Songs of the Year 2021

Well this has been the strangest year of my blogging life. The triple whammy of a pandemic, lack of live music and mid-life apathy has caused me to struggle to connect with new music. The less I blogged, the more I felt out of touch, the more writing became harder and social media became terrifying, until you wonder why you ever started in the first place.

In the end what brings me back here are the songs. There are so many amazing female artists whose music inspires me to write, helps me, entertains me, moves me and that will never change even if the world does.

If you’re reading this then thank you for bearing with my sporadic blogging schedule this year. Here are a list of songs that got me through, that kept me believing in something, anything, everything. I hope you find a kindred spirit & song in this post.

20. Amythyst Kiah – Wild Turkey

Tracing the trauma of her loss, this song was like the moment when you let the despair and pain through to warm the numbness of your heart. A devastating and beautiful moment of emotional clarity.

19. Ashley Monroe – Til It Breaks

Rosegold was an experiment in tone, a sonic shift which felt dreamy and lush to listen to. The highlight of the album was ‘Til It Breaks’, which was a siren’s song about letting the past melt away. Gorgeous.

18. Emily Scott Robinson – Cheap Seats

Inspired by watching her hero John Prine sing at the Ryman, ‘Cheap Seats’ is a song for every dreamer everywhere. A reminder that an optimistic and sympathetic heart is needed in every artistic endeavour.

17. Dori Freeman – Appalachian

An overlooked gem from a brilliant album which tells the story of a place and how it shapes who you are and how you see the world. Dori sings with compassion about poverty and feeling under the ‘boot of the world’. Powerful and profound.

16. Tristen – Complex

A catchy, self-deprecating indie pop song about love, fear and the anxiety of everything. Perfection.

15. Lana Del Rey – White Dress

Despite releasing two albums this year Lana never quite reached the heights of her prophetic 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell. ‘White Dress’ was the closest she got, its strange mix of aching nostalgia and creeping anxiety encapsulating the weirdness of this year.

14. Margo Cilker – Wine in the World

To drown your sorrows is sometimes the only thing that makes sense, and Margo Cilker makes it sound like the most cathartic and yet desolate thing in the world. A stunning song from one of the year’s best new voices.

13. Carly Pearce featuring Patty Loveless – Dear Miss Loretta

Mainstream country music offered slim pickings this year but Carly Pearce was the surprise success story. Every song on her divorce album 29: Written in Stone was a gem, not least her duet with Patty Loveless which was a heartfelt tribute to Loretta Lynn written with Brandy Clark and Shane McInally.

12. Yola – Diamond Studded Shoes

A confident, rabble rousing rebuke to hypocritical politicians everywhere this song felt like Yola bringing her star power to centre stage.

11. Charlie Marie – Heard it Through the Red Wine

Charlie Marie found the heart and the humour in breaking up with her drinking, cheating man. Country music at its fun and funny best.

10. Allison Russell – Persephone

A gorgeous song about escape and finding comfort in young love. Allison Russell’s solo record sent her soaring, mining her past for songs of radical joy and survivor’s strength.

9. Morgan Wade – Wilder Days

Breaking through with this blistering little love song about dealing with sobriety, insecurity and coming to terms with your partner’s past Morgan Wade has had a brilliant year. She’s raw, a little rough around the edges and the absolute real deal.

8. Brandi Carlile featuring Lucius – You & Me on the Rock

Covering Joni’s ‘Blue’ album in its entirety led Brandi to a friendship with the legend herself and her influence now can be heard on this sweet lockdown love song. This lighter, more freewheeling sound suits her, aided nicely by Lucius on harmony.

7. Sierra Ferrell featuring Billy Strings – Bells of Every Chapel

Classic old-time country sung with heart and personality from Sierra Ferrell, who felt like she’d arrived from the distant past with the kind of authentic, individual voice that many try to recreate but few can pull off. A star with songs to match.

6. Adia Victoria featuring Matt Berninger – South for the Winter

A lullaby to the South, about escaping from the cold to somewhere that feels like home. A simple and sweet song from an artist usually concerned with the gothic – somehow that made the end result shine even brighter.

5. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – Like I Used To

After ‘Seventeen’ anything felt possible for SVE and this dizzying gulp of a pandemic anthem raises her level even higher. Aided by Angel Olsen together these two sound like the best lost band of the 80s. Makes you crave a full album and a return to when artists collaborated for life, together in a band like they used to.

4. Valerie June featuring Carla Thomas – Call Me A Fool

A soulful, uplifting love song with enough power to knock you right off your feet. Valerie June’s growl is juxtaposed with her otherwise heavenly vocals, helped by legend Carla Thomas. Recently Grammy nominated too and deserving of all acclaim.

3. Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall – In His Arms

The whole Marfa Tapes album was like a rolling wind transporting you to another place and time. The highlight was this aching song of longing and unrequited love – the wrong one always sets me free. Miranda Lambert at her best. So pretty you can hardly believe it.

2. Kacey Musgraves – Camera Roll

So in the end Star-Crossed was a let-down, not a total disaster but an underwhelming awakening from the beauty and joy of Golden Hour. Somehow that made the stand out song Camera Roll even more heartbreaking and poignant. Scrolling back to the before time, when things were perfect was all any of us did this past year. So thanks Kacey for all the songs and everything that you gave, before we lost all the sun. Excuse me while I press repeat and weep.

1. Jenny Lewis – Puppy & a Truck

Well sometimes you just need a pep talk from your favourite cool older sister to get you through the tough times. I laughed along with every irreverent line. Produced by Dave Cobb the slightly trippy, slightly country, slightly Hawaiian sound felt like the kind of interesting new direction that someone without roots might take. A refreshing reminder that you can’t have it all but you can have a puppy and a truck (or whatever equivalent suits). Two thumbs up.

Please find a playlist of these songs below. Albums list to come tomorrow.

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