2014 Best Songs (Part 6, Course 5)

(This is part 6 of a 6 part post; to start from the beginning or the middle, click the list to the right—>)

Right about now you should be quite full. Maybe you’re not sure you can take in any more morsels of music. 500fullOf course you can. Don’t be silly! It just has to be the right music.  On a full stomach, on an overwhelmed eardrum, what is needed is something soothing and calming. And we have just the right mix to transition you to the end of the dining experience.

2014 had a plethora of music to fit the late night, end of meal experience. So much in fact, that to narrow it down to five songs was very difficult. I’ve had to leave out a couple songs I truly love, like Jessica Lea Mayfield’s “Standing in the Sun” which is a favorite. And Damien Jurado, whose album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is so good, so worth spending some quality time with. I really wanted to include his moody masterpiece “Metallic Cloud” but it just doesn’t fit with the other five. What is it they say? Kill your children? Well, I’m not killing them, but I’m making them stay outside.

What did make the final five are the following:

1. Real Estate – Had to Hear

Real Estate is the perfect band to play at the end of a party. And it sort of works while driving down the highway in a convertible down a country road. This song, “Had to Hear” has a summery R.E.M. twang to it, though it’s a bit dreamier. Calmer. All I know, is that when I play this song, I can’t help but relax. It has a 70’s Laurel Canyon vibe as well, and the guitar play in the 2nd half of the song is really tasty, perhaps a bit jam-bandy, but in a good way. A song like this shouldn’t be hurried.

2. Angus and Julia Stone – Main Street

If you thought the Real Estate song was trance-inducing, it’s borderline frenetic compared to this song, “Main Street” by Angus and Julia Stone. To me, this song is perfect. It’s got the amazing intermingling of Angus and Julia’s tender voices, both of them tinged with a sweet pain, it’s got some of the most subtle, tasteful drumming I’ve heard all year, it’s got layers of hypnotic guitar lines. And the sense of melancholy, of a time long ago, drips thickly over the entire song. I have to think that some of it is due to the amazing production of Rick Rubin, who I was truly surprised was behind the boards on this album, though I really shouldn’t have been. His take-charge, hands-on approach doesn’t work with everyone. But here, it’s a perfect match. Some critics have found the album too produced, that he takes away from the Stone siblings’ pure sound. But I disagree. I can’t wait to spend more time with their self titled album in 2015.

Starting to relax a bit? Need a refill on your tea or coffee? We got three more songs to go before you can get on with your post-meal life.

3. Beck – Heart is a Drum

It’d been several years since Beck graced us with new music, but he’s done it again, putting out yet another essential album. He’s not treading new ground here, in fact some people have called his new album Morning Phase, “Sea Change Part 2.” And they wouldn’t be wrong. But it’d been more than 10 years since Sea Change so new melancholic tunes from one of the best songwriters of my generation is fine in my book. There’s something uplifting and inspiring about this song, “Heart is a Drum.” It makes me want to notice the good in the world around me. It’s almost the exact opposite energy of his first single back in 1994, “Loser,” which dripped with ironic detachment. I guess that’s what 20 years can do. I think it’s called growing up (or maybe just older).

4. Bryan Ferry – Soldier of Fortune

Bryan Ferry is the epitome of cool. Always has been. Even as the singer in Roxy Music, before they became more commercially palatable in their later years, Bryan Ferry has dressed the role of suave gentleman. The silks, the suits, the jet black hair, either slicked back or hanging in his face. But for all the years I’ve been listening to him sing for Roxy and on his more than 10 solo albums, I would never describe his singing as vulnerable or aching. His voice was smooth like butter, or in his earlier years, a bit quirky and off-kilter. Now, at age 69, Bryan Ferry is finally showing a bit of weariness in his voice. And on the second song on his excellent new album Avonmore,”Soldier of Fortune,” he expresses a side of himself that is haunting and adds a real richness to his vocal repertoire.

