At last September’s local musicians’ salute to Leonard Cohen, I ran into Rose Polenzani. Although she still pops up from time to time, Rose was a pretty prominent part of the local music scene ten, fifteen years ago. So I’m sure I asked her if she was working on anything. Then she asked me, “what are you listening to these days?” There were a lot of things I knew I was enthusiastic about…but my brain froze (thank goodness I did not have a mic on in front of me). A week or so later, my brain began to articulate a few favorites going on. And I realized that many of the new things I was listening to that I really liked…were from right here in our area. Local projects. And now that it’s December, well let’s see if I can pull some of them out of my gray matter for a “Best Of” sort of list. Best, or certainly highly notable local releases of 2021. Pinch my nose and dive in (and hope I don’t forget anything prominent), here goes:

Say DarlingBefore and After.
Pre- and post-pandemic reminders via great music and lyrical phrases that may have you muttering, “uh huh – yeah, for sure.” Oh, and this band can bring it, as they do so well on this release.

Michael “Mudcat” Ward – self titled album.
His first solo album after decades of excellent work with other musicians. He recruited many guest vocalists, and created a band by recruiting many of the aces he’s worked with over the years. Make no mistake, though, the track’s with Michael’s own vocals add a dynamic and personality that distinguishes those songs. Very notable track: the song about Joe Louis may send you flying to the history books and wondering if Ken Burns has done a documentary on him. Also, there is a song that may make you instantly sympathetic to latenight postal workers.

I am enjoying and still filtering in the new album by Bird Mancini, The One Delight. This is an album that can take you from the joys of summer all the way around to when that summer returns.

I’d like to put in a word for Grain Thief’s album Gasoline. It’s one of those albums that, like Say Darling’s (above) just got better with every listen. It is also emblematic of the experience for many artists in 2020: release a great album and not get to promote it because of the pandemic shutting down concerts. But the band did release a new full-length release on October 29th. Something Sour, Something Sweet is their new album of fiddle tunes. I am still ingesting it. Let’s call that a homework project of mine. But the title comes from the song “Sorry You’re Sick.” They finished up a recent homecoming show with that song. And – as it is on the recording – it is a rip-snortin’ run through their bluegrass joy. It is already one of my favorite songs of the year. Put it in your list of songs to shut the door, crank it up, and howl at the moon by.

Hank WonderWaylaid.
The second full-length album from the band anchored by the trio of Darren Buck, Annie Bartlett, and Michael Loria. Produced by Zachariah Hickman, it is another collection of mostly exhuberant tunes, although at times a little more aggressive (but in a good way). So I guess you could say they are still familiar, but definitely growing. Part of what makes it a “growth” album is the storytelling of some of the songs. And as I have written before, then at the end of the album when you least expect it, they slide in a quiet, suble, moody piece that just steals your attention and your heart. Lyrics that go the extra descriptive mile, orchestration that paints the audio canvas, and a guest co-vocal from Lisa Bastoni which fits in with the song to a “T” make the album closer “My Margery” my song of the 2021.

Music to look forward to in 2022? Sure.

Look for an album in January by The Remittance Men, lead by Tom Robertson and featuring a couple of guest vocalists here and there. Good gritty songs for traveling and just letting yourself be seduced by the pictures they paint.

The last word I have heard from Kerri Powers is that the Spring should bring forth the new project she has had in the works for the last year or so.

And if some of the new songs I heard David Champagne and Tim Gearan play at recent house concerts are an indication of future recordings, they will be worth keeping an ear on.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being interested in music and the local music scene. And thanks for being part of WUMB as enthusiastic listeners. Have a great last month of 2021, and may 2022 be a big improvement.

~ Perry Persoff