The old trope, “There is no good music coming out nowadays” winds up being the same gripe, different generation. What wound up being a rather Herculean task was whittling down my picks for the 2014 Top 10 albums. Honorable mention goes to The Foo Fighters, Tom Petty, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ray LaMontagne, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Tones, Ben Watt, Benjamin Booker, The Black Keys and Broken Bells.
Sloan – Commonwealth (Murderrecords/Yep Roc) The latest from one of Canada’s best-kept secrets finds this rock-solid power-pop outfit adding to an already sturdy canon, steeped in clever lyricism, muscular riffing and hooks a-plenty. Commonwealth features each member contributing a quarter of the record, filling it the way he wants with his own creative suite and producing a sound that delightfully varies depending on which of Sloan’s four singer-songwriters were taking the lead on whichever song is being played.
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers (Matador) New Pornographers continue to produce a brand of smartly written and hook-laden alt-pop that continues to ring true right up through the present day, eschewing the modern-day pop music paradigm of cobbled together break-beats, loads of Auto-Tune, slick rapping and slapped together sound samples, and instead going the old-fashioned route defined by songs, choruses, harmonies and enough hooks to fill a tackle box.
Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin (Merge) Honesty is at the heart of Bob Mould’s latest, and while the alt-rock icon has the kind of musical acumen that’s gotten him well-earned respect from his peers, it’s the emotional vulnerability Bob Mould shares with the listener that makes it all such a triumph, thanks to his unfailing ability to meld melodicism with the fury and abandon of punk rock in a convincing and literate manner.
Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (Warner Brothers) Continuing the fabulously successful crossover from actor to musician that’s taken her through impressive stints in Riley Kiley and beau Jonathan Rice as part of the duo Jenny & Johnny, the former child star of Camp Beverly Hills wows again with her Ryan Adams-produced third solo album that chronicles heartbreak and sorrow through a sieve of well-crafted pop and country-rock flavored gems.
The New Basement Tapes – Lost On the River: The New Basement Tapes (Electromagnetic Recordings/Harvest Records) This T-Bone Burnett-produced project winds up being a trip well worth taking into the Dylan canon and a deserving companion to Zim’s recently released volume of The Bootleg Series.
Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits (Signature Sounds) Despite the New England Conservatory of Music pedigree, Lake Street Dive eschew the stereotypical stiff jazz combo persona and instead wind up trafficking in the kind of rockin’ soul and blues that instantly falls somewhere between Susan Tedeschi and Dusty Springfield.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones – Half the City (Single Lock Records) The debut album by this Alabama septet pulses with an analog vibrancy that finds it residing at the stylistic intersection of Muscle Shoals, Hi Records and Stax/Volt with Solomon Burke rather than Otis Redding or Al Green being the touchstone for frontman Paul Janeway’s channeling of the musical Holy Spirit.
Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20/Thirty Tigers) This two-CD set,
(an anomaly in a time of digitally released songs), is all killer, no filler, and is a clear case where consummate craftsmanship meets undying passion that’s a delight to immerse yourself in.
Old 97’s – Most Messed Up (ATO) Light years away from Nasvhille’s slicked-up assembly line of homogenized crossover country. The Old 97’s continue to deliver the goods in a way Taylor Swift could only dream of doing while serving in her role as a Big Apple carpetbagger.
Trigger Hippy – Trigger Hippy (Rounder) Put those preconceived notions about how often supergroup formations usually fall short of expectations and instead open your ears to the magic produced by creative collaborators Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene and Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman. Packed with plenty
of roots-rock manna, this self-titled debut has stylistic tendrils reaching out to the fabled musical ground where The Band, Little Feat, Uncle Tupelo, Bonnie Raitt and so many other America cornerstones have planted their creative stakes.