5. Ben Watt – Forget

Ben Watt is probably best known as being one-half of Everything But The Girl, the British electronic pop duo from the 80’s and 90’s. He’s worked on many other projects during that time and since, including several solo albums, but never really became more than a highly regarded producer and songwriter amongst his peers. That probably won’t change with his 2014 release “Hendra,” but it should. It’s one of those albums that only a person who has lived a full life, of recovering from serious illness, of having had time to reflect back on his experiences and relationships and how to put it all into song. Bringing in such guests as David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Bernard Butler (Suede), Watt has crafted an album that blends impeccable musicianship with contemplative and sometimes heart-wrenching songwriting. Watt’s voice has a smooth, comfortable tone to it, like a warm blanket, but not at all sterile. To give you a sense of how mellow this album is, “Forget” is maybe the most uptempo song on it. It’s one of those albums you put on when you are lying in front of a fire with a glass of wine, or wanting to let go the stresses of the day.

And, of course, a great end to a special meal, when you’ve finished your tea or your coffee, paid the bill, tipped your waitstaff generously, made your way back home, holding the hand of your lover, both of you smiling, reliving the deliciousness of the evening in your minds, a sense of tempered anticipation for what lies ahead in the coming year.

 

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2014 Best Songs (Part 5, Course 4)

decadent_dessert

Yes, it’s that time. Time to indulge your sweet tooth. Time for chocolate and caramel and ice cream and cake and berries and all the stuff in the image on the left. You know, because you haven’t had any desserts yet this holiday season.

Let’s just get right to it shall we?

1. Cloud Nothings – Psychic Trauma

What starts off as a pleasant sounding alt-rock song, something familiar, strong in it’s own way, at about 45 seconds in, suddenly speeds up, the drums flailing madly, the guitars fuzzing out and about a minute in, vocalist Dylan Baldi’s goes from a controlled angstyness to a full out wailing. The song is titled “Psychic Trauma” after all.

And then it goes from 10 to 11 in the last 30 seconds, with the drums filling every possible space and the guitars holding it together, rhythmically. And then before the 3 minute mark, it’s over.  The perfect pop-punk song.

2. Ex Hex – How You Got That Girl

When I heard that one of my favorite all-girl punk bands from 2011, Wild Flag, disbanded, I was bummed. But from the ashes of Wild Flag comes a new Sleater Kinney album in January, and, in 2014, we got Ex Hex, Mary Timmony’s latest project. Naming her new band after the title of her 3rd solo album, Ex Hex is nostalgia punk of the first order.  Take 1 part Ramones, 1 part Go-Go’s and 1 part Joan Jett and you get Ex Hex. It’s comfort rock. It’s loud and it’s brash, but it’s catchy as all hell and is meant for all audiences. The song I’ve chosen “How You Got That Girl” is bubble-gum rock of the highest order. It’s like a bizarre marriage between T Rex and Scandal’s “Goodbye to You.” No, seriously, play the Ex Hex song above and then play the Scandal song below, and tell me that I’m crazy. OK, I’m crazy.

3.The #1s – Boy

3. Tony Molina – Change My Ways

OK, this is a first. It’s a tie for the 3rd song. It came down to the wire but the cameras could not make out a clear winner. Actually, I have lumped these two songs together because they are cut from the same cloth. And if you combine them, they still don’t equal three minutes.  number1sI was sure The Number Ones were some obscure band that had a reissue in 2014, but originally existed in the late 70s. But they are actually a band that formed in 2011 and just released their first album in 2014. Though my instinct was right; here’s how allmusic.com describes the band: Irish foursome who love both punk and pop, just as long as it sounds like it was recorded in the ’70s. And that pretty much gets it on the nose. The song I chose, “Boy” is 1:22 of pop-genius; no wasted notes, no unnecessary extra verses. The self-titled album is like jumping into a time machine back to 1978, and seeing a double bill of Buzzcocks and Bay City Rollers. Highly recommended. BTW, this song is not on YouTube, so click the link (above) to hear the song.

