The best roots, jazz, trad and classical albums from the 2021 Ticket

Top 5 Americana / roots 2021

Nowadays, genre, like genre, is fluid. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss take this approach on their long-awaited Raise the Roof, bending songs from the canons of blues, folk, country and soul to their elegant and imaginative will. The Felice Brothers specialize in shambolic lo-fi rock, but folk, country and beyond are employed in their thoughtful topical reflections on “this life where all joyful things are paid double in suffering.” The remarkable Rhiannon Giddens (with Francesco Turrisi) knows no boundaries, while James McMurtry is simply a Texan gem, partly raw but never precious. Carsie Blanton too – progressive sympathies with a smile. – Joe Breen

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raise the roof
The Felice brothers: From dreams to dust
Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi: They call me home
James McMurtry: Horses and dogs
Carsie Blanton: Love and rage

Matthieu Halpin.  Photography: Julia Haack

Matthieu Halpin. Photography: Julia Haack

Top 5 Jazz Albums 2021

In a strong year for Irish jazz releases, any of these five gems could easily claim the top spot. Irish-Japanese pianist Izumi Kimura’s collaboration with violinist Cora Venus Lunny and sound artist Anthony Kelly was love at first sight. Fusion giant Larry Coryell’s last studio recording, featuring Dublin’s best rhythm section by bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady, was a fitting coda for an illustrious career. The release of Brady’s own electric quartet, with heavy American talent on board, further bolstered the drummer’s growing reputation. London singer Lauren Kinsella skillfully deployed the studio as a tool for improvisation with her partner Snowpoet, multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson. But, if I’m forced to choose, it’s the impressive debut of Cologne-based Irish saxophonist Matthew Halpin, with mercurial drummer Seán Carpio part of a strong collective response to the leader’s compositions, which perhaps best exemplifies the growing confidence of a new generation of Irish improvisers. – Cormac Larkin

Matthieu Halpin: Agreements
Kevin Brady Electric Quartet: Plan B
Izumi Kimura / Cora Venus Lunny / Anthony Kelly: Folding
Snowpoet: Wait for me
Larry Coryell: Last swing with Ireland

Top 5 traditional albums 2021

At the end of another year where musicians have been largely tied to the house, there is a refuge to be taken in new album releases that help fill that void. The gargantuan endeavor of releasing an album under such difficult circumstances cannot be underestimated either. This year’s tapestry was rich, including the delusional shock of John Francis Flynn’s new, the sense of belonging anchored in the albums of Emma O’Leary and Aidan Connolly, and the nostalgic longing for An Irish Viola / Víola Gaelach by Séamus McGuire amplifying the vitality that underlies tradition. And the Skara Brae reissue is a home gem. – Siobhan Long

John Francis Flynn: I wouldn’t always live
Séamus McGuire with Steve Cooney: An Irish viola / Víola Gaelach
Emma O’Leary: Mo Cheantar Fein
Aidan Connolly: The Portland Arch
Skara Brae: Skara Brae

Chiaroscuro quartet

Chiaroscuro quartet

Top 5 classic albums 2021

The selection of the five best albums that I have reviewed this year was obvious. They are all on a small scale, involving music for only a handful of musicians, and feature performances of exceptional insight and delivery. Italian violinist Francesca Dego pays homage to Paganini on Paganini’s own Guarneri del Gesù from 1743. Siobhán Armstrong and his friends explore the 16th century through the magical sounds of the Irish harp. Violinist Daniel Rowland and his friends freely unleash the sensuality of the chamber works of Chausson, Debussy and Franck. But in the end it was a tie between the Brahms viola sonatas of Antoine Tamestit and Cédric Tiberghien and three of Haydn’s Op 76 string quartets of the Chiaroscura Quartet, both albums making great, familiar music entirely new. – Michel Dervan

Haydn string quartets op. 76 nos 4-6 – Chiaroscuro quartet
Brahms: Sonatas Op 120; Nachtigall; Wiegenlied; Gesänge Op 91 –Antoine Tamestit, Cédric Tiberghien
He cannone – Francesca Dego plays the violin of Paganini
Music, Ireland and the 16th century – Crux, The Irish Consort / Siobhán Armstrong
A French Connection: Chausson, Debussy, Franck – Daniel Rowland, Natacha Kudritskaya, Francesco Sica, Asia Jiménez Antón de Vez, Joel Waterman, Maja Bogdanovic

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