Since I didn’t do this last year, I’m throwing my hat in with every one of the fine folks here at Popdose as 2014 was one of the most interesting, diverse and fruitful years – especially musically. So rather than pontificate on the “why”, etc., I’m going to jump right in with both feet and revisit some of the music, et al., that stood out for me from January to now…:
Albums by “new(er)” artists:
LITTLE CHIEF: Lion’s Den
This wonderful, solid piece of work is the debut album from a recently-formed band out of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I was immediately drawn into its warm, almost-understated production; the sharp on-pointness of the harmonies and the lushness of the arrangements. Rarely have I ever been so moved immediately but Lion’s Den has lived with me from the first listen.
JIMMY STEPHENS JR & THE BLUES CITY ROAD DOGS: Road Ready
The most explosive, pure rock & roll album to enter my consciousness in years. Jimmy Stephens, Jr. is as fine a singer, songwriter, bass player (and guitarist) as one could imagine – and the fact that this is a “supergroup” (in my mind) only serves to prove the point. Joined by his brother, Jody Stephens on drums and Adam Hill on power-guitar, the Blues City Road Dogs are as formidable as they are a joy to listen to.
BRETT HARRIS: Mr. Sunshine
I’ve had the good fortune to see and hear this gifted singer-songwriter do his thing with the all-star “Big Star Third” show, but give one listen to his recent mini-album, Mr. Sunshine, and you know you’re on to something special. An array of influences color his musical palette and his lyrics are poetic and wonderfully layered – peel away and you will understand what he sings of. From Lennon to Chilton and back again, hands down a favorite of mine.
THE LEGAL MATTERS: s/t
Power pop of the year with a capital “P”. This Michigan trio burst forward with an album filled with hooks, riffs, harmonies and glistening production in the vein of Big Star, Badfinger and (naturally) The Who. Another album not to be missed at all.
IMMIGRANT UNION: Anyway
Australian-based, Dandy Warhol-led psychedelic pop a la the Paisley Underground (more The Rain Parade than anything else) and Neil Young, this fine album will linger in your senses long after that first listen. Harmonies, acoustic guitars and melody shine through.
Many of the other albums – such as the stunning debut of The Empty Hearts and Lines West – were mentioned in my recent appearance on CBS St. Louis’ “Overnight America With Jon Grayson” – you can hear it here:
BEST ESTABLISHED ARTIST: undoubtedly, it was BOB MOULD, who came roaring back with Beauty and Ruin, a machine gun blast of Husker Du-like proportions and tunefulness. The live tour that followed this album’s release should not have been missed – with Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wurster demolishing the drums, this was a “no miss”.
BEST (LIVE) ALBUM: An important document, to be sure: BIG STAR Live In Memphis. The only live recording (and companion DVD) of the Chilton/Stephens/Stringfellow/Auer line-up, it had the sages of American power-pop at a height, one year after their surprise reformation (recorded 1994) in Stephens’ and Chilton’s hometown of Memphis. Not many had the chance to hear Big Star in a quality live forum – now you do.
This was also an excellent year for reissues and boxsets. The recent deluxe edition of THE JAM‘s 1979 Setting Sons is an appropriate final piece to the puzzle as their seminal 1978 All Mod Cons and their 1980 masterpiece Sound Affects have already been given the anniversary editions. As crisp, evocative, emotional and powerful as it was then, it has held up well over the three-plus decades since its initial release. Byrds founder GENE CLARK‘s 1977 epic Two Sides To Every Story was also given the deluxe edition treatment and is a must for anyone – especially those who love what is now termed “Americana”. You can make the argument it all began with him. PAUL MCCARTNEY gave us two WINGS classics in various permutations: the stellar 1975 Venus and Mars and 1976’s At The Speed Of Sound. Both can be had in single pack, double pack, triple pack and vinyl. A must for any fan of The Beatle’s post Fabs career.
For boxsets, another Fab had a masterpiece unleashed. GEORGE HARRISON‘s The Apple Years 1968 – 75 has it all – from the obscure Wonderwall Music to the forgotten Extra Texture and is the perfect companion to the earlier The Dark Horse Years 1976 – 1992.
As my heart still has an eternal spot for this band, the 7 IN – 83 – 88 boxset of 45’s by R.E.M. is a must – not just for R.E.M. fans but for lovers of music from an era now long gone. To hear these songs the way they had been originally released just gives the sound of the songs so much more power and life. And to be fair, these are great songs – A sides and B sides alike.
(classic photo by Laura Levine)
Finally, there are a great many shout-outs to be made for the fine music that made this year so pleasurable and engrossing: MATT TURK, POPULUXE, the latest great release from RED JACKET MINE, MATTHEW RYAN, LIVING WITH ELEPHANTS, JOHN VELGHE and KAREN HAGLOF; a wonderful book on The Beatles with a different slant by CANDY LEONARD, Beatleness, the hilarious autobiography by STEVE BOONE of the legendary The Lovin’ Spoonful, Hotter Than A Match Head: Life On The Run With The Lovin’ Spoonful and NEVIN MARTELL‘s heartfelt memoir Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations; films such as the documentaries on Roger Ebert, Life Itself and the great Gore Vidal, The United States Of Amnesia plus the live theatre performances of James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in Of Mice And Men – all of these things, coupled with dynamic live acts like The Dream Syndicate (national) and The Cynz (local) made 2014 fulfilling and satisfactory year in my appetite.
I can only hope that 2015 brings us the same kind of quality in music, books, film and so on and that made this year a whirlwind. And I do apologize in advance if there is anyone that I neglected to mention, etc. – it’s been a long year and a lot to have absorbed. But then again, isn’t that what makes it all great and worthwhile?