Here we are again. The end of another year and time for reflection.  Well, what another clusterfuck of a year 2021 has been.  Yet more tours were cancelled or pushed out and we lost more music legends than I care to count.

However some bands did manage to hit the road and keep us music fans energized and some even used the time they had not touring to put out some really amazing rock music.

As you may remember last year’s Top 5 very quickly morphed into a Top 10.  So of course, I expanded this year’s to a full 10.  By the looks of the Honorable mentions included at the end of this list, next year will be a full Top 20.

What may be more amazing is that 5 albums on this list are actually debut albums.  This tells me that the future is looking very, very bright for rock.

WILL’s Top 10 Albums of 2021.

10. Thunder  – “All The Right Noises”

A straightforward rock & roll album by one of my favorite bands.  Thunder keep bringing it album after album, and after 30+ years as a band, that’s no small feat.  Although there are the usual rock n roll tropes of debauchery & love, Thunder never afraid to tackle the topics of the day, have also included some musical commentary on Brexit, Trumpism and Immigration to name a few.  But the weighty topics don’t bring down what turned out to be another solid entry in the Thunder catalog (Original Song By Song review HERE)

 

9. Dead Daisies– “Holy Ground”

A band that just keep getting better.  Adding the legendary Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals certainly didn’t hurt the cause. Glenn, Doug Aldrich, David Lowy and Deen Castronovo put together an incredibly solid, rocking album that from soup to nuts flat out kicks ass!   Highlights include the title track, “Like No Other (Feel My Bassline)“, “My Fate” and their cover of the Humble Pie classic, “30 Days In the Hole“.

With “Holy Ground“, The Daisies upped their game by leaps and bounds.  I caught them on tour and as good as these songs are on the album, they really explode in the live setting.  An amazing album that I hope brings this lineup together again for years to come.

8. Plush – “Plush”

The first of FIVE debut albums on this list. You can only make a first impression once and what an impression the Ladies of Plush have made.   Plush have been ripping it up this year onstage opening up for Evanescence and Halestorm and they have proved to be a force. 

Powered up front by the mighty vocals of (guitarist/songwriter) Moriah Formica, there are tunes on this disc that are downright heavy that give me early DIO/Sabbath vibes. Moriah, Bella Peron (guitar), Ashley Suppa (bass) and Brooke Colucci have created an album that just gets better with each listen. I hope they stick with this level of “Metal” in their sound because the world needs more young female rockers paving the way for the genre. I sense very large things looming for these 4 ladies.

 

7. Todd La Torre– “Rejoice In The Suffering”

Speaking of METAL! Queensryche singer, Todd La Torre, ventures out onto his own and releases this gem of an album that has all the squeals, growls and thundering, chunky riffs that have surely been welling up inside of him waiting to escape. Well escape they did…

The opening guitar crunch of “Dogmata” leads into a vocal that sounds like Bruce Dickinson unleashed, and Todd doesn’t let up.  Tons of highlights on this solo debut, but the song I keep coming back to is “Vexed“. The title spit out with so much venom that if I had the ability to get giddy, I would. If you’re a metal fan and you don’t have this disc in your arsenal, go out and remedy it NOW. 

 

6. L.A. Guns – “Checkered Past”

And this is where it all comes together.  L.A. Guns 3rd release since Tracii and Phil kissed & made up is their best by far. Where the previous two albums, “The Missing Piece” and “The Devil You Know”, had some great moments, “Checkered Past” is an all killer, no filler fun fest. Every song has a luscious hook and a memorable chorus that made this album easy to fall in love with from the very first spin.  Actually this may be their best album since 1991’s “Hollywood Vampires” which is less of a slight on what came after that and more of an attestation that this is one hell of a great album. Phil, Tracii, Ace, Johnny and Scot… take a bow for making the old new again.

 

5 Smith/Kotzen– “Smith/Kotzen”

If it’s another year then you can bet there’s another release from Richie Kotzen. This time out it’s with Iron Maiden guitarist, Adrian Smith. What a great collaboration THIS turned out to be! Smith/Kotzen providing a ton of 2021 fun with this guitar driven, blues rock record. A combination of styles that you probably couldn’t have predicted just how well they would mesh, but they do.  Amazing vocals, harmonies, shared solos bring their two distinctive styles together for this amazing collection of songs. 

Highlights galore here but check out the bluesy, swaying rock of “Glory Road” that is a  shining example of just how great Adrian and Richie are together.

 

4. W.E.T. – “Retransmission”

Some of you may not be familiar with W.E.T. If not, the name of the band comes from the names of the 3 lead protagonists’ other bands, namely, Robert Såll (from Work of Art), Erik Mårtensson (from Eclipse), and Jeff Scott Soto (the “T” from Talisman). For  Swedish rock aficionados, you’ll understand the pedigree right away.

If this album were released in the 80’s MTV would have made it huge and W.E.T. would be a household name.   Don’t let the names of the songs fool you (even though they may have been hand picked from an 80’s song title grab bag) this is an AOR, Melodic Rock Beast of an album. Every songs has a big riff, with an arena sized chorus. Quite possibly the best melodic rock album I’ve heard in decades.

 

3. Ayron Jones – “Child Of The State”

This one was a very fortuitous discovery for me. I was listening to Spotify (can’t even remember WHO the original band was) and up popped Ayron Jones Supercharged” as a suggested song. Well damn..  Sign me up NOW. So I throw on the disc and I hear “I already called the fucking police because we the baddest band in town.”  Bold opening words kick off “Child of The State” and Ayron backs up every one of them. 

