A little closing statement for 2021…

I often find in my current stage of life still entering my 30’s that time really does mash down the accelerator once you get to a certain age. And it wasn’t like I was one of those kids who badgered and begged adulthood to appear either. It just…. happens with a snap one day and you’re left wondering exactly where all those minutes went on the way to your current destination.

Entering the final day of 2021 and starting 2022 has brought me into this basement of thought, which is a mixture of both slightly solemn and sobering. Age has a way of doing that to a person the more you notice it. But instead of getting too far down in the dumps, in this moment I prefer to think of rapper Mac Miller and a lyric from his 2010 track “Senior Skip Day”.

“Enjoy the best things in your life, cause you ain’t gonna get to live it twice”

To me that line’s a reminder and mantra no matter how serious things get, its important not to get so caught up in sadness/worrying that you miss out on all the good and enjoyable aspects of this experience. Sometimes that’s way easier said than done, but I can confidently say the best of this year in music at least certainly provided plenty of celebratory moments.

Take for instance…

Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days

Courtesy Google Images

When it comes to Brandi, my jaw has stayed on the floor for her tunes since 2018 LP By The Way, I Forgive You. Despite knowing her music off and on since 2007’s The Story, By The Way felt like a coming out party for a musical vet taking her craft to the next level. The icon stage. Silent Days has only continued this rocketing trajectory upward behind the weight of tracks like “Right On Time”, “Stay Gentle”, and the golden threaded harmonies of “This Time Tomorrow”. Carlile’s bandmates twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth also deserve plenty of praise here as they’ve formed a power trio with Carlile that is a titan both in studio and on stage.

Ultimately though this is Brandi’s world and we’re just living in it, lucky for our listening ears!

Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, An Evening With Silk Sonic

Courtesy Google Images

Arguably the album with 2021’s biggest hype, the end result is a tight 8-track affair harkening back to the best of old school soul, funk and R&B. Mars and .Paak navigate the terrain as deftly as their on-stage choreography, aided in part by P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins and bass wizard Thundercat (who shines on “After Last Night”).

I know there were some who felt Evening didn’t line up with their expectations, but I felt this was a great tablesetter for the collab project. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Silk Sonic as it feels like there are still plenty more chapters yet to be written in Bruno and Andy’s book together.

Marlon Craft, Homecourt Advantage

Courtesy Google Images

The rapper from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen was on a creative tear this past year, dropping EP Space (with producer Yusei), LP How We Intended, and this Homecourt mixtape. The release trio are exceptional, but Homecourt takes the top spot for me behind flows like “Lost Faith”, “All We Got”, and “PACE”, as well as a boundless roving energy.

Not to mention Craft only continues to sharpen his lyrical spearheads with each new work he puts out there. He’s one of a select bunch in the genre using that power of prose to move the needle of social consciousness in the right direction. We need more of that in the world as we move into a collective headspace that’s often more spun on lies than uncomfortable truths.

Rag’n’Bone Man, Life By Misadventure

Courtesy Google Images

Rory Charles Graham, AKA Rag’n’Bone Man, had one of the most affecting sound styles I heard all year with this LP. With a baritone reminiscent of a room-riveting Michael McDonald, Graham dominates from first note to last. He excels equally solo (“Breath in Me”, “Old Habits”) as he does in a duet (“Anywhere Away From Here”), which highlights an equally heartstopping vocal from pop singing maven Pink.

I also really came to adore Misadventure because it’s lyrical themes are so true and honest to our basic humanity. Love, loss, sadness, loneliness, fear of inadequacy in the world… these are just a few of our most essential and relatable emotional signposts. We’ve all been in that, and Rag’n’Bone Man feels like he’s right there with us in those trenches.

It means a lot.

And finally…

Leon Bridges, Gold-Diggers Sound

Courtesy Google Images

Since his retro-minded debut Coming Home dropped in 2015, Leon Bridges has melded his old school Sam Cooke vibes with a more pop, contemporary visage. The result is a 20th century R&B feel that is equal parts heart and earworming hooks with tracks like “Why Don’t You Touch Me”, “Motorbike” and the aching “Sweeter”. Sure there’s a bit more production present, but it doesn’t take away from messages like “Sweeter” and it’s ode to the George Floyd tragedy.

Add in stellar collaborators like Robert Glasper, vocalist Ink and musician Terrace Martin and Gold Diggers finds just that, the jackpot at the end of the journey. Much like the Rag’n’Bone Man release, part of the payoff is also in that lyrical relatability. It spoke to me a lot here, and I hope it does for you as well.

May the year of 2022 provide just as great a list of new favorites this time as it did in 2021!

Bridges mining early gems on “Gold Diggers Sound”

Courtesy of Google Images

Leon Bridges just keeps getting it done. Since bursting onto the scene in 2015 with his debut throwback-inspired LP Coming Home, Bridges has embraced his retro-fitting R&B croon while slowly pushing his palette of sound watercolors into more modern spaces. Followup Good Day (dropped in 2018) kept Bridges’ soul stylings front and center, but traded in a few vintage lines for added pop hooks and production touches.

Bridges’ latest work at initial glance seems to focus on maintaining that relationship between the classic and contemporary. Entitled Gold-Diggers Sound for the studio where many late nights were spent recording the album, early singles “Motorbike” and “Sweeter” act like yin and yang between the two elements, with Bridges right in the center of the emotional crosshairs.

Courtesy of Google Images

“Motorbike” has all the hushed passion of whirlwind summer romance, hung with the delicate strength of pitter-patter drums and the miles beneath the metaphorical tire tracks. While “Sweeter” finds itself in that same laid-back pocket as Bridges and musician/producer Terrace Martin collaborate on the track, dedicated to the memory of George Floyd.

The song’s lyrics, which focus on a Black man’s thoughts as he’s about to die, are heartrending and vulnerably visceral in a current landscape so defined by police brutality, violence and hatred. And few could sing it as well as Bridges, who endlessly draws the usual comparisons to the likes of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but is only really fair to be weighed against Leon Bridges.

To get a sense of what I mean, watch Leon and Terrace Martin tackle a live acoustic version of “Sweeter” at the Gold Diggers Studio below:

Gold Diggers Sound drops July 23rd. If the video above wasn’t enough to satisfy your interest in the album, check out the official music video for “Motorbike”. It’s directed by the talented Anderson .Paak, and adds a deeper emotional connection to the track’s blissful romantic side.

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