Favorites of 2021

Below you will find our list of favorite songs, albums, artists, songwriters, entertainers and more.  Those that moved the needle for us this year.  Those that made us listen on end, pay attention and spread the good word.  Dig in to our favorites, tell us yours.  Enjoy!

Spotify playlist of these favorites:

Albums

Flatland Cavalry – Welcome to Countryland

Cleto Cordero and the boys come back with their most well-rounded effort to date.  Radio candy slides in right alongside hearty folk and Americana.  It’s all grounded in Cordero’s songwriting wisdom and peppered with big hooks and enough fiddle to make you stomp your foot for days.

Hayes Carll – You Get It All

Modern day songwriting master returns with another gem of heartache and introspection mixed with a diver bar wallflower’s observations through the lens of a philosopher.

James McMurtry – The Horses and the Hounds

Perhaps the greatest living songwriter tosses out another gem.  It’s always good when McMurtry turns up the amps and the wry wit.  He does both here. The music rocks more often than not and easily grabs your attention, but it’s the words that stick with you.  Superb.  

Jason Boland & the Stragglers – The Light Saw Me

On paper this album seems like such a strange endeavour; a concept album revolving around extraterrestrial life forms. Yet, this Shooter Jennings produced effort proves that Jason Boland is as sharp (or sharper) than ever.

Josh Grider – Long Way From Las Cruces

Grider just keeps on raising the bar for himself.  There have been few artists and songwriters as consistent at balancing radio candy with singer/songwriter truths. Come for the autobiographical title track and stay for the rest.  

Mike and the Moonpies – One to Grow On

The leading torchbearers of modern honky-tonk music return with another solid album of found love, lost love, hard work and lost work all set to the tune of a twangy Gary Stewart vibe.  Each song has been dipped in an ashtray of Winstons and then dumped into a mug of Pearl beer. 

Read Southall – For the Birds

Southall has found his way up the ladder by creating and dropping hook-laden rock tinged jams that contain solid lyrics.  Traces of vintage Ragweed, yet he’s doing it all his own way.

Sean McConnell – A Horrible, Beautiful Dream

McConnell took the Covid lockdown time to create.  This collection of songs is exactly as the title espouses.  He details the emotions everyone has gone through over the last two years in exquisite detail and delivers them with that singularly smooth voice.

Seth James – Different Hat

The blues grounded guitar phenom returns with another collection of soulful country-rock jams that evoke Ian Moore and Delbert McClinton.

Wade Bowen – Where Phones Don’t Work EP

Bowen remains the most steadfast, genuine and solid artist in Texas. His catalog is as strong or stronger than anyone’s and this latest group of songs is another layer of excellence in his storied career.

Walt Wilkins – Pedernales

People call Walt Wilkins a Texan buddha.  Kind of a guiding light of intelligence, kindness, humanity and music.  All of that is on display on this joyous album. 

Songs

Bri Bagwell – “Heroes”

Bagwell dropped a song about connecting with her lover over their love of classic country artists and reminded everyone why her music is as good as the heroes she sings about.  She drops “Miami, My Amy” and “Whitley” in the first line and you’re in.

Jason Eady – “French Summer Sun”

A powerful song covering the oft-treaded ground of serving in war; World War II to be exact.  But, in the hands of Eady and co-writer Drew Kennedy, this song becomes a Prine-esque rumination on the devastating effects and ripples of war, family pride and patriotism.

John Dempsy – “Raise ‘Em Up With Me”

JD is a multi-talented musician.  He’s been sideman, producer, songwriter, lead singer, production guy, artist…you name it.  On this track, he channels his best rowdy nature and turns in a sing along banger.

Kaitlin Butts – “Marfa Lights”

Oklahoma songbird Butts dips into the mystic nature of Marfa and creates a love song out of the mysteries that lie therein.  

Kelley Mickwee – “Boomtown to Bust”

Mickwee has been best known as one of Shinyribs’ Soul Sisters of late, but she released a few songs in 2021 that reminded everyone that she is an artist of the highest caliber in her own right.  This winsome reflection on a relationship mirroring the boom and bust cycle of a west Texas oil town is a gem.

Lucas Jagneaux – “Dallas”

Jagneaux spreads his Cajun smoothness all over this track that would have been at home on any country station in the 90’s.

Morgan Wade – “Wilder Days”

Wade dropped the biggest song of the year on the strength of a Tom Petty-inspired vibe, groove and chorus.  The perspective of the song’s protagonist is as fresh as the unique spin on love espoused in the lyrics.

Randy Rogers Band – “Picture Frames”

The notion of basing a song around looking at old pictures isn’t a new one (see Jamey Johnson and Josh Grider), but this RRB song (co-written with Drew Kennedy) is a fresh take on the trope.  As with the best RRB songs, the melody soars on the chorus and the lyrics drive home the point that life is lived in the moments but captured on film/phones.

Shaker Hymns – “Yours Truly”

Shaker Hymns are a band that is most at home rocking out, but it is when Nyles Robakiewicz ratchets up his sensitivity and lets some vulnerability creak through his vocals that you truly hear their unique originality. 

Wade Bowen – “When Love Comes Around”

Bowen began playing this song live during the most recent HMBWT shows and the loud, audible reaction from the crowd each time it rolled out was an indication that it was going to be a hit.  Rightfully so.  The hooks are large, the vibe is warm and the lyrics are fresh.  

William Beckmann – “Bourbon Whiskey”

Some acts try to copy and emulate vintage country music in an inauthentic manner. That is not the case with William Beckmann and this modern take on the barroom weeper. Excellent song, excellent delivery. We’re still not sure this was unearthed from the RCA vaults.