If you thought that The #1s put out concise power-pop tunes, they got nothing on Tony Molina. His 12 track release, Dissed and Dismissed, is less than 12 minutes in total. tony-molina_vice_970x435That’s less than 1 minute per song on average. Yet it all works perfectly. “Change My Ways” which I chose for our dessert course, is the 2nd longest track at 1:12. What I like about this song is that it’s loud and fast and has a catchy chorus and then is done. Sure, one might wonder how these songs would sound at a “normal” length, with a sense of repetition and reminder, but why do songs, especially punk songs, have to fit within an expected time constraint? Are classical symphonies judged against the pop song format? Are they considered too long? I’m just saying what The Minutemen said 30 years ago in their song “Shit From An Old Notebook”: Let the products sell themselves/fuck advertising, commercial psychology, psychological methods to sell should be destroyed. I’m not saying this precisely, it’s a little off the point, but any chance to quote The Minutemen I will take. In their footsteps Tony Molina has followed.

4. The Muffs – Weird Boy Next Door

Keeping with the high spirited sound of Tony Molina, but giving it a little bit of girl-power, I am going with The Muffs for song 4 of course 4. Kim Shattuck, The Muffs lead singer has a snarly, sneery quality to her voice which perfectly suits the aggressive sound of “Weird Boy Next Door.” Shattuck’s 2014 should be remembered for the quality of The Muffs first album in more than 10 years, Whoop Dee Doo, but more than likely she is most recognized as being the first replacement for Kim Deal in the touring version of The Pixies. She only lasted 3 months, mostly likely because she was not able to express her individuality and wasn’t a good fit to “shut up and play the hits.” Which ended up being a good thing for us, as we got to have more Muffs in 2014.

5. Parquet Courts – Dear Ramona

Court is back in session! Parquet Courts, who put out perhaps my favorite album of 2013, Light Up Gold, has come back in 2014 with another great collection of songs with their follow up, Sunbathing Animal. While as an album, it doesn’t hold up as well as Light Up Gold, there are several stand-out cuts here that have proven their staying power. “Dear Ramona” certainly fits their patented Pavement meets Jonathan Richman sound, but when something’s not broke, why fix it? I love how lazy the rhythms are, the stoned energy, yet it all holds together remarkably well. Pulling off the sloppy-tight thing is a lot harder than it looks, and Parquet Courts make it sound extremely easy.

You’ve just finished the last bite of pie, you’ve just used your finger to clean off the last drippings of raspberry sauce, but don’t you go anywhere yet. There’s still one more course. No don’t worry, no more food. Just a bit of an aperitif, a time to unwind and let the digestive organs do their thing. Let me brew up some some decaf, boil some water for the mint tea and I’ll be right back.

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2014 Best Songs (Part 4, Course 3)

I’ve since corrected this, but I, just this moment, realized I was titling the blog posts “2014 Best Albums” but that was completely erroneous. What I’m presenting here are not albums at all, but individual songs. There is a place to include “Best Albums” and that may come, but I felt I had to explain this, as, in reality, in my reality, best songs and best albums are rarely commingled. There are exceptions, and one of them is below (spoiler: it’s Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), but often, a standout track sucks all the energy out of the rest of an album, losing momentum and/or inspiration or “the magic” of the song.

And there is nothing wrong with this. We live in a world where we primarily listen to streaming music, picking and choosing what to play on our portable devices. Or letting Pandora or Spotify, etc. do the picking. Listening to an album from beginning to end has become a quaint, nostalgic activity, like looking at photos in an actual photo album. Even the word “album” connotes feelings of slowness, of lounging. Doesn’t that sound fantastic though? Like something we ought to do? The way I see it, streaming music from Pandora (which I do, so I’m not criticizing the messenger) is like snacking; it’s something you do while busy doing something else. Playing an album is like sitting down to a meal.

Speaking of which, aren’t you a teensy bit hungry, after all those veggies and salad? Craving something more substantial, something you can sink your teeth into? Of course you are.

This course might be my favorite course, though don’t tell the others; I want all my children to believe they are my favorite. Go ahead and accuse me of being stuck in the past, but the funkiest, grooviest songs of 2014 all had a thick aura of the 60’s and 70’s. Motown, Stax. Chess. All five of these songs feel like they could easily have been huge hits of a bygone era. Yet, I refuse to pigeonhole any of them with the retro tag. I will admit, I struggle to connect with the newer, more popular Soul/R&B artists, struggle to find my way in. I try, I give the kids’ music a few listens, but the truth is, I don’t like to have to work to connect to a song, and that is why there is no Hip Hop or modern R&B on this list. I can appreciate Run the Jewels and Young Fathers as innovative and passionate hip hop talents, but I can’t see playing either of their latest albums again. Same goes with Beyonce. And Banks. And FKA Twigs. All so critically acclaimed. Just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry ladies.

1. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – Stranger To My Happiness

There’s something about baritone sax that is so damn sexy, so damn guttural. Why isn’t it used more often in today’s music? Listen to this song, feel it all, let it wash over you with it’s delicious grooves. Then listen again and pay attention only to the sax. Man is it tasty. I am not the type of person to play one song over and over, literally hit repeat, and then hit it again. But this song? It gets better each time. There are tons of “expressive” vocalists out there, where you can tell they are really feeling what they are singing. But how many seem like they are living each song they sing? Very few. Sharon Jones is the real deal. The genuine article. And the Dap-Kings? Only the best backing band in existence nowadays. The modern-day Funk Brothers or Booker T & The MG’s. And, the entirety of her 2014 album Give the People What they Want is just as good as this song. It’s that rare album that is inspired from beginning to end.

2. Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas – Sorry I Stole Your Man

Listening to this early 60’s-styled tune (which also has baritone sax, btw) makes me happy that someone has finally grabbed the musical baton out from Amy Winehouse’s rigor mortised clutches. Not to speak ill of the dead; I loved Winehouse’s brilliant 2nd album, Back To Black. But to pull off a song like this with such confidence, such joy and reverence makes “Sorry I Stole Your Man” a standout track for 2014. Even the title is very Amy Winehouse. But Amy wouldn’t have her tongue in her cheek when singing it. If only the rest of the Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas album could match this songs swagger…alas, this is why I am listing best songs, not best albums. Sure, you might call this retro, even slight, but we are not here to ponder the enormity of it all, we are here to enjoy a meal, and we will have no brooders at the table.

3, Paolo Nutini – Scream (Funk My Life Up)

I can’t let the girls take over this list here, can I? (Actually I can, but I’m gonna squeeze one in for the boys before going back to the girls.) Luckily 2014 gave us something new from Paolo Nutini, which, based on his previous work, certainly could have made this list, but probably in the singer songwriter or folk category, not the Soul-R&B. Nutini is actually Scottish, not Italian, and he’s in his 20’s not his 40’s or 50’s which, when you hear his Joe Cocker meets Sam Cooke vocal gymnastics, will blow your mind. Nutini is a vocal chameleon, capturing the essence of so many classic Soul voices, from Marvin Gaye to Van Morrison to Curtis Mayfield to Bob Marley. It’s awe-inspiring to listen to. Caustic Love is another album that astounds from beginning to end. I definitely recommend buying this one.

4. La Roux – Uptight Downtown

Bananarama meets Disco. I could have stayed within the classic Soul sounds for the entire course, but I thought mixing it up a bit with some early 80’s-style disco would be a better choice. I remember hearing La Roux for the first time about 5 or 6 years ago and thinking that she really nailed the 21st century disco sound. Here’s a video from her first album. “Upright Downtown” is less electro than her earlier hits, and reminds me a bit of The Gossip, though Elly Jackson (La Roux’s vocalist) doesn’t have the vocal range of Beth Ditto. And the album as a whole doesn’t maintain the awesomeness that is “Uptight Downtown.” I guess I’m just a sucker for anything that brings me back to the 80’s. Well, almost anything.

5. Frazey Ford – September Fields

I only discovered Frazey Ford a few weeks ago while searching out some of my favorite music magazine best of 2014 lists. At first I assumed she was a country music artist. I mean, wouldn’t you? And then I looked her up on my trusted allmusic.com and learned Frazey was a member of the Be Good Tanyas, who I’d seen in concert in the early 2000’s. I’d remembered the Tanyas to be folky, bluesy, with nice vocal harmonies. I liked them, but quickly forgot about them and moved on. And listening to Indian Ocean, Ford’s recent album, I never would have guessed the gentle, soulful, organ-infused songs here were connected to what I’d seen 14 years ago. Even though Frazey has such a unique vocal style. Though now, playing them both back to back, the connection is quite clear. This is a good song to end the meatiest portion of the meal with; it’s got real soul, but it’s got a sense of winding down, of late night grooves. Ford’s latest album, Indian Ocean, might be a choice for best make-out album of 2014.

