Updated: Dec 24, 2022
There was a lot to be thankful for this year in terms of music. Some credit staying at home with not much else to do. Others have shared that they were already working on new music when everything was shut down due to COVID19. The albums, and EP's that circulated were fantastic with many among our best of list. We will share the albums list next week. For this best of list, we wanted to share the singles, and songs that pulled us through this tenuous time be it through an uptempo danceable ditty or a wistful ode to a lost love and everything in between.
Our methodology for how the albums were picked is very straightforward. The listeners of the #StoneColdCountry show click on the heart icon on our web player when they like a song. We also counted the web chats, and website form sends stating a particular song was well received, and not just a general like for the artist. We then took note of multiple songs liked from the same album.For the tie breakers, we let our member community vote through an emailed poll. In order to qualify, the album had to be released in 2021. The list is not in any particular order. We as a rule do not rank music or choose a top album for the year. As always, we ask you to follow the artists across social media, share their music across your accounts, buy their merchandise, and see them live whenever possible. And don't forget to share this post which will help music fans to discover awesome music, and expand the reach of the artists. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog here. Also, we are still working on this list y'all. Your patience is appreciated..
The Top 21 Albums of 2021
Alan Jackson-Where Have You Gone
Alan Jackson has long been one of the remaining pillars of traditional country. His long awaited album promised to be a throwback to the music that established his legacy.
It did not disappoint with over 20 songs of nothing but stone cold country! This album carries one of the most beautiful songs I've heard Alan sing "So Late, So Soon". One of the only songs not written by Alan. The album debuted at number one all-over the world, which was no surprise to us given the feedback we received early on. This one is not only flawless, but gave us hope for traditional country, and personally inspired me. Thank you Mr. Jackson..
Asleep At The Wheel-Half a Hundred Years
Asleep At The Wheel is one of the most enduring bands in Western swing thanks to an unwavering commitment to the roots of the music. Half a Hundred Years is a celebration amongst friends with a tsunami of notable collaborations. The title came by way of a chance encounter with Jamey Johnson. Ray Benson, told Jamey it had been fifty years that the band was together. Jamey mused that was half to a hundred..Willie, Lyle, George Strait, and Lee Ann Womack are just a few that provided their talents to what is one of the finest releases of 2021!
Addison Johnson-Dark Side of the Mountain
Addison Johnson might not be on your radar just yet, but he should be. Tar Heel born, but now based in Nashville, his story songs take you on journeys of life, love, and loss. Dark Side of The Mountain is Addison's third album. It is partially reflective with snapshots into what Addison went through while battling alcohol. This album shows an increased songwriting maturity, and progression in craft. The stories are well written, and take us on an interesting journey where anything is possible. The album debuted at #2 on the iTunes Country Pre-Order Chart.
Dallas Moore- The Rain
Mr. Honky Tonk went deep, and reflective on this one. Written, and recorded during the pandemic, Better Days, On Through The Night, and Ain't No Place In The Sun are narratives
we can relate to. However, it was In My Last Days that stopped us dead in our tracks. It's a side of Dallas we have not heard before. It may well be the best song he's ever written, and given the passing of his longtime friend, and bandmate Chuckie, we wonder,if it was written about him..
Caleb Daugherty- Mornings
One of the rising stars in bluegrass is a phrase I'm starting to hear more frequently when describing Caleb Daugherty. Rhonda Vincent recognized Caleb's talent early on, and asked him to join her on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 2016. His performance with Rhonda Vincent on the Smithsonian Folkway's Industrial Strength Bluegrass project is northing short of heavenly. Mornings is Caleb's third album, and is not as bluegrass as Burnt The Sawmill Down. Mornings is squarely traditional country with nods to one of his greatest influences Keith Whitley. By the way, Lorrie Morgan, is a fan of Caleb's, and invited him to perform at the Annual Keith Whitley Memorial concert. I was happy to see an old song from ex Lefty Frizzell songwriting partner Whitey Shaffer dusted off. But the standout is a little known song written by Dean Dillon, and George Strait! The song in question is "Drinkin' Man", and it also made it to our best songs of 2021 list.
