The Best Of This Year’s New Albums Come From Across The Musical Universe

Courtesy: InsideOut Music

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.


  1. Liquid Tension Experiment – 3
  1. Gabor Lesko – Earthway
  1. Devin Townsend – The Puzzle
  1. Doug MacDonald Trio – Toluca Lake Jazz
  1. Allison Russell – Outside Child
  1. Walking Papers – Light Below
  1. Dobet Gnahore – Coleur
  1. Brasuka – Life With Passion
  1. Peter Welker — Sidemen
  1. Nik Bartsch – Entendre
  1. Madre Vaca – The Elements
  1. Billy F. Gibbons – Hardware
  1. Marc Ribler – The Whole World Awaits You
  1. Kris Rodgers & The Dirty Gems – Still Dirty
  1. 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!

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Madre Vaca’s Holst-Esque ‘The Elements’ Tops Phil’s Picks’ Best New Jazz Albums Of 2021

Courtesy: Madre Vaca Records/Shortstein Productions, LLC

This year has been another busy one in the world of jazz.  Phil’s Picks has received more jazz recordings this year than in any year prior.  That includes new, records with new, original content; new covers; and live recordings.  Thanks for all of that content goes to everyone at DL Media, Jazz Promo Services and Dr. Jazz Operations.  So much new content came in this year that this critic started to lose track of it all at some point, but thankfully got back on track somewhere along the line.  Now, as the year continues to wind down, it is finally time to consider the best of this year’s new jazz albums, and they are plentiful, too.  In fact there was so much enjoyable new material released this year that this critic ran out of space in the related list.  That means developing this year’s list was no easy task to say the least, but this critic tried.  The result is what this critic feels is the best of the best this year.  There are no losers, only winners here, even with the five honorable mention titles that follow the Top 10 new recordings.

Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks’ Top 10 New Jazz Albums of 2021.


  1. Madre Vaca – The Elements
  2. Gabor Lesko – Earthway
  3. Mauricio Morales – Luna
  4. Doug MacDonald Duo – Toluca Lake Jazz
  5. Moka Efti Orchestra – Erstausgabe
  6. Brian Bromberg – A Little Driving Music
  7. Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band – Soundscapes
  8. Rick Margitza – Sacred Hearts
  9. Schapiro 17 – Human Qualities
  10. Arturo O’Farrill & Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – Virtual Birdland
  11. Luna Octet – Convergence
  12. Andre Fererri Quintetto – Numero Uno
  13. Ian Charleton Big Band – A Fresh Perspective
  14. Linda Hilton – Transparent Sky
  15. Steve Cole – Smoke & Mirrors

That’s it for this year’s list of new jazz albums.  There are still more music year-ender lists on the way, though, including the year’s top new rock and hard rock/metal albums, country albums, live CDs, and top new albums overall, so there is still plenty more to come.  Stay tuned!

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Gabor Lesko’s Latest LP Is Among The Best Of 2021’s New Jazz, Overall Albums

Courtesy: Creativity’s Paradise Music

Multi-talented musician Gabor Lesko is scheduled to release his latest album, Earthway today.  Set for release through Creativity’s Paradise Music, the eight-song record is a presentation that audiences old and new alike will appreciate.  That is proven in part through the diversity in the album’s arrangements.  This will be discussed shortly.  The sequencing of those songs adds its own touch to the album’s presentation.  This will be discussed a little later.  The songs’ production rounds out its most important elements.  It will also be examined later.  Each item noted makes this record unquestionably one of this year’s best new jazz and overall albums.

Gabor Lesko’s new album, Earthway, is a work that his established audience base and those less familiar with his work will find quite appealing.  Audiences who are familiar with Lesko’s catalog will find the album (his eighth) so appealing because as with his existing catalog, the arrangements present so much diversity.  Newer audiences will find it appealing for the exact same reason.  From one song to the next, the 44-minute record presents audiences with something different.  Case in point is the album’s closer, Air (Lost Key Part Two).’  The orchestration features some distinct prog style guitar work on the part of Lesko, as well some equally subtle but powerful ethereal strings alongside a gentle piano accompaniment.  As the song progresses, (that word, “progresses)” it moves more into a Pat Metheny type stylistic approach and sound.  That, against the more prog style first movement, makes the whole all the more engaging and entertaining.  The prog influence here should come as no surprise, considering that Lesko has worked with two prog greats in the form of Tony Levin and Steve Vai.  The return to the more prog sound in the song’s closing minutes gives the song a nice sense of completion in its clear ABA style composition.

