Music Uncategorized

My Top 30 Albums of 2014 — A Fact-Based and Self-Promoting Approach

21) Lori McKenna “Numbered Doors”

Always give a Lori McKenna album a second spin even if the first one leaves you confused and depressed. He unique phrasing is an acquired taste and one worth the wait.

Out of the 3 post-unglamorous albums, I’d rank this as number 3 but that’s largely because Massachusetts and Lorraine were so good. I’ve always wanted Mark Erelli to get more airtime and this time around he even gets a “Feat.” credit in a song title.

I’m oddly critical of the music I publicly declare to be my favorite music of the year and then vainly re-record. It’s now Lori’s turn to receive some of my critical nonsense. She’s welcome to write a song about how this makes her feel and I’ll criticize, then re-record.

A good Lori lyric can hit you like a heart-shaped hammer. However, whenever I hear the following lyric I think it’s the 3rd place winner in a Lori McKenna songwriting competition:

“There’s a stranger in his kiss. Tastes like made up stories, stolen moments, and cigarettes”

It’s a fine lyric, but to me it’s Lori trying to sound like Lori, and not something new. I feel like I’ve heard it before so the heart-shaped hammer missed. However, for some reason this lyric sticks with me positively:

“All a woman wants is for you to wish she was dripping in diamonds. She don’t really need all those diamonds. She just wants you to feel that way.”

22) Grey Season “Time Will Tell You Well”

I discovered this band in a rather old fashioned way, which is appropriate for why I ended up liking them. The family and I were out in Boston’s Arts Festival in late August and stumbled upon a group of 20-year-olds playing folk music and instruments in a refreshingly authentic and un-ironic type of way. They covered Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch well and at no time did I fear they would bring out a ukulele.

The band we saw turned out to by a few members of Grey Season, and Holly McGarry, forming a impromptu trio to fill in for the full Grey Season. While I can’t be sure if they played a song off the new album, it was impressive enough for me to look them up, and the samples on iTunes were good enough for me to make the purchase.

Their sound borrows heavily from the Decemberists, with pieces of Josh Ritter and Stephen Kellogg to form a unique Americana sound. The song “New Kind of Dirty” reminds me of the epic lost gem “Ticking” off of Elton John’s “Caribou”. The best news to the grumpy-old-man in me is that they don’t borrow from the Lumineers with the now cliched, choral, reverbed and staccato “Hey!” that has bleed into pop music. It is that fact alone that made me never want to listen to the “Us and Them” album again (unrelated tidbit).

23) Devin Townsend “Z3”

Another wall of sound from Devin Townsend. I think I prefer the first disc, being a perfect follow-up to the Epicloud. My advice to Devin is to stay away from folk though.

24) Nickel Creek “A Dotted Line”

Sometimes Chris Thile needs to come down from the Punch Brothers and make some music that doesn’t require computer calculations. It would be great if we could get a new Nickel Creek album every year (or 2) but that’s unlikely, they have other projects going on. To me “21st of May” is a stand-out track that reminds us how good of a singer and player Sean Walkins is. This is modern Americana for the masses.

25) A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither – Link of Chain

This is the first tribute album to ever make this list with 4 years and 120 songs to chose from. Tribute albums don’t typically get a lot of plays for me, but this album reminded me of the genius of Chris Smither.  It also reminded me of how boring Bonnie Raitt is. I didn’t see it as the year of Mark Erelli, and think he’s due for a new album of his own stuff, but this is the 3rd album on this list to include Mark Erelli. Maybe he’s too busy for his own stuff.

26) Moron Police “Defenders of the Small Yard”

I don’t know whether or not to consider this a novelty album, or a metal album. It’s a little bit Devin Townsend, a little bit Frank Zappa, and a lot Mr. Bungle.

27) I Draw Slow “White Wave Chapel”

I saw this Irish band in 2013 at a bluegrass festival. They may not be playing Bill Monroe standards but their music wasn’t out of place.

28) Edguy “Space Police: Defenders of the Crown”

Edguy knows what they are doing with lyrics that don’t always fit the power metal mold. A song that praises England as the birthplace of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris was long overdue.

29) Larkin Poe “KIN”

Larkin Poe is so far away from Country-Bluegrass music these days that it’s best to forget their earlier work as the Lovell Sisters so you can listen with open ears.

It can be described as classic rock, but with enough of a modern edge that they could be very successful (an appearance on SNL wouldn’t hurt). The album is fine but clearly polished and reduced for mass consumption. I wanted Rebecca to break into a 3-minute mandolin solo followed by a killer lap steel jam. Instead the songs were reduced to 3 minutes, and I can’t blame them for trying to broaden their fan base by aiming for radio play. Seeing them live in November showed me the potential that these songs did have. They all had extended solos and were simply more interesting live.

Would I like this band as much if they weren’t criminally attractive? I really don’t know, and neither do you.

30) The Both “The Both”

I’ve always liked Aimee Mann’s voice, and tend to buy her new albums when they come out. However, she never seems to re-invent herself. All her albums tend to sound the same to me. Each album has stand-out songs, but in general they blend together. “The Both” was refreshing as it has the soothing, manly voice of Aimee, with some songwriting and harmonies of a 3rd party.

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