I created the draft for this entry before the 2014 edition was published. At one point it seemed like a daunting task to catch up and something I’d never pick back up. But alas I keep going. The dangers of stopping this project are too great, if not unclear and un-present.
But this one’s different, and I’ve detailed why in previous posts. Because of Apple Music, no one is counting my plays, so I need to pick the albums based on importance to me. They weren’t necessarily the best albums of the year, that’s a pompous statement to make. But, they’re the albums I’m choosing to talk about now, and play a song on the piano from. The order is meaningless, and numbered for convenience only.
1) Striking Matches “Nothing But the Silence”
The parallels to The Civil Wars are almost too obvious to note. The main difference is that they probably hate each other less. The title track “Nothing but the Silence” repeats the line “There’s nothing but the silence in between that hasn’t already been broken”. It’s reminiscent of The Civil Wars song Poison & Wine. Both sound like they were written by a teenage girl in her room on her iphone. While she won’t admit it, and doesn’t fully realize it, she’s full of angst in part because her dad’s working late in order to afford the iPhone she’s angst-ing on.
2) Della Mae “Della Mae”
Seeing Della Mae at the Sinclair in June made me appreciate this album as it puts new visuals on the music I was already becoming familiar with. Kimber Ludiker jolts from out of nowhere to rip into a fiddle solo, followed by an awkward, sideways smirk. Celia Woodsmith storms up to the microphone, channeling a Steven Tyler size grin. Jenni Lyn Gardner approaches the microphone with a southern-bell two-step. Courtney Hartman just sticks around the microphone, conveniently.
The album starts with the redundantly-titled “Boston Town”, which is their best attempt at a radio hit if there were any radio stations that would play Della Mae. It’s an easily digestible and fun song and makes a perfect introduction to the more complex and interesting songs coined by Courtney.
3) Barnstar! “Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!”
My banjo career is full of peaks and valleys. At the time of this writing it’s sitting pretty in the Red River Valley, with two small kids to blame. But I feel like I listen to banjo playing with the ear of a banjo player, whether deserved or not. Charlie Rose is the banjo player for the people. While I would never compare myself to him as a player, I understand what he’s doing. If forced to sit in a room with this recording I could eventually pick out his playing. I like my prog metal to melt my mind, but I want my bluegrass music approachable. It’s the reason Noam Pikelny and the Punch Brothers loses me at times. I have no clue what he’s doing and never will.
Jake and Mark used to put out consistent solo material. Mark hasn’t had a solo release in a few years, while Jake seems to be rebelling against his pop-singer/songwriter past. It’s nice to get both of them back together every few years for Barnstar!
4) Robert Earl Keen “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions”
I had the same thoughts regarding this one as I did the Barnstar! album… banjo that I can actually understand. Rob’s not trying to make these Bluegrass staples his own in an intentional sort of way. His laid-back, southern draw does the work for him.
5) Nora Jane Strutters & the Party Line “Wake”
Do I love this album as much as meat loves salt? Probably not, but it’s hard not to like anything that Nora Jane puts out.
6) Brandi Carlile “The Firewatcher’s Daughter”
I expect artists to change with the times, especially those that have been around for a decade. But for singer-songwriters that emerged a decade ago there’s a risk that the times will change them. Brandi’s song that attempts to keep up with the times is “Blood Muscle Skin & Bones“, and the low point of the album. It falls into the modern trend of cranking the reverb up to 11 and layering non-harmonizing vocals. In general her music is timeliness, but this song will date this album in 10 years.
7) Garfunkel & Oates “Secretions”
These gals are tacky at the surface, but after continued listens, there is some depth to it. It’s often predictable and overly-scripted humor, but it’s strong points out-weigh the weak. I especially liked Go Sports Go for bluntly describing my current apathy towards professional sports.
8) Neal Morse “The Grand Experiment”
Neal can’t do prog wrong in my book. The grand experiment, in this case, was the fact that the “album was composed and recorded over a short period of time, with no preparation work before entering the studio.” But in the end it still sounds like Neal Morse, which is always a good thing. I don’t know why he decided to consider the last few tracks “bonus tracks”. To me they are simply a continuation of a great album.
9) Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”
Steven Wilson is the face of modern prog today. He’s a household name in those households where prog is worshiped. If the face of modern prog was a democracy my vote goes to Neal Morse, but I’m happy with the current regime.
10) Ghost “Meliora”
The best thing about this Ghost album was it could be listened to at loud volumes without sounding hot. The sound quality was much improved over “Infestissumam”, and the song-writing was on par. It’s nice that the Grammy awards are recognizing a rock artist that isn’t Dave Grohl, but it seems a bit meaningless without acknowledging any other rock/metal artists on this list.
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