Folk London’s best albums of 2021

Tom Reid
Tom Reid: ‘powerful voice and impressive guitar’

Tom Reid – Prizefighter

What I love about this album is the passion and integrity that Tom brings to his songwriting. The subject matter is sometimes painful and revisits stressful times but overall the message is one of optimism. The accomplished musicianship is also without question.

Tom’s powerful voice and impressive guitar are equally at home with loss, love, pain, nature and justice, whether on a personal or global level. Some albums are easily forgettable – not this one!

2 Cara – Grounded
3 Diatonics – Diatonics

Pal Carter

Jon Boden – Last Mile Home

The folk album that really stood out for me this year was the final (and I believe the finest) instalment of Jon’s magnificent dystopian trilogy. Why? Because it’s unique in the way it portrays the presences of the past and today colliding and interacting in an unstoppably changing world (with something of a Detectorists vibe, perhaps).

Alongside this run the concurrent (and not so contradictory) experiences of aloneness and togetherness – an increasingly familiar juxtaposition in the “new normal” – and the effect on our daily lives, where genius loci is inhabited by an intensely powerful sense of irretrievable loss.

2 Hannah James & Toby Kuhn – Sleeping Spirals
3 Tim & Julie Cole – Appaloosa

David Kidman

Lunatraktors – The Missing Star

The second album by Margate-based “broken folk” duo Lunatraktors stands above many of the releases this year for being wholly original and completely refreshing. They are intriguing and highly inventive with a completely individual approach to folk song. Distinctive, idiosyncratic and outstanding!

2 Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan – Still As Your Sleeping
3 Robin Miller – Beelines

Nygel Packett

Grace Petrie – Connectivity

This has been my favourite album of the year by far, from the first listen through. It has it all – thoughtful, meaningful lyrics, passionate delivery, excellent musical backing rooted in folk and country, quality production, beautiful artwork and even a cheeky reference to Hackney, which happens to be my home. Galway is the best song about Galway I have heard (and it cleverly references both of the Galway Girl ones!) and the closing track, The Losing Side, about trying to improve the world, is simply wonderful, definitely my song of the year.

2 Merry Hell/Tansads – Lost Songs
3 Various artists – Roy Bailey Remembered

Anja S Beinroth

COB – Spirit Of Love

A bit of a cheat as it’s a re-release but COB’s Spirit Of Love is a testament to the enduring appeal of Clive Palmer’s idiosyncratic musical vision. While the theme is of the age, the overall impact half a century after its first outing is both fresh and appealing. It’s clear why Palmer remains one of the most frequently cited influences for many of today’s young folk experimentalists.

2 Henry Parker – Lammas Fair
3 Patterson Dipper – Unearthing

Neil Sinden

Harbottle & Jonas – The Beacon

Devon-based David Harbottle and Freya Jonas, often ably accompanied by fiddle and accordion player Annie Bayliss, have distilled much of their musicality and songwriting to the point where The Beacon is evocative, emotive and musically elegant but at the same time grounded. The album is that rare combination expertly delivered by two people who are rightly being recognised as a shining beacon on the UK folk scene.

2 Katherine Priddy – The Eternal Rocks Beneath
3 Mel Biggs – From Darkness Comes Light

Joe Whittaker

Du Glas – Edge Of The World

I love the gutsy energy of the Penzance band’s singer Lucy Osborne, combined with the upbeat, sometimes angry songwriting from Anthony Power. Homes Fit For Heroes is particularly apposite coming from a county where no locals can afford to live. I Can Buddy is a feminist anthem with balls, while the closing While We Dance just tells you to get on with life. Country, rock, folk and attitude. Rebellion served with a pasty!

2 Luke Jackson – Of The Time
3 Davey Dodds – The Rite Of Spring

Adrian Jones

Spiers & Boden – Fallow Ground

The stomp and throb of Spiers & Boden is a welcome reminder that no matter how virtuoso your skills – and these men are both virtuosos – what drives great folk music is its energy and directness.

The two Jo(h)ns can cut to the heart of a tune or song like few others, and their instantly recognisable duo sound can fire up a room with all the force of a full band. It’s great to have them back.

2 Serious Sam Barrett – The Seeds Of Love
3 Jon Wilks – Up The Cut

James Eagle

Natalia Lafourcade – Un Canto por México, Vol. 2

“Vas a llorar como una Magdalena!” he said as he pressed play. We both stood there in tired silence then, as Natalia Lafourcade’s soothing voice dripped into our ears. “This one [Para Qué Sufrir] is about relationships falling apart. Muy triste.”

Six years on and I’m still completely smitten. To hear her croon and cry in that typical son jarocho style in a stripped-down acoustic duet version of Para Qué Sufri moves me to tears with expected efficiency. The other tracks on this record are likewise all gems, a labour of love which revives the old with a touchingly authentic intimacy.

2 José González – Local Valley
3 Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

Michael James Pritchard

This article appeared in Folk London 316, December-January 2021-22