as a supporting element adds even more to the enjoyment here. The whole lends itself to comparisons to works from maybe Rhiannon Giddens, or Tracy Chapman. One could just as easily make a comparison to works from Delta Rae here, too. Interestingly enough, for all of the positive vibes that this song’s musical arrangement creates, it seems to be in stark contrast to the powerful statement in the song’s lyrical content.
The lyrical content featured in this song comes across as a confident statement, describing the song’s subject as someone and something quite powerful. This is inferred in the song’s lead verse and chorus, in which Russell sings, “I’m the melody and the space between/Every note the swallow sings/I’m fourteen vultures circling/I’m that crawling, dying thing/I’m the smoke up above the trees, Good Lord/The fire and the branch that’s burning, Lord/Maybe you were sleeping, Lord/But Mary she’s not weeping no more, no, mm-mm/ Yeah, I’m a midnight rider/Stone bona fide night flyer/I’m an angel of the morning too/The promise that the dawn will bring you, you, you.” That mention of Russell being the “vultures circling” and the “fire and the branch that’s burning” is a statement of power. At the same time, the chorus, which finds Russell comparing herself to the “angel of the morning” creates an interesting dichotomy of sorts. It’s as if she is saying, she’s strong, but also vulnerable and caring all at once. It makes for such an interesting statement and presentation, especially when this is set against the song’s so gentle and simple musical arrangement. One really would not expect such a statement to be paired with the kind of arrangement featured here, yet here it is, and it works in some surprising way. The whole becomes just one example of what makes Outside Child such an interesting debut for Russell. ‘The Runner’ is another way in which the album’s overall content proves so interesting.
The musical arrangement featured in ‘The Runner’ is more energetic than that featured in ‘Nightflyer.’ It has a sort of Americana rock sense in its presentation. That energy does well to help compliment the seeming sense of relief from having to “run” from everything that was going on in her life.
Russell sings of this flight and “escape” in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “Oh, I had to run, to run, to run/From Mont Royale/Aux Portes des Lions (to the Lion’s Doors)/But no freedom would come my way/Yeah, no freedom from/What he’d done to me/Then I heard that Rock and Roll/Outside the South Hill Candy Store/Felt myself walking in/I was up above me, I was standing right beside me, oh/And I saw my deliverance/Deliverance.” The song’s second verse enhances the song’s impact even more as Russell sings, “Oh, I had to sing, to sing, to sing/From the western sea/To the old country/Oh, I had to bleed, to bleed, to bleed/Till his poison left my veins/Left me.” This seems to be a statement of the feeling of needing to just get out the pent up emotions even more. The emotion in those words and in the song’s musical arrangement works to make the song in whole powerful in its own way. It is just one more way in which the album’s overall content proves the record’s overall impact. It is just one more example of what makes the album stand out. ‘All of The Women’ is one more example of the impact of the album’s content.
‘All of The Women’ is another work that bears similarity to works from Delta Rae and Giddens. It is such a mournful, bittersweet composition. From the simple instrumentation to the rich vocal delivery, the song offers so much engagement just from this part of its presentation. The sense of sadness and mournfulness in the arrangement pairs well with the song’s lyrical content to make the song stand out even more.
The lyrical content featured in this song seems to hint at a commentary in support of female escorts (prostitutes). She sings of seeing the women as more than just prostitutes, but people and that when one in particular is not there “I worry.” The woman in question tells the subject that she is strong and still gets up even after being mistreated, adding that she makes no apologies for her choice in life. It is an interesting, empowering statement overall. When one really stops and thinks about it, the mournful, bittersweet musical arrangement that accompanies this overall statement makes more sense. It serves as a translation for the mix of strength and sadness that the subject and the woman in question each feel about the woman’s situation. This is a topic that is rarely if ever addressed in mainstream music. That is because of the stigma attached to the profession. For Russell to tackle the topic and do so in such distinct fashion is worthy of applause in itself. The manner in which she handled the topic is just as worth applause. When this is considered along with the other songs examined here and their impact, as well as the rest of the album’s songs and their impact, the whole makes Outside Child one of this year’s most impressive musical surprises.
Allison Russell’s debut album, Outside Child, is a strong first outing for the singer/songwriter who is herself unique. The record stands out because of its musical and lyrical content alike. That is proven through all three of the songs noted here. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes the album one of the best of this year’s new overall albums. Outside Child is available now. More information on the album is available along with all of Russell’s latest news at: