It was a very good, if not great, year for music. My 2014 list is as varied as any in recent years, moving from the neo-soul of Lake Street Dive to the confessional new folk of Mary Gauthier to the epic rock of The War on Drugs.
Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
Rachael Price is a force of nature, but while her voice grabs you by the collar, the band’s inventive arrangements and strong melodies keep you coming back for more. The breakout disc of the year.
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
I was late coming to this one, but it’s the best rock record of the year, a disc that at times reflects influences as diverse as Springsteen, Pink Floyd and Arcade Fire. One that’s been in the car player for a very long time.
Mary Gauthier – Trouble & Love.
This is as tough a listen as you will find, a searing, anguished chronicle of love ending and eventually the painful path back to feeling worthy, as she sings in the song. “I know this– a fundamental change in character, transformation, can happen after annihilation of life as we knew it,” Gauthier wrote about the song, “Worthy,” one of the album’s many highlights. “On the other side of wretched: Worthy.”
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country Music.
Simpson’s voice, as deep as an ocean trench, and the traditional sound have this being compared to Outlaw Country. But Willie and Waylon never wrote a song as existential as “Turtles All the Way Down.” Google the phrase to get a sense of Simpson’s depth.
Lucinda Williams – Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.
A return to form for one of America’s best and most enduring songwriters. One good cut after another.
Beck – Morning Phase.
This was one of the soundtracks of my summer. I caught a bit of him at Firefly and the musical chameleon rarely disappoints. An enchanting album.
Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes.
Another summer favorite that moves from folk to rock to the sound of New Orleans. On “The Body Electric” the super songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra takes a shot at the murder ballad, too long an unquestioned country staple.
Dawn Landes – Bluebird.
This subtle, beautiful folk disc took a few listens to stick, but then it stayed for a long time. Landes is a charming singer and a fine, honest writer. Pal Norah Jones lends a hand on “Love Song.”
John Fullbright – Songs.
I was lucky to discover Grammy nominee John Fullbright when he was an add-on to a show with Sam Baker and Kevin Welch at my house concert series, North Shore Point House Concerts. He’s one of the finest young songwriters today, a soulful vocalist and a deep writer.
The New Basement Tapes – Lost in the River.
T-Bone Burnett takes some old Dylan lyrics and assembles a bunch of great musicians including Elvis Costello, Jim James, and Marcus Mumford for a brilliant album. The revelation here is Rhiannon Giddens, late of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who has a solo disc coming in February. Look for it.
Chris Smither — Down on the Levee.
This two-disc set celebrating 50 years in the business establishes Smither as a songwriting treasure. His lyrics are witty, funny, and philosophical. Sit back and listen.
Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap.
Another young songwriter from Oklahoma, Millsap is a comer. Great songs, great vibe, great voice.
Sons of Bill – Love and Logic.
A fine Americana effort, in the best sense of the genre, by the guys from Charlottesville. Smart lyrics, good rockin’, and captivating vocals.