So get your romance on quick, cause we still have a dessert course to serve up.

2014 Best Songs (part 3, course 2)

Now that you’ve had time to digest your 1st course, it’s time for your next serving(s). Like I’ve already said, 2014 was a great year for all genres of music, and this is especially true in the Country and Americana world.  Some of our landmark artists, like Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash and the Old 97’s released some of their best albums this year. And the younger generation showed us that they can carry on the traditions that their forebearers brought before them. Artists like Nikki Lane, Sturgill Simpson, and Hurray For the Riff Raff.

1. Sturgill Simpson – Life of Sin

I chose the most rocking song on Sturgill Simpson’s fantastic 2nd album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. But I could have chosen any of the 10 classic cuts to use.  But don’t Sturgill's checkmarkstake my word for it.  Look at what allmusic.com thinks of his album. They normally highlight 2 or 3 songs on a four-star album with their “A” mark. But here, they give 7 of the 10 songs “instant classic” status.  I’ve never seen that before.  Not even Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison had this many A marks. And if you are a connoisseur of cover songs, you will appreciate his treatment of one-hit-wonder When In Rome’s new-wave ballad.

2. Lydia Loveless – Verlaine Shot Rimbaud

Another young artist who sounds years beyond her age (23 when her album Somewhere Else was released) is Lydia Loveless. Less steeped in the roots of country music, Lydia forges her own path, or at least expands on the one bushwhacked for her by the likes of Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams.  I listen to this album and it brings me back to the 90’s country sounds of early Neko Case and Tarnation. Her lyrics are whip-smart and from the heart and she’s not above coming across as needy or desperate.  This is best represented in the song “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud,” where she deftly merges the historical with the personal.

3. Rosanne Cash – A Feather’s Not a Bird

Listening to this right after the Lydia Loveless song feels like listening to two generations of the same artist, but at the same time.  Like seeing a talented young woman sing and then seeing an idea of what she might be like in 30 years, and vice versa.  Rosanne Cash clearly has the genetic component on her side, and we’ve had the luxury of following her music for more than 35 years, but she has never rested on her laurels. Each of her 13 albums is like a progression through the years. Each one capturing the experience of her life at the time. And so she never repeats herself. It’s like she is able to capture both the pain, the joy, the sorrow, the heartbreak of a particular experience and at the same time look back upon it from a place of growth and wisdom. At least that’s the vibe I get on her essential 2014 album, The River and the Thread.

4. Willie Nelson – Wives and Girlfriends

You should be savoring your 2nd course right about now, taking in flavors you never tasted before, perhaps finding new layers of taste combinations you hadn’t previously conceived of. The sense of history in all the ingredients that fill your plate. Your palate.

What I love most about roots country music, other than the sheer history behind it, the steady backbeat, the slide guitars and the stand-up bass, is the amazing wordplay. No other musical genre does more with so little, topically (I mean, is there anything other than love, lost-love, drinking, smoking and being on the road in all the best country songs?). One of the best lines I’d heard this year, on the SiriusXM Outlaw Country station, was “She got the ring, I got the finger.” I’d have included that song, but it came out in 2009.

But Willie Nelson is no slouch when it comes to great wordplay, and my favorite on his really strong 2014 release Band of Brothers is “Wives and Girlfriends.” You can hear the history of all his relationships in his weathered, wizened voice.

5. Nikki Lane – I Don’t Care

Another new discovery for me in 2014 was Nikki Lane. She, perhaps more than Lydia Loveless, has had real staying power for me. Perhaps it’s the clean production by Dan Auerbach (of Black Keys), perhaps it’s her Patsy Cline meet Stevie Nicks twang, perhaps it’s the brash, in-your-face lyrical content. Every song on her 2014 release, All or Nothin’ is thick with both history and modernity. Nikki Lane is the hip, tattooed, urban version of Lydia Loveless. She is going to have her screw-ups, but they will be on her terms. She is complex. She can be the bad girl one song and the good girl the next, but mostly she’s the bad girl and the good girl all at once, and if you can’t handle it, it’s your problem. Suck it up.

