Stocking Stuffers – The Best CDs of 2021

It is that time of year again – the air is crisp with a chill, people are out buying their Christmas trees, and, for my Jewish friends, their menorah is lit a little early (Happy Hanukkah, guys and girls!). One thing that everyone is looking for, however, is ideas for presents. I have come up with a list that, just as a coincidence, also happens to be my picks for some of the best CDs that were released in the past year. There is something here for everyone, so take a look at the roster of albums I’ve selected and perhaps you’ll be able to take someone’s name off your list!

(As an aside, I DO NOT receive any money for these selections, even though you will find a link to how to purchase these items – these are truly some of the CDs that I have enjoyed over the year and think very highly of them.)

Let us get it started, shall we?

Up first we have a brand-new band that hit the scene like a hurricane in 2021 (no insult to Nita “Hurricane” Strauss intended!). Plush is a band that came together rather quickly in 2021, with all four of its members UNDER the age of 21 – that’s right, they cannot legally drink when they are out on tour! Singer/guitarist Moriah Formica, lead guitarist Bella Peron, bassist Ashley Suppa and drummer Brooke Colucci blew people away with their first song “Hate,” and followed it up in October with their self-titled debut CD.

This CD rocks from start to finish, but I came to a discovery. While listening to the song “Athena,” it finally hit me who Formica reminds me of as a vocalist. She is quite comparable in style, quality and strength to Ann Wilson of Heart. Add in the virtuosity of Peron, Suppa and Colucci on their respective instruments and they offer us a relived glimpse into the future of what rock music might look like. Plush just finished an opening tour set with Lzzy Hale and Halestorm and Amy Lee and Evanescence – if you are opening for bands like that, they also think you have got some talent!

I will be honest on this one…I was not initially sold on Wolfgang Van Halen, the only son of the late Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli. His work with his father and uncle Alex in the revamped Van Halen really did not show much of what he could do, thus I was skeptical when I heard he was coming out with his debut CD following the passing of his dad in late 2020. Let it be said now that I have been converted.

Mammoth WVH (Mammoth was the original name of Van Halen that Wolfgang asked if he could use for his group) was completely the work of the younger Van Halen, who played EVERY instrument on the record. Over six years, he slaved over the album and the time taken was well worth it. The self-titled debut is a perfect record, from the strains of “Don’t Back Down” to the tune that Wolfgang wrote for his father, “Distance.” The ONLY issue I can see is that this record sets the bar EXTREMELY high for Wolfgang when he comes down to doing the follow-up.

This list is not all about established artists. Through my work, I have been exposed to some independent artists that are putting their blood, sweat and tears into their music and trying to work their way up to multi-platinum albums and stadium shows. One of those groups that I have found is Austin, TX’s The Metal Byrds, who put out arguably their best effort in their fourth career album, naturally titled 4.

Vocalist Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye both carry full time jobs (Rye is a first responder, Birdie works with an airline) while they pursue their dreams of musical glory. They write about many different issues on 4, from paying tribute to a young fan on “Spitfire Pete” to enjoying their time away from their “day jobs” with “Life of the Party.” The download can be found on Bandcamp (a GREAT place to find lots of new music), where you can also pick up some of the other music from The Metal Byrds. These guys deserve to get that major label deal – they have the talent, they’ve got the drive, and they’ve got the substance from their catalog.

Up next might be a surprising choice from me, at least to those that know me. During the pandemic shutdown, Americana legend Lucinda Williams did shows called “Lu’s Jukebox” where she performed music that has shaped her musical stylings. Those pandemic recordings have become a six-part series of CDs, with five of them already out and the sixth, a tribute to The Rolling Stones, coming out in 2022.

Of the efforts, my personal favorite has been Williams’ tribute album to the late Tom Petty. Running Down a Dream: A Tribute to Tom Petty took Williams a bit outside her comfort zone, especially when attacking such rock classics as Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “You Wreck Me.” But she did an outstanding job throughout the album, which was the first one released of the series. You would be well advised to pick up ALL of the CDs, but especially Williams’ tribute to Tom Petty (in the series she also covers country music tunes and Bob Dylan).

