Country Music: 2021 in Review

In this end-of-year review, one of our writers*, Gareth Williams, shares his personal favourites from 2021.

Song of the Year ‘Next Girl’ by Carly Pearce

If there is one song that has been going around in my head this year, it is the insanely catchy chorus to ‘Next Girl’, part of Carly Pearce’s CMA-winning album. It is the combination of bluegrass and pop, banjo and drums, acoustic and percussive, that give it both a feel-good vibe and make its message – of the smooth-talking guy that’s only after one thing – memorable. Her lyrics manage to capture a kind of zeitgeist that speaks to a 21st Century feminism which, in this case, expertly deconstructs the chauvinistic male, told through a toe-tapping tune in the process. It is empowering and energetic; a song for our times that, though emerging from real heartbreak, becomes a source of collective strength.

Album of the Year ‘The Eternal Rocks Beneath’ by Katherine Priddy

Not strictly a country album, as Katherine Priddy resides in the world of British folk, but her debut offering, ‘The Eternal Rocks Beneath’, has been my go-to record of the year. I have had to return to it again and again such is the captivating quality of its mysterious soundscape, poetic depth, and reflective tone. It is like diving into a cool pool of water and finding refreshment in its hidden depths. It is no surprise that the album has garnered critical acclaim. It is a work of beauty; storytelling with a mythic edge arising from personal experience.

EP of the Year Perspective’ by Caitlin Mae

There is such a maturity to the music of Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Mae. She has the wonderful ability to reflect on her own experience and turn it into something of real wisdom for one so young. It is this that left its mark on me after listening to her debut EP ‘Perspective’. I said originally that “She tells her story, her truth, so honestly and unapologetically that her experience has the power to positively affect the listener”. I can certainly testify to that a few months on. I love the resilience and acceptance contained in this record. Bigger things are surely to come.

Gig of the Year ‘‘My Saviour’ Easter Concert’ from Carrie Underwood

Actual in-person concerts may have made a welcome return a couple of months ago, but it is this special livestream from Carrie Underwood on Easter Sunday that was a highlight of my year. Coming from the Ryman Auditorium, Carrie managed to transform its hallowed empty space into an intimate hour-long set, performing songs from her gospel album that were at once uplifting but also reduced me to tears. The context of a second lockdown, looking out of the window over a garden showing the first signs of spring, provided space for reflection and hope that made this show even more impacting than it may otherwise have been. Her performance of ‘Something in the Water’ was a fitting ending, a moment that I still cherish from a concert that hit all the right notes at the right time.

Moment of the Year Candi Carpenter at the British Country Music Festival

The British Country Music Festival in Blackpool may have served up my dream line-up of Katy Hurt, Elles Bailey and Wildwood Kin on the Saturday night. But it was an acoustic set from Candi Carpenter on the Sunday morning that was a real treat. She managed to make the expansive space of the Winter Gardens ballroom feel like an intimate downtown bar. As I wrote at the time, “Her honesty and vulnerability shone through in songs as diverse in their subject matter as ‘Sex, Drugs and Country Music’, ‘Exorcist’, and ‘Skinny’. Such deeply personal experiences, introduced in good humour, and told with such passion and poignancy, seemed to strike a chord with those listening”. The long queue to meet her after the set was testament to the incredible impact she made, and definitely goes down as my moment of the year.

Originally written for and published on Belles & Gals on December 28th 2021.

Featured Image (C) Katherine Priddy

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