Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Ten Favorite CDs of 2014

This was a seriously good year for music, particularly the month of September. In picking my personal favorite releases of the year, I followed my usual guidelines. The CDs had to be full-length, with mostly original material – that is, they couldn’t be albums of covers, for songwriting plays a big part in my choices. No compilations, no live albums, no re-issues. With that in mind, here are my favorite CDs of 2014:

10. Peter Himmelman: “The Boat That Carries Us”

My list begins with the new Peter Himmelman album, The Boat That Carries Us, a really strong release featuring excellent songwriting and a seriously good band backing him. I was lucky enough to be able to catch him in concert this year as well, and he played some of my favorites from the new CD, including “Green Mexican Dreams,” “Mercy On The Desolate Road,” “For Wednesday At 7 PM (I Apologize)” and “Afraid To Lose.” The Boat That Carries Us was released on July 15th.

9. The Evangenitals: “Moby Dick; Or, The Album”

This year’s release by The Evangenitals, Moby Dick; Or, The Album, is quite a bit different from earlier releases, with the tracks inspired by Herman Melville’s book. The full title of the book, by the way, is Moby Dick; Or, The Whale, which The Evangenitals are clearly playing with in the title of this CD. Some of the tracks on this album are songs the band has been performing in concert for years, such as “The Lee Shore” and “Quee Queg.” And on others the band really experiments with new sounds and directions, taking some risks, all of which pay off. There isn’t a weak track here. Moby Dick; Or, The Album was released on March 18th.

8. Ronnie Fauss: “Built To Break”

Built To Break, the 2014 release from Ronnie Fauss, is a wonderful album of country and folk, with some fine lyrics. The country rock gem “Eighteen Wheels” features Rhett Miller from Old 97’s on vocals, while “Never Gonna Last” is a duet with Jenna Paulette (where she sings “I’ve been planning for the future/You’ve been living in the past”). Both of those tracks are highlights, but perhaps my favorite is “The Big Catch.” Built To Break was released on November 4th.

7. Alanna Gurr And The Greatest State: “Late At Night”

There was a lot of good music out of Canada this year. Late At Night, the second album from Alanna Gurr And The Greatest State, is a perfect example. It’s a good mix of folk and country, with some pop elements as well. But it is perhaps Alanna Gurr’s voice that really makes this album something special. Stand-out tracks for me include “By My Side,” “It’s Been A Long Time” and “Trouble.” Late At Night was released on April 22nd.

6. Slow Leaves: “Beauty Is So Common” 

I got turned on to Slow Leaves last year with the release of the EP Second Chances. That EP created some pretty high expectations for this year’s full-length release, Beauty Is So Common. And the CD exceeded my expectations. The songwriting is so good on this release. Highlights for me include “Everybody Wants To Be In Love,” “Institution” and “Rearview.” Beauty Is So Common was released on September 9th.

5. Patrolled By Radar: “Cool Your Jets” 

Patrolled By Radar is one of my favorite bands. They’re a lot of fun, but also write some damned good lyrics. Their 2014 release, Cool Your Jets, features some of their best material, including “Rally” and “Do You Know A Love Song,” two of the best songs from any band this year. Cool Your Jets was released on May 1st.

4. Ellis Paul: “Chasing Beauty” 

Ellis Paul has long been one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and this year’s Chasing Beauty once again shows his tremendous talent. On this release, he’s joined by some special guests, including Red Molly (whose own The Red Album just missed being on this list) and Kristian Bush. The whole album is excellent, but stand-outs for me include “Wasted,” “Kick Out The Lights” and “Waiting On A Break.” Chasing Beauty was released on September 1st.

3. Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs: “All Her Fault”

All Her Fault may be the best album from Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs. It has their great raw edge and sense of humor. It opens with “SLC,” a song that had me laughing and singing along from the first time I heard it, and which works every time I listen. But my favorites are “The Best” and “No Business.” All Her Fault was released on March 4th.

2. The Howlin’ Brothers: “Trouble”

The Howlin’ Brothers are just an absolutely fantastic group, and I get excited for every new release of theirs. Trouble, the band’s newest CD, is a whole lot of fun, with a great mix of bluegrass, country, folk, and even reggae and gospel. They do it all well. My favorite track is probably “I Was Wrong,” but the entire album is excellent. Trouble was released on May 13th.

1. Leonard Cohen: “Popular Problems” 

Yes, once again Leonard Cohen is at the top of my list. Even without “Feels So Good” (one of my favorite songs of recent years), his 2014 release is phenomenal. Finally we’re treated to a studio version of “Born In Chains.” Plus, this album features such excellent songs as “My Oh My” and “You Got Me Singing.” Leonard Cohen is eighty years old, and still writing the best songs. Popular Problems was released on September 23rd.

There are several other excellent CDs from 2014 that I should mention here. There is the self-titled album from Dreaming Bull, which I haven’t had the chance to review yet, but which I’ve listened to many times, and which is completely enjoyable. There is also Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang’s Four Foot Shack, which was one of my favorites, but didn’t make the list because it’s mostly new takes on older material. Bombadil’s Tarpits And Canyonlands didn’t make my list because it’s a re-issue, but it’s an album I highly recommend (that band has a new album coming out in 2015). Releases by Seth Walker, Bend The River, Bobby Patterson, Paul Thorn and Magnolia Memoir were all close to making my list. Basically, there was a whole hell of a lot of good music released in 2014. And I think 2015 is likewise going to be an excellent year for music.

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