2014: Half Good
For me, 2014 was the Year of the Late-Inning Rally. As in, during the first half it felt like nothing caught my interest at all (well, not nothing… there was Elbow). But the second half was a whole other story, as album after album appeared that convinced me to sit up and take notice. So, in the end, not half bad—or, since I’m an optimist by nature: half good.
Best Miles Davis-King Crimson Crossover
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers
Drawing on a century’s worth of musical mastery between them, brothers Pete Levin (Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Freddie Hubbard) and Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Sting) got together to produce a swinging tribute to the classic nightclub jazz of their youth that single-handedly reignited my fondness for the genre.
Highlights: “Bassics,” “Brothers,” “Brookline Boyz”
Best Career-Spanning Retrospective
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – The Complete Epic Recordings Collection
Twelve discs of the finest, toughest, hard-rockingest modern electric blues ever recorded, given the beautiful packaging it deserves. Few artists truly merit this sort of comprehensive career overview, but SRV is one.
Highlights: “Crossfire,” “Tightrope,” "Little Wing," “The House Is Rockin’”
Persistence Pays Off (Again) Award
John Hiatt – Terms Of My Surrender
You can pretty much count on a John Hiatt album every year or so, and you can pretty much count on it being pretty good. But every so often something clicks and consistently good John Hiatt turns into “Goddamn, this guy is incredible” John Hiatt.
Highlights: “Nobody Knew His Name,” “Baby’s Gonna Kick,” “Nothin’ I Love,” “Terms Of My Surrender”
Best Electric Blues Album Since the Last Gary Clark Jr. Album
Gary Clark Jr. – Live
The freshly crowned king of the modern electric blues returns with a two-disc live set that will simply knock your socks off if you care at all about hearing classic blues, blues-rock and r&b sounds reimagined by a phenomenally gifted young composer and performer.
Highlights: “Travis County,” “Ain’t Messin ’Round,” “Third Stone From The Sun”
Best Prog Album That Isn’t
Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything
As opposed to last year, this was my year of not-prog as I went through jazz and blues and Americana and singer-songwriter binges while hardly finding anything of interest in the prog realm (it’s bound to be a sketchy year for prog when Big Big Train doesn’t put out a new album). The closest brush I had this year was my infatuation with the self-described “prog without the solos” of Elbow, whose magnificent disc The Take Off And Landing Of Everything simply oozed intelligence and restraint.
Highlights: “Charge,” “New York Morning,” “The Take Off And Landing Of Everything”
Indies of the Year
It was another fairly spectacular year for independent music, as a variety of artists working in a variety of genres caught my attention. Here are five of the very best.
5. Robert Bruey – Carousel
A terrific album of singer-songwriter material, rich with insight and melody, featuring an assist on guitar from Jean-Paul Vest of Last Charge Of The Light Horse.
Highlights: “Fracture Of A Sign,” “Open Road,” “River Of Stars”
4. Spencer Day – Daybreak
I used to worry that someday Sinatra would be forgotten. But that cool sophistication, that smiling swagger, that superb musicality lives on in the finger-snapping tunes of young bucks like the swingin’ Spencer Day.
Highlights: “Missing Tonight,” “Naturally,” “Don’t Let Me In”
3. The Legal Matters - The Legal Matters
Sometimes music is a time machine; this album lands you in 1966, where you’re immediately enveloped in a heady cloud of Byrds-meet-the-Beatles jangly harmonies. A superbly crafted homage to the roots of power-pop by three guys who really get it.
Highlights: “Rite Of Spring,” "Stubborn," "The Legend Of Walter Wright,” “We Were Enemies”
2. David Corley – Available Light
David Corley came out of nowhere at age 53 to deliver a debut album that sounds like Van Morrison and Bob Dylan trading tunes circa 1969. Craggy, deeply expressive and instantly memorable, Corley’s unique voice is put in service of a set of beautifully crafted songs that will capture your imagination.
Highlights: “Available Light,” “Beyond The Fences,” “Easy Mistake”
1. Indie Of The Year
Last Charge Of The Light Horse – Nine Kinds Of Happy
Longtime readers will notice a pattern here: any time Jean-Paul Vest and his band Last Charge Of The Light Horse issue a new album, there’s a good chance it’s going to end up on this list. That has nothing to do with habit and everything to do with quality. Nine Kinds Of Happy is some of Vest’s finest work yet, a concise eight-song cycle that encompasses driving rock, brooding, hypnotic numbers, and one of the prettiest love songs I’ve ever heard. That’s just how it goes when you’re in the hands of “a breathtakingly talented songwriter.”
Highlights: “This Is Where,” "All Of My Days," “Spoken,” “Glaciers”
Dovetail – Mount Karma
Very nice work from this rather Black Crowes-ish quintet with abundant potential.
tvfordogs – By Chance
A steady-grower that I’m still listening to months later, energetic Brit-rock with hints of early Petty and Springsteen.
Missed Opportunity Award
Switchfoot – Fading West
One of my favorite bands had the chance to advance both their sound and their cause, but chose instead to drench an otherwise worthy batch of songs in uber-cheesy pop production.
Yes – Heaven & Earth
In a word: sad.
And th-th-that's all folks! See you in 2015.
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