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The Penguin Eggs 2021 Critics’ Album of the Year: Allison Russell – Outside Child


As many of you know, our venerated Canadian folk music magazine, Penguin Eggs, ceased publishing earlier this year with a winter/spring double farewell issue.

Since then, some of you have expressed a desire to see Roots Music Canada help fill the void left by Roddy Campbell and crew.

Those are pretty big shoes to fill – although moose have big hooves! – but we saw an opportunity this winter to preserve one very important Penguin Eggs tradition: the annual critics poll.

Every year for 20 years, Penguin Eggs invited music journalists, radio hosts, folk club and folk festival artistic directors and other “taste makers” in our genre to send in their top 10 albums of the year – and their favourite new discoveries.

The magazine gave artists a point for each list they appeared on and tallied them up to get a final Top 10. It also published the top three new discoveries.

I’m thrilled that Roddy was keen to partner with us to keep the critics poll alive, and he deserves all the credit for doing the actual polling and tabulating the results.

One thing I’ve always loved about the Penguin Eggs Critics Poll is that, although critics are free to select albums from anywhere in the world, the overwhelming majority of winners come from Canada.

The same is true this year.

It likely won’t come as a surprise to too many people that Allison Russell came out on top with her triumphant solo debut, Outside Child.

She’s already earned three Grammy nominations and a New York Times feature for the project.

For those of us who have worked with Allison over the years and who know what a lovely and gracious soul she is, watching her release such a phenomenal album and receive such deserved praise has been a high point in an often-depressing year.

If you’re unfamiliar with her story, have a read of this article we published when the album first came out; it was authored by Tim Readman, one of the first people Allison played music with when she moved to Vancouver.

‘This is my path’: Allison Russell on trauma, self-love and healing through music

Thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s poll, many of whom were likely caught off guard by the request, having assumed that it wasn’t happening this year.

And congratulations to Allison on another well-deserved honour.

The full top 10 is below. To see individual critics’ top 10 lists, CLICK HERE.

The Penguin Eggs Critics Albums of the Year: 2021

1. Allison Russell, Outside Child (Fantasy Records)

2. Maria Dunn, Joyful Banner Blazing (Distant Whisper)

3. The McDades, The Empress (Free Radio Records)

4. (Tie) The Fretless, Open House (Birthday Cake Media)

Rhiannon Giddons (with Francesco Turrisi), They’re Calling Me Home (Nonesuch)

6. (Tie) Bela Fleck, My Bluegrass Heart (Renew Records)

John Wort Hannam, Long Haul (Black Hen)

8. (Tie) Brandi Carlile, In These Quiet Days ( Elektra Records)

Willie Dunn, Creation Never Sleeps Creation Never Dies (Light in the Attic)

Sarah Jarosz, Blue Heron Suite (Rounder)

Murray McLauchlan, Hourglass (True North)

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raise The Roof (Rounder)

New Discoveries of the Year: 2021

1. Katherine Priddy

2. Julian Taylor

3. (Tie) Arooj Aftab

Jim Ghedi

Crys Matthews

Leyla McCalla

Past Albums of the Year

2020: Pharis & Jason Romero, Bet On Love (Lula)

2019: The Small Glories, Assiboine & The Red (Red House)

2018: Pharis & Jason Romero, Sweet Old Religion (Lula)

2017: Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highyway (Nonesuch)

2016: Ten Strings And A Goat Skin, Auprès du Poéle (Independent)

2015: Jayme Stone, Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Borealis)

2014: Ameilia Curran, They Promised You Mercy (Six Shooter)

2013: David Francey, So Say We All (laker Music)

2012: Rose Cousins, We Have Made A Spark (Outside Music)

2011: Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest (Acorn)

2010: Lynn Miles, Fall For Beauty (True North)

2009:Jory Nash, New Blue Day (Independent)

2008: Fred Eaglesmith, Tinderbox (A Major Label)

2007:Alisaon Krauss & Robert Plant, Raising Sand (Rounder)

2006: Bob Dylan, Modern Times (Columbia)

2005: Lynn Miles, Love Sweet Love, (True North)

2004: David Francey, The Waking Hour (Laker Music)

2003: David Francey, Skating Rink (Laker Music

2002:Harry Manx, Wise and Otherwise (Northern Blues)

2001: David Francey, Far End of Summer (Laker Music)

Past New Discoveries

2020: Phoebe Bridges, Kake Blount

2019: Talisk, The Unfaithful Servants, Lula Wiles

2018: Wallis Bird Annie Sumi

2017: Birds of Chicago, William Prince

2016:Dori Freeman

2015: Anna and Elizabeth

2014: Còig

2013: Milk Carton Kids

2012: Cold Specks

2011:The Barr Brothers, Carrie Elkin, Pokey LaFarge, New Country Rehab

2010: The Once

2009: Kate Reid

2008: Amelia Curran

2007: Little Miss Higgins, Seth Lakeman, Catherine MacLellan

2006: Crooked Still

2005: Ridley Bent, House of Doc

2004: Fiamma Fumana

2003: Rae Spoon

2002: Ruthie Foster, Kathleen Edwards

2001: Harry Manx


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