Folk Roots Radio Episode 615: Our Favourite Albums of 2021

Folk Roots Radio Episode 615: Our Favourite Albums of 2021

They are finally here – Our Favourite Albums of 2021! One of the best things about doing a radio show is getting loads of great music to listen to each week. One of the hardest things to do though is to take all that fabulous music and narrow it down to your ten favourite albums of the year. ‘Best of the year’ lists are very subjective and can only reflect the albums that you’ve actually received, but they are a fun way to reflect on a year gone by, and hopefully get people to check out music they may not have realized they actually like. Join us on this episode as we countdown The Top 10, and check out the rest of our long list in the playlist below. We’ll be dipping into The Next 40 on future episodes of Folk Roots Radio. Remember, if you like what you hear on Folk Roots Radio… and want to support the artists… don’t just stream their music, BUY their music and then you’ll really make a difference to their income during this difficult time when it’s really hard to find live show opportunities.

Best 2020

The Top 10

Making a year-end ‘best of’ list is an excellent way to reflect on a year gone by, and hopefully encourage people to check out music they may not have realized they will actually like. As usual, we start off with about 75 albums that we’ve really enjoyed and narrow to what is now a 50-album long list, and then what we consider our Top 10.

Like last year, we have only included those albums that were received until November 30, 2021, so anything received after that will be included in our 2022 album review.

Please consider sharing your favourite albums in the comments – we might even spin them on a future episode of the show.

Listen to The Top 10 on this episode, and check out the full playlist and the rest of our long list below. We’ll be dipping into The Next 40 (listed in alphabetical order) on future episodes of Folk Roots Radio. Enjoy!

1. Allison Russell, Outside Child (Fantasy Records / Concord)
Allison Russell - Outside Child : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Allison Russell has already made a big splash on the music scene as one of the leaders of the fantastic live band, Birds of Chicago (with her husband and writing partner JT Nero), and the supergroup, Our Native Daughters – with Rhiannon Giddens and Amethyst Kiah. She is also well known for being formerly part of the Canadian duo Po’Girl with Awna Trexiera. However, her critically acclaimed first solo album, Outside Child, kicks things up to a higher level altogether. All about resilience and survival, and the redemptive power of art, it tells the story of her escape from a traumatic childhood in Montreal. It’s brilliantly realized, and the authenticity of this brave recording truly shines through. We can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. To learn more about the music of Allison Russell, visit her online at

2. Sue Smith & the Potion Kings, Tonight We Sail (Self)
Sue Smith - Tonight We Sail : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021For her latest album “Tonight We Sail”, Sue Smith – a fine vocalist and songwriter, teamed up with kick-ass band The Potion Kings to record band versions of some of her original songs, alongside a couple of well-chosen covers from Tom Petty and Robbie Robertson. Recorded live off the floor at Scott Merritt’s studio, The Cottage in Guelph ON, it features Sue Smith (vocals, organ on several tracks) with The Potion Kings – (her partner) Jeff Bird on bass, Kevin Breit on guitar, Randall Coryell on drums and Howie Southwood on percussion. Vocalists Nick Craine and Gwen Swick also guest on the recording, which was produced by Sue with Jeff Bird.  A gorgeous blend of rock, jazz, blues, and roots with a wonderful groove, it’s a truly fabulous album. Visit Sue Smith online at

LISTEN to our interview HERE.

3. The Fretless, Open House (Birthday Cake)
The Fretless - Open House : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Canadian string quartet The Fretless are Trent Freeman, Karrnnel Sawitsky, and Ben Plotnick on fiddle and viola with Eric Wright on cello. Their latest album “Open House” is a fabulous 10-track string-driven guest vocalist collaboration that sees the band joined by some great vocalists including Ruth Moody, Celeigh Cardinal, Rachel Sermanni, Dan Mangan (singing his own song “Troubled mind”, The Brothers Landreth (singing their song “Let It Lie”) and more. Fantastic musicianship, beautiful arrangements, and fine vocals. It’s just gorgeous! The song we play on this episode “Fall Away Blues” by folk duo Red Tail Ring, features Red Tail Ring themselves – that’s Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo on vocals. Interestingly, Michigan-based multi-instrumentalist Laurel Premo also made it onto our 50 albums long list with her second solo album, “Golden Loam”, an almost all instrumental mix of original and traditional music on finger-style electric guitar and lap steel. Find The Fretless online at

