It was a great year for music with lots of choices to make my list. Oldsters and young bucks offered quality and genre-bending offerings. I saw two legends this year for the first time, Jay Z and Willie Nelson. Both entertainers have a surprising amount of qualities in common. Willie and Hova are prolific and have been over long careers. Both have played with many different artists over the years and usually produced interesting results. Jay and Willie are both fond of their weed. And this year I discovered they both dominate a stage like few artists can. Jay Z was by far the best concert I saw in 2014. If you saw him play with Beyoncé or JT you know he over shadowed both and just owns his audience. Willie Nelson, at 81 years old, did all the vocals and all the guitar work and captivated the crowd at the Mann Music Center. So without further ado the top ten albums of 2014.
Alt-J – “This is All Yours” – I had never heard of this Australian band but they released a dreamy, winding set of songs and took my number one honors. They had a pretty big hit in “Left Hand Free” which sounds nothing like the rest of the album.
Robert Plant – “Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar” – Give the former Led Zeppelin lead singer credit — he is still experimenting and learning new skills at 66 years old. Plant’s album includes Irish and African influences in a beginning-to-end, consistently good album.
U2 – “Songs of Innocence” – The legendary Irish band gave away their new album on ITunes and everyone complained. I don’t get it, if you don’t want to listen to it then don’t play it. But people raged against the unwanted download if they were not fans. Critics did not show this album much love (except Rolling Stone magazine which has become no longer relevant, sadly). I included it in my playlist for many months. Standard U2 fare but well written songs, and Bono is one of our era’s greatest vocalists.
John Butler Trio – “Flesh and Blood” – These hippie like dudes put out an album early in 2014. Some of the songs became themes for me in a year of transitions. “Living in the City” was the theme for our move, and “Spring to Come” was a hopeful tune after the brutal winter we had last year. We saw them play on the River at Penn’s Landing in a perfect, early summer concert.
Leonard Cohen – “Popular Problems” – A few years ago I listed a Leonard Cohen song in my Year-End Bests, and it became the most visceral choice I have ever made. People listened to the year-end CD and wanted to know, “WTF is up with Leonard?” Not rap stuff or weird releases, but the80 year old Mr. Cohen. Well he’s back with another beautiful set of simple, elegant and thoughtful tunes along with his rough, talking vocals, violin and gorgeous backup singers. Sorry haters, he is good.
War on Drugs – “Lost in the Dream” – One of Philly’s best, War on Drugs put out a great album that was included on most year-end lists. Their dreamy, melodic rock music takes you on a journey.
TV on the Radio – “Seeds” – After a 5 year wait, TV on the Radio came back with a great follow up after their base player, Gerard Smith, passed away soon after their last release. We saw them at Union Transfer this past fall. The album is much more poppy and accessible than their previous stuff.
Ryan Adams- “Ryan Adams” – I am a big Ryan Adams fan so his inclusion may be a bit biased. It is a good album, not a great one. We saw him play the Tower Theater which included only one outburst from this neurotic singer/ songwriter.
Beck – “Morning Phase” – Beck put out a few interesting things this year. “Morning Phase” is very similar to “Sea Change” in that it is a very mellow collection of songs. He also put out a song book last year with which he encouraged anyone to play the written songs. This year a bunch of other artists recorded that music with their own interpretations.
Strand of Oaks – “HEAL” – Timothy Showalter is Strand of Oaks. He is from Indiana but now lives in Philly. This is his third album. The album contains almost autobiographical stories about his own growth from an angry youth (hence the title). And the guitars sound angry as well. J. Macis guests on one track with his ‘shredding guitar’ sound. Timothy looks like a Jesus Christ look alike with his crazy beard.
I usually put this list together on Thanksgiving so as to not be too influenced by major year-end lists. I look at lots of lists, and like to sample things which I may have missed. So on the list of stuff I missed but was pretty good, I would recommend the following: St. Vincent, Sharron van Etton, and Tony Allen (previously played with Fela Kuti). Run the Jewels 2, featuring El-P and Killer Mike, was my favorite rap album. D’Angelo dropped a surprise album the week before Christmas. It was his first since his classic R&B release Voodoo in 2000 and definitely worth checking out.
As far as shows, I mentioned a few so far but two more were memorable because of who I saw the show with! My sister and I celebrated her 50th B day at Citizens Bank to see Billy Joel. And I took one of my favorite nephews to see his first concert, the Black Keys.