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2014 favorite albums

January 11, 2016

More than any year in recent memory, 2014’s music was all over the map.

If you weren’t prepared to have your musical sense assaulted by dozens of different styles, you might have been inclined to stay in your comfort areas. If you like pop, metal, hip-hop or country, you were and are able to isolate yourself within your styles. It may have been a year for you as a listener to better realize what type of music you like best.

As diverse as this list might seem to some, there are others who add in many more current styles, more St. Vincent than the folk-Americana of Rosanne Cash, Jill Sobule and John Hiatt, more than the 1970s-style workman rock of Drive-By Truckers and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, more than the echoes of The Beatles’ melodic and harmony-driven work found with The Both and Kaiser Chiefs.

This is my 30th and final year-end favorites list. Hope there’s something here for everyone. There ought to be.

1. Rosanne Cash, “The River & the Thread”

What would it sound like if someone recorded a combination of Creendence Clearwater Revival, Bobbie Gentry, Faulkner and Rosanne Cash’s family? Just like this. Cash mines her heritage and her restless quest for depth of knowledge and follows through on an audicious idea: A concept album about the American South. This music is as timeless as some of the thing she sings about on this album.

2. Jill Sobule, “Dottie’s Charms”

Lyrics have always been Sobule’s strength, so her decision to turn those duties over to writers she admired was fraught with risks. It also opened her up to possibilities. She managed to take others’ lyrics and still make things sound as though she wrote them, which may be the ultimate compliment for her songwriting skills. That it’s among her career’s best is how it ends up here.

3. Drive-By Truckers, “English Oceans”

Sticking with writing songs about the South, the band hones its style in on early- and mid-1970s rock, specifically The Rolling Stones and Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The deciding factor with their albums is the quality of songwriting. This time around (as they’ve been before), they’ve been superb.

4. Kaiser Chiefs, “Education, Education, Education and War”

They might be the most predictable act on this list. They rock melodically, they’re sometimes vaguely political and vaguely leading working mens’ complaints. If you haven’t liked them before, this will change nothing. They’ve been my favorite 21st century band for the last 10 years.

5. St. Vincent, “St. Vincent”

As offbeat as some of the instrumentation sounds, and in spite of the way her voice wanders through the mix, this is really a new twist on some traditional styles. There are splendid songs here, intelligent and well-constructed.

6. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, “Phosphorescent Harvest”

These guys are really as deritivative as I always accused Robinson’s Black Crows of being. But they’re far more relaxed, and the songs are better. Among the year’s most pleasant surprises.

7. Beck, “Morning Phase”

Essentially a laid-back singer-songwriter effort. But the songs have a deceptive amount of depth and beauty. I found myself asking those more well-versed in both artists whether this sounded like a Moody Blues album, and no one argued.

8. The Both, “The Both”

Takes the best of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, blends in some Beatles and there you have it. A new album that combines a bunch of retro sounds and pulls together somehing altogether fresh and new.

9. Ting Tings, “Super Critical”

A style shift to more American soul and rhythm and blues makes this as listenable and enjoyable as their debut. It’s two people, with an emphasis on the beat.

10. John Hiatt, “Terms of My Surrender”

I like this less than when he plugs in, but it’s still something I go back to. Acoustic kind of blues, quiet and resigned and very much like post-middle age.


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