OK, just suggested six CDs in that last segment, so I am going to name two in this one because the ladies are quite similar in their approaches. First up is the return of 90s spitfire Liz Phair, whose 2021 CD Soberish deserves a place on every “top album” list for the year. After a decade away from the game, Phair showed that she had not lost any of her prickly nature, nor her ability to craft a song. The title track in particular was outstanding, as was her ode to Lou Reed, “Hey Lou.”

The tandem partner to the Phair CD would be another discovery I found during my radio work this year. Tamar Berk’s the restless dreams of youth (yes, Berk is a Rush fan!) was simply an excellent demonstration of crafting an album. With turns of phrase that remind you of Phair, Berk still makes her music her own, especially on tunes like “Socrates and Me” and “Shadow Clues.” This is an artist that deserves more attention for her efforts – get to Bandcamp and give Berk’s work some love.

As Monty Python used to say “And now for something completely different…”

The band Ice Nine Kills carved a niche out in hard rock three years ago with an album called The Silver Scream. The 2018 album was Spencer Charnas and Company’s interpretations of classic horror and slasher films in a musical context. They did such an excellent job with it that it deserved its own sequel, as horror and slasher films are wont to do – hence, Welcome to Horrorwood: The Silver Scream II makes an appearance on our list.

You might think they would run out of ways to do these songs, but INK continues to produce inventive and entertaining ways to interpret these compositions. On The Silver Scream II, most notable are “Hip to be Scared” (an ode to the movie American Psycho), “Rainy Day” (taking on the Resident Evil franchise) and even the classic “The Shower Scene” (yes, about the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho). Can Charnas and Ice Nine Kills continue with the sequels? As they say, let’s tune in a couple of years down the road.

You cannot put together a “best of” list for 2021 without including Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. Just when you think they are getting too old to play this game anymore, they come up with one of their best efforts in years in Medicine at Midnight. It has been a fantastic year for the band, with their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and other accolades, and the success of Midnight is well deserved.

This is another group that I found through my efforts in radio, coming out of Canada. Sumo Cyco is like No Doubt and Slipknot had a baby, and the resulting album this year, Initiation, was perfectly crafted to display the skills of the band. Such tracks as “Vertigo” and “Bystander” should have gotten much more airtime from mainstream radio – that they did not is a huge crime.

We are going to wrap this up with a couple of bluesy acts.

First up is the Jamie Porter Band, who released their latest CD MMXXI just last month. The band often gets lopped in with the NWOCR category (New Wave of Classic Rock) that is quite popular in the United Kingdom, but I think that Jamie Porter and his entourage just do some damn great blues rock. “Save Me” and “You Can’t Bring Me Down” are the best efforts off this CD, but the entirety is a joy to sit back and listen to with a drink in hand.

Finally, we have guitarist Samantha Fish, who released her newest CD Faster in the final quarter of 2021. Fish has already gained acclaim for her guitar prowess, and she is taking that talent to the next level in working with differing sounds and genres. She caught a little flak from the blues community for working with Tech 9ine on one of the best tracks on the album, “Loud,” but Fish was stubborn in her insistence on collaborating with the rapper. “All Ice No Whiskey” and “Crowd Control” further demonstrated that Fish is continuing to expand her world beyond just the blues box.

While these are the “best of,” I would be remiss if I didn’t name a few “Honorable Mentions” to the roster. Check these albums out too:

Lilith Czar, Created from Filth and Dust
Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Black Veil Brides, The Phantom Tomorrow
Garbage, No Gods No Masters
Chevelle, NIRATIAS

With that, go forth and do your shopping! Oh, and while you are doing that, what were some of your choices for the best albums of the year? It is always good to hear what others might think!

A Way-Too-Early Look at Who Might be Nominated for the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Over this past weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies for the Class of 2021 aired on HBO. It was a fine program, with just a few flaws (the Tina Turner tribute fell flat and Drew Barrymore’s drooling over the induction of The Go-Go’s was a bit much), and it seemed that the sellout crowd in attendance at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland had a damn good time. Even before the ceremonies had closed, however, speculation had already begun as to who will be nominated for the Class of 2022.

