Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 in Music, Part 2

It's funny how much I agonize over a list of top albums.  Ask me in a month and the sequence would be different -- I'd be wondering what I thought was so wonderful about a couple of them and why I put three of them as low as I did.  Meanwhile, a couple of albums I don't know about at the moment would be clawing their way onto the list (despite my having reading gobs of end-of-year lists in a futile attempt to head off such an eventuality).  Ask me in two years and it would go well beyond such minor tweaks -- I'll be bored with an entire sub-genre represented here and one I reject right now would demand its presence in my 2016 look back at the albums of 2014.  And so, even though I know that this list is just a snapsnot of my brain, one that's unable to stand the test of time, I nevertheless spent weeks weighing every ranking, every inclusion and rejection, as though there's a right answer.

With that caveat, here are my Top 25 Albums of 2014:

1. Strand of Oaks -- HEAL
2. St. Vincent -- St. Vincent
3. Ben Howard -- I Forget Where We Were
4. The War on Drugs -- Lost in the Dream
5. Conor Oberst -- Upside Down Mountain
6. *Woods -- With Light and with Love
7. *St. Paul & The Broken Bones -- Half the City
8. Lydia Loveless -- Somewhere Else
9. Hozier -- Hozier
10. Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s -- Slingshot to Heaven
11. Hurray for the Riff Raff -- Small Town Heroes
12. *Drive-By Truckers -- English Oceans
13. Beck -- Morning Phase
14. Field Report -- Marigolden
15. First Aid Kit -- Stay Gold
16. Hard Working Americans -- Hard Working Americans
17. Jeremy Messersmith -- Heart Murmurs
18. Real Estate -- Atlas
19. Ty Segall -- Manipulator
20. The Donkeys -- Ride the Black Wave
21. La Sera -- Hour of the Dawn
22. Sean Rowe -- Madman
23. Ex Hex -- Rips
24. Jenny Lewis -- The Voyager
25. The Bones of J.R. Jones -- Dark Was the Yearling

* -- Artist I saw in 2014

I finish my year-end summary by sharing a playlist with over 11 hours of my favorite songs of the year (as I self-imposed a limit of one song per album, the list leaves out plenty of tunes I loved).  You'd think that a 172-song playlist would pretty much cover things, but I wish it were a bit longer, as Spotify doesn't have the rights to a couple of tunes that otherwise would have been included -- "It's Over" by Ty Segall and "Compassion" by Lucinda Williams.

May 2015 be as wonderful musically as 2014 has been!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 in Music, Part 1

2014 offered up a handful of fantastic albums, together with an incredible number of very good ones.  It was far easier for me to identify my 10 favorites than to figure out the next 15 -- over 40 different albums moved in and out of my Top 25.  Albums that I thought were Top 10 mid-year slipped out of the Top 25 by year's end.  Albums with a couple of songs I absolutely love dropped considerably if the rest of the album didn't measure up.  With so many worthy albums, I decided to lengthen my list beyond the length I normally do.  In fact I'm doubling it.  But for those albums outside the Top 25, I'm sticking with an alphabetical list -- trying to rank within this group proved far too difficult.  Here are the albums ranked between 26 and 50:

Ryan Adams -- Ryan Adams
Damon Albarn -- Everyday Robots
*The Apache Relay -- Apache Relay
The Autumn Defense -- Fifth
*Andrew Bird -- Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of...
Black Lips -- Underneath the Rainbow
*Benjamin Booker -- Benjamin Booker
Centro-matic -- Take Pride in Your Long Odds
EELS -- The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett
Fear of Men -- Loom
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger -- Midnight Sun
Greyhounds -- Accumulator
*Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings -- Give The People What They Want
King Tuff -- Black Moon Spell
Mimicking Birds -- Eons
The New Basement Tapes -- Lost on the River
Pixies -- Indie Cindy
Damien Rice -- My Favorite Faded Fantasy
*Roadkill Ghost Choir -- In Tongues
Angus & Julia Stone -- Angus & Julia Stone
Sun Kil Moon -- Benji
*Tweedy -- Sukierae
Sharon Van Etten -- Are We There

* -- Artist I saw in 2014

I also want to say how fortunate I was to make it to so many shows.  In 2014, I went to one festival on my own, another two with my family, and 15 other concerts.  My favorite sets were offered up by Charles Bradley, Courtney Barnett, Frank Turner, Drive-by Truckers, and Michael Franti.

So between the albums and the shows, this has been a heck of a year for me musically.  