Although not defined by any musical genre, (Ayron was discovered by Sir-Mix-A-Lot) this is definitely a rock record, with a heavy helping of grunge thrown in. (Check out the Tom Morello inspired solo on “Take Me Away”).  Every lyric is either wrapped up in emotion or spit out with angst and if you check out Ayron’s story (and you should), you’ll see that the scars from his history have led to the brutal honesty on display on “Child Of the State“. I dare say that if I’d have latched on to this album earlier in the year it would have moved up to the #1 spot on this list.

 

2. Mammoth WVH – “Mammoth WVH”

Damn Wolfie, way to set the bar sky high for any new artists out there getting ready to release a debut album. Mammoth WVH reached #1 on the Billboard Top Hard Rock, Rock and Independent Album charts and spawned two #1 singles (“Distance” and “Don’t Back Down”)

Wolf wrote every song and played every instrument on this album and firmly stamped a spot on the rock ladder.  To some people’s chagrin, he didn’t follow the “easy path” and tap out some Van Halen sounding tunes. He also didn’t have anyone of note “guest” on the album. He just went out and made a catchy, full of hooks, great modern rock record. A man determined to stand on his own two feet has started with an incredibly solid foundation.

 

1. Greta Van Fleet – “The Battle At Garden’s Gate”

I can already hear the groans from some people. But after many, MANY repeat listening sessions of this album, I have to name it as my Top album of 2021.  Greta Van Fleet once again throw away convention and have made an impressive album that wreaks of 70’s rock greatness. 

GVF don’t follow the hit it and quit it style that most of today’s bands are chasing.  They let a song develop and don’t rely on the cookie cutter formula that’s handed out way too judiciously when you form a new band these days.  

This may be an unpopular choice as the WTR Top album of the year, but from their EP to their debut to this, there is a solid progression in songwriting and the only thing keeping them back will be the bias of people who won’t give them a chance. (And based on the rabid fans they DO have, even that’s not going to slow them down).  This album is a true masterpiece of songwriting. Of note, Jake’s guitar work on this album has taken an amazing leap forward (And live this kid steals the show).  Josh’s vocals are pristine and in places shiver inducing (Just listen to “Tears Of Rain“).

As glowing as my original review was (HERE) this album is better than I had anticipated.  It proudly sits at the top of this list.

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As mentioned in the beginning, there were way too many albums to limit this list Without further ado, here are the Honorable Mentions:

Dirty Honey – “Dirty Honey” 

A running time of 30 mins = Too short and almost places this in the EP territory. I mean Iron Maiden have songs almost as long as the entire album. BUT…  that doesn’t detract from the greatness of Dirty Honey’s debut.  An amazing selection of bluesy, rock songs that have produced one of my favorites songs of the year in “Another Last Time”.  These tunes REALLY come to life in the live setting (as witnessed in crowd-winning support slot with the Black Crowes this year).  Next time, I want MORE Honey and I want it Dirty! (Original Review HERE)

Dee Snider  – “Leave a Scar”

MORE METAL!  A few years back Dee Snider was lured back into the studio by Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) to record “For The Love Of Metal” which saw Dee head in a heavier direction. Well Dee (and Jamey) has now doubled down on the metal with the follow up album “Leave a Scar”.  Moments of shred interlaced with some classic doom inspired tunes all bathed in the glorious snarling vocals of this very Twisted Sister.  Not a bad son on the album.  Highlight for me is the album closer “Stand” as Dee reminds us “Don’t leave a mark, leave a scar

Ricky Warwick  – “When Life Was Hard and Fast”

Let’s not forget one of the first releases of 2021. Coming out in January, Ricky released his 9th solo album, and it was a corker! Another solid album with some quality rockers and some heartfelt ballads.  I always appreciate the honesty in Ricky’s songwriting and “When Life Was Hard and Fast” is an album that allows you to take a walk down memory lane through Ricky’s past. In an album full of high points and guests (Joe Elliot (Def Leppard), Dizzy Reed (Guns n Roses) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran) I still keep going back to “Time Don’t Seem To Matter”, the duet he performs with his daughter, Pepper.

Iron Maiden – “Senjutsu”

An Iron Maiden album release is always an event and with the “Belshazzar’s Feast” tease that precluded the “Senjutsu” announcement by more than a month, the excitement level reached fever pitch.  For this reason, I went a little bit overboard when it was released and thought it was a way better album than it actually is.  There are a bunch of great songs on “Senjutsu”, but there’s also a lot of repetitive, plodding songs that just kind of…  go on.  Still, I had to listen to it a lot to come to this conclusion.  I’m sure when they perform it live, I’ll have a better appreciation for the full scale of the album.  For now, they’ll remain outside my top 10.

And that’s a wrap on 2021! 

Next Year is already shaping up to be a scorcher with scheduled releases from The Scorpions, Halestorm, Richie Sambora, Magnum, The Winery Dogs (Yep, Richie again), Black Star Riders, Slash feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, Extreme, Megadeth and Anthrax to name just a few.

As I did last year, I want to remind all you music lovers to help keep your favorite bands and artists afloat. Go to the shows, buy the albums, purchase the merch.  They need you just as much as you need them.

And as it’s the time of year for giving (and we’re all animal lovers at WTR) I want to offer up two charities  for your consideration that are close to my heart.

Tails Of Gray Senior Dog Rescue

and

Cozy Cares (Providing resources for animal shelters and rescues)

 

Peace and Love and Music to All!