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Fervor Coulee's Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2021

Donald Teplyske  |  December 12, 2021

Each year since 2000, I have been pleased to consider the finest roots music as part of this journey I've been on as a reviewer of CDs (then) and (generically now to include downloads and vinyl) albums. It has been a lot of work over the years, and my passion for roots music has only strengthened in the years since I pitched a monthly 'roots music' column to the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. Soon I was writing for the local bluegrass society, Bluegrass Now magazine, and grabbed the occasional online gig. Bluegrass Unlimited never came calling, but various other outlets did including Penguin Eggs and websites both defunct (Lonesome Road Review) and still thriving (Country Standard Time) and a few other outlets. Since 2008 (I think) I've kept most of my writing archived at Fervor Coulee and found others who will publish my writing on occasion (Exclaim!, No Depression, and those whose presence has faded.) Looking back on the year can be a challenge, especially as I make a habit of not keeping track of my 'favourites' during the year, and always have to do some searching and reviewing to come up with a list that is pleasing. Hopefully I have done so again. Here are my Favourite Bluegrass Albums of 2021, and remember I always emphasize 'favourite' not best. I haven't heard everything, tho' I did do pretty good while I had Amazon and Apple music trials earlier this year. My decisions are based on what I reviewed and what I purchased.

#1 Dale Ann Bradley- "Things She Couldn't Get Over" (Pinecastle) Contrary to some opinions, Dale Ann Bradley isn't always my favourite bluegrass album of the year. This does make the sixth time she has taken the crown, which happens to match the number of times she has been named the IBMA's Female Vocalist of the Year. Dale Ann Bradley at #1 on my bluegrass favourites list should surprise no one. She makes incredibly strong and balanced albums. I've loved her voice since the first time I heard it, and was captured by her live presence at Wintergrass twenty years ago. Since then, she has done nothing to make my admiration falter. Her songs have only become stronger over the years, and her voice remains crystalline. Bradley again being named IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year reminds us of her gentle power.

#2 Jeremy Stephens- "How I Hear It" (Rebel Records) As much as I love High Fidelity, Stephens' bluegrass band, and as much as I know he is a really nice guy, this album had to grow on me a little. But once it did, there was no going back.

#3 Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass- "Bluegrass Troubadour" (Pinecastle) The older he gets, the better he gets. Some of us are like that.

#4 Darin and Brooke Aldridge- "This Life We're Livin'" (Billy Blue Records) Now bluegrass music's reigning duo. Another terrific release.

#5 Various Artists- "Industrial Strength Bluegrass" (Smithsonian Folkways) Music loosely unified around a theme, several of today's most impressive bluegrass talents unite to celebrate the musical legacy of the industrial dystopia of the American south.

#6 Della Mae- "Family Reunion" (Self-released, I believe) I didn't know this mini-album existed until November. Glad I tripped across it. Includes a Hazel Dickens song, and that'll usually get my attention.

#7 Andrew Crawford "The Lonesome Season" (Bonfire) A recent discovery, much enjoyed. Terrific songs here.

#8 Barry Abernathy- "Barry Abernathy & Friends" (Billy Blue Records) Bold and punchy with an all-star band.

#9 Daryl Mosley- "Small Town Dreamer" (Pinecastle Records) Strong songs, good singer.

#10 Béla Fleck "My Bluegrass Heart" (BMG) There's a lot here, and I'm not sure I understand all of it.

Those are my ten favourite bluegrass albums of this past year. To see links to reviews, Google Fervor Coulee.

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