On a different note, a song, such as ‘Fiesta’ is a stark contrast to the likes of ‘Air (Lost Key Part Two).’  The song’s title implies a Latin-tinged work, and it does open with a Latin flair.  There is even a subtle flamenco style performance from Lesko at points throughout the song as well as some Samba from the horns.  At the same time though, the arrangement also features a touch of easy-listening style jazz for good measure.  The two styles of jazz could not be more distinct from one another.  Yet somehow, Lesko and his fellow musicians manage here to make the two polar opposites work so well together.  There is even a sort of 80s style sound added to the mix through Lesko’s rock style guitar work, the piano and saxophone line to make things even more interesting.  The whole is completely unlike the arrangement featured in the previously examined song.  That is a good thing, too.  Between the noted performance, those of the drums and bass, the whole of the composition ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment in its own unique fashion.  As an aside, credit would be given where due here (multiple musicians handled bass and drum duties in this record), but this album did not include liner notes.  That is not the say that the album does not have liner notes, but that the copy received by this critic may be strictly a media copy lacking those notes.  Getting back on the subject at hand, this arrangement is just one more way in which the arrangements here prove so important to this album’s presentation.

‘Gently Obsessive’ is one more way in which the diversity in Earthway’s musical arrangements proves important.  This song’s arrangement is just as starkly unlike the album’s other works as they are from one another and the rest of the album’s works.  The gentle, flowing subtlety in Lesko’s guitar work here creates such a mellow vibe alongside the equally gentle piano line and strings makes the song even richer.  As with the album’s other songs, the arrangement here is also enjoyable because of the gradual growth exhibited throughout the course of the song’s four-minute, 33-second run time).  That gradual growth is so subtle that when it is considered with the performances themselves therein, the whole gives the song even more to enjoy.  When the song is considered along with the other arrangements noted here and the rest of the album’s works, that collective forms such a strong foundation for Earthway

For all that the arrangements do for the overall presentation of Earthway, they are just a portion of what makes the album so appealing.  The songs’ sequencing adds its own layer of enjoyment to the album.  As has already been noted, the album’s arrangements vary stylistically and sound-wise from one to the next and even within themselves.  That was taken fully into account in considering the album’s sequencing.  A close listen to the album reveals a clear back and forth of the record’s energies throughout, again from one song to the next and within.  The album opens with two songs that themselves open upbeat, but of course do evolve as they progress.  The next trio of songs is more laid back, at least in their opening segments.  Things pick back up in ‘Push It!’ before relaxing again in the album’s final two songs.  Again that is at least in the opening portions of the songs.  Overall, the album’s sequencing shows great time and thought went into this part of the album’s presentation.  It is still not the last of the album’s most important elements.  The record’s production rounds out those elements.

The production that went into Earthway is important to examine because again, as noted, there is so much going on in each song.  The arrangements progress within themselves.  There are a lot of musicians performing a lot of parts in each song, too.  That means that lots of attention had to be paid to each composition in even its most minute detail.  From dynamics, to the offset of one instrument’s line to another, and even the addition of extra effects to highlight given lines, those behind the boards had a lot to work with.  The result of the painstaking attention to detail in each song is that the album proves appealing as much for its varied content as for the general effect of each song.  Keeping this in mind along with the importance of the album’s sequencing, all things combined make Earthway a work that will appeal widely among audiences.

Gabor Lesko’s latest album, Earthway is a strong new offering from the veteran, multi-talented musician.  It is a presentation that will appeal widely among audiences.  That is due in part to its featured arrangements.  The arrangements in question are so diverse in their sounds and stylistic approaches.  There is jazz influence presented alongside some rock sensibilities, and more from one song to the next.  The sequencing of that diverse content makes for even more engagement and appeal.  That is because it serves to make sure the album did not get stale from one song to the next.  The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation.  That is because the production ensures all of the right accents, dynamics, and other elements got all of the right attention at each point throughout the album.  Each item noted here is key in its own way to the whole of this album.  All things considered, they make the album one of the year’s best new jazz album and overall albums.  Earthway is available now.  More information on the album is available along with all of Gabor Lesko’s latest news at  

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