Speaking of sucking it up, it looks like we have made it through the 2nd course of our meal. Still hungry? Ready for your entree? Ready to shake a tail feather? Well, click to part 4, course 3, right here.

2014 Best Songs (part 2 – course 1)

Welcome to Chateau Du Steve. We will be starting your dining adventure off with a group of five tasty bite-size morsels of music for your aural-gustatory pleasure.

We will begin with a song that is sure to wind its way around your eardrums and lodge itself into a safe place near your brain for easy and constant access, as you will want to hear it again and again. Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ fame) and Aimee Mann met when Aimee invited Ted and his band to open for her on her most recent tour.  After hitting it off, they…well, click this link and you can hear them tell their story.

They decided to call their collaboration The Both, which is a pain in the ass name for Googling, but was apt and fitting, especially when they played in San Francisco earlier this year at the world famous Bottom of the Hill (BotH). I love wordplay! All the songs on their self-titled debut album are catchy and fun, but none more-so than “Volunteers of America,” which honors our oft-ignored dedicated citizenry who donate their time and effort to bettering the country. Can you name another song that is an ode to the volunteer? Oh wait, I just remembered this one

1. The Both – Volunteers of America

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For the 2nd amuse bouche course, we go back to the New Wave era of the ’80’s by way of a bunch of young Ameri-Brits (even their debut album’s cover has both the British and American flags intertwined in a circle, and a wistful lass in a leather jacket who seems to scream out 1985). They clearly have studied their Smiths and Simple Minds in grade school, as only a couple of the members of Drowners were even alive during the 80s. But they pull it off with joy and aplomb. The rest of their self-titled debut album is appealing, though nothing reaches the catchy enthusiasm of “Luv Hold Me Down.” As a real child of the 80s, I get sick of the plethora of bands that claim to be reviving the sound of my youth. But when a band does get it right, does capture the innocent, almost naive interplay of keyboard and guitars, the melodic bass-lines and anthemic angsty vocals like Drowners does here, it makes me feel like an awkward, pimply 16 year old all over again.

2. Drowners – Luv Hold Me Down

For the next bite, for the next poppy nugget, you will be needing only one utensil. The musical equivalent of home cooked chicken soup, in 2014, Spoon released perhaps their strongest end to end album in over a decade. They Want My Soul follows their tried and true formula of spare instrumentation, laying back in the pocket and timeless melodies. Someone once described Spoon as “Rolling Stones meets Wire” and that sounds about right to me.  Britt Daniel’s recent, more-electronic side project with Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs), Divine Fits, has bled over onto TWMS, adding just the right amount of keys and grooviness to spark up the tunes. I could choose pretty much any song to include here, but I’m gonna go with the one that starts the album, “Rent I Pay” because it perfectly encapsulates the Spoon sound. If you’ve read any of my best of lists over the past 15 years, you have seen the inclusion of Spoon many times before, and I expect I’ll be including them many more times in the future.

3. Spoon – Rent I Pay

The fourth song in this first musical course has a bit of a bigger bite. It’s long and lush and orchestral. It’s got everything. Quietude and loudness, timidity and drama. The song is tied together by a violin-led string section pushed up front in the mix; there are ethereal choral voices, falsetto wailings, tympani and horns. “Beneath the Brine” is as full and textured and big as Spoon’s “Rent I Pay” is stripped down and sparse, yet both of them seem like siblings within the same family. No matter how disparate their personalities, they both put the tune first and have each other’s back. This song represents the kid who can’t seem to avoid drama, has extreme emotions and has difficulty being alone. Spoon writes for the self-sufficient child who needs little parenting and can keep him/herself occupied with a book and a box of wheat-thins.