Considering the fact that this class will not be chosen until late January at the earliest, the speculation seems to be a bit premature. It is human nature, however, to always be looking towards the future. It is also human nature to try to “right wrongs,” as in those that had been nominated in 2021 but failed to get in. The problem with this theory is that those that have been nominated and failed to get in have a much more challenging time as their nominations (and subsequent rejections for induction) mount up – ask eleven-time nominees Chic or Rufus and Chaka Khan about multiple nominations and how that went.

But let us entertain the thought. Here are some of those that were nominated in 2021 and an honest look at their chances to come back to the ballot in 2022.

First off, we can immediately discount four of the 2021 nominees and they are all women, unfortunately. Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Chaka Khan and Dionne Warwick will not be back on the ballot in 2022 for a variety of reasons. For Blige, you only have to look at LL Cool J. “Ladies Love Cool James” had to be inducted by receiving the Award for Musical Excellence and he has had a career that was VASTLY superior to Blige. If there were someone who might have a chance to use the AME like that, it would be Khan, who has been nominated several times as both a solo artist and with the band Rufus. But neither of these ladies will be on the ballot come 2022.

For Bush, it is simply a matter that her incredible talents are more respected in Europe and, in particular, the United Kingdom than they are in the States. If the Rock Hall were in London, she would have been a first year eligible (FYE) induction. Alas, the Rock Hall is on the shores of Lake Erie, thus she will probably never get another chance. Warwick must have been some sort of cosmic joke to be nominated for the Rock Hall…she is not getting another chance.

Noting the longstanding prejudice of the Rock Hall against hard rock and metal, this is arguably the last time you will see Iron Maiden or Rage Against the Machine on the ballot (as you will see, though…that does not stop me from putting some harder edged bands on my choices for 2022). It seems that neither of the bands were able to garner much support for induction, so they might end up like Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Thin Lizzy, eternally on the “outside looking in” at Rock Hall membership, even though ALL of them deserve it.

That leaves three nominees from 2021 that all have a chance to be inducted – Devo, New York Dolls, and Fela Kuti.

These three are going to go in at some point in the mix. Kuti will be inducted, it is simply a question of whether he is elected as a performer or he takes the Early Influence or AME route. Devo is a selection that the Rock Hall Nominating Committee will hold in their hip pocket for an induction ceremony back in Cleveland. Inducting a band created in Akron, OH, would excite the local fans and draw a great deal of media coverage. That also goes for the Dolls, whose induction during a New York ceremony would be massive, not to mention that the Rock Hall may need another 70s relic to induct on some occasion – New York Dolls would cover both bases.

Now that we have covered the 2021 nominees and their chances at getting back on the ballot in 2022, we can move on. Here are the bands that I believe, in this way-too-early selection list, will be the nominations for the 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The ONLY guarantee for 2022 is Eminem, and he is also a shoo-in as an FYE induction. The former Marshall Mathers is recognized as one of the greatest rappers in the history of the genre and has expanded the scope of the genre into pop and rock effortlessly. The Rock Hall has recognized nine rap acts for induction, and Eminem will be the tenth to take a chair in rock’s Parthenon.

Duran Duran was one of the seminal 80s acts, and they have surprisingly NEVER been nominated for induction into the Rock Hall. That should change this year, especially with John Sykes, the new Chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, now firmly in charge. Sykes made an impact with his first Rock Hall class in 2021 and now, with his history as one of the founders of MTV, will push hard for the inclusion of more of those 80s acts that have been overlooked for far too long. You could also slip Eurythmics or Joy Division/New Order into this slot.

Even though I said it would not happen, I would love to see the Rock Hall give both Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy one final shot. The Rock Hall has made some missteps over the years and, for at least the selection of Judas Priest, they could rectify it with their induction. Motorhead or Iron Maiden might be other selections if you want to have two hard rock/metal acts to choose from (but which in the past may have served as a detriment in dividing the hard rock/metal vote).

There are two acts from the 1970s that are worthy of consideration – War and the J. Geils Band. Both were outstanding acts in the 70s that garnered huge followings, and both had an impact on the development of rock in the decade. I used to be against both bands being inducted, but I took an honest look and spent some expanded time examining their resumes and…guess what? You can change your mind on some occasions!

