In spite of everything, 2021 was an amazing year for music. I had the pleasure of working with many incredible artists, and here’s a playlist featuring my favourite songs by 26 of them. Of course, the majority can be classified as Americana, but there’s also some power pop, experimental pop, Reggae, and even a sea chanty. I’m looking forward to sharing even more great sounds from Canada in 2022!
Calgary, Alberta-based roots music collective The Hello Darlins have been nominated for three 2022 Canadian Folk Music Awards. The group, formed around vocalist Candace Lacina and keyboardist Mike Little, earned nods for Ensemble of the Year, New/Emerging Artist of the Year and Single of the Year for “Still Waters” (feat. Matt Andersen).
It’s been a wild ride since The Hello Darlins appeared on the scene virtually out of nowhere just over a year ago, but during that time they have been featured in American Songwriter, AmericanaUK, The Bluegrass Situation, Maverick Magazine, Lyric Magazine, Rock ‘N Reel and many other outlets.
The Hello Darlins’ debut album Go By Feel is available now on all digital platforms and through thehellodarlins.com. More information on the 2022 Canadian Folk Music Awards will be announced soon.
With over 450,000 combined Spotify streams off their first singles, it’s safe to say there’s been a lot of anticipation for The Hello Darlins’ debut album, Go By Feel. It began building almost immediately after the Calgary, Alberta-based Americana collective debuted on the scene in early 2020, with American Songwriter calling the group “the product of a talented pool of session musicians craving more,” while Americana UK stated, “It’s great to see a band put together by the talented folks who would usually be ‘behind the scenes.’” On Go By Feel, this incredible collection of talent that include band founders Candace Lacina, Mike Little and Murray Pulver, along with The Bros. Landreth, Matt Andersen and more, has forged a hybrid of country, gospel and blues like no other, from the heart-wrenching ballads “Aberdeen” and “Prayer For A Sparrow” to the classic country-rocker “Mountain Time” and the album’s soulful title track.
THE WEBER BROTHERS – Choose Your Own Adventure
RELEASE DATE: June 11, 2021 / weberbrothers.com
Inspired by their intense love of Martin Scorsese’s classic concert film The Last Waltz, Ryan and Sam Weber followed their rock ‘n roll dream from Baltimore to Canada to become full-fledged members of Ronnie Hawkins’ storied back-up group The Hawks. Twenty years and twelve self-released albums later, the Webers have spread their wings, and a reputation as the “Baddest Band in the Land” now precedes them. Featuring 13 new songs ranging from old school rock to psychedelic power pop, with all vocals and instrumentation handled by the Webers and their childhood friend Timothy Bracken, Choose Your Own Adventure gives an engaging glimpse of how far they’ve come since they were just three boys in the back seats of an elementary school bus singing songs.
NATHAN LAWR – Apocalypse Marshmallow
RELEASE DATE: July 9, 2021 / Bandcamp
Nathan Lawr is one of the unsung heroes of Canadian indie rock, having served as the drummer-of-choice for artists including Feist and FemBots, while also being a key collaborator in the 1990s Guelph, Ontario scene that spawned Constantines, Jim Guthrie, Royal City and Sea Snakes. In 2000, Lawr began releasing acclaimed albums of self-penned folk songs, but made a dramatic turn a decade later in forming Minotaurs, a politically-charged, Afrobeat-inspired group that continues to be a going concern. However, Lawr’s urge to establish himself as a more traditional singer-songwriter never faded. It’s resulted in Apocalypse Marshmallow, Lawr’s first solo album since 2013’s Chance Encounter—eight songs that were truly eight years in the making. The extra time and care has indeed produced Lawr’s finest solo collection, one that boldly displays even more dimensions of his seemingly limitless musical range, from indie rock swagger to meditative balladry.
Graham Brown is that most rare of species – a bona fide roots rock guitar hero. Since he was first heard in 1984 playing with Canada’s alt-country pioneers Jr. Gone Wild, Brown’s rich and graceful style has evolved alongside his songwriting. Vancouver-based Brown and his band mates, guitarist/keyboardist Rob Blackburn, bassist John Werner, and drummer Mark Gruft are keeping their remarkably consistent winning streak intact with their latest effort Spirit And Soul, 11 new original songs that once again carry on the high energy, melodic, no-frills spirit of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Uncle Tupelo. Ironically, Spirit And Soul captures the Graham Brown Band in top live form just before pandemic lockdown restrictions were implemented in March 2020. The album was cut in a single day at Edmontone Studios in Edmonton, Alberta before the band’s gig in town that night, although any “live-off-the-floor” raggedness is nearly impossible to detect. The Graham Brown Band is just that good.
The Lucky Ones hail from the Yukon in Canada’s Far North, the territory made famous by the Klondike Gold Rush. That rugged spirit lives on in a lot of the music created there, music that members of The Lucky Ones heard through their parents, who heard it from theirs. It’s the sound that filled barrooms and taverns, and brought people together for barn dances and kitchen parties. Now, The Lucky Ones — singer/guitarist JD McCallen, singer/guitarist Ian Smith, singer/mandolinist Ryan West, banjoist Aaron P. Burnie, and fiddler Kieran Poile — are bringing it to the ears of their generation through their self-titled debut album. It is indeed those stories that are at the heart of The Lucky Ones, which was recorded at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City. That same weekend, they played a Sunday gospel set for the congregation, the perfect complement to the album’s “Saturday night” feel. Like their peers Old Crow Medicine Show and Gillian Welch, The Lucky Ones’ reverence for tradition is balanced by a drive to write in their own voices.
There are many other ways to describe Janet Cull’s third full-length album Hear It, but at its heart it is a reflection of her (and our) often complicated relationships, expressed through a voice unlike any other in Canada. Having firmly established her reputation up to this point in her native Newfoundland—where she has been honoured with multiple MusicNL Awards—Janet is now poised to make her mark everywhere else with 12 songs that one could be forgiven thinking were recorded in Memphis or Muscle Shoals in the early ‘70s. In fact, Hear It was recorded in St. John’s with co-producer Mark Feener and a band consisting of some of Janet’s trusted collaborators including multi-instrumentalist Jason Howard, guitarist Brad Jefford and bassist Josh Ward. Having this core group record the album’s basic tracks live in the studio was the key element in allowing Janet’s voice to fully soar, and the results are simply stunning, and a must-hear for any fan of classic soul music.
DEL BARBER – Stray Dogs
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 20, 2021 / Acronym Records / delbarber.com
As the follow up to his 2020 Juno-nominated album Easy Keeper, Stray Dogs finds Del Barber bridging his past and present. Conceived during pandemic isolation at his rural Manitoba home, the eight songs on Stray Dogs are drawn mainly from Del’s large stock of previously unfinished demos, given renewed focus and polish by his longtime band and producer Scott Franchuk. Paring things down to the bone, the acoustic-based Stray Dogs captures the essence of Del’s art, of which Rolling Stone wrote, “Like John Prine (one of his primary influences), Barber writes the types of songs his characters might listen to themselves.” From the first single “Meantime”—a show of support to his favourite venue in Winnipeg—to the heart-swelling closer “Just A Little Heat,” written with his father, Stray Dogs is a powerful reflection of the resilience we have all displayed over the past year. It also shows how Del has emerged even stronger, and how he truly deserves a place among Canada’s most celebrated singer-songwriters.
COMING IN SEPT – OCT!
Gordie Tentrees – Mean Old World
Kyle McKearney – Down-Home
Joe Nolan – Scrapper
Jaclyn Reinhart – Sleep With Ghosts EP
The Redhill Valleys
Jr. Gone Wild