2021 was another banner year for music and for Paradise Found Records. In April we moved to our beautiful new location at 1646 Pearl Street, and the larger space allowed us to greatly expand our selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, audio equipment, books, merch and art. Most of the albums on the list below are out on vinyl; call ahead to make sure we have them in stock.
Here are my ten favorite albums of the year in alphabetical order, followed by five runners-up and my five favorite reissues:
Courtney Barnett--Things Take Time, Take Time
Barnett’s work has always been deeply personal, whether she’s describing an asthma attack in “Avant Gardener” or the fear of walking alone at night in “Nameless, Faceless.” COVID forced Barnett inside to compose her third album with only a drum machine. The result, augmented with production from Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, takes Barnett’s lyrics to an even more introspective level while adding a beat-centric dimension to her sound. Things Take Time, Take Time is her most evolved album. The future of rock is in good hands. (Favorite track: “Here’s The Thing”)
Bo Burnham -- Inside
Burnham’s Netflix special, filmed entirely in a shed in his backyard over more than a year, shows his increasing despondency with being alone and unable to perform. But the art Burnham creates perfectly captures the ennui of isolation and the digital overload of modern communication. Equally important, his songs are insanely catchy and consistently hilarious. That's why Inside, which is seeing its vinyl debut December 17, reached #7 on the Billboard Rock & Alternative Chart within a week of its release. (Favorite track: "How The World Works")
Billie Eilish -- Happier Than Ever
As she approaches her twentieth birthday later this month, Billie Eilish has already reached the pinnacle of popularity. She headlines festivals, has more than fifty million monthly Spotify listeners and wrote the theme song for the latest James Bond movie. Her popularity may have started with adolescent teens before breaking out to parents and grandparents, but her sophomore effort is surprisingly mature. Happier Than Ever is better than anyone could have reasonably expected, and proves Eilish to be much more than a passing fad. (Favorite track: “Your Power”)
Neal Francis -- In Plain Sight
Chicago’s Neal Francis is as retro as they come. His second album sounds like a seventies party album seasoned with a yacht-rock-tinged New Orleans funk sauce. In Plain Sight might not score a lot of points for originality, but it’s fresh and engaging enough that you'll enjoy trying to put your finger on its numerous influences. With more than enough jamming to appeal to the broader Billy Strings and jam band audiences, Francis is due to break out in a big way in 2022. (Favorite Track: "Alameda Apartments")
My Morning Jacket -- My Morning Jacket
Jim James has been writing songs that marry classic and southern-fried rock sensibilities for more than two decades. My Morning Jacket's ninth and first self-titled effort serves up a generous helping of 21st century flower power. Straightforward, simple-but-resonant lyrical messages dissolve into screaming guitar jams, and James’ soaring voice has lost none of its power. This is the group's best record since 2011's Circuital and a great introduction for anyone unfamiliar with their work. (Favorite Track: “In Color”)
St. Vincent -- Daddy’s Home
Annie Clark channels some of the best music of the early to mid seventies--Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and Pink Floyd--on this tribute to classic rock and plastic soul. Clark's chameleon-like St. Vincent persona lets her hide behind other musical identities, and it's clearly working for her. Daddy’s Home is her most mainstream effort, from the David Gilmour-like guitar wails in “Live in the Dream” to the gospel coda of “...At The Holiday Party.” Released in May, this was the first album to really explode off my turntable in 2021. (Favorite track: “Down and Out Downtown”)
Aaron Lee Tasjan -- Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!
Tasjan is another throwback. His sixth studio effort is his most accessible album yet, a retro rocker that sometimes sounds like a great, long lost Tom Petty LP. With amusing lyrical insights that could only be written by a bisexual, well-traveled wannabe rock star (“Computer of Love,” "Feminine Walk"), Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! maintains Tasjan's standard of well-crafted, timeless pop. (Favorite Track: "Up All Night")
The War on Drugs -- I Don’t Live Here Anymore
Adam Granducial makes big music. With his nasally singing tone, he sounds like a Dylan/Springsteen hybrid filtered through the more synth-based, stadium-targeted grandiosity of Simple Minds. I Don’t Live Here Anymore is highly ambitious--the title track quotes Blood on the Tracks' “Shelter from the Storm” before reminiscing about dancing to a live Dylan performance of “Desolation Row.” Granduciel's resignation with aging powerfully resolves itself in determined, anthemic rock well-suited for the larger venues the band will be playing in 2022. (Favorite track: “Victim”)
The Weather Station -- Ignorance
Tamara Lindeman's fifth record as The Weather Station is a rumination on our failure to communicate, both in personal relationships and in how to agree to deal with a dying planet. Her frustrations with the state of human interaction about climate change bleeds through words set atop catchy, piano-based folk-rock. A big step forward for her musically, Ignorance doesn't try to club the listener over the head with its message. Subtlety and detachment are a big part of Lindeman's vocal delivery. Ignorance is ambitious and stirring.