If we are going full bore on the 80s – and start considering acts that should have been inducted over a decade ago – the place to start is with Pat Benatar. Nominated in 2019 and somehow passed over for induction, the Rock Hall is trying to make up for the lack of female inductees in the building (note the inductions of Tina Turner, Carole King, and The Go-Go’s in 2021). Personally, I think that Benatar should have been there years ago, but I think she might be the one standing in the way of an induction by insisting on being inducted with her husband, Neil Giraldo. If that is the case, that is unfortunate.

There are two men who merit consideration for induction into the Rock Hall. Sting’s solo career was so vastly different from his time with The Police that he deserves consideration for his work apart from the band. Additionally, it is time that Robert Palmer gets some kudos from the Rock Hall. He could croon a ballad with the best of them, could rock it up when he wanted to (“Bad Case of Loving You” and his work with The Power Station) and look oh, so suave as he did it (I am waiting for those fans of Phil Collinsto quit their wails of disbelief).

Now, if you want to get controversial, our final four choices would do it. Separate out the idiocy of their front man over the past decade or so and only look at the work of The Smiths. You will realize that Morrissey and Company were key to the development of alternative rock through the 80s and into the 90s. If you are going to have The Cure and Depeche Mode in the Rock Hall, then The Smiths deserve to be there, too. Additionally, Jane’s Addiction and, yes, Rage Against the Machine deserve to receive their kudos for their intricate and politically powerful work in the 90s.

Finally, if there is one rock band that is newly eligible in 2022 for induction into the Rock Hall, it would be Slipknot. The band fronted by Corey Taylor has many similarities to 2021 inductee Foo Fighters – carrying the rock and roll banner unapologetically for 25 years, sticking to their sound over the years, providing a linchpin between today’s rockers and past greats, and having an enigmatic focal point in Taylor (Dave Grohl did that for the Foos). I will say right now I do not expect them to be inducted even IF they are nominated, but who knows?

That is a total of 13 selections – but the Nomination Class is normally 15 or 16 artists and groups. I am leaving a few slots open for those “wild cards” that the Rock Hall seems to produce out of the blue (see Kuti, Fela and Warwick, Dionne from 2021). Right now, however, the only thing that is guaranteed is that Eminem will be inducted in 2022 – after that, it is a free-for-all.

Renegades Radio Podcast – The Best of 2019!

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Hard to believe that another 12 months has rushed by and we find ourselves at the end of the year! The Renegades Radio Podcast is taking a look back at the year in music, from the women who dominated the charts to the MASSIVE hit song that was on everyone’s lips to the collaborations that made us sit up and take notice. And yes, rock & roll is still alive, even in a far flung location!

The Renengades Radio Podcast is also going to look at some of the news that broke during the year, including the biggest story of the year, the exposure of just how devastating the 2008 Universal Studios fire was to the music industry. It will be an entertaining hour, so join us!

@billieeilish @arianagrande @pink @iamhalsey @avamax @teddysphotos @lilnasx @ladygaga @bradleycooper0fficial @camila_cabello @shawnmendes @jennydianelewis @iammarkronson @mileycyrus @sherylcrow @chrisstapleton @thehighwomen @marenmorris @brandicarlile @amandapearlshires @nataliehemby @paparoach @hellyeahofficial @slipknot @thehuofficial

Renegades Radio Podcast – ORDER IN THE COURT! (Or Famous Court Cases in Music History)

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ALL RISE!!!

That’s right, this week on the Renegades Radio Podcast we’re heading to the courtroom! In the history of music, there have been several cases where musicians and/or singers have had to prove that they, in fact, did create the music that they recorded. In some cases, the artists have proven that they weren’t influenced. In some others, however, there has been some…questions.

From The Chiffons to Slipknot, we’ll take a look at these court cases and offer our own opinion on whether the judge (or, in some cases, the jury) got the decision right. Let us know what you think as the Renegades Radio Podcast holds court!

@officialhueylewisnews @rayparkerjr @vanillaiceofficial @officialqueenmusic @davidbowie #marvingaye @robinthicke @pharrell #thegapband @iammarkronson @brunomars @johnfogerty @theofficialccr @georgeharrisonofficial @slipknot @metallica @ledzeppelin