The Ticket’s top roots, jazz, trad and classical albums of 2021

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; Matthew Halpin; John Francis Flynn; Haydn/Brahms

Top 5 Americana/roots 2021

These days genre, like gender, is fluid. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss embrace this approach on their long-awaited Raise the Roof, bending songs from the blues, folk, country and soul canons to their sleek, imaginative will. The Felice Brothers major in lo-fi shambolic rock, but folk, country, and beyond are employed in their thoughtful topical musings on "this life where any joyful thing is paid twofold in suffering". The remarkable Rhiannon Giddens (with Francesco Turrisi) recognises no boundaries, while James McMurtry is simply a Texan gem, rough in part but never precious. Carsie Blanton likewise – progressive sympathies with a smile. – Joe Breen

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof
The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust
Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi: They're Calling Me Home
James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds
Carsie Blanton: Love and Rage

Top 5 jazz albums 2021

In a strong year for Irish jazz releases, any one of these five gems could easily claim the top spot. Japanese-born, Irish-based pianist Izumi Kimura's collaboration with violinist Cora Venus Lunny and sound artist Anthony Kelly was an ear-opening bolt from the blue. Fusion giant Larry Coryell's last studio recording, with the top Dublin rhythm section of bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady, was a fitting coda to an illustrious career. Brady's own Electric Quartet release, with heavyweight US talent on board, further enhanced the drummer's growing reputation. London-based vocalist Lauren Kinsella artfully deployed the studio as a tool for improvisation with her Snowpoet partner, multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson. But, if I am forced to choose, it is Cologne-based Irish saxophonist Matthew Halpin's impressive debut, with mercurial drummer Seán Carpio part of a strong collective response to the leader's compositions, that perhaps best exemplifies the growing confidence of a new generation of Irish improvisers. – Cormac Larkin

Matthew Halpin: Agreements
Kevin Brady Electric Quartet: Plan B
Izumi Kimura/Cora Venus Lunny/Anthony Kelly: Folding
Snowpoet: Wait For Me
Larry Coryell: Last Swing with Ireland


Top 5 traditional albums 2021

At the end of another year when musicians have been largely tethered to home, there's refuge to be taken in new album releases that help fill that void. The gargantuan undertaking of releasing an album under such fraught circumstances can't be underestimated, either. This year's tapestry was rich, including the delirious shock of the new from John Francis Flynn, the grounded sense of place embodied in albums by Emma O'Leary and Aidan Connolly, and the wistful yearning of Séamus McGuire's An Irish Viola/Víola Gaelach amplifying the vitality that underpins the tradition. And Skara Brae's re-release is a home straight gem. – Siobhan Long

John Francis Flynn: I Would Not Live Always
Séamus McGuire with Steve Cooney: An Irish Viola/Víola Gaelach
Emma O'Leary: Mo Cheantar Féin
Aidan Connolly: The Portland Bow
Skara Brae: Skara Brae

Top 5 classical albums 2021

Selecting the top five albums I reviewed this year was a no-brainer. They're all small in scale, involving music for just a handful of musicians, and feature performances of exceptional insight and delivery. Italian violinist Francesca Dego gives a Paganini tribute on Paganini's own 1743 Guarneri del Gesù. Siobhán Armstrong and friends explore the 16th century through the magical sounds of the Irish harp. Violinist Daniel Rowland and friends freely unlock the sensuality of chamber works by Chausson, Debussy and Franck. But in the end, it was a tie between Brahms's viola sonatas from Antoine Tamestit and Cédric Tiberghien and three of Haydn's Op 76 string quartets from the Chiaroscura Quartet, both albums making familiar great music sound totally new. – Michael Dervan

Haydn String Quartets Op. 76 Nos 4-6 – Chiaroscuro Quartet
Brahms: Sonatas Op 120; Nachtigall; Wiegenlied; Gesänge Op 91 –Antoine Tamestit, Cédric Tiberghien
Il Cannone – Francesca Dego plays Paganini's Violin
Music, Ireland and the Sixteenth Century – Crux, The Irish Consort/Siobhán Armstrong
A French Connection: Chausson, Debussy, Franck – Daniel Rowland, Natacha Kudritskaya, Francesco Sica, Asia Jiménez Antón de Vez, Joel Waterman, Maja Bogdanovic