Well, if 2020 was a bit of a shit-show, then 2021 has been a rollercoaster ride that had dipped even lower into a mound of faeces with no idea what is coming out that resembles going down that creek with half a paddle. We were locked down, then we were not, then we were, then we weren’t, then we could be. That is just a summary of life as a Spurs fan where after having someone “special” then available and fingers crossed our third manager of 2021 is the path to brighter days, which I am sure that you all appreciate is what every single one of us is hoping for generally going forward.
Luckily, music coming out has been on point – unlike my hairstyle? Life, has been chaotic for all of us and to work out what came out in 2021 was not straightforward – what came first? The pandemic or Walker Hayes taking over TikTok? Well, let’s close the year out with the (cliché list) of the albums you should have listened to. I feel I should begin with a disclaimer that you are now entering planet Jamie! This typically revolves around: the perils of Tottenham Hotspur’s defence, the frustration of the Dallas Cowboys offence, the back catalogue of Little Mix, seeing Bon Jovi live (pre-Richie Sambora leaving), first world problems encountered in Starbucks and how much I hate e-scooters. However, I wanted to put this in at the start rather than at the end because these guys do not get anywhere near enough credit. They are the people that readers don’t know about but make everything possible: Claire Horton, Luke Roberts (I am so jealous of your pending trip to Disney which I so want to happen and hear all about, but also shouting out to Amie, Sara & Jenny because you are all awesome), Kat Bawden, Claire Lloyd, Mark Logsdon, Zach Farnum, Paige Gregory, Chris Dean and Chris Hewlett. Then that is not forgetting the guys that bust them arses off to try and get festivals and live events going: Gavin & Christine Chittick, Georgie Thorogood, Karl & Laura Hancock, Tony Moore and Ray Jones. These guys deserve you raising a glass too going into the new year because they all have allowed people to know about what is going on and see anything live.
I haven’t got masses to talk about in terms of shows really because, well you know we had erm, Covid to deal with! Julia Cole you are such a ray of sunshine that I love having all over my playlists (and eventually I will convince you to root for my Cowboys over your Texans), then building such a lovely friendship with Alyssa Bonagura which I absolutely cherished & cannot wait to see you again armed with plenty of new music (starting with her new track “Last Night in December” which is out TODAY and available HERE), I’m not sure that Candi Carpenter can be prepared for what we have in-store for her next visit but we will make it the absolute best and Ruthe Collins deserves a medal for coming over literally as we shut down and couldn’t play to a live audience, so we really need to make it up to you. Kenny Foster, I love you man and I cannot wait for people to hear your new album which I expect will be one of our first extensive features of 2022 as we tell you all about it, that honestly is not a deep dive of a plan for success in N17. Remaining on the theme of guys who know that (quoting Chas & Dave) “Tottenham are the greatest team the world has ever seen” Tebey headlined an actual festival, like in front of a real audience at Buckle & Boots and completely brought it. This festival like Tennessee Fields was a roaring success and was massively appreciated to unite people together and show that the UK country music spark really shines and showcased the talent in such a warm and inclusive community. I know they are my guys and I believe that they are the sort of act that encompass high calibre songs, an unrivalled live show and play their part to integrate into the community but seeing Morganway not just set the bar for UK country music at both of these events but receive the most deserved recognition when they were awarded the BCMA Group of the Year.
Anyway, let’s do it! Last year, I found a way to do a “TOP 5” and for continuity I was going to do it again. Unfortunately, my grade B in GCSE maths did not assist as I forgot that the number 5 is situated between 4 and 6! As a result, I started writing an (unconventional) Top 7, which I had to try and play around with to whittle down! For anyone from Maldon Cricket Club that had the pleasure/misfortune of playing under my captaincy, you will be all to aware of how I perceive things. For anyone else: My game, my ball, my rules! I’ll kick off with the “contenders” which included Lainey Wilson and the Miranda Lambert/Jack Ingram/Jon Randall “The Marfa Tapes” release. Both were close as was my “predicament” release! If you would have spoken to me in 2019, the idea of a Carly Pearce release being on this list, let alone being in contention for topping it may have shocked me. However, “29” is so pure and relatable that I absolutely got it and appreciated why people are gravitated towards her. In isolation, it is one of the and if not the best release of the year BUT it was an EP that was later rebranded and expanded. There are some other EP’s like Callista Clark’s feisty debut and “Love, Kylie” from Kylie Morgan that just brought more impact as a listener that I personally would play more if you were not aware of Carly’s story, but purely in depth and songwriting CP delivered. The bridesmaid (AKA #6) is my UK Country/Americana Album of the Year and deserves its place in the whole picture. I love this person so much, she deserves all the accolades that are forthcoming, her voice is amazing, she genuinely lives in her own world which is so beautiful, her voice just makes your jaw drop and Lauren Housley with her “Girl From The North” record will absolutely blow you away!
