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Merle's Best of 2021

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Merle’s Top Picks for 2021

I don’t usually do a best of list but was playing around with our playlist history and was able to create a chart of what new releases I actually played in 2021. That seems like the ultimate test for a new release, did I actually play it more than other releases. There was enough good music in the genres that I play to justify a list this year with some comments.

Billy Strings “Renewal”

Comment- Our show on KDNK introduced many music lovers to Billy as I was playing his EP before he even had a full cd after seeing him on Youtube. If you get a chance to see him live, please do it! Renewal finds Billy’s songwriting skills growing as he tries to develop lyrics to match his skills at developing tunes. He is one of the truly exciting performers in bluegrass. Start with Secrets.

Bela Fleck “My Bluegrass Heart”

Comment- Bela and his banjo have covered a lot of musical influences from Africa to Appalachia. This release brings him back to instrumental bluegrass music and he surrounds himself with young and old master musicians who can keep up with the arrangements. It is a major achievement. Start with Vertigo.

Leftover Salmon “Brand New Good Old Days”

Comment- Our records indicate that I played songs from this release more than any other, partly as it came out earlier in the year but mostly because KDNK and I love Colorado’s own Leftover Salmon. The has added some new members to the base of Drew Emmett and Vince Herman that recharged their songwriting and performing. They will play TACAW in mid-January! Start with Boogie Grass Band.

Justin Moses “Fall Like Rain”

Comment- Justin may not be as well-known but he has won the International Bluegrass Music Association award for best dobro player 3 of the last 4 years. The release features many guests including his wife, mandolin queen Sierra Hull. Start with the instrumental Taxland.

Della Mae “Family Reunion”

Comment- The band has a great thing going since forming in Boston in 2009 and has several solid releases. The all-female musicians bring thoughtful lyrics and clever arrangements to their songs and covers. Start with The Way it Was Before.

Lizzy Plotkin & Natalie Spears “Just Over the Ridge”

Comment- We like to play local music on KDNK and provide support for those trying to get their music out there. This release would have had plenty of airplay by me regardless of where the musicians live. Start with Carry Me with You.

Steel Wheels “Everyone a Song Vol. 2”

Comment- This band flies under the radar a bit while having a history of good releases. Their new one is another step forward. Start with It’s Your Fault.

Sturgill Simpson “Ballad of Dood & Juanita”

Comment- I was not an early adapter on Sturgill but many other KDNK DJs were so I knew he was good. Over the last 18 months has produced 3 releases: two featured big time bluegrass players reformatting his country songs and the third is a song cycle about Dood & Juanita. He is like a country Neil Young- up for surprising us at every turn. Start with Juanita.

Nathaniel Rateliff “The Future”

Comment- I was a fan of this Denver-based band before their first release. Nathaniel had been a respected writer of dark folk music with a side line as a rock and soul performer. He blew up after playing the tonight show a few years ago and has been on a rocket ship of success ever since. I was lucky enough to see him at a free show right before the rocket ship was launched and it was electric. Start with Love Don’t.

Tim Obrien “He Walked On”

Comment- Tim left Colorado and his now back in his home state of West Virginia but he has a special place in CO bluegrass hearts due to his work with Hot Rize, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, his solo work and his early work with KDNK DJ Pastor Mustard in the Ophelia String Band. He has even played the Missouri Heights Schoolhouse. This cd is folky with Tim ruminating on the state of the state and realities of the working class. Start with When You Pray (Move Your Feet).