Needle In The Groove’s Top 10 Albums of 2021

My top 10 albums of 2021.

Well grapple fans (an up to date reference for the kids!), here we are at the dying embers of 2021 and thinking at the same time last year we were all predicting we would all be back to normal, everyone fully vaccinated and living like to the full. Well thanks to Covid-19 mutating like, well Covid-19, here we are a year down the line, all pretty much locked up as we were last Christmas. Gigs opened up for a couple of months and I snuck in 3 before the UK government made it pretty much impossible to go see a gig from Boxing Day onwards.


Thankfully bands didn’t let this affect them and it was a very strong year for releases. Most of the bands on this list were albums purchased in 2021, so there will not be a review on the site for further details. Where there is a review I will attach a link. It’s far from me to criticise, so if you have brought an album out in 2021, well done to you all.


It was also good to hear only yesterday that vinyl sales were up in the UK, with them making up 23% of all sales, which is 14 years of continuous growth, and CDs seeing the lowest number of sales since 1984, just one year after they were introduced to the UK. This increase is probably down to two factors – Adele and Abba. I don’t think my haul of over 200 albums bought in 2021 made a dent in the numbers.


I’m sure vinyl sales would be a lot higher were it not for manufacturing issues, PVC shortages and the fact that demand is outstripping supply by 2:1. If you have a spare couple of million lying down the back of the sofa, build a vinyl pressing plant. You can’t fail. For some reason, probably because they were part of a ‘bundle’, over 190,000 tapes were sold in 2021, their biggest selling year since 2003. When compared to the streaming monsters however, its bugger all as the likes of Spotify, Amazon, Deezer etc etc had an 81% share of the market.

Anyway onto my top 10 albums of 2021……

10. Lifesigns – Altitude

I was new to the Lifesigns party in 2021 but even from the first listen I was hooked. Its a really great album, and John Young is now a firmly established name in the Chesworth household.

9. The Dead Daisies – Holy Ground

The Dead Daisies were good, then they became excellent. Why? Well Glenn bloody Hughes only went and joined them. The ‘voice of rock’ added his Glenn Hughes-ness to TDD and the result is the fab. The man is the Tinkerbell of rock, adding a drop of fairydust to take TDD up a notch above anything they had done before this point

8. Thunder – All the Right Noises

Considering I was at their last ever gig a few years back, Thunder’s return and resurgence has been a great one, with ATRN sitting nicely near the summit of Thunders best works. It’s that good.

7. Dirty Honey – ST

Dirty Honey hit the ground running with their cracking EP. Their debut album picks up where the EP left off. Self produced and financed, they want to take care of their own destiny. In Mark LaBelle they have a singer who can challenge some of the greats. 70s rock is alive and well. (Fun fact – their single from the EP ‘When. I’m Gone’ was the first ever single from an unsigned band to top the Billboard Rock Chart). My only gripe is the album is too short! I’ve had longer shits.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic II

If your idea of melodic rock heaven is parpy keyboards and songs that sound like they were written and performed in the 1980s, then look no further. TNFO make every song sound like it was written for the Rocky film franchise and 80s B movies when the likes of Paul Sabu, Lion and Stan Bush were regular contributors.

5. Myles Kennedy – The Ides Of March

This is the album I waited 11 years for. Myles’s debut was good and all, but with TIOM he came out of the blocks like a stabbed rat. More power and welly, and in the title track, he has a song that is a close second to ABs Blackbird. ‘The Ides Of March’ track is completely all over the place. No wonder he hardly plays it live, but when he does…..its a thing to behold.

4. Leprous – Aphelion

Leprous is another bands that I came to the party late with. Having heard ‘Pitfalls’ first, I was smitten. With ‘Aphelion’, the feeling was identical. I can see why fans are not too hot when comparing the 5 albums before ‘Pitfalls’ to the latter two new ones, but for me ‘Aphelion’ is a brilliant album. OK its all about Einar Solberg and he clearly holds the keys to the castle, but the performances of all the guys is something to behold. They are brilliant, and they bloody well know it.