4. The Family Crest – Beneath the Brine

The last serving of catchy goodness falls somewhere between Spoon and The Family Crest. “Esse Quam Videri” has it all: tight arrangements, multi-harmony vocals, clean production and a hypnotic, almost trance-like rhythmic pulse. I’ve loved The Rosebuds for years, have always been impressed by the interplay between the two main vocalists, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. It’s such a wonderful thing, to have both male and female lead vocals. It adds depth, and an emotional heft. I think of bands like X,The Pixies, New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian. When the voices meld and form a distinct new sound together, it can be magical. There are lots of same gender vocal duos that can do this too of course (I’m thinking of Simon and Garfunkel, Squeeze, The Jayhawks),  but nothing in 2014 captured that vocal mesh better for me than The Rosebuds.

I didn’t plan it out this way, but I see now, that the first song of this course, by The Both, is also a male/female singing duo. It’s like I’ve created a duo vocal sandwich, an unconscious coupling, a way of uniting the 5 bites of the course into a tasty harmonious pop-gression.

5. The Rosebuds – Esse Quam Videri

Click here and your waiter will be with you to bring out your next course….

2014 Best Songs (part 1)

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2014 was an embarrassment of riches, musically speaking. It seemed that most every album I listened to contained at least 1 or 2 standout tracks, making it difficult to pare this list down to 25. But I did pare it down and I decided to divide it up by genre, even though many of these choices don’t easily fit into a genre box. For lack of better categories, I’ve broken it down to: Punk-Garage, R&B-Soul, Americana-Country, Mellow-Alternative and Pop Rock. Each of these categories will get 5 entries. Since I’m leaving so many of my favorites out, I thought I’d mention a few honorables here that deserve more effusive praise, and do, on many of the popular end-of-year lists: Bob Mould, Neil Finn, Prince, Cheetas, Jack White, St. Vincent, Mary Gauthier, Lydia Ainsworth, Judas Priest, The Weakerthans, The Notwist, Jessica Lee Mayfield, Strand of Oaks, and St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s 14 artists that didn’t make the cut today, but might tomorrow.

I’ve sorted these songs as a musical equivalent of a 4 course meal. I’ll start it off with the Pop-Rock category. Catchy songs with a little bit of bite but nothing too heavy. Something to whet the palate, very pleasing and not too complex. More of an amuse bouche. A tasty appetizer. This will be followed by the salad or vegetable course, which I will associate with my Americana-Country list. Something to savor, something with a little spice, something home-grown and down to earth. For the 3rd course, we are ready for the main entrée, the fish, meat or the hearty-vegetarian dish. This, would clearly match up well with the Soul-R&B playlist. Something rich and savory, perhaps with a thick and rib-sticking sauce. For the 4th course, dessert, we get to indulge our sweet tooth, which one might not associate with punk rock, but to me, I equate the perfect three-minute punk song with a pineapple upside-down cake. Dessert is essential. It is what completes the meal. Without it, the meal is lacking. And desserts are meant to be shared. Punk rock is a shared experience. We use the same spoon and devour the chocolate mousse. But what of the 5th category? Well, the 5th category is the after meal coffee or tea, the glass of port, the brandy. Something to help digest the previous four courses. So for this, I will provide the Mellow-Alternative playlist.

As I was compiling these 25 songs, two more categories came to mind, which says a bit about my age, and what speaks truest to me, but it also speaks to the great bounty that was music in 2014.  At least 1/3 or more of my favorite albums of the year were by artists over the age of 50.  Artists with long track records, some who have maintained their excellence for more than 50 years, others who have recaptured the vitality of their earlier heyday.  I will add a more exploratory post on these 10 fabulous records after I finish the top 25 (and two of the below artists are in the top 25), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the Elder Statesmen and Women of 2014.  Given more time with all the albums of the year, I could see the below albums being the ten best of the year. But, I did agree (with myself) to stick to the 5 course/5 genre concept, so that’s what I’m gonna do.  (See next post)

But for now, here are ten albums that should be a part of any music lover’s collection:

(Links to full album plays on YouTube.)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye

Robert Plant – Lullaby and the…Ceaseless Roar

Bryan Ferry – Avonmore

Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems

Willie Nelson – Band of Brothers

Rosanne Cash – The River and the Thread

Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want

Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions

Mary Gauthier – Trouble and Love