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The Maes top our ‘Artsfols 2021 Best Folk and Acoustic Session Video’ playlist with Katie Pruitt also near the top. Other artists featured include Adele, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, London Grammar, breakout performers like Lake Street Dive, Watchhouse and Sierra Ferrell, and lesser known performers like Lexi Berg, Zoe Weiss and Twisted Pine.

Nancy, Anna, Andrea and myself had a great deal of fun with the entire process again this year. With a new data mining script I wrote to track all of my favourite artists, we initially had a list of 5000 videos. Add to that another 2-3000 videos from various producers like Mahogany, KEXP and others. Early in the month we published a discovery, or long, list of 297 videos which has been available on Youtube Music and Spotify. But our main object is to produce this ‘best’ list designed exclusively to be viewed on youtube.

All our playlists can be accessed within the youtube app on your Roku, Apple TV box, or directly on your television by searching for ‘Artsfols’. Or restrict the search to this year’s lists by searching ‘Artsfols 2021’. Or conveniently access directly from this blog, if you listen on your computer or tablet.

Here is a direct link to the ‘Artsfols 2021 Best Folk and Acoustic Session Videos’ list in sequence from good to best.

And here are a few other links that may be useful, including the long discovery lists with many more great songs of the year 2021.

1. the long list (discovery) of the best folk and acoustic sessions.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2x-ijV1E2eEo0djZF6bnPN6Dzqsf_Vd3

2. an audiostream of the long list for listening and download purposes.
https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2x-ijV1E2eEw_1DzG9bNQEdtmKrrbRNG

3. a similar audiostream on spotify.

Note that the audiostreams often substitute an official production release for the acoustic performance that can only be found as youtube videos.

This year’s songs traversed many themes from the omni-present COVID pandemic to various contemporary social issues and, not surprisingly, the general human condition remains an ever fertile topic.

36. In ‘Easy on Me’, Adele looks back on her younger self, but provides a balm as we work through the present COVID crisis: we could all go easier on each other through this time. (37 million views – I document this because it’s useful for tracking an artist’s popularity over time.)
35. ‘The Way It Was Before’ by Della Mae. The lyrics touch on our contemporary situation and aren’t expected in a traditional bluegrass envelope, but they are why we chose this song for this list. (8,700)
34. ‘Warmth’ by Bastille with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. Note that this was recorded pre-pandemic although not released until 2021. (405,000)
33. ‘$7.50 to Denmark’ by Twisted Pine. This is a bit more in a fun groove. Paste Studios churns out hundreds of music videos each year, and it’s a delight to find a band that is this good. (760, should be more).
32. ‘Better Way’ by Watchhouse. Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) has become so understated in their approach, that you might miss just how good they are. Tune your ears for mandolin and voice nuance. Always lovely. (87,000)
31. ‘Freedom’ by Jon Batiste. Okay, not understated. (5.6 million)
30. ‘The Problem’ by Amanda Shires ft. Jason Isbell. This song runs through the various feelings and thoughts of a young woman contemplating abortion, with Jason providing counter-point as her partner/ lover. Very timely considering recent events at our southern neighbour. (2600)
29. ‘Us’ by Delilah Montagu. Just a great sad song, well sung. (22,000)
28. ‘Hold me Like You Used To’ by Zoe Wees. It may not be apparent at first that this song is about the death of the writer’s mother. This song may well tear you up. (21,800)
27. Colorado by Rachel Baiman. (1,400)
26. ‘In Dreams’ by Sierra Ferrell (39,800). Ferrell is a star in the making. She has been prolific on youtube and it was difficult to select a ‘best video’.
25. Lord Huron feat. Allison Ponthier – I Lied (255,000)
24. Wolf Alice – Delicious Things. Most of Wolf Alice’s work is outside the ‘folk and acoustic’ milieu, but this video demonstrates a broadening of their repertoire. (127,000)
23. Michael Franti ft. Spearhead – Work Hard and Be Nice (42,400)
22. Everyone You Know ft. Joy Anonymous – Just For The Times (7200)
21. Amy Macdonald – The Human Demands (230,000)
20. Ocie Elliott – Slow Tide. This duo from northern British Columbia has been attracting a following primarily through youtube. The footage of the British Columbia wilderness, which they call home, and their melodious, soft music is a winning combination. (80,000)
19. Faouzia & John Legend – Minefields (4.3 million)
18. Birdy – Deepest Lonely (467,000)
17. Lexi Berg – Helpless To Help You (6700)
16. Sarah Jarosz – Blue Heron (49,000)
15. London Grammar – Lord It’s A Feeling. If you find the F word, off putting, please skip this track. (1.1 million)
14. Rae Morris – Fish n Chips ft. Soph Aspin (14,000)
13. Biffy Clyro – Space (1.7 million)
12. Hannah Georgas – Pray It Away (7500)
11. Evangeline Gentle – The Strongest People Have Tender Hearts. (13700)
10. Lake Street Dive – Nobody’s Stopping You Now (156,000)
9. Cande y Paulo – Treaty. Moving cover of a Leonard Cohen song. (17800)
8. Darlingside – Time Will Be (5000)
7. Billie Eilish – Your Power (8.1 million)
6. Taylor Swift – All Too Well (Sad Girl Autumn Version) (5.9 million)
5. London Grammar – America (170,000)
4. Sigrid – Burning Bridges. The ‘burning bridges’ aren’t symbolic of a romantic breakup. The song is about the problems in dealing with someone that has a habit of ‘burning bridges’ whether that’s a lover, a family member or a friend. Works any of those ways. (474,000)
3. William Prince and Serena Ryder – The Spark. This was the first pick of many of our listeners. (84,000)
2. Katie Pruitt – Normal. We think that with those pipes and the sensibility of her lyrics that this young singer will go far. (4,500)
1. The Maes – Make a Baby. The Maes, formerly the Mae Trio, have been on our year end list several times. This one topped the list for our panel; we all score ‘blind’ incidentally. While the song did not knock us over the head initially, the great vibe and vocal prowess demonstrated on this video led to top scores across the board. Most of the Maes work does a slow burn and grows on you over time, and many fans have been won over by their consummate live performances. (2,700)

