No doubt in my mind: 2014 was another magnificent music year. Narrowing the annual Best of-list down to 10 turned out to be impossible; down to 12 was hard enough. Having to leave out Adrian Crowley, Tina Dico, Eliza Doolittle, Family Crest, Mark Fry, Jaymay, Hamilton Leithauser, Emilie Nicolas, Conor Oberst, Martin Stephenson, The Temples, Sharon van Etten and Woman’s Hour (yes, in alphabetical order, no favouritism) feels senseless, since they all released especially well crafted, ground breaking and/or immensely pleasurable albums. So have many other great new and old artists. However, the following twelve have got something truly unique about them, and for me they represent hours of exceptional music pleasure.
Here’s the 2014 countdown, with excerpts of what I wrote about the albums when published. And even though some of the albums were released the year before, it is the year in which I wrote about them that counts, that is fair.
”Lana Del Rey is another artist proving that history indeed does repeat itself. She is truly a contemporary artist, but there is no doubt she gets her inspiration from music and artists from previous decades. Her third album, Ultraviolence, is a collection you probably would have run into even without this blog; it debuted at the number one spot on Billboard’s top 100; but a blog with focus on great music with roots needs to add well-known artists as well. So there. ”
”Cherry Ghost is an amazing new discovery for me. Their new album, Herd Runners, is among the best of new releases this year. The group from Bolton, England plays pop music shamelessly, borrowing from the best, creating silky arrangements around strong melodies and great performances.”
”Maybe with the exception of Ella Fitzgerald, Annie Lennox is perhaps my favourite singer of all time. There is something about her voice that manages to turn any song into true emotion. A lot of reviewers have given her rough treatment, particularly when she has interpreted other people’s work, but I ignore them and I hope she does, too. Her new album, Nostalgia, is filled to the brim with songs that I love even before she interprets them. ”
”Last year I publicly converted to Country Music, exploring artists like Caitlin Rose and Guy Clark. That doesn’t mean I have taken up listening to some of the heaviest country artists, but I find myself listening to more and more mainstream Country. One of these artists is Texan country girl Kacey Musgraves (the name alone!), and to try to win over more converts I have added some of her delicious songs from her latest album “Same Trailer Different Park” (the name alone!).”
”Robert Ellis has a voice that at times turns me off, and his music is too often taking me into traditional CW land. But this man knows how to tell a story, and I have added six stories for you to enjoy. Ellis is from Texas, and went from bar performer to feted artist from one day to another when American Songwriter’s Magazine named him one of the top songwriters of the year in 2011. His latest album is called The Lights From the Chemical Plant and for country aficionados it must be nothing less than brilliant. For the less orthodox of us, it is still very good, primarily for the cleverness of the stories he is spinning. And it doesn’t hurt that he is covering well Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years….”
”…a revisit to another Norwegian band, heavy on the female ingredients. Highasakite, with their new album Silent Treatment. It is already number 1 in the band’s home country, but this is an album that deserves world recognition. Their sound is so unique, with a lot of echoed percussion and harmonies, and the album has a distinct Eastern influence. I can’t get enough of it. The song writing and the production are outstanding. I have added six tracks, if you enjoy them – and don’t already count yourself as a Kite fan, listen to their previous releases as well.”
”… a new favourite, the Welchman Mark Nevin. It is of course totally unfair to call Nevin new; he was part of Fairground Attraction, but this is the first time I have run into him as a solo artist. This is old fashioned, unpretentious pop with a touch of folk, I am sure it is unfashionable, but I couldn’t care less, I thoroughly enjoy the niceness of Beautiful Guitars. Mark and I share birthday, he is two years younger than I, but I feel kinship nevertheless (more with him than with Fidel Castro who was born on August 13 as well). ”
”Her name is Joan Wasser, but she is performing as Joan as Police Woman. She is from Maine and had a tough start in life. One of the many results of American teen pregnancies, she was adopted as an infant. She coped well and prospered, took up the violin and started on a classical eduction. Perhaps this is why she called her new album The Classic – or maybe because she knows it may just turn out to be just that – a classic album. Time will tell. Her songs grow on me every time I listen to them, and she never gives the listener a chance to be bored, as this is happy, varied and high accomplished set of songs.”
”On to another artist I have listened a lot to lately, Loudon Wainwright III. His latest album, I Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), is filled to the brim with strong, well-written, powerful songs. I urge to listen to the whole album, and I dare you to find one track that isn’t well crafted. Talent runs in the Wainwright family, and I am a great admirer of many members of the clan. This album proves that the best of the all may in fact be Loundon senior. ”
”The two Swedish sisters in First Aid Kit are about 60 years younger than (John) Mayall. If we are to philosophize over this, it must be to conclude that the audience have 60 years of wonderful music to look forward to. Because First Aid Kit just gets better and better. Their new album, Stay Gold, is nothing short of amazing, both the song writing and the performances. I am normally not fond of harmony singing like this, but Johanna and Klara’s voices are as moulded together. This is just so incredibly beautiful to listen to.”
” On to a national treasure (yes, Scotland is a nation whatever happens in September), Glaswegian Eddi Reader was the sound of Fairground Attraction, with a voice sweeter than honey and more moving than that of Karen Carpenter. After Fairground Attraction she started on a solo career, and also acted in movies, TV and radio for a bit. The albums she made alone were great, but after the 90s, the albums didn’t sell quite as well as before. This is not linked to the quality of her recordings, but it is never a great career move to move into standards land (unless you are Rod Stewart). For the many who appreciate that genre of pop music, like me, Reader’s new album is a must. It is called Vagabond, and I had a harder time than usual to limit the number of tracks that I would like to offer, but ended up with seven lovely songs for your enjoyment. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Scotland (together with Australia) is really at the top of the food chain when it comes to sophisticated pop and rock. Go tell it on the mountains.”
” Family counts. But talent helps as well. If you have both, like Rosanne Cash, there’s a chance you may stretch a career across four decades – and then reach your peak at the end of those four decades. With The River & The Thread Johnny Cash’ oldest daughter may have done just that. Her new album is almost without faults. Nearly every track lingers in my head long after I have listened to it. What is this? Country, soft rock, pop, folk? Or is Rosanne her own genre? ”