Part 2 of my year-end summary is coming soon...

Monday, July 28, 2014

My 10 Favorite Sets from Floydfest 2014

The 10 sets of Floydfest 2014 I most appreciated (in order of hearing them):

Driftwood -- A band I'd never heard of, one of three On the Rise bands I absolutely loved, did great covers of Dylan's "Tombstone Blues" and Townes van Zandt's "Waiting Around to Die," and plenty of their own stuff.  

Michael Franti and Spearhead -- If you aren't bopping (at the very least!) when he's performing, odds are you're suffering from paralysis.  Just so much fun to be at a set like that, probably my favorite set of the weekend.  I really wish the girls had been able to be at that one with me.

The London Souls -- Caught this set immediately following Franti, and was able to get a spot right at the stage. Straight up sound from a time machine from 1968, loud and unabashed classic rock, reminding me how much I used to love that kind of sound, the music of my youth.  Awesome!

Swampcandy -- On a small stage, this two man band that I'd never heard of wailed some great foot-stomping blues while Hannah and I danced in the back.

Annabelle's Curse -- Same location as Swampcandy, and same unknown (to me) status, but this time it was a well-integrated 5-piece band whose male lead singer that evoked a happier version of Conor Oberst for me.

Grandpa's Cough Medicine -- They were a decent enough self-described outlaw bluegrass band, but running into someone I hadn't seen in 30 years while waiting for them to start is what made this set so memorable.  

Donna the Buffalo -- I'd heard of them and I was pretty sure their easy-going jam sound would be in my wheel house, but I'd yet to hear them.  Well, I'm glad I finally got the chance, as they were great live from my vantage point right in front of the main stage.  I tried playing them for Kathy on the way home, and while it was pleasant enough, they sounded much better live.  

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong -- a Phishish band recommended by someone I met at the Fest, they had a good funky bass line and were tons of fun.  

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite -- they put out one of my favorite albums of 2013, and didn't disappoint live.  Ended the pre-encore set with a great version of "When the Levee Breaks."

Carolina Chocolate Drops -- the last set I got to see, in all its Appalachian roots glory. I saw it with Hannah at the main stage, and got her to dance with me after promising that a pizza lunch would follow. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Drive-By Truckers and Blitzen Trapper

Despite my use of earplugs, my ears are still ringing from a great Drive-By Truckers show.  I wasn't even going to see them on their trip through town.  I had seen them, and I wasn't sure I could afford to go.  Saturday night's show sold out, but for whatever reason last night's did not, so when I decided that I could swing it, I went right up and bought a ticket before the doors opened. 

I settled into the second row of people in front of the stage and began waiting.  It wasn't too long before someone struck up a conversation, having recognized me from last summer's Floydfest.  It's funny how that works out sometimes, and we ended up hanging out for the rest of the evening.  With the set running to about 12:30, he even gave me a ride home, which was right on his way. 

The opening act was Blitzen Trapper, a band I'd been meaning to see for a few years but circumstances had until that point prevented me.  They turned in a solid hour-long set that had a surprising number of extended versions and jams.  They opened with "Fletcher" and played songs mostly from the last two albums.  A couple of classics worked their way in too, "Wild Mountain Nation," "Texaco," and (thankfully) "Black River Killer."  On the third take they cranked out a great version of "Street Fighting Son," and they closed with a solid cover of "Good Times, Bad Times."

As for the main course, it was my third DBTs show, and easily my best.  It's funny how memories come back, but only once they started playing did I remember that I didn't especially enjoy the previous two shows.  The first one was shortly after Shonna Tucker had left the band, and while the replacement bassist was competent, the band didn't sound tight -- it was still adjusting to the change.  The second time was at Floydfest 2012, and I wasn't able to get into the performance.  That's not to say it was the band's fault -- I was on the side in bleachers late in the afternoon of a sunny day, my then 5- and 2-year olds were hot, bored, and tired, and due to their presence I was cringing every time Patterson Hood cussed (a frequent occurrence).  Having had those experiences, I guess it was no wonder that I hadn't been as eager to see them this time as I should have been.

The set had a lot of the new album, "English Oceans," and was bookended by two of its tracks, "Made Up English Oceans" and "Grand Canyon."  In between was a whole host of classics, including "Tornadoes," "Carl Perkins' Cadillac," "Let There Be Rock," and a cover of Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long."  I chuckled at what I considered to be more than coincidence when the first track from the new album, "Shit Shot Counts," was followed by "Buttