Music Suitcase: Favorite Albums of March 2021

A complete 180 from my first two rock-focused months of 2021, my March centered largely on the neighborhood of soul music, though there’s still quite a good mix here, and an exceptional folk album at the head of the class!

To go with the blog, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite songs from March.

Valerie June, The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers

A gigantic leap forward from an already fascinating artist, the Tennessee singer and multi-instrumentalist’s fifth album brings a transcendent, cosmic feel to her blend of Appalachian folk, blues and soul, the one-of-a-kind magic of her voice propelling the listener right into the stratosphere. Highlights: “You And I,” “Call Me A Fool,” “Home Inside”

Genesis Owusu, Smiling With No Teeth

On this Ghanaian-Australian hip hop artist’s debut, rap shares the stage with punk, funk and a mixture of classic and alternative R&B. It’s daring, emotionally engaging, and full of soul. Highlights: “The Other Black Dog,” “Gold Chains,” “A Song About Fishing”

Tune-Yards, Sketchy.

Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner’s soulful, challenging, activist indie pop reaches a new zenith of anthemic revelry even as they deepen into jagged rhythms and sophisticated melodies on their exhilarating 5th album. Highlights: “make it right.,” “hypnotized.,” “be not afraid.”

Ghost of Vroom, Ghost of Vroom 1

For the first time since Soul Coughing ended, Mike Doughty’s found musicians who can match his prowess as an emcee and deliver the groove-driven neo-beatnik indie music was born to make. Highlights: “Beat Up Born Where I Come From,” “Memphis Woofer Rock,” “James Jesus Angleton”

Serpentwithfeet, Deacon

Making electronic art pop with R&B and Gospel stylings as always, Josiah Wise leaves the heartbroken anguish of his earliest work behind, in an album-long celebration of love and sensuality. Highlights: “Same Size Shoe,” ““Fellowship,” “Hyacinth”

Jon Batiste, We Are

A New Orleans-born artist with jazz always at the center of his sound, Batiste continues to weave that into accessible pop, funk and hip hop tunes that celebrate his heritage, family and community. Highlights: “Tell The Truth,” “I Need You,” “Show Me The Way,” “Tell The Truth”

Elizabeth & the Catapult, sincerely, e

It’s hard to listen to Elizabeth Ziman without hearing the Joni Mitchell in her voice, but it’s her playful piano style and native New York swagger that makes her songs memorable beyond any comparisons. Highlights: “Birds and the Bees,” “Thirsty,” “Together, Alone”

Lana Del Rey, Chemtrails Over the Country Club

The Southern California torch singer completes her pivot from Pop Star to Singer/Songwriter. She, too, marks Joni Mitchell as her proudest of several influences heard, and sometimes named, on her 7th album. Highlights: “White Dress,” “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” “Let Me Love You Like a Woman”

Nitin Sawhney, Immigrants

The London-based Punjabi composer‘s latest is a massively multi-lingual tribute to immigrants, and employs a mixture of orchestral, electronic, hip hop and traditional Indian instrumentation. Highlights: “Movement II — Variation,” “Replay,” “Differences”

Arab Strap, As Days Get Dark

The Scottish duo’s first album in 16 years pairs dark, sinewy, thickly accented, mostly spoken vocals — sometimes the choruses are sung — with tense, post-rock guitars, and it’s absolutely lousy with gravitas. Highlights: “Another Clockwork Day,” “Fable of the Urban Fox,” “Tears On Tour”

Nubiyan Twist, Freedom Fables

Three lead singers and several guest vocalists guide this already gigantic band’s third LP, a jazz fusion album with a prominent Afrobeat component, made radio-friendly by strong helpings of soul and hip hop. Highlights: “Tittle Tattle,” “If I Know,” “Keeper”

Daniel Lanois, Heavy Sun

The French-Canadian singer, songwriter and producer leans full-tilt into Gospel music, bringing his trademark lush but subtle electronic atmospherics to the music he loved in his youth. Highlights: “Way Down,” “Tree of Tule,” “(Under the) Heavy Sun”

Dr. Lonnie Smith, Breathe

A combination of standards and originals, the Hammond organ master and jazz bandleader‘s new one is full of mostly live, instrumental recordings, but bookended by two studio tracks with Iggy Pop on vocals. Highlights: “Why Can’t We Live Together,” “Track 9,” “World Weeps”

Ben Howard, Collections From the Whiteout

Continuing to merge the sweet but often sorrowful British neo-folk of his background with experimental pop production (courtesy of Aaron Dressner), Howard’s 4th album is less autobiographical and more narratively adventurous. Highlights: “What A Day,” “Far Out,” “Metaphysical Cantations”

Of Montreal, I Feel Safe With You, Trash

A self-released double album of musically varied but thematically inter-woven songs, Kevin Barnes’s 19th album displays a ton of ideas — even more than usual, somehow — and a ton of Bowie influence. Highlights: “Now That’s What I Call Freewave,” “And We Can Survive Anything If We Fake It,” “Kcrraanggaaanngg!”

Lake Street Dive, Obviously

The Boston soul quintet continue to move away from their plucky indie beginnings toward smooth, polished soul music with just a hint of rock and roll when the mood strikes. Highlights: “Hush Money,” “Making Do,” “Now That I Know”

If you’d like to hear just the best of the best, here’s a playlist with 36 of my favorite songs from January 2021, which includes one or two songs from each album above, and some great songs from albums that didn’t make onto my list too — Playlist: Highlights of March 2021

While we’re here…

Did you enjoy this article? Awesome! It was written by a white guy privileged enough to have time listen to like 40 albums every month and write a blog as a passion project, for free.

If you are white and you are also are privileged enough to have some time on your hands, or some money to donate, please check out some anti-racism resources and help fight the good fight.

Nerding out over music is fun, but let’s not forget that we live in a burning world that needs our help! Black Lives Matter.

Stef is a Bronx-bred, California-dwelling, 1977-born Libra-Aquarian lifelong music junkie. He is also a writer, improviser, singer, director and voice actor. .