3. Plush – ST

I’ve been a fan of Moriah Formica’s ever since she appeared on a Michael Sweet album back in 2016. She is a very talented singer/songwriter and when someone of her age can tackle Ann Wilson songs with ease, you know they are special. She is surrounded with some amazing talent in Plush – Brook Colucci, Ashley Suppa, and Bella Perron. Considering they were all under 21 when the album dropped in October, the results are stunning. A band so young shouldn’t be this good with their first album.

2. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

OK its another dinosaur of a band up at the sharp end of the poll for the second year running. After a 6 year gap Iron Maiden didn’t need to ever make an album again. But they did, and its a belter. OK, its no ‘Powerslave’ or ‘Piece Of Mind’. Its about as diverse as Steve Harris and Iron Maiden get, and that is a good thing indeed

  1. Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

This album simply ticked all the boxes for me – great gongs, great vocals, set in the 80s and some of the best videos this side of Van Halen and David Lee Roth. A lot of bands try to recreate the 80s heydays but few succeed. Lets face it, some of the lyrics are corny, but they are delivered in a style and knowing nod to the past that you are just swept along for the ride. The sign of a good album is one you can’t stop playing, and with KIAGT its hardly been off rotation. They even roped in Sam Fox for the best ballad I’ve heard in a number of years, ’Tomorrow’. I can’t wait for album No.2

Leprous – ‘Aphelion’ Album Review

Leprous – Aphelion

If Leprous was a party, I arrived that late, I got there after the parents arrived home to find their house trashed. I had never heard of them until I was sent their last album (Pitfalls) to review. But what was to be an inspired decision by me (and Leprous) was an album that was totally different to most of what Ive been listening to for the last 40+ years and it just blew me away. Few bands and albums have done this since I started reviewing back in 2007. I went out and bought the back catalogue, few bands make me do this. They were more metal over the albums predating Pitfalls, but like Opeth a chance has occurred, and for me it is an inspired change.

In fact they are a band I never thought possible that I would ever listen to, a fact that my wife pointed to one day asking me why I was listening to ‘this’ ( a song from Pitfalls that randomly popped up in the car). I said that it was just ‘wonderful’, I couldn’t explain fully, I just muttered ‘its wonderful’ and we left it at that.

So here we are mid/pre/post (delete as appropriate) Covid 19 and we have the follow up to Pitfall, Aphelion. Aphelion is the point in the Earths orbits that is farthest from the Sun, which in 2021 was Monday 5th July. Enough fact learning people, let’s get into the detail.

The first three singles have been Castaway Angels, a 6 minute effort that glides by and sees Leprous throw the kitchen sink at it. If Leprous could get a tune out of a kitchen sink, I’m sure they would use it as a viable instrument! Baard Kolstad’s drumming is sublime and Einar Solberg’s vocals are simply to die for. It’s a piece that just flies by and you can only reply appreciate the band for what they are by watching the video and absorbing yourself in the song. Running low is the other single and is quite dramatic, one minute groggy, then the chorus of ‘Its a miracle, miracle, miracle…’ being an ear worm of the highest order, but also very, pop and also cinematic. In face their songs would certainly elevate any pice of cinema that they could become attached to. The third single ‘The Silent Revelation’ is a huge piece and encompasses Leprous. Its the best song on the album and I would direct any future Leprous virgin to dive in with this track. Its heavy, nuanced and Solberg’s falsetto take it up a level,  finishing with a choral falsetto!

‘Out Of Here’ is more subdued but is no less enthralling thanks to Solbergs vocals, until we get to the mid section where the bridge ramps up the heaviness. ‘Silhouette’ has a strong synth opening before introducing strings to complement the synths. ‘All The Moments’ kicks off with Kolstads drumming at the forefront. It’s (almost) a slow burn, but when it steps up to the plate is does so in dramatic fashion. ‘Have You Ever?’ is one of the softer songs, but still packs a punch one you dive in to the quality musicianship.  ‘The Shadow Side’ is about coming to terms with yourself and being yourself. It is dramatic and ends with s searing guitar solo. ‘On Hold’ is an almost 8 minute epic where it is essentially ‘The Einar Show’. Insecurities, doubt, and identity are at the heart of this and its felt through Solberg’s delivery. ‘Nighttime Disguise’ is the last song and arrives quickly. Its the heaviest song by far. Its as close to convention rock as these guys get, with date I say it, crooning before the obligatory falsetto. I cracking end to a cracking album. The vinyl and Mediabook CD contain two extra tracks, a live version of ‘Acquired taste’ and ‘A Prophecy To Trust’ 

