The Best Saskatchewan Albums of 2021
The Top 10
Despite the massive challenges of the pandemic, it’s been a very strong year for Saskatchewan albums! From the wide-ranging albums released in the past year* and submitted through the Saskatchewan Music Awards 2021 intake, our juries assembled a Long List of 37 albums which then went to public vote.
We are pleased to present your Top 10 for 2021. Due to multiple ties though, there are 18 albums named!
This project is to promote and celebrate Saskatchewan music. We seek to raise more awareness of our province's music and celebrate our artists’ many successes over the past year. The top album as determined by the poll receives the 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for "Album of the Year."
#1 Hunter Brothers: Been a Minute
Our #1 spot in The Best Saskatchewan Albums of the Year, and recipient of the 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Album of the Year.
Hunter Brothers' third studio album, Been A Minute, is a compilation of their signature harmonies and up-tempo hits which delve into the heart of the times the world is presently walking through. Been A Minute started with a couple of songs that spoke to the sentiment of the circumstances that were being faced in 2020 with “Hard Dirt” and “Just Wanted You To Know,” and evolved more as time went on to being a positive soundtrack for seeing the hope in the future.
“Been A Minute” was selected as the title track primarily because it represented how the brothers were all feeling at the time. This song and album are meant to be something that speaks to not only the hardship of the past but also the hope of the future. Album release day saw the Brothers on Spotify’s All About Country and New Boots playlists, to the album hitting #1 on the Country Album Chart and #1 All Genres Album Chart on iTunes, plus landing a spot on the New Music Friday Spotify billboard at the CF Toronto Eaton Centre. With over 55 million video & audio streams to date, Hunter Brothers have amassed strong industry credibility as well as fan support in a record amount of time, including multiple CCMA Award nominations, JUNO Award nominations and SCMA Award wins.
Hunter Brothers are nominated for 2021 Saskatchewan Music Awards for Country Artist of the Year, and Single of the Year twice with “Diamonds and “Been a Minute”.
#2 Jake Vaadeland: Retro Man
18-year-old Jake Vaadeland is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Cut Knife SK. His traditional sound and unique style could be defined as a blend of bluegrass and ‘50s rockabilly, with Jake specializing on guitar and banjo in addition to his impressive vocals, all packaged in foot-stomping, high-energy performances with The Sturgeon River Boys. Jake's debut EP, Retro Man highlights his writing style, with a focus on storytelling and messages that he hopes his audience can relate to. It was produced by Joel Rohs and Jake Vaadeland, and recorded at Tri Sonic Sound, in Prince Albert SK.
“He cut a foppish figure and seemed to have stepped right off of a Greyhound Scenic Cruiser double-decker bus, fresh from the fertile plains of Saskatchewan, bound for Music City with a pocket full of songs, a guitar, and the dog-eared stub of a one-way ticket. Jake had just enough attitude to let you know that he wasn’t kidding…a healthy dose of bravado and svelte, and a double dose of knowing who he was and where he wanted to go while working out for himself how to get there.” – Mississippi Chris Sharp, The Bluegrass Standard, Rancho Mirage, California
#2 Jeffery Straker: Just Before Sunrise
Singer-songwriter pianist Jeffery Straker released this latest full-length recording in May 2021. The roots/folk/singer-songwriter album is described as a 'soundtrack of reflection' that reveals an optimistic outcome. In a way it asks the listener, ‘Where have you been? Where are you headed? Where would you like to be headed’? Written and recorded in the wake of the sudden loss of his mother, these songs speak to the lifelong need to dream, to belong and to matter. The 10-song work, produced in partnership with Russell Broom, also features two co-writes/co-productions with Royal Wood. Singles have seen several playlist placements (Spotify, Amazon) spanning the roots, folk and country genres. Jeffery’s influences include Harry Chapin, Murray McLaughlin, Billy Joel, and Lori McKenna. In addition to online release concerts in venues across Canada, the prolific performer booked 45 backyard shows this past summer to perform the new music within pandemic restrictions.
Jeffery is nominated for 2021 Saskatchewan Music Awards for Roots/Folk Artist of the Year as well as Music Video of the Year (nominee Dylan Hryciuk for Ready to Be Brave).
#3 Jess Moskaluke: The Demos
The Demos, the newest release from Platinum-selling, multi-award-winning country artist Jess Moskaluke was released February 19/21 via MDM Recordings Inc./Universal Music Canada. The product of our ever-changing world, The Demos came to be after international travel came to a halt, and it was evident that Moskaluke wouldn’t be making it down to Nashville to record the new songs she had been working on. Having already demoed the vocals, Moskaluke worked virtually with her long-time producer Corey Crowder (Vibe House Studios, Nashville TN) to create the eleven-track offering, which includes her number one hit "Country Girls," "Halfway Home," "Mapdot" and Top 15 single "Nothin' I Don't Love About You." The Canadian Country Music Association has named her Female Vocalist of the Year three times, along with Album of the Year for Past the Past (2018), and about twenty other nominations in recent years. Jess was nominated for 4 CCMAs in 2021 including Album of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Songwriter(s) of the Year and Video of the Year. She’s also been nominated for five JUNOs to date, including a win for Album of the Year for Kiss Me Quiet.
Jess is nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Country Artist of the Year, Single of the Year for “Nothin' I Don't Love About You”, and Music Video of the Year (nominee Tanner Goetz for “Mapdot”).
#3 vbnd: Scum Funk
Following his 2018 debut Daughter of The Sun (which now holds over 10 million streams across digital service providers), Saskatoon-based artist/producer vbnd released Scum Funk via London-based independent label DeepMatter. Aiming to cultivate and encourage the growth of the jazz and soul sound in his hometown, vbnd’s new work showcases the complexity of the genre and its alluring effects.
As a collection of songs created over the past two years, Scum Funk sees vbnd (producing from The Sweat Shoppe in Saskatoon SK) team up with The Soulmate Collective, consisting of Katie Tupper (vocals), Connor Newton (saxophone), Jesse Mcmillan (drums) & Ayden Draude (keys). With influences from D’Angelo and Michael League of Snarky Puppy, the collaboration results in a groove-heavy affair led by vbnd’s signature hypnotic bass lines and production, accompanied by crisp drums, topped off with Katie Tupper’s smoky vocals and unparalleled songwriting. Scum Funk portrays intense trust between the musicians with the aim of exemplifying the uniting powers of music. The LP features gritty bass arrangements supporting zesty keys and syncopated drums, which create a solid backbone for luxurious saxophone melodies, and breezy vocals. “A truly impressive body of work, Scum Funk documents vbnd’s growing mastery of groove, texture, and grit, illustrating a strong and intriguing artistic identity” - o sotão, www.osotao.com.
vbnd is nominated for 2021 Saskatchewan Music Awards for R&B Artist of the Year and Indigenous Artist of the Year, as well as in the data-driven Single of the Year category for “Slowly Starting to Take Form.”
#4 The Garrys: Get Thee to a Nunnery
Get Thee To A Nunnery draws upon the classic surf riffs of The Ventures, the drama of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns, the dreamy psychedelia of Kurt Vile, France Gall’s brand of mod-pop cheek, and the lo-fi garage noir of Los Saicos. Most notably, the album was inspired in part by stories of their mother’s high school years at an all-girls Catholic boarding school and convent in small-town 1960s Saskatchewan. On several tracks, The Garrys explore the push-pull of rebellion and redemption that comes within a religious upbringing, and the seeding of persistent guilt that all former Catholic school kids know well. Even for artists as reverentially nostalgic as The Garrys, it’s impossible to avoid grappling with the tensions that arise from their sources of aesthetic inspiration. On one hand, they look upon this era and environment as timelessly cool, and coloured with a sepia-toned innocence; on the other, they know it was inescapably repressive to young women and various ‘others’. As these cold realizations surface, much of the album is united by a mourning of the various things that can erode, wither, and die while time marches on and as we get older - including the communities, traditions, and relationships we once held near and dear. It was produced by Dallas Good at Rec Hall Studios, Saskatoon SK.
The Garrys are nominated for 2021 Saskatchewan Music Awards for Alternative Artist of the Year and Rock/Pop Artist of the Year.
#4 Seven Mile Sun: Light In The Dark
Light In The Dark is the debut EP from Saskatchewan rock trio Seven Mile Sun. All 3 members originate from small towns not far west of Saskatoon, with brother and sister Kevin and Kimberley Stevens hailing from Tessier, and long-time friend/bassist Joanne Genest from nearby Harris. The group has been performing together for years, but redirected their focus from playing covers to writing and recording original material during the height of the pandemic. The title reflects how the group felt about the project during the lockdown, providing a bright spot during somewhat dark times. The album’s genre could be described as blues-based rock/rock n roll, drawing influence from the likes of The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Gary Clark Jr., etc. It was produced by Aspen Beveridge at Skullcreek Studios, Saskatoon SK. 7MS continues to record and looks forward to putting out more music in 2022.
#4 Flash Back - Wide Awake
“On the heels of their Wide Awake EP and a US headlining tour with Gates to Hell and Outta Pocket, Saskatchewan six-piece Flash Back continue to be in the driver's seat of their own lane of nu metal/rock/hardcore fusion. Lead single "Crack in the Mirror" is a futuristic offering of soaring choruses, nu-groove guitars and electronic programming with some serious attitude.” - Connor Atkinson for Exclaim
For Regina nü metal band Flash Back, 2021 was spent working hard on a follow up to their 2020 “North American Nü Metal” two-song promo, along with a self-made music video aiming to give fans a glimpse into the new, boundless direction the band intended to explore. In the early months of 2021, Flash Back entered the studio with frequent collaborator Chris Dimas to record their new EP Wide Awake. The eight-track EP is a deep-dive into nostalgia for the music and culture of the early 2000s. While paying clear homage to an era of time that shaped the members of the band, it also aims to push the genre of nü metal forward with the addition of musical ideas such as atmospheric synths and shoegaze-esque walls of sound. The six band members have a combined musical background that ranges from hardcore, death metal, indie-pop, alternative rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. This eclectic range of experiences certainly shines through in the diversity of ideas that are presented on the EP. The band recently embarked on a two-week tour in support of the EP in the U.S. and Canada, including the Promcore Festival (Tulsa OK) and stops in Minneapolis, Louisville, Portland, and Vancouver.
#5 Amanda Hagel - Be the Light
Inspirational/country music artist Amanda Hagel has embraced her calling and purpose as her impressive catalogue of music and its messages continue to be discovered, shared and recognized nationally and around the world. Since the release of her debut album in 2014, she’s been gaining industry recognition including Saskatchewan Country Music Award nominations, becoming a finalist in the USA International Songwriting Competition, and CBC Searchlight national finalist. This is Amanda’s fourth full-length studio album, and includes singles "What Brand of Country are You," "Her Own Drum," and "Angel Lullaby." The title track is an energetic and uplifting track, its message conveying empowerment, ‘the journey to discover and outwardly express your highest expression by following the promptings of the heart.’ She’s a country music artist on a mission to create meaningful music and share her talents and passion for music with the world.
Amanda is nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Country Artist of the Year.
#5 Marie-Véronique Bourque - Entre Québec & Saskatchewan
Marie-Véronique Bourque’s second album Entre Québec & Saskatchewan was born from Marie-Véronique’s need to build a bridge between her identities as a Québécoise and Saskatchewanian. Recorded in both provinces, it brings together original songs that refer to people, places and events reminding her of the roots she developed over time in Saskatchewan and Quebec, two provinces she calls "home". All musicians featured on the album have earned respect on the musical jazz scene including Jack Semple (JUNO Award winner). The album was produced with financial support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board and the Conseil Culturel Fransaskois, and recorded at Keiran Semple's studio in Regina SK and Studio LARC in Québec QC. Marie-Véronique also wishes to acknowledge the support from her distributor, the APCM and SaskMusic.
Marie-Véronique is nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Experimental/Contemporary Artist of the Year.
#5 Wolf Willow - Old Guitars & Shooting Stars
From the Northern Great Plains of Saskatchewan, Wolf Willow plays original country and western inspired by honky tonk, western swing and countrypolitan retro sounds. In October 2019, Wolf Willow took a bold step forward with their sonic palette and creative vision, fusing the sounds of a chamber orchestra and other eclectic instrumentation with modern production techniques and classic songwriting sensibilities to create And the Leaves Have Turned to Amber, heralding a new creative era for the band. This ‘countrypolitan’ sound has now been brought to full realization through the recording and release of this full-length countrypolitan album, produced by Wolf Willow and recorded in Echo Lake SK. The new record, launched in October 2021 on Grey Records, has been met with rave reviews and four sold-out release shows.
Wolf Willow is nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Roots/Folk Artist of the Year.
#6 Munro & Patrick - Give Me Your Rain
Give Me Your Rain is the debut album from Munro & Patrick. Individually, Heidi Munro and Scott Patrick were part of many previous musical projects. After crossing paths and performing together in freelance situations, the two began performing live shows together, developing undeniable chemistry onstage and as writing partners. This debut album is a collection of seven songs from writing sessions happening over a two-year period. During the pandemic the duo decided to record these songs, and reached out to their good friend Grant Sotnikow to produce the project. They wanted the album to have a “stripped down acoustic vibe,” allowing the songs to speak for themselves while reflecting their live performances during this time. Songs rich in many lifelong influences, from soul, country, roots, folk, blues, jazz and gritty rock n’ roll fill this album. Lyrically, this collection of songs showcases writing that is true and honest, filled with life, stories of imagination, great hooks and infectious melodies. The duo has a deep passion for creating songs that evoke imagery and human emotion.
Munro & Patrick are nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Country Artist of the Year.
#7 The Saskatchewan All Stars Big Band - The Saskatchewan Suite
Commissioned as a work of art by composer/arrange Fred Stride, the Suite encompasses 150+ years of Saskatchewan history in the vernacular of jazz, “to tell a story that speaks to and includes all of us.” The 20-member Saskatchewan All Star Big Band assembled from around the world for the project, produced by the Regina Jazz Society, consisted of accomplished players born, raised, or currently living in Saskatchewan, many of whom are revered in the realm of international jazz. Recorded live at Casino Regina in December 2019, it’s comprised of three movements, offering themes meant to convey the diverse climate and landscapes; honour the Indigenous peoples of the land; and explore the influences of immigrants and explorers.
“Stride’s ingenious compositional style seems made for a piece like this. He proves himself able to establish any desired musical setting by painting atmospheric landscapes of sound, and then populating these scenes with rich instrumental characterizations that carry the narrative forward. Particularly noticeable is his treatment of the horn section, which belies his joy in working with the sonic possibilities provided by a big band. He layers the instruments into rich sonorities that form everything from dense, uncertain clusters to open, triumphant harmonies that support the more climactic moments in the work. The composer’s ability to draw on different effects at will and move between them in seamless and surprising ways results in many of the piece’s highlights, and this emotional range makes for engaging storytelling. Add to this the ear-catching melodies that interact to summon moments of conflict and harmony, and we’re left with a rich tapestry of musical narrative that eloquently communicates Saskatchewan’s history.” – jazztimes.com
#8 Ava Wild and Merky Waters – Existing
Merky Waters, one of Saskatchewan’s finest hip hop producers and DJs, has worked with many artists since 2005 including Def3, Eekwol, The Local Onlyz, InfoRed, and Cristian Moya. With his fusion of music from around the world, Merky Waters inspires meaningful storytelling and unique beats that are both rhythmic and melodic. Ava Wild dwells primarily in the genres of soul-jazz and indie-pop, drawing influence from the likes of Tom Waits, St.Vincent, Sade and Big Audio Dynamite. She’s toured across Canada as a solo artist, a determined and dedicated storyteller striving for mastery in her own soulful-indie style. This collaborative album ‘draws energy from the cement on sidewalks and middle-of-nowhere fields.’ Created from their respective studio spaces during the pandemic, it reflects two musical souls coming together to create a free-flowing, play-off-each-other sound, with Merky Waters sending beats to Ava for her to improvise over. Eclectic in nature with jazz, electronic, hip hop and poetic elements seeded throughout, each track is its own work.
Ava Wild and Merky Waters are nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award for Electronic Artist of the Year.
#9 Andino Suns - 9/11
Following their award-winning album Madera, Andino Suns deliver a 13-song concept album based on the lived experiences of the band members and their families. Set in the early 1970s, 9/11 chronicles the period when democratically elected president Salvador Allende was assassinated by the fascist General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. What followed was a 16-year reign of terror, where thousands of Chilean citizens were imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and murdered. Running for their lives, exile was the only hope for many Chilean families. Facing uncertainty, many sought refuge by fleeing to the Canadian prairies.