This is now our 9th year of publishing a year end playlist of folk and acoustic session videos. The whole idea is to have a playlist of the year’s best musical performances that can be watched in sequence like a music concert. Although ideally this would played on a big screen television with a decent sound system, smaller displays, down to a phone, along with a good set of earbuds, will also work quite well. Folk and acoustic no longer means ‘Pete Seeger’ and ‘Harry Belafonte’, but covers a very wide gamut of music, as you can see from the list we’ve made.

What we look for are videos that feature the performer in performance preferably in an acoustic, song-centric mode. The overall effect, when the videos are watched in succession, is to simulate a concert experience. We’re quite happy that some of the top, successful performers like Taylor Swift, Adele, Sigrid, Wolf Alice produce side videos of themselves in performance, with minimum artifice. These videos are labelled ‘live’, ‘acoustic’ or ‘stripped’. While they don’t gather the view counts of ‘official videos’ we believe that these are the videos that core fans like to watch. Add to that those performers whose budgets only permit live performance videos, means that there is a very wide selection from which to choose, especially this year when COVID limits live performance and many performers have turned to the web.

While we do feel empathy for performers we feel deserve wider recognition when forming this list, I think we’re safe in saying that view counts aren’t an indicator of quality or talent. With this list, we are looking at individual songs and performances that we like. We’re not rating the artists overall output or their albums. So yes, we really do think that the magic that The Maes achieved with a minimal budget and raw talent does eclipse every other song on the list. Or that Katie Pruitt’s performance ranks with those of Taylor Swift, London Grammar and other leading lights.

But we also like every single one of these tracks a lot. Now that the list is complete, I look forward to kicking back with a glass of wine and a session on the big screen and my sound system. We hope you enjoy these performances half as much as our panelists and friends do. Happy listening in 2022, and hopefully the new year brings a return to the sine qua non of live performance.