The Best of 2014?
2014 was a strange year, musically that is. Usually when I start to put my “best of” list together I whittle it down from 50 to 60 albums. Not this year. I was lucky to come up with 30 titles. As a result I waited until most blogs/publications had released their lists so I could make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I didn’t. Maybe we didn’t get our “quantity quota” filled for 2014, but if you were listening you could still find plenty of quality albums to fill your cd changer or to download.
Here’s my list for 2014…in no particular order!
AC/DC: “Rock or Bust”. Thought I’d get this out of the way at the outset. The album is too short and the music doesn’t stray far from the standard AC/DC formula, this at a time when Angus should be remastering the catalog and Brian concentrating on putting together a Las Vegas revue. But as Carly Simon so aptly put it, “nobody does it better”. Click here for a YouTube video of the title track
Terry Waldo: “The Soul of Ragtime”. Waldo is a teacher, historian, author and host of the NPR series “This Is Ragtime”, and a protégé of Eubie Blake. His latest album contains some classics, hymns, originals and an adaptation of “The Pilgrim’s March” from Wagner’s “Tannhauser”. Click here for a YouTube video of Terry performing “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” in 2010.
U2: “Song of Innocence”. There was so much press (most of it bad) about the free album download that the music seemed to get lost in the shuffle. It’s not as good as “The Joshua Tree” but close enough to make it one of their best. If you somehow missed a song or two, click here for a YouTube video of “The Miracle”.
Ex-Hex: “Rips”. I was happy to see this make quite a few “Best of” lists. One publication even named it “Album Of The Year”. The all-women, power-punk trio packs 12 songs in a little over 34 minutes and nothing is wasted. One reviewer said, “listen to this instead of drinking that third cup of coffee”. Here’s a YouTube video of “Waterfall”. Click here
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: “Juice”. Jazz Rock has always seemed more of a marketing concept than a true musical genre. But the 4 albums MSM&W have recorded beginning with the 1997 classic “A Go Go” redefined the term at least for me. The dub reggae version of “Sunshine Of Your Love” is a classic. Click here for a live YouTube video of the song.
Keb Mo: “Bluesamericana”. I’m not sure if Kevin Moore has ever released a bad album; much less a mediocre one. “The Worst Is Yet To Come” made my top ten list of the Best Songs of The Year. Click here for a YouTube video from The Craig Ferguson show; sorry the sync is bad.
Various Artists: “I Saved Latin: A Tribute to Wes Anderson”. Most tribute albums aren’t worth the effort or the price, regardless of the sentiment. However if you’re paying tribute to filmmaker Wes Anderson (“Moonrise Kingdom”, “The Royal Tenenbaums” , “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, etc.) you would expect what has been described as “literary geek chic”……in short something fun. It definitely delivers. Click here for a YouTube video of “Margaret Yang’s Theme”.
Phox: “Phox”. This full length debut didn’t exactly overwhelm the first time through; even a second time. But the more you listen the more you like it. I’ve heard it described as “chamber pop” but even that doesn’t fully describe everything that’s happening with instrumentation that includes violin, clarinet, banjo, more horns and on and on. They also recorded a song for the “I Saved Latin” album. Click here for a YouTube video.
Various Artists: “Chef”. A wonderful movie and an even more enjoyable soundtrack. Blues, jazz, latin, reggae, funk; a little something for everyone. Here’s a YouTube video of Gary Clark Jr. doing “When My Train Pulls In”; this is from a “Live Room” performance. Click here
The Bad Plus: “Inevitable Western”. I am not a fan of so-called “free jazz” (I’m sure there’s a melody in there somewhere), however, I love the trio’s “avant-garde populism (their description). I can’t think of another band with the talent or ambition to tackle Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and then wow the crowd at Bonnaroo. Click here for a YouTube video.
Sylvan Esso: “Sylvan Esso”. The electro-pop duo’s debut album came out in May and I’m still listening to it. Like Phox it’s an album that grows on you though it might be a bit too left field for the pop purists. Click here for a YouTube video of “Coffee”. 1.5 million views so far.
Sia: “1000 Forms of Fear”. The Australian tunesmith has written with and for Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Madonna, Maroon 5 and more. This is her 6th album and easily her best. You can call it pop music but unlike a lot of the dribble that seems to be clogging the airwaves and the web, there’s more substance here than one might expect. The lady is a major talent and if you aren’t a fan you should be. Click here for a YouTube video.
“Finding Fela”; Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. This made my “Best of” list simply because it’s probably the best representation of the “Bob Marley of Africa” you’ll find. Some may quibble with the edits (Kuti’s “endless grooves” lasted 20 to 30 minutes or more), but if you’re interested in exploring the world of Afrobeat this is a great place to start. I once heard Kuti’s music described as “politics you can dance to”. Click here for the movie trailer
St. Vincent: “St.Vincent” and Beck: “Morning Phase”. It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of time commenting on two of the most acclaimed albums of the year. Annie Clark (St. Vincent) is one of the most fascinating and unpredictable artists around. Beck on the other hand can be a bit unpredictable though he tends to be a little more mainstream. I’ll pass on the long-form descriptions if you don’t mind and let their music say it all:
St. Vincent: “Digital Witness” from the “St. Vincent”. Click here.
Beck: “Heart Is A Drum” from “Morning Phase”. Click here.
Sam Llanas: “The Whole Night Thru”. The voice of The BoDeans with a stellar solo album. Here’s a full album stream at YouTube. Click here.
sleepmakeswaves: “Love of Cartography”. This Australian instrumental “crescendo-core” quartet (their term) are developing into one of the most interesting bands you’ll hear. Click here for a video at YouTube.
Hank Harris: “Peace”. Hank is a local legend in these parts. He has a talent for melody, insightful lyrics and the determination to go wherever the music takes him. Click here for a YouTube video.