Vandoliers – “Every Saturday Night”

In the vein of the best American Aquarium songs, the Vandoliers produced a song that namechecks Turnpike and evokes the best parts of chasing good times and memories on a rowdy Saturday night.

Songwriter

Adam Hood

Hood continues to create songs steeped in his Alabama soul that connect with audience and other artists alike.  He scored several big cuts this year.

Charlie Stout

Stout is a true creative artist at his core.  No matter the medium, he puts his heart into it. His songs provided the groundwork for The Panhandlers project and propelled his words all the way to television screens nationwide when “West Texas In My Eye” hit Yellowstone.

Drew Kennedy

Kennedy continues to deliver the smartest songs in the genre.  He scored big cuts, he co-wrote with many of the biggest names in the Texas scene, he released his own songs and his stamp is on all of it. 

James McMurtry

A master’s master.  McMurtry returned with a vengeance. His biting wit and knack for cutting through the bs of modern life to distill modern truths are on display at the end of each line on his new songs.

Jason Boland

Boland went to the well and pushed himself to get creative with a concept album about aliens.  The true genius is that he pulled it off and managed to write relatable songs.

Discoveries

Dallas Burrow

Burrow is a genuine troubadour traversing the Americana highways with his own brand of songs and stage show.

Dustin Massey

Dustin Massey is coming straight out of Tarrant County with a rock n’ roll soul that has been filled by the likes of Cody Canada and Whiskey Myers.  This kid is ready to put his own spin on Texoma rock n’ roll.

Graycie York

York is an artist and songwriter building a following on the strength of her arresting vocals and songwriting.

Jacob Stelly

The first of two Dalton Domino mentees on this list, Stelly has a million streamer on Spotify and the future is bright.

Morgan Wade

Morgan Wade was a name that had been bubbling around for years due to her heavy presence on social media. Not necessarily she herself; but the fact that thousands of people would share videos of her years before she had a record deal.  She wrote a monster track, toured her tail off and has vaulted into the mainstream.  

Slade Coulter


Domino’s other youngblood rose up on the basis of his songs.  They caught the ears of listeners and radio programmers across the region.  

Sun Valley Station

This Jeff Hobbs-Lucas Copeland outfit added Coby Wier on lead guitar and is poised to be the breakout act of 2022.

Live Acts

American Aquarium

BJ Barham shot out of Covid isolation like a rocket.  For a dude that always has a lot of energy, he had a lot to share and the most recent iteration of his band was ready to guide him along with his rock n’ roll prophecy once more.

Austin Meade

Meade exploded onto national stages this year.  He played monster rock festivals and headlined our very own Galleywinter River Jam. 

Bonnie Bishop

Bishop is a vocalist without equal and each time she’s in front of an audience she leaves goosebumps and slack jaws in her wake. A vocalist without peer.

David Beck’s Tejano Weekend

Beck developed this creative outlet to get a little funky and put an original spin on Tejano and Conjunto music.  He’s taken his suburban and country influences and meshed them with the good stuff from south of the border to make something all his own.

Flatland Cavalry

A band that is peaking.  Cleto Cordero is fully embracing the frontman role and seems more comfortable with each gig.  The band is tight when it’s playing the hits and loose when jamming.  

Jade Marie Patek

A true belter, Patek can be whatever the gig, audience or song requires.  

Josh Weathers

The most natural entertainer in Texas.  Solo acoustic, trio style or backed by a full band cranking out yacht rock jams, Weathers remains the pinnacle of live shows.

Mike and the Moonpies

Seeing the Moonpies live is like stepping into a time machine that is actually a ‘78 Silverado with vinyl seats and hand-crank windows.  Gun rack in the back window naturally.  8 track stuck on Rusty Wier.  It’s the best trip you’ll find.

Thieving Birds

This Ace Crayton-led outfit has been blazing across stages for over a decade, but their post-Covid live dates have been more electric than ever.  We were honored to have them headline a night at Galleywinter River Jam in 2021.

Wade Bowen

Bowen’s always had one of the most professional crews around and the way they are able to tackle the curveballs thrown at them in settings like Bowen Music Fest or having a buddy jump up for a song and not miss a beat never ceases to amaze. 

William Beckmann

Beckmann captivates crowds with just a guitar and that booming voice.  He knows when to lean into it and when to let it breathe.

William Clark Green

WCG’s live shows meld the Stones with Pat Green.  The addition of utility player John Laufenberg has taken one of the best lives bands in America next level.

Favorite Acts

Charley Crockett

Crockett released two fantastic albums this year and firmly established himself as an international Americana superstar.

Flatland Cavalry

A band that has reached the mountaintop after years of nearly being there.  On the strength of their latest album and their continued success at the box office, 2021 was a banner year for the humble folks.

James McMurtry

The irascible roots rocker put out his best collection of songs in a storied career and continues to push the three chords and the truth cliche to its limits.

Jason Boland and the Stragglers

Boland has been in the woodshed creating his most adventurous work to date.  His live show is as good as ever and Roger Ray jumped back in the Straggler fold.

Mike and the Moonpies

These dudes are a machine at this point.  They crank out honest music like factories in Detroit crank out cars.  It’s real and funky and groovy and layered with Tele and steel and all the best things Texas has to offer.  And they keep exceeding expectations.

Brad Beheler

Raised in Waco, refined in the Hill Country, escaped from DFW. I've worked in just about every facet of the music business for 20 years. I like to write about it all. e-mail Brad Editor-in-Chief