Best Albums of 2021 (The Way Too Late Version)

I swear I had every intention of doing an extensive writeup of my album rankings for 2021. And yet, here I sit on a cold Friday night in February, with a glass of Lagavulin and zero progress toward that goal. I have decided instead of waiting until this mythical free time appears, I’m just going to post what I can tonight and move on. I’m already eight albums deep into 2022

I typically do these year-end post in installments, doing a writeup on each of the top 50 or so. That ain’t happening this year. 2021 was a solid year. It deserves better than effort, but this effort is what I have.

Down below you will find a list of every album I rated in 2021. The final tally stands at 113 albums. A few were EPs, but mostly full albums. For background on the numbers to the right–I rate every song on an album 1 through 10. One star is reserved solely for Black Eyed Peas’ I’ve Got a Feeling, the worst song of all time. Two stars is something I hope to never hear again, three stars is something I actively skip and son on. Ten stars was probably written by John Prine or Steve Earle. I’m pretty stingy with those. And even nines. I give a few eights a year. So, these ratings tend to look like a fat bell curve sitting in the 5s.

While I’m not going to do individual album wrap-ups this year, I do have some notes:

I went heavy on the Appalachian sound this year. And the Appalachian sound doesn’t have to come from the Appalachians, although a couple of my top ones certainly did that. Hell, my top 10 was damn near exclusive to that camp. Think the Red Dirt sound with more bluegrass tinges. You know, if Ragweed had a banjo.

My number one album was a debut album by Cole Chaney, out of Eastern Kentucky. He has a sound that simply could not come from anywhere else. The Childers comparisons are inevitable, and some will try to downplay Chaney as Not Childers. I see him simply as the next in line from that part of the world and a voice worth itself all on its own without the comparisons. I have a wheelhouse sound. I admit this. And nearly every track of Mercy landed in that sweetspot.

Drayton Farley is a bit of Childers and Isbell at the same time. A Hard Up Life is his sophomore album and a breakout one at that.

Morgan Wade is my wife’s woman crush of the year. We were lucky enough to see her open for American Aquarium this year and will see again this summer playing with Willie Nelson, Turnpike Troubadours and Zach Bryan.

Sturgill’s The Dood and Juanita was probably the actual best album of the year, but it’s storybook concept also meant the individual tracks did not stand out as much as the album did as a whole. I don’t think I listened to this album any this year without listening to it in its entirety.

Charles Wesley Godwin falls in line with Chaney and Farley, in that he definitely garnered more attention this year than ever before. Quite a few people I share music with regularly had this one as their album of the year, and they aren’t exactly wrong. And his exposure through Zach Bryan this year means he is about to get much bigger.

I seem to get to less hip-hop each year. My favorite from that realm this year was J. Cole’s The Off-Season. That one checked in at number 11. Next was Nas at 22. What can I say, I like my rap old school.

The best blues album of the year was Gov’t Mules’ Heavy Load Blues. Warren and the boys has always incorporated blues styles into their southern rock/jam stuff, but they leaned into the blues playbook hard on this one and nailed it.

Looking through my list, I notice I just don’t listen to that much rock anymore. I have a blind spot here and am looking for suggestions to circle back around to.

If you have Spotify and want to see my favorite tracks of the year, I have a Best of 2021 playlist. Throw that bad boy on shuffle sometime. I don’t suck at this. A few videos before the full list of my 2021 albums:

How to cry in 73 seconds.
1Cole Chaney–Mercy6.67
2Drayton Farley–A Hard Up Life6.5
3Morgan Wade–Reckless6.5
4Sturgill Simpson–The Dood and Juanita6.48
5Charles Wesley Godwin–How The Mighty Fall6.33
6Lucero–When You Found Me6.3
7Pony Bradshaw–Calico Jim6.2
8Zach Russell–The Creek EP6.2
9Hardened and Tempered–Hold The Line6.11
10Mike and the Moonpies–One To Grow On6.11
11J. Cole–The Off-Season6.08
12Gov’t Mule–Heavy Load Blues6.08
13The Steel Woods–All of Your Stones6
14John R. Miller–Depreciated6
15Hayes Carll–You Get It All6
16The Record Company–Play Loud5.92
17Davy Knowles–What Happens Next5.92
18Kieran Ridge & The Moonrakers5.91
19Blackberry Smoke–You Hear Georgia5.9
20The Wallflowers–Exit Wounds5.9
21Margo Cilker–Pohorylle5.89
22Nas–Magic5.89
23Mickey Lamantia–Honky Tonk Confessions: Final Chapter5.88
24Cody Jinks–Mercy5.83
25Caleb Lee Hutchinson–Slot Machine Syndrome EP5.8
26Christone Kingfish Ingram–6625.79
27Ross Cooper–Chasing Old Highs5.73
28Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall–The Marfa Tapes5.73
29Nas–King’s Diseas II5.73
30Maggie Rose–Have A Seat5.73
31Judith Hill–Baby, I’m Hollywood5.71
32Red Shahan–Javelina5.7
33Jackson Browne–Downhill From Everywhere5.7
34James McMurtry-The Horses and the Hounds5.7
35Kolby Cooper–Boy From Anderson County5.67
36Dylan LeBlanc–Pastimes EP5.67
37Billy Strings–Renewal5.63
38Selwyn Birchwood–Living In A Burning House5.61
39Black Honey–Disinfect EP5.6
40The Flatlanders–Treasure of Love5.6
41Robert Plant & Alison Krauss–Raise The Roof5.58
42Lukas Nelson & The Promise of the Real–A Few Stars Apart5.55
43Ida Mae–Click Click Domino5.53
44Tyler, The Creator–Call Me If You Get Lost5.5
45Charlie Crockett–Music City USA5.5
46Brandi Carlile–In These Silent Days5.5
47Grayson Jenkins–Turning Tides5.5
48Silk Sonic–An Evening With Silk Sonic5.5
49Mando Saenz-All My Shame5.45
50Paul Thorn–Never Too Late To Call5.45
51Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats–The Future5.45
52Jason Ringenberg–Rhinestoned5.42
53The Delvantes–A Thousand Turns5.35
54Leah Blevins–First Time Feeling5.3
55Jackson+Sellers–Breaking Point5.3
56TechN9ne–Asin9ne5.29
57Aaron Lee Tasjan–Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!5.27
58John Hiatt & Jerry Douglas–Leftover Feelings5.27
59The Killers–Pressure Machine5.27
60The Wild Feathers–Alvarado5.27
61Oliver Wood–Always Smilin’5.25
62Billy F Gibbons–Hardware5.25
63Lake Street Drive–Obviously5.18
64Royal Blood–Typhoons5.18
65The Shootouts–Bullseye5.18
66Allison Russell–Outside Child5.18
67Strand of Oaks–In Heaven5.18
68Yola–Stand For Myself5.16
69Foo Fighters–Medicine at Midnight5.11
70Todd Snider–First Agnostic Church of Hope & Wonder5.1
71Israel Nash–Topaz5.1
72Olivia Rodrigo–Sour5.09
73Greta Van Fleet–The Battle at Garden’s Gate5.08
74The Brother Brothers–Calla Lily5
75Carsie Blandon–Love and Rage5
76Danny Burns–Hurricane5
77Amythyst Kiah–Ware + Strange5
78Son Volt–Electro Melodier5
79Willie Nile–The Day The Earth Stoon Still5
80Lily Hiatt–Lately5
81Langhorn Slim–Strawberry Mansion4.94
82Jade Bird–Different Kinds of Light4.93
83Matthew Sweet–Catspaw4.92
84Joshua Ray Walker–See You Next Time4.9
85Anders Osborne–Orpheus and the Mermaids4.89
86Jimbo Mathus & Andrew Bird–These 134.85
87Forest Sun–Stubborn Breathing Heart4.83
88Parker Millsap–Be Here Instead4.75
89The Lone Bellow–Half Moon Light4.75
90Kaleo–Surface Sounds4.73
91Hiss Golden Messenger–Quietly Blowing It4.73
92Kings of Leon–When You See Yourself4.64
93St. Vincent–Daddy’s Home4.64
94Lucy Dacus–Home Video4.64
95Rodney Crowell–Triage4.6
96Darrin Bradbury–Artvertisement4.58
97Willie Jones–Country Soul4.5
98DJ Khaled–Khaled Khaled4.5
99Kacey Musgraves-star-crossed4.47
100Samantha Fish–Faster4.42
101Drake–Certified Lover Boy4.38
102Sleigh Bells–Texis4.27
103Melissa Carper–Daddy’s Country Gold4.25
104Devin Dawson–The Pink Slip EP4.17
105Morgan Wallen–Dangerous4.13
106Neal Francis–In Plain Sight4.13
107Brigitte DeMeyer–Seeker4.1
108Fruit Bats–The Pet Parade4.09
109Valerie June: The Moon and Stars4.09
110Heartless Bastards–A Beautiful Life4.09
111Kanye West–Donda3.96
112The Staves–Good Woman3.91
113Black Coffee–Subconsciously3.67

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