4. Diana Jones, Song To A Refugee (Proper Records)
Diana Jones - Song To A Refugee : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Diana Jones gives voice to the dispossessed on her critically acclaimed new album “Song To A Refugee”. One of the strengths of the album is how Diana embodies some of the characters in the songs to tell their story – from the woman walking miles to the US border carrying her child, to the young children separated from their parents while fleeing their homeland. It’s a fabulous listen, and one that naturally encourages the heart to open to those far less fortunate than ourselves. At a time when governments across the world are hardening their hearts to the plight of migrants and refugees, these are stories that need to be told. To learn more about the music of Diana Jones, visit her online at

5. Maria Dunn, Joyful Banner Blazing (Distant Whisper Music)
Maria Dunn - Joyful Banner Blazing : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Alberta folk singer-songwriter Maria Dunn’s fabulous seventh album “Joyful Banner Blazing” is a refreshing blend of contemporary folk that tells stories of family, community, and, above all, resilience – with the overarching theme that a better world is possible if we want it, and are willing to work for it. The track we play on this episode “Heart in Hand” is based around a first-hand account by Renee Peevey of her first day on the picket line at the 1986 Gainers meatpacking strike in Edmonton – over better wages and working conditions. Visit Maria Dunn online at

6. The Gilberts, Tell Me (Self)
The Gilberts - Tell Me : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Sibling folk trio, The Gilberts are the surprise package on this list. We were really taken by the beautiful three-part harmony of Frieden, Rueben, and Maisie Gilbert who emigrated to Canada, with their parents, in 2003, and now make their home in Nova Scotia. The Gilberts basically grew up on the folk festival circuit, and you can really hear that in the refreshing sound of this recording. “Tell Me” picked up Americana/Bluegrass Recording of the Year at the 2021 Music Nova Scotia Awards. It has also been nominated for a 2022 Canadian Folk Music Award in the Vocal Group of the Year category. To learn more about The Gilberts, visit them online at

7. Mick Flannery & Susan O’Neill, In The Game (Rosaleen Records)
Mick Flannery & Susan O'Neill - In The Game : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021Irish singer-songwriters Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill have collaborated on a wonderful recording “In The Game”. A song cycle, it tells the story of a couple involved in a whirlwind romance – the highs and lows, the coming together… and the falling apart. A truly fantastic album, it’s one that is probably best appreciated as a whole, although it does contain some fabulous songs. Visit Mick Flannery & Susan O’Neil online at &

8. Joe Nolan, Scrapper (Fallen Tree Records)
Joe Nolan - Scrapper : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021In March 2020, Joe Nolan was coming off a fantastic year – a very well deserved nomination for a Canadian Folk Music Award for his album “Drifters” (2020) and he’d played something like 170 shows, to great acclaim. In fact, it really seemed like his career was taking off. Of course, then the pandemic hit and Joe found himself back at home in Edmonton, in lockdown and almost feeling like he was starting over again. Joe didn’t let Covid times hold him back, however, and in a flurry of activity released an EP of B-Sides from his 2018 album “Cry Baby” and a couple of songs leftover from the Drifters sessions. He then followed that up with his latest album “Scrapper”. There’s a little bit more edge to this one compared to his previous work, but this is quite clearly an artist at the top of his game. Visit Joe Nolan online at

LISTEN to our interview HERE.

9. Rob Lutes, Come Around (Lucky Bear Records)
Rob Lutes - Come Around : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021“Come Around” is Pointe-Claire QC singer-songwriter Rob Lutes’ eighth solo album. No stranger to Folk Roots Radio, Rob’s last album – the critically acclaimed “Walk In The Dark” was our favourite album of 2017. Come Around is another beautiful blend of folk, blues, and Americana, and in some ways, it’s a reflection on the challenges we all face in life but particularly during these strange pandemic times. Find Rob Lutes online at

LISTEN to our interview HERE.

10. T. Buckley, Frame By Frame (Fallen Tree Records)
T. Buckley - Frame By Frame : Folk Roots Radio's Favourite Albums of 2021“Frame By Frame” is the second solo recording that the Calgary AB-based singer-songwriter has produced, and the follow up to 2018’s “Miles We Put Behind” which was nominated for a 2020 Canadian Folk Music Award in the New/Emerging Artist Of The Year category. Frame By Frame takes as its focus a series of moments, stories about family, relationships, and community – gorgeous songs that draw you in and hold your attention from the first note to the last. For more information about T. Buckley, visit

LISTEN to our interview HERE.

The Next 40

Bill Bourne, A Love Fandango (Self)
Spencer Burton, Coyote (Still Records)
Craig Cardiff, All This Time Running (True North Records)
Annabelle Chovstek, String Of Pearls (MQGV)
Dave Clarke, The Healing Garden (Crossties Music)
Dizzy & Fay, Songbook (Fizzy Day Records)
Donna Dunlop, Backlight (Self)
Willie Dunn, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies (Light In The Attic)
Forest Sun, Stubborn Breathing Heart (Self)
Alec Fraser Jr, On The Wings Of The Wind (Self)
Brendan Scott Friel, Summer Moons (Soul City Music Co-op)
Geordie Gordon, The Tower (Victory Pool)
James Gordon, When I Stayed Home (Pipe Street Records)
Jackson Grimm, Sober Again (Vault Records)
Tim Grimm, Gone (Vault Records)
John Wort Hannam, Long Haul (Black Hen Music)
Kay Howl, Pink Trees (Self)
Mattie Leon, In Natural Light (Inside Pocket Music)
Finny McConnell, The Dark Streets Of Love (True North Records)
Sarah McQuaid, The St. Buryan Sessions (A Shovel & A Spade Records)
Matt Patershuk, An Honest Effort (Black Hen Music)
Over The Moon, Chinook Waltz (Borealis Records)
Flo Perlin, Characters (Self)
Lizzy Plotkin & Natalie Spears, Just Over The Ridge (EP) (Self)
Laurel Premo, Golden Loam (Self)
Andrea Ramolo, Quarantine Dream (Self)
Red Dirt Skinners, Bear With Us (Self)
Graham Rorie, The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay (Rumley Sounds)
Justin Rutledge, Islands (Outside Music)
The Rough & Tumble, We’re Only Family If You Say So (Self)
Peggy Seeger, First Farewell (Red Grape Music)
Serious Child & Andy Ruddy, Talk About The Weather (Four Left Feet)
Dana Sipos, The Astral Plane (Roaring Girl Records)
Moira Smiley & VOCO, In Our Voices (Self)
Amy Speace, There Used To Be Horses Here (Windbone Records)
Jeffery Straker, Just Before Sunrise (Self)
Annie Sumi, Solastalgia (Self)
Suzy Ungerleider, My Name Is Suzy Ungerleider (Stella Records / MVKA)
The Weather Station, Ignorance (Outside Music)
Dar Williams, I’ll Meet You Here (Renew Records)

That’s all we have time for. Thanks to all the artists who share their music with us, and thank you for listening. We have lots of great music and interviews to bring you on future episodes.

If you enjoy the music we play on this show and want to support the artists – many of whom aren’t able to play live at the moment because of the Covid-19 pandemic, don’t just stream their music – that earns them much less than a penny per play. Instead, buy their music – and really make a difference to their income. They’ll love you for it!


You can listen to this episode again on Soundcloud by following the link below. You can also listen to episodes of Folk Roots Radio, on demand, via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Tune-in Radio. (Click on the highlighted link to reach your chosen platform.)


Nicolas & The Iceni (Theme)
Lucy She Rises
Roll Right (2019, self)

T. Buckley
Before I Get To Turn Around
Frame by Frame (2021, Fallen Tree Records) CDN

Rob Lutes
Come Around
Come Around (2021, Lucky Bear Records) CDN

Joe Nolan
Here’s To Hoping
Scrapper (2021, Fallen Tree Records) CDN

Mick Flannery & Susan O’Neill
Miss Me When I’m Gone
In The Game (2021, Rosaleen Records)

The Gilberts
Tell Me (2021, Self) CDN

Maria Dunn
Heart in Hand
Joyful Banner Blazing (2021, Distant Whisper Music) CDN

Diana Jones
Where We Are
Song To A Refugee (2020, Proper Records)

The Fretless
Fall Away Blues (feat. Red Tail Ring)
Open House (2021, Birthday Cake) CDN

Sue Smith & the Potion Kings
Church Of Beauty
Tonight We Sail (2021, Self) CDN

Allison Russell
Outside Child (2021, Fantasy Records) CDN

Allison Russell
Little Rebirth
Outside Child (2021, Fantasy Records) CDN

About the author


Host of Folk Roots Radio, Jan Hall started in Radio in 1993 at WEFT 90.1fm in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Folk Roots Radio (formerly Royal City Rag) debuted on CFRU 93.3fm in August 2005 before developing into a syndicated radio show. As the host of Folk Roots Radio, Jan focuses on bringing new folk, roots and blues music and the voices of upcoming and independent artists to the airwaves. Jan is also a much sought after stage host and festival emcee. In 2019, Jan Hall received Folk Music Ontario's prestigious Estelle Klein Award for her contribution to Ontario's folk music community.

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