2021: WTF, Indeed

by Jason Warburg

It was a year that started out in WTF mode and only got stranger. Musically, it was all over the map as artists emerged from a year of lockdown and socio-political turmoil with albums that either embraced or chose to ignore such concerns. Both approaches yielded surprising and sometimes spectacular results. As someone who produced a book this year that felt bracingly personal, I can only tip my hat to the musical brothers and sisters who found their songs and played them out loud.


Wait, What? Award

Peter Frampton Band – Frampton Forgets The Words

An aging former teen idol singer-songwriter with a neurological disorder threatening his ability to play guitar cuts an album of rock instrumentals that absolutely no one asked for… and it’s great.


Wait, What? Award #2

Carmine Appice – Fernando Perdomo Project – Energy Overload

A 74-year-old veteran hard rock drummer pairs up with a generation-younger musical chameleon and together they turn out an explosive album of rock instrumentals.


The Reason Boxed Sets Exist Award

Music From The Motion Picture – Almost Famous 5 CD Super Deluxe Edition

Just. Take. My. Money. They did, and I’m glad of it. An absolutely perfect boxed set celebrating an absolutely perfect film celebrating the magic of music for both artist and audience.


The Holy Grail Award

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts

There aren’t many albums that deserve to have the word “legendary” in the title. This is one. The greatest bar band ever plays one of the biggest gigs of their lives at the height of their powers—and then they keep the tapes in the vault for 40 years.


Best Mixing Of Music And Politics

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit – Georgia Blue

On election night 2020, Twitter king and son of the South Jason Isbell impulsively pledged that he’d record an album of Georgia-themed covers if the state voted blue. It did, and he proved to be a man of his word, delivering this guest-star-studded platter of melodic beauty.


Getting Better All The Time Award

Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time

Gentle longing amidst domestic suburban bliss is not a look you necessarily expected from the more typically acerbic Courtney Barnett, but damn if she doesn’t make it feel at least as compelling. A remarkable songwriter and performer whose range and sonic palette continues to expand.


Musical Event of the Year

The Beatles: Get Back

Sorry Beatles haters, but they’ve done it again, this time with a huge assist from Peter Jackson. The three-part, eight-hour documentary The Beatles: Get Back is a fascinating and at times exhilarating look inside the creative process of the most important and influential musical act of the 20th century. Is it messy? Genius usually is. Is it too long? Only if you don’t care about context, and in this case, context is the entire point. It’s a live-on-your-screen “Song Exploder” for an entire classic album by the band that paved the way for every band since.


Independent Album of the Year Award

Ben Bostick – Grown Up Love

What do you do when your young child is diagnosed with a rare and incurable condition that will affect every aspect of her life? If you’re singer-songwriter Ben Bostick, you double down on love, writing songs of purest devotion for the spouse sharing in the struggle day after day, and then you record them and share them with a world that feels like it's been craving an album this big-hearted and beautifully crafted.


Prog Album of the Year

Big Big Train – Common Ground

Am I a tad sentimental about this pick, given the tragic death of Big Big Train lead singer David Longdon just last month? Almost certainly, and what of it? Common Ground is the latest in a string of terrific releases from a band whose history has been one of nearly constant evolution and change. No one knows what the future holds for Big Big Train at the moment, but the musical legacy they created with Longdon at the microphone is tremendous.


Album of the Year

Jon Batiste – We Are

It’s not often you pencil in your album of the year pick in the first half of the year and it actually sticks. But We Are is not just a musical triumph, showing tremendous range and craft—it’s also both timeless and timely, a rangy album of songs that describe America in 2021 as accurately, poignantly and pointedly as anyone could hope to. We crave connection, and freedom, and justice, and love, and Jon Batiste gives every fiber of his being to the task of singing those ideals into existence.

Also Notable For One Reason Or Another

Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden's Gate
Yes, they sound just like 1969-76 Led Zeppelin. What of it? When choosing a band to sound just like, you could do a hell of a lot worse. The boys continue to grow into the role here.

Kansas – Point Of Know Return Live And Beyond

A ’70s band that many had left for dead comes roaring back with fresh blood helping them deliver dynamic performances on this double-live treat.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – A Few Stars Apart
It might fall short of 2019’s Turn Off The News (Build A Garden), but A Few Stars Apart is a solid new entry from the talented second-generation singer-songwriter.

Yes – The Quest

You know those albums that you really really want to like, but find for one reason or another that you just can't? Me too.

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