2021 Year End Review: 20 Memorable Singles

2021 Singles Recap

The restrictions resulting from the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 placed a hiatus on our concert-going adventures, which in turn halted our annual “Memorable Live Concert Moments” recap that I always take joy in compiling.  When I scrambled to replace the article last December with a pair of features on “Memorable Singles” instead, I really believed it would be a one-and-done affair; that some sense of normalcy, travel, and in-person concerts would be back for 2021.  Well, we all know how that worked out, hence we’re back once again with a second annual “20 Memorable Singles” list.

The pandemic may continue to inconvenience, but it did not deter artists from releasing some outstanding new music over the last twelve months.  This list is by no means my “Top 20 Singles” list – that would take far too much time and energy to compile – instead, these are tunes that jumped out from the pack and earned my full attention when first encountering them.  And like last year, these singles are not ranked in any particular order, but listed alphabetically by artist/band first name.

Ada Lea: “Hurt”

I was unfamiliar with Montreal indie-pop artist Ada Lea (Alexandra Levy), but stumbling across this gem brought with it a powerful, emotional, haunting piece that not only warranted multiple spins, but had me pre-ordering the album on the strength of this single alone.

AHI: “Danger”

For anybody skeptical enough to believe that hard work is not rewarding, I invite you to spend some time with Brampton, ON artist AHI, one of the most dedicated musicians on the circuit today, and one finally reaping all the rewards from the musical seeds sown over the years. Outstanding.

Allison Russell: “Nightflyer”

The accolades keep coming for Allison this year, and rightfully so.  Any track from her stunning “Outside Child” album could make this list, but for me, this single was the first taste of new music from the album, and one that remains a go-to track in my listening rotation several months later.

Beams: “Born To Win”

Beams were a band that I knew of, yet was unfamiliar with their music.  This breakthrough single from their “Ego Death” album saw 70s rock vibes dueling with hard rock guitar riffs, and brought their psychedelic brand of folk music and shimmering vocals to my attention.

Blue Rodeo: “When You Were Wild”

Hey, come on, it’s me!  This band could recite the phone directory and it would most likely make my list.  But in the interest of transparency, this first single from the band’s recent new album was a much-needed surprise shot of musical joy. Repeat the statement for the other 11 album tracks too.

Boston Levi: “Run Baby Run”

Ever been unsure of what you want to listen to, until you hear it?  I recall craving some folk rock, adding hooks and melodies, great production, and a little ‘extra something.’ Newcomer Boston Levi scratched the itch perfectly – mating the poetry of The Lumineers with the raw grit of The Glorious Sons.

Carly Thomas: “Stay With Me”

Every year, it seems that there is one tune that stands out from the crowd and stops me dead in my tracks when first heard. Carly Thomas earned such honors in 2021, returning from a hiatus with this absolute scorcher of a ballad, baring her heart, her soul, and her unfiltered emotions.  Outstanding.

Celeigh Cardinal: “There Ain’t No Way (Better Days Version)”

Classic-inspired soul tunes were quite the rage this year, it seems.  The beauty of this single was Cardinal’s own admission that budgetary constraints limited how she could record this one the first time around, and returned to the studio to finally fulfill her original vision – and nails it.   

Clever Hopes: “Artefact”

By all means, go ahead and question my inclusion of a song that was designated more of a teaser track for promoting another single, but I was completely blown away by the olde-worlde charm that the duo of Andrew Shaver and Eva Foote bring here. Top-notch music ensemble and studio personnel too.

Dizzy & Fay: “Walk Me Home”

The great American songbook lives, thanks to the pairing of Mark Lalama and Amanda Walther, whose smooth jazz has been a joy to see come together and grow over the last 15 months or so. The duo brought their A-Game this past Valentine’s Day with this remarkable romantic treat.

Elise LeGrow: “Feel Alright”

The much-anticipated new soul and dance music from Elise LeGrow arrived in the later half of 2021, and this amazing tune solidifies her place in the genre, with enough blues and jazz thrown into the mix to propel her further towards Amy Winehouse territory.

Greg Keelor: “Wonder”

Revered rocker Greg Keelor (Blue Rodeo) makes my list twice, thanks to his sixth solo album which he also released twice. His original 2020 studio version was shelved due to Covid-19, and shared just as he recorded a livelier off-the-floor version that made for a great Canada RSD album. Buy both – trust me!

Jeremie Albino & Cat Clyde: “Been Worryin’”

The beautiful pairing of neo-traditional folksingers Albino and Clyde brought with it some truly remarkable collaborations and a wonderful throwback sound from simpler times. Fusing blues and soul to their folk-roots core, this is one of many releases that earned multiple spins this year.

Joce Reyome: “Cross My Heart”

Released back in February, the arrival of this soul-blues single signaled an upbeat debut from PEI native Joce Reyome, offering plenty of respectful nods to the pioneers of the genre and paying homage with some vintage, timeless grooves.  And yes, that’s Erin Costelo you hear offering harmonies too.

Kiefer Sutherland: “Bloor St.”

Having only learned just two years ago that this popular and successful television and film star was also a pretty stellar roots-rocker in his own right, I paid plenty of attention to this first teaser of new music from his upcoming third studio album.  100% Toronto music culture and grit, right here.

Ken Presse: “The Thing About You”

It is always nice to see a popular band-member step up to the spotlight and pursue their own personal solo projects (ala Jeremy Drury of The Strumbellas last year).  Having toured extensively with The Franklin Electric, Presse delighted all with this powerful indie-country solo debut.

Ten Kills The Pack: “Body”

Toronto’s Sean Sroka continues going from strength-to-strength with his musical creativity, releasing a pair of excellent EPs in the process, and with this groundbreaking single earning the artist a ton of well-deserved airplay across the radio waves, the hype is fully justified.

The Manic Boys & Girls Club: “Blacked Out”

I almost skipped this debut single when found in my email inbox, but sampled out of pure curiosity. Little did I know just how anthemic and addictive this tune would be – a thumping dance floor banger similar in style to Dear Rouge and Metric.  These siblings are definitely a duo to watch in 2022.

The Redhill Valleys: “Finish Line”

The emerging Hamilton alt-country quartet kicked off summer 2021 with this high-octane number, along with an equally exhilarating music video in which sexism and misogyny battled sexy and empowered amidst an exciting stock car racing narrative.  We eagerly await their sophomore album in 2022.

Wayley: “Ready For It All (Acoustic)”

If Boston Levi drew similarities to The Lumineers, Toronto’s Wayley almost convinced me that this was a new Wesley Schulz tune – so similar are their voices (and only two different letters separate their names).  This acoustic release is phenomenal – cue the Vance Joy comparisons next….

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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