Wednesday, December 31, 2014
My Favorite Albums of 2014
1. "English Oceans," Drive-By Truckers. DBT fills the role in my living pantheon formerly filled by Warren Zevon. Everything they release is very good to great, and they're probably never going to hit the mainstream. But that's OK, although it would be nice if the band didn't have to tour 200 nights a year to make a living.
Of the group's songwriters, Patterson Hood has always been the alpha dog, but "English Oceans" is Mike Cooley's triumph. Without a doubt, this is the strongest set of songs he's ever penned for a DBT album, and for the first time Cooley has as many songs on an album as Hood (also for the first time, he even sings a Hood-penned tune). "Shit Shots Count," Primer Coat," "Made Up English Oceans," and "Hearing Jimmy Loud" were all instant classics.
And the Hood songs? They took a little longer to sink in, but after months of listening it's clear that they're pretty damn good too - with at least one ("Grand Canyon") that will surely end up in his own personal Hall of Fame.
2. "Songs of Innocence," U2. The only album not pictured above, because as the entire world knows by now, it just ended up on my iPod one day. Personally I think the controversy over that move was overblown, but after a while to think about it, I can see the point of those who criticized the move. And what got lost in the shuffle (iPod joke not intended) was that this was the best U2 album in years. Did they break any new ground? Probably not. But they did release the best crafted set of tunes they've come up with in at least 25 years. That's good enough for me.
3. "Singles," Future Islands. Like a lot of other people, I was introduced to the band via their amazing performance on Letterman. And while a lot of this album makes me nostalgic for the 1980s, there's no doubting that Samuel T. Herring and his bandmates know exactly what they're doing. Fast songs, dance songs, ballads - it all works quite nicely.
4. "Plain Spoken," John Mellencamp. I wrote about the album here. Iconic stuff.
5. "Most Messed Up," Old 97s. See review here, where I called it a "messed up masterpiece."
6. "Tarpaper Sky," Rodney Crowell. What a songwriter. Original review here.
7. "The River and the Thread," Rosanne Cash. When this came out, I thought it might end up at #1, but I was struck by something Robert Christgau said in his review - that the album was lacking in passion. There's no doubting that this is an excellent album, but I can also see why he said that. However, at least two major exceptions - "A Feather's Not a Bird," and "When the Master Calls," the great Civil War ballad she wrote with John Leventhal and Rodney Crowell.
8. "High Hopes," Bruce Springsteen. A lot of good to great tunes here, but after living with it for nearly a year, I can't escape the conclusion that it's less than the sum of its parts. And I'm sorry, but the Tom Morello contributions detract just as often as they add to the power of the music.
9. "Somewhere Under Wonderland," Counting Crows. This could continue to move up with time, but the band was clearly energized by their last, covers-only effort.
10. "Platinum," Miranda Lambert. By the time she is done, she's going to be right up there with some really, really famous country singers.
11. "Voyager," Jenny Lewis. Pretty darn close to being a perfect pop album.
Subjects for further research: Bryan Ferry's "Avonmore," The New Pornographers' "Brill Bruisers."