#5 LADY A – WHAT A SONG CAN DO
In some circles the “machine” of country music has a formula that if it works then stick with it. Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott have a sound that really works, and this record takes what the trio are renowned for right to the top. Over a decade since their Grammy Award winning sophomore record, the trio have found a way to enhance but not tamper with that sound and the result is delightful. It has tap a longs, reflective and relatable bangers that we have grown to love for a really enjoyable record.
#4 NIKO MOON – GOOD TIME
This album is exactly what it says on the tin! It is such a pick me up record that puts you in a really great place and just makes you feel good when you listen to it which Niko summed up when we spoke to him (check it out HERE) “I wanted to make an album you can put on when you’re hanging out with your friends, out on your deck, out by some water or just in a celebratory mood where every song just feels good the whole way through.” The vibe and the way that he incorporates all of his musical influences whilst retaining the core purity of songwriting depth is so fresh to hear.
#3 ASHLAND CRAFT – TRAVELIN’ KIND
I will start off being straightforward and keeping it simple because I REALLY LIKE THIS RECORD A LOT! When I spoke to Ashland in the run up to the release (which I must say was one of my favourite interviews of the year which you can read HERE) there were two things that she wanted to convey about this project. Firstly: “It was important to me that it was exciting as you listen to it, it was something that took you on a journey.” Then regarding the songs: “I wanted them to be all these little parts and pieces of “Travellin’ Kind.” For a debut album, to really convey the ideology of being a travelling kind then to make it so relatable and transferable is such a credit to her as an artist and a songwriter. Her voice is a little grittier and her sound has more rock influence which are both things that I was really drawn to but above all this was an album that I just got and felt it was a perfect album to listen to in any scenario, so I really hope that she can come and play it for us live on this side of the pond then join us for a few “Mimosas In the Morning” after real soon.
#2 ERIC CHURCH – HEART & SOUL
I received an advance of these three pieces of this masterpiece that was glistening with Jay Joyce’s fairy dust, that had reviews under embargo for a considerable period, so I initially just listened to it as a fan. Then I listened to it again and again and again, where each time it spoke to me and I felt the connection more and more. This is a “triple Album” where “Heart” “&” and “Soul” are unique, powerful and poignant pieces of a puzzle which stand their own ground individually but the bringing them together takes you on the full journey which is truly magnificent. From “Heart on Fire” and “Russian Roulette” (which as a huge Church fan, I genuinely believe is one of his greatest, if not the greatest works of art) to “Through My Ray Bans” then into the slick, smooth sound of “Look Good and You Know It” and iconic “Hell of a View” this is highlighting every inch of the genius that The Chief possesses.
#1 MORGAN WADE – RECKLESS
What I really should say about this record is just listen to it. Don’t read the way I depict it which does not do it anywhere near enough justice, just bask in its divinity, honesty and beauty! There isn’t much more to say that can enhance why this record is the standout of 2021. Above all else it is so real and relatable yet so personal from her own perspective. It is such an impactful record from start to finish and her vocal style is truly breath-taking. I am absolutely thrilled that Morgan will be appearing at Country 2 Country in 2022 and everything about this album offers hope to so many aspiring musicians. She was someone that had demons in her past and does not hide away from them but embraces them in her storytelling which is so important for anyone that is comfortable doing in the hope that it can help someone else. We talked about this when Morgan and I spoke right at the start of the year (I know this is sharing my own piece but I found what she had to say very honest and powerful that actually goes very deep which you can read HERE) and we also talked about her story of discovery and belief in her from Sadler Vaden. This is one of the few records that you come across that really grab you, there are not many that do it to this magnitude: Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morissette), Definitely Maybe (Oasis), Infinity on High (Fall Out Boy), Back to Black (Amy Winehouse), 19 (Adele) and Parachutes (Coldplay) are the few that I recall listening to on release and “Reckless” legitimately sits in that bracket as something that brings undeniable power and relatability which I cannot recollect hearing in a country or Americana release to transfer universally like this.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks