The album returns as a statement in 2021 with three below linked together as a cohesive whole. Elsewhere the Dry Cleaning debut album provided much listening laughter amidst the infectious riffs, and familiar favorites returned.
In no particular order my top 10 for the year were:
1. Coral Island - The Coral
These guys have been around a while now and thankfully they have abandoned the Jeff Lynne treacle production approach that spoilt the last release .Instead we have great mature songwriting across a double album built around a narrative about a fictional seaside town (Coral Island). Think the 60's Kinks (Village Green Preservation Society ) vs The Byrds (Younger than Yesterday - Crosby era harmonies) vs The Hollies (abundant hooks & backing vocals ). All linked together with a narrative between tracks about times gone by .This could have come out in 1968 rather than 2021 and that is no bad thing.
2. Sharecroppers Son - Robert Finley
Out of the gate like Screaming Jay Hawkins on the first track "Souled Out on You" and Robert Finley doesn't let up. This is steeped in the American South aided by the Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) trademark retro production . It sounds like it was recorded in analog with the recording desk meters tipping into the red and Finlay sounds like a man having lived nine lives . For those who miss Solomon Burke, Dr John , Al Green and the Neville Brothers.
3. Memphis Ice - Nicole Atkins
An organic reboot of the 2020 studio release Italian Ice resulting from the lockdown lack of touring and live steaming. I missed this release entirely first time around but Memphis Ice is the stronger offering anyway. Atkins voice is powerful and soulful indeed and you have a sense she could recite any list you put in front of her and she would grab your attention. It's no surprise that she has collaborated with Chris Isaak in the past as there is a lineage to the likes of a Roy Orbison or Dusty Springfield.
4.Lindsey Buckingham - Lindsey Buckingham
The equal parts pariah and creative force of Fleetwood Mac finally releases the album that caused him to be fired (or provided the the convenient reason for Stevie Nicks not to work with him again). It's his best since Out of the Cradle all Brian Wilson type eccentricity intact. This includes frenetic guitar lines and double tracking and speeding up the backing vocals that means Lindsey sounds an awful lot like the Nicks at times. "Blind Love" and "Santa Rosa" are two of his most basic but greatest tracks he has written, all yearning and bittersweet. Given he is somewhat of a "prickly" personality the Fleetwood Mac franchise is still much the worse off without him .
5. Dreamers are Waiting - Crowded House
Speaking of Fleetwood Mac it must be galling for the head Finn not being able to capitalize on the latest Crowded House release in order to kick start his own brand again around the globe. The Dreamers are Waiting indeed. It's the best since Together Alone , in no small part to Mitchell Froom being back both as co-producer and keyboard player. It only takes the 5/4 time stamp and the waterfall like chord change plunge within the first minute of the opener "Bad Times Good" to realize again that Neil Finn is still equal parts Lennon & McCartney.
6. Pressure Machine - The Killers
Written extensively about here , while global touring was not an option , Brandon Flowers and co abandoned the stadium in favour of a sparse story focused album about the opioid crisis in middle America. Echoes of Springsteen's Nebraska, John Mellencamp's Scarecrow and Tom Petty's Southern Accents. Yes , despite the music palette shift the Killers have not abandoned the 80's entirely.
7. New Long Leg - Dry Cleaning
I thought someone had dug up some Pretenders Mach I (the classic lineup) outtakes and found someone to recite some random spoken words over the top. From the James Honeyman-Scott guitar lines to the most nonchalant British lead singer (Florence Shaw) since Morrissey in the Smiths heyday this reinforces that affecting music should make you laugh too.
8. The Midnight Broadcast - Peter Case
The third thematically linked album in this year's list, the great Peter Case takes us on a long car ride at night with the radio signal dipping in and out and delving deep into the real Americana . Featuring Bob Dylan ("Early Roman Kings") , a reworking of Charlie James and even a song about the Otago Gold Rush (yes really - check out "Farewell to the Gold" , an obscure cover via Nic Jones/Paul Metsers). This is bare bones music delivered with the inimitable Peter Case grit and honesty.
9. Feel Flows - The Beach Boys (Reissue)
There is hours and hours of music here but thankfully little Mike Love as the other Wilson brothers (Carl & Dennis), Al Jardine and Bruce Johnstone pick up the mantle from a faltering Brian Wilson post the Smile sessions in the late sixties. There is buried treasure (take your pick amongst the 133 songs (!) "Deidre", "Forever", "San Miguel"....) and in he process effectively rewrites the narrative of the band. With the music publishing sold in 2021 to the (in) famous Irving Azoff we will likely see much more of the Beach Boys in the coming years and no doubt quality will vary but for now nothing can detract from the standard of music contained within these sessions.
10. Tattoo You - The Rolling Stones (Reissue)
Rounding things off a great 1970's Stones album originally released in the early 80's and now given the 40th Anniversary treatment. Not forgetting the timing with the sad loss this year of the great Charlie Watts (reflected upon here) . It's a fitting tribute to his genius and his equally great rhythm section partner Bill Wyman; the fast side swings in sync with Keith's (MXR delay assisted) guitar riffs and the slow side grooves with Jagger going all falsetto and soulful. The bonus cuts continue the standard including (at last) "Fiji Jim", a cover of "Shame Shame Shame" and "Troubles A Comin". This is the real "Last Time" for the band, its no surprise the 50th Anniversary doco a decade ago Crossfire Hurricane ended with this release . After this came WWIII and show business (40 x more years and counting) . A Twilight of the Gods offering will be coming up expanding on all of this early in 2022.