Gill is right. its a band I would never have entertained before at any point in my music listening life, but I think I jumped in at the correct time with Pitfalls, because Aphelion has taken this band up another lever which I didn’t think was possible. 

Its hard for me to label Leprous, which is good because I hate labels! It is a sound that is ephereal, expanding, almost heavenly, and is neither rock, nor prog, or anything else. Its just simply…..Leprous.

The best way I can describe Aphelion, it feels like a best of album, and that in itself is remarkable. Its music that is delicate, balanced, sways from pop to rock, sometimes in the same sentence and just sweeps the listener away and is one of the finest albums of 2021

9/10

Tracklisting –

Running Low

Out Of Here

Silhouette

All The Moments

Have You Ever?

The Silent Revolution

The Shadow Side

On Hold

Castaway Angels

Nighttime Disguise

The band

Einar Solberg – Vocals/Keys

Simen Børven – Bass

Robin Ognedal – Guitars

Baard Kolstad – Drums

Tor Oddmund Suhrle – Guitars

Myles Kennedy – ‘The Ides Of March’ review

belting sophomore solo album from Kennedy ticks all the right boxes. Its the album I’ve been waiting for.

I read an interview with Myles Kennedy in the latest Classic Rock mag and he states ‘I’m not a household name’. Well fella, I can assure you that you are in the Chesworth household and have been since 2004 when we were listening to rock radio stations whilst on holiday in Florida. Thankfully these stations only play about 15 different songs a week, so it got us all firmly embedded into Alter Bridge in the Summer of ’04.

I was fortunate to interview Brian Marshall back in 2011 and he said Myles had a solo album ready to roll. It was a long time coming. His debut album in 2018 was a tribute to his late father (who passed when Myles was a young child) and was an emotional album and I suspect a very cathartic one for Myles to do. Roll on another 3 years and we have The Ides Of March, which would be even better had it been released in March! Its the kind of album I was expecting  (and hoping for) from him.

‘Get Along’ is a guitar riffin’ foot stompin’ call to arms where he wails ‘I thought we left this shit behind, don’t tell me I don’t belong,….the answer never was black or white’ and typifies the feelings of many in the World today. It certainly rings true with my feelings over the past 14 months. A similar theme continues into ‘A Thousand Words’, where he sings, ‘because in times like these we must live and learn’, his mantra is simple and he comes across as a genuinely caring bloke. The chorus is instantly memorable and encompasses some blisteringly hot guitar work. The slide guitar of ‘In Stride’ shows that its not a straight up rock album, and paints a picture of a survivalist preparing for an impending zombie apocalypse (much nearer than we think considering the events of the past year!) And was inspired by the first lockdown in which people hoarded bog roll and other invaluable items and ingredients. The title track is the big number, and switches between gentle verses, and heavier chorus where Kennedy gives his larynx a decent work out. Its as much a vehicle for his guitar soloing as it is for his vocal dexterity. Were it not bordering on eight minutes, its a perfect title and song for the next Bond movie. If Sheena Easton can get the Bond gig, then Myles is a deserving candidate. 

Both ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ and ‘Sifting Through The Fire’ border on fillers, only because Kennedy set himself a high bar. ‘Sifting…’reminded me a bit of the Allman Bros ‘Jessica’. But its on ‘Love Rain Down’ is a mainly acoustic ballad where ‘the voice’ is vulnerable and soul searching. Its a beautiful song. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is the good feel song of the album, with a hand clap, and foot stomping anthem for the masses. I can’t wait, this will be huge played live.  ‘Moonshot’ has one foot planted in the Blues camp, and ‘Wanderlust Begins’ errs on the side of country. Both are cool, with Wanderlust being a companion to Year Of Tiger is tone and style. ‘Worried Mind’ is the most straight up blues song on ‘TIOM’. If you think that its standard fare, that is quickly dispelled thanks to some shred-tactic guitar playing and tonsel tickling vocal histrionics. Thats how you finish the album off. Fantastic.