9/11 shines light on the dark history of Chile using undertones of traditional Andean folk music melded with the gritty rock n’ roll sounds of the West. A tale of hardship, resilience and the search for peace, 9/11 serves as the voice of the exiled Andean mothers and fathers, sung by their beloved Andino Suns. A timeless archive encapsulating innocent Chilean bystanders uprooted by political evils, 9/11 is the epilogue of an entire community of survivors planting their roots into prairie soil, enriching Canadian culture forever with the sultry flavours of the South.
Andino Suns’ energetic and rhythmic songs have ignited festival crowds across Canada as well as earning them showcases at JUNOfest, BreakOut West, Folk Alliance International, and Mundial Montreal. Their live performances continue to be effervescent, brimming with fiery instrumentation and dynamic vocals. With songs predominantly in Spanish, their energy captivates audiences young and old, confirming that music is indeed a universal language.
Andino Suns are nominated for a 2021 Saskatchewan Music Award in Roots/Folk Artist of the Year.
#10 Jeff D Michel – Back to the Moon
Back to the Moon is the latest album from Jeff D. Michel (MICK-el), a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer living and working in Estevan SK. It’s Jeff’s second full-length release, a follow-up to his debut The Seasons, and his first collection of new music since his participation in the Canadian Folk Music Association-nominated 2018 Hook & Nail album, Ghosts of Taylorton. (Hook and Nail also earned a 2020 CFMA nomination for New/Emerging Artist of the Year). Back to the Moon is an eclectic mix of country-tinged folk/roots songs, and explores themes of aliens, loss, winter whimsy, dragons, prairie storms and the wisdom gained as one grows older. The album contains contributions from friends/bandmates Mike Davis & Lindsay Arnold (Hook & Nail/Last Birds) as well as Nashville pedal steel legend Steve Hinson. Jeff’s current single, "Cabin in the Woods," takes inspiration from time spent with family at his parents’ cabin, and the fond memories that often accompany a summer hideaway. Back to the Moon has been well-received at radio, with tracks featured on CBC Radio One and college radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, in over 65 markets. Jeff’s songwriting style has matured to reflect the storytelling influence of folk music, yet retains the edge and drive of his blues/rock roots. The album was produced by Jeff at his own Crushed Pickle Studio in Estevan.
#10 Tucker Lane – Random Fireworks on a Beach Obscured by Trees
The band’s sophomore album portrays a blend of pop/rock, country, roots and blues that reflect their varied musical influences. “If Tom Petty and The Pretenders crashed a party together, you’d get Tucker Lane.” They’ve released several singles from the project along with accompanying videos, including "Paper Wings," "Love or Hatred," and "Ghost," noting “The album is a throwback to rock days, so grab yourself your favorite beverage, sit back for 45mins and spin the album front-to-back!” The group was recently nominated for a Saskatchewan Country Music Association Award for Group of the Year, and consists of Johnny Sinclair (bass, vocals) and Leslie Stanwyck (lead vocals, acoustic guitars, keyboards, percussion) - also known for their work in The Pursuit of Happiness and Universal Honey - along with Warren Medernach on drums and Brent Carlin on electric and slide guitars. The project was mixed by Bart McKay and mastered by Trevor Case. Random Fireworks has received critical praise and their first single ‘Paper Wings’ went to #4 on the Canadian Indie Country Countdown.
#10 Karissa Hoffart - Life of Mine
Currently based in Lumsden, Karissa is a country recording artist who has taken this challenging year as a way to show resilience. Growing up on her family ranch in the Big Muddy, Karissa has worked hard at her singing career to bring her audience a voice of inspiration and passion. Life of Mine is Karissa’s first EP. She’s released numerous singles to radio which have done very well, and has put out several music videos as well. With her fun-loving yet competitive nature and desire to develop as an artist, she’s enjoyed participating in and winning numerous music competitions, and has performed at shows including Country Thunder, Casino Regina, and a virtual school tour. Karissa pushed through the challenges of the pandemic by organizing Drive In Concerts, releasing several singles to country radio and four official music videos, and releasing her first album in October 2020. She has continued to be creative by starting up a Virtual Saskatchewan School Tour, spreading inspirational messages that go along with the songs she wrote on her album, ranging from fun, upbeat songs to messages addressing domestic abuse and bullying. As she has advanced her music career, she has developed her voice and messages through her music.