Rory Feek- Gentle Man
What can be written about Rory that is not already known? His life was picture perfect until his beautiful wife passed on in 2016. The movie, To Joey With Love chronicles the unfortunate series of events. This is Rory's first album since, and it is a deeply reflective, and mature take on life, love, and faith. The latter something that has clearly supported, and strengthened Rory throughout. Several of the songs were co-written by Rory, and gives us a peak into where he was, and where he is. This is a beautiful album that doesn't downplay or glamorize heartache. It does however, give us permission to feel our pain, while tightening our hold on the hope that only tomorrow can bring.
Jamie Richards-The Real Deal
For the past 20 years or so, Jamie has pulled no punches with his strait forward brand of honky tonk country music. The Real Deal, Jamie's fifth studio album gives us more of the traditional country, we've grown to love from him. Aptly titled, this album made Jamie take several trips to the Texas Regional Radio Charts. And of course, nearly every song was written by Jamie. With his latest crop of #1 singles, Jamie sits at nine Texas chart toppers wow!
In a year where there wasn't a lot of instability in music, our honky tonks were shut down, and some were not able to open back up ever again. It was nice to know that you could depend on Jamie to bring a smile back on our faces with stone cold country music. Jamie was also, my most played artist on Spotify for 2021. Thanks Jamie, can't wait to hear what's next!
Ray Scott-Cover The Earth
Cover The Earth was the album we didn't know we needed, but were happy we received it. The title track is a journey of possibilities, future vision, and determination. Ray truly did give everyone a little something on this album ranging from uptempo good-time songs to deeply pensive, and moving narratives about life. We played the album over, and over again, and each time we came away with a new experience or insight. It sounds like Ray is in a good place in his life, and the strong songwriting on this album reflects it. If you have not checked this one out yet, you really should.
Elijah Ocean-Born Blue
Usually when an artist changes producers during a project the whole thing goes to the birds. Not the case with Elijah Ocean's Born Blue, produced by the artist after parting ways with Brian Whelan of Dwight Yoakam fame. The entire album vibe is honky tonk country from the 90s with fresh arrangements, and a steady dancehall groove. There are some clever word phrasings like Chip off the Barroom Floor that are muse worthy. We were really impressed with how clever The Ice Machine song proved to be. Though Losin' My Memory is an undisputed favorite, we are really digging the title track Born Blue. This album introduced us to Elijah Ocean's music, and we can tell you like him too.
Sturgill Simpson- The Battle of Dood and Juanita
Written, and recorded in one week, Sturgill takes us on a ride through layers of traditional country, folk, gospel, and bluegrass. It is a concept album where every song builds on the previous tune. The entire album tells the story of Dood, and Juanita, and oh what a story it is!
“I just wanted to write a story — not a collection of songs that tell a story, but an actual story, front to back,” Simpson said. Billboard U.S. Folk #1, #3 Top Country albums, #4 Independent album.
"Merle Monroe ( Now The Tim Raybon Band)
Flawless harmonies, and virtuoso level playing underpin the second release of Bluegrass super group Merle Monroe now the Tim Raybon Band. With multiple charting hits like Hello Sunshine"#1 position on Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay chart for several weeks. “I’m Leaving Town Tonight.” Written by co-founder Tim Raybon, made its world premiere on SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction
No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today Gospel Weekly Airplay Chart, along with Roots Music Report.
There's so much to like about Rising Americana singer Danny Burns, and his brand new recording. Starting with the amazing lineup of talented friends gracing the recording such as Grammy-winning singer Sarah Jarosz on vocals, and mandolin. The legendary Sam Bush, Steve Earle, Tim O'Brien, Aubrie Sellers, Dan Tyminski, & Jerry Douglas all chime in to round out a glorious musical odyssey! Our in-house favorite is Trouble which really highlights Danny's gritty, and soulful vocal delivery. This album may be 2021's best kept secret
NUMBER 1 spot 2nd week in a row in both Country album chart and Americana album chart on Roots Music Report @ Nashville, Tennessee
18 songs worth of mostly rejected tunes sums up Cody Johnson's Human album. Cody wanted to record the songs other artists felt were too country for radio. There is an exciting feel to this album that is quickly detected due to the fact that Cody used his road band for the studio sessions.
He's definitely doing it his way, and it shows on this brave collection of neotraditional melodies.
Cojo also co-wrote four songs on the album rounding out 18 songs that are all worth several plays on your IPhone.
Aaron Watson's American Soul
The entire album is a testament to grit, perseverance, and resourcefulness. In the thick of the pandemic, Aaron started writing, and recording the songs that would eventually make it's way on the record. With pandemic restrictions in place, he used his wife's closet to record his vocals...wow.. The American Soul does not give up, it keeps trying, it stays all in even in the midst of a pandemic.
Boots #2 on the TEXAS REGIONAL RADIO REPORT chart. Texas Country Music Association Country Album of the Year
Sterling Drake- Roll The Dice
With pedal steel from Grand Ol Opry Player Tommy White,and harmonica legend Charley McCoy on deck, Roll The Dice will swing you back to the times of Bob Wills, and The Texas Playboys in a hurry! Sterling says the feel is intentional as Western swing, and traditional country music is what he listens to, but you are hard pressed to hear it on radio. His intent was to bring it back.. The entire album flows with no detectable fillers. On this EP, Sterling is proving that old school is still pretty awesome!
Midland- The Sonic Ranch
is truly one of the very few major label artists keeping traditional country music alive1
The Sonic Ranch is their third album, and named so after their documentary, which is probably named after the largest residential recording studio known to man! The album does not disappoint with many opportunities to kick up some sawdust, or mourn a lost love. First single “
Reckless- Morgan Wade
A deeply personal debut album with Morgan’s passionate vocal delivery saturating each song with her truth, and often brutal honesty. This is not a casual listen, and beckons your full attention to take in everything the album has to offer. A surprise gem for us, and a very welcome addition to our top 21 from 21. Stand outs Don't Cry, and Met You. Wilder Days peaked at #52 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
Connie Smith- The Cry of the Heart
This is Connie's first album in a decade, and features three songs written by her and hubby Marty Stuart. There are tracks of favorites from Merle Haggard, Billy Walker, and pioneer Jean Shepard as well. Connie's voice is as rich, and powerful as ever. All the way through, this is an audio delight to the ears of traditional country fans. Incidentally, The Cry of the Heart peaked at number 92 on the BillboardCurrent Album Sales chart. It was Connie's first charting album since 1976.
Brain Kelley Sunshine State of Mind
What a fun album to listen to. Most of the songs are about Brian's time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We follow him through restoring a Carriage House, spending time with his family, and unplugging from the world. This is the feel good laidback album we needed in 2021. Brian recalls that he felt God was opening a door for him, and he needed to walk through it. Brian also shows a subtle pivot towards traditional country on Highway on the Water, and Boat Ride. Hopefully, some of the heartfelt music on this album will influence his future records with his band Florida Georgia Line or maybe not. We just hope this is the beginning of something real good. #21 on Billboard Heatseekers.
Larry Fleet- Stack of Records
Another surprise this year was the strong debut of former construction worker Larry Fleet. Every song was co-written by the singer/songwriter. When you listen to the album in it's entirety, it rings like a page from almost anyone's life. The traditional country songs like Lifetime Guarantee, and Quittin' Ain't Workin' were favorites here. As was the collaboration with Jon Pardi on In Love With My Problems. However, it was last years hit Where I Find God that brought Mr. Fleet to our attention. Themes of faith, family, and life in general coupled with Larry's soulful delivery makes Stack of Records one of the best albums in 2021.
Rockabilly is alive, and well in the hands of Ryan Glenn. This impressive debut from Ryan boasts 10 songs that show style, strong musicianship, and lots of rhythm. Only 20 years old, this Texas
native kept us grooving to Elvis era vibes all year long. Ryan wrote 9 of the ten songs on Faraway Rose, and has already played Gruene Hall. The album gets a little help from Joshua Ray Walker, and day Old 97s Ken Bethea. Catch him at the Love & War Texas in Plano on January 28th, 2022.
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