As I said at the top, TIOM is the album I wanted it to be, and more. ‘Year Of The Tiger’ had to grow on me because there was little variance in the style, but this one gave me more of an instant ‘fix’. Theres more than enough light and shade and variety to keep even the most pessimistic  fan occupied. As an ardent fan, its a little belter.

9/10

Tracklisting

Get Along

A Thousand Words

In Stride

The Ides Of March

Wake Me When Its Over

Love Rain Down

Tell It Like It Is

Moonshot

Wanderlust Begins

Sifting Through The Fire

Worried Mind

Myles Kennedy – Vocals, Guitar

Tim Tournier – Bass

Zia Uddin – Drums

Out May 14th https://smarturl.it/MK-TheIdesOfMarch

FM – ‘Synchronized’ Album Review

FM – Synchronized

In what currently seems like a pre-cursor to an impeding real-life zombie apocalypse where a strain jumps from animals to humans and mutates to kill 98% of the worlds pollution, its a bloody good job I can rely on certain things to comfort me – such as a new release from my all time faves, FM!

Its been a good 12-13 years since they returned for a headline gig at 2007s Firefest, and after the second-life release of ‘Metropolis’ in 2010 its been steady ahead and a consistent team for those onboard HMS FM. In fact, the output has been more prolific than it was and they are probably more in control of their destiny that at an other point since 1984, and has seen them grace stages they probably never thought was possible (Donington, Sweden Rock, and a long awaited debut in the US), and tours with luminaries such as Foreigner, Heart and Lizzy. Its a good time to be a fan!

For FM Part II, ‘Synchronized’ is this lines ups seventh studio release, their twelfth in total. It’s some going. If you’re a fan already then there’s a lot to like. ‘Synchronized’ is rightly the first song to be picked as a single, as its in the same vein as a ‘Blood and Gasoline’, ‘Tough Love’, ‘Tough it Out’ and fires along at a strong pace, led by Kirkpartick’s guitar and Davis’ keyboard. All of which is enveloped in Overlands vocals and the ‘gang of fives’ harmonies. It’s a cert for addition for the live shows. ‘Superstar’ is almost a departure for FM, its a mellow, pop-fuelled number that is certain of coverage on Radio 2 I suspect. I found it a bit too bland at first, but after a few spins it’s a definite grower, and more ‘one for the ladies’? I can already visage the video – filmed in Arizona (Blackpool) with a sweeping shot, (drone, not helicopter), followed by a top down Jag racing across Route 66 (A6). ‘Best Of Times’ follows on from ‘Superstar,’ and has a bit more vim and vigour, and without Overland singing his arse off, it would be average in any other hands. ‘Ghosts Of You And I’ is the first ballad, and its still very un-FM like. It’s not a bad thing, Im just taken a bit aback by the first few numbers being a shift from the norm. ‘Broken’ is upbeat and akin to what hit the Billboard charts mid-80s, and is ear candy of the highest order.

‘Change For The Better’ is a classy number and definitely channels Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’. ‘End Of Days’ goes for a ‘BIG’ sound from the off, with a nice ‘choppy’ guitar sound running through the whole song. ‘Pray’ sees Overland channeling his inner Sam Cooke and has all the hallmarks of a soulful/Blues STAX record from the 60s with a modern twist. It’s only missing a horns section and Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper, and it is a firm favourite for me. I.Loved. It. ‘Walk Through The Fire’ is bound to bring comparisons to Mr. Misters ‘Broken Wings’ thanks to Jem Davis’ ivory tinkling. It’s as 80s as a pair of Coverdale’s leg warmers and its all about the bridge and chorus, thus proving that the second half of ‘Synchronized’ is definitely on a roll.

