Here’s our roundup of fifteen of the best of Americana music in 2021. There’s some tasty fare here for sure. However you want to define Americana (you probably know it if you hear it), these albums are all classy records by artists at the top of their game and are music you want to listen to. (btw, if you’re looking for blues, check out our Best Blues Albums of 2021.)
Here they are in alphabetical order, rather than ranked.
American Aquarium, Slappers, Bangers & Certified Twangers Volumes 1 & 2
Two ten song collections of classic 1990s country, covers of songs by Trisha Yearwood, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, and others. The pedal steel is never far away from these toe-tapping melodies – what’s not to like?
Jackson Brown, Downhill from Nowhere
The music is reliably good throughout, with fine musicianship and song arrangements, featuring superb, less-is-more guitar work by Greg Leisz and Val McCullum. The lyrical content, as always, is superbly crafted by a master songwriter, often with a nice synthesis of the personal and the political. For more on the album, click here.
Hayes Carll, You Get It All
Carll’s gritty, world-weary vocals never fail to draw you in, in this superb set of eleven songs. It’s unapologetically a country singer-songwriter record, all telecaster, pedal steel and occasional fiddle. Clever lyrics and memorable melodies throughout make it very listenable-to. Look out for the duet with Brandy Clark.
Jimmy Carter, Blind Faith
Jimmy Carter, the last original member of The Blind Boys of Alabama, remarkably at 87 has released his first solo album, Blind Faith. He said he wants this album to be “a ray of hope and encouragement.” In nine songs which encompass gospel, blues, country and roots music and yet cohere wonderfully, Jimmy Carter’s positive outlook on life and faith shine through. The music is great, the lyrics and inspirational. Catch our interview with Jimmy here.
Steve Earle and the Dukes, JT
Earle’s lament for the tragic loss of his son. All the songs are Justin’s apart from the final “Lat Words,” a poignant goodbye from his father. There’s nothing morbid or downbeat about the album however, and musically, it’s hugely enjoyable.
John Hiatt & Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings
A rewarding set of songs from Hiatt and Dobro master Jerry Douglas. Hiatt taps a rich vein of song-writing skill and experience in a mixture of ballads and blues songs with compelling stories. The combination of Hiatt’s always interesting voice, Douglas’s jaw-droppingly good guitar work and eleven good tunes makes for a hugely enjoyable experience.
John Hurbut and Jorma Kaukonen, The River Flows
Wonderful album of acoustic roots music in two volumes, the first thirteen songs which include classics from Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield, Ry Cooder and the Byrds, and the second live versions of a number of the songs. Hurlbut takes the vocals and rhythm guitar and Kaukonen backs it up beautifully with some exquisite solo work. Here’s our interview with the remarkable Jorma Kaukonen.
Jamestown Revival, Fireside with Louis L’Amour
Texan folk-rock duo’s tribute to legendary Western author L’Amour comprises six songs which reflect six of his short stories. Each is quite brilliant, lyrically and musically, performed simply with beautiful harmonies. It’s an album I’ve returned to again and again.
Sean McConnell, A Horrible Beautiful Dream
Grammy nominated singer, songwriter and producer McConnell here showcases his wonderful vocals and song-writing. Honest searching lyrics which cover love, justice and faith, and melodies and arrangements that just draw you in. One of the best voices in modern Americana.
James McMurtry, The Horses and the Hounds
McMurty, one of Texas’s finest songwriters, delivers ten songs of vividly-told stories, full of carefully drawn characters. He’s a fiction writer, like his dad, Larry, just a different medium. But the music’s great, as well, with some fine guitar work by David Grissom and, of course, McMurtry’s languid vocals. “This James McMurtry album is really great. It blew me away,” said Jackson Browne. That ought to be enough for you.
Maria Muldaur, Let’s Get Happy Together
Let’s Get Happy Together captures the note of hope we’re all looking for, not only in its title but in the exuberance and joy of the songs. The album “is a historic project that pays reverence to many of the early New Orleans women of blues and jazz,” recorded by Maria with Tuba Skinny, a group of traditional jazz musicians. Don’t miss our great interview with Maria here.
Emily Scott Robinson, American Siren
This is one beautiful country album, featuring terrific three-part harmonies, songs of loss and love and the exquisite voice of the siren herself, Ms Scott Robinson. Her songs are well crafted stories, wonderful vehicles for her sharp wit and observation. Best of all, it’s just hugely enjoyable.
Blackberry Smoke, You Hear Georgia
This band does Southern country rock and does it awfully well. This their seventh studio album, produced by Dave Cobb, is filled with energy, rockin’ guitars and rasping vocals. Get out your air guitar, get up and boogie!
Christina Vane, Nowhere Sounds Lovely
Nowhere Sounds Lovely is a terrific amalgam of blues, bluegrass and country. She’s a wonderful talent – a skilful guitar picker and slide player, a fine songwriter and a beautiful singer. Intelligent, classy, and, most importantly, hugely enjoyable. Here’s our full review.
The Wallflowers, Exit Wounds
Their first album in nine years and it’s classic roots-rock, unmistakably The Wallflowers. Great melodies, Dylan’s distinctive rasping voice and good old bass, guitar, drums and Hammond driving the songs. And the added value of Shelby Lynne on four of the tracks. No attempt here at modernizing, and why fix it if it’s not broke? It’s terrific.