(Favorite Track: "Tried to Tell You")
Yola -- Stand for Myself
With a little songwriting assistance from the aforementioned Aaron Lee Tasjan--a fellow Nashville resident--Yola’s second LP further showcases her abundant vocal chops. Once again under the production stewardship of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Stand for Myself moves slightly away from Americana towards pop and R&B. When Yola belts out full-throttle, she can give Adele and Aretha a run for their money. Her 2022 slate includes an acting turn as Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Lurhmann’s upcoming Presley biopic Elvis. (Favorite Track: "Stand for Myself")
Honorable Mention: Big Red Machine--How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?; Steve Gunn--Other You; Aimee Mann--Queens of the Summer Hotel; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss--Raise The Roof; Various Artists--I’ll Be Your Mirror: a Tribute to The Velvet Underground
Five Best Reissues (in alpha order):
The Beatles -- Let It Be
Peter Jackson’s nearly-eight-hour documentary on the making of Let It Be recasts the band in an entirely different light, from one in the throes of a breakup to one struggling with a self-imposed deadline and a hostile recording setting. While the box set doesn't quite equal the magic of Jackson's film, it is still an engrossing deep dive into the sessions that birthed the album and also includes many songs that would appear on Abbey Road, recorded later that same year. The doc's intricacies may only appeal to hardcore Beatles fans, but that’s enough of an audience to justify the labor of love. Whether it’s watching the group relish playing together during the extended, reconstructed footage of the Apple Records Rooftop Concert--the last show the band ever did--or being a fly on the wall as George helps Ringo write “Octopus’s Garden” and Paul creates “Get Back” seemingly out of thin air, the film and the album rerelease reaffirm the The Beatles as the greatest and most influential rock act of the past sixty years.
Bob Marley and The Wailers -- The Capitol Session '73
This is the second session from The Wailers recorded during a single week in October of 1973; the first, Talkin’ Blues, was released thirty years ago. What’s surprising about The Capitol Session '73 is not just how good it is, but how different it is from that other effort. With a more bass-heavy mix and a longer set list, this is a must for Marley fans and reggae lovers. Jamaica's second leading export may be best known for the global appeal of “One Love” and “Three Little Birds,” but this earlier incarnation of The Wailers--post-Bunny Wailer but before Peter Tosh’s departure--features the angrier, more politically-charged music that first put Marley on the map globally.
Joni Mitchell -- Archives, Volume 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971)
It’s been wonderful to see Joni Mitchell get the love she so richly deserves this year. From the many celebrations of Blue’s 50th anniversary to Brandi Carlisle’s performance of the album in full at Carnegie Hall, many people not alive in 1971 are coming to appreciate her massive impact on the singer-songwriter genre; pretty much every artist that bares their soul with little more than a voice and an acoustic guitar owes her a huge debt. This box set (there's also a 3-LP Live at Carnegie Hall 1969 excerpt) contains a treasure trove of outtakes and live performances from her peak acoustic era, including the first-ever release of a 1968 show taped from the lip of the stage by unexpected fanboy Jimi Hendrix. After 1971 Mitchell started to add more instrumentation to her music, leading to the huge commercial breakthrough of Court and Spark in 1974.
Various Artists -- Music From The Motion Picture Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe's best film was this 2000 autobiographical look at life as a teenage rock journalist in the seventies touring with the some of the biggest bands in the world. The film's fictional "mid-level" band Stillwater was an composite of Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band and others. This 20th anniversary box contains--for the first time in one place--all of the music used in the movie plus a bunch of dialogue, as well as the demos for the Stillwater tracks created and played by Peter Frampton (who appeared briefly in the movie) and Crowe's then-wife Nancy Wilson of Heart. The box also includes a replica of the August 30, 1973 edition of Rolling Stone featuring the fictional cover story created for the film, lovingly brought to life.
Lucinda Williams -- Lu's Jukebox Series
This doesn't really count as a reissue per se but it's still worth mentioning: as she hunkered down during the lockout, Americana queen Lucinda Williams produced a series of livestreams of her covering some of her favorite artists. She put out the streams on a series of six vinyl releases throughout 2021, and there's something for everyone. Williams styles her gravelly, twang-soaked voice to material by Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones and many others. Despite a mild stroke suffered at home in November of 2020, Williams has recovered strongly and is back on the road. Each album in the Lu's Jukebox series is a treat and a rewarding glimpse into the record collection of a national treasure.
Here's a link to a Spotify playlist of the Best of 2021.