‘Hell Or High Water’ is one of the heavier songs (in FMs world), it is built around the infectious chorus. ‘Angels Cried’ has a slide opening riff before settling into a bluesy, almost gospel ballad, with a side of Bon Jovi thrown in. Only, when BJ was good! Finally we are on to ‘Ready For Me’ is like FM of old, when every album or single had a B side like a Bad Company cover or BC inspired dong, and RFM is no exception and it finished the album on a positive.

Basically I take away my comment at the top of this review. Yes its a comfort for a new FM album, but it’s very different to anything they have put out before. That has thrown me a bit, which is both good, and also slightly puzzling to me. That in itself I think is a good thing, and that deserves a round of applause. It’s definitely a stronger period for me in the second half, as a few of the first half made me question if there was a pattern or new sound they were going after. It’s almost akin to when I heard SO for the first time. However, I’m positive that after many more listens, it will be a big hit with me. One thing is certain, Steve Overland never sounded so good.

No doubt Dave Ling will wank himself into a frenzy.

8/10

Tracklisting
Synchronised
Superstar
Best Of Times
Ghosts Of You And I
Broken
Change For The Better
End Of Days
Pray
Walk Through The Fire
Hell Or High Water
Angels Cried
Ready For Me

Sam Millar – ‘Radio Gouda’ EP Review

Sam Millar – Radio Gouda EP

I loved Sam Millar’s first EP Holy Sass, for me it was one of the best releases last year with a fresh sound and a break away from the heavier Bigfoot sound. With this in mind I was looking forward to hearing the second EP immensely. 

Sam’s Facebook page – “Sam Millar – Music” has clips of Sam playing various covers and basically being, well, just Sam, mental, funny and well worth checking it out.

Radio Gouda – the intro is the sound of a radio being tuned with music fading in and out as the dial is turned before DJ Dairylea is found. He’s not right in the head I tell ya.

Human kicks things off in earnest, it starts with a staccato kind of guitar riff which leads up to Sam’s vocals kicking in. What has become clear is that Sammy can sing, he has a distinctive voice suited perfectly to the music he writes. Human is a great piece of soft rock, a catchy chorus and the obligatory Sam guitar solo. Again Sam’s guitar sound and solos are distinctive, the lad can play.

Forbidden is the first track to be released and it would have fitted in perfectly on the first EP in the sound and structure of the song (hark at me talking as if I’ve actually got a clue about music), the chorus is catchier than a STI and it’s 4 and half minutes of quality. 

Let it Rain is a slower moodier track and leads with the vocals full of angst with keyboards providing a mellow undercurrent before the guitars come in and take over nicely. The choral middle section is a smart touch and complements the overall sound. 

Sober kicks off with a guitar riff that definitely nods in the direction of “Why Can’t This Be Love” by Van Halen. It’s a sad song about trying to stop a break up “If it’s over say it’s over, I’ll believe it when you’re sober”. The chorus is haunting and the guitar solo is a belter, cool and considered. 

Levi’s brings the EP to a rocking end, the most energetic and hi-energy track with a bit of Sammy humour chucked in for good measure singing about a cold shower at midnight. 

So Radio Gouda is another belter from Sam, I loved the first one and this is as good if not better. It’s a lifetime away from the Bigfoot songs and cements Sam’s style as a solo artist. When you have a 5 track EP you can’t hide weak songs, well there aren’t any so that’s a result.

For a self-written and home produced EP it really is superb stuff, it’s melodic, thoughtful with a well-considered guitar solo on every track. I would hope that a label will pick this up and invest in giving the songs just that little bit of a polish. 

I’m gutted that this bloody virus has stopped the Sam Millar and the Sass Bandits tour. I was going to Newcastle to see him and can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to seeing Sam do his thing with his own band. I didn’t ask for a refund, not because I’m kind but because it was free gig. 

My advice is simple – Check out the Sam Millar – Music page and invest a couple of quid on a young talented artist who also happens to be a nice guy, you won’t regret it…..probably.

9.5/10

Track list:

1. Radio Gouda

2. Human

3. Forbidden

4. Let it Rain

5. Sober

6. Levi’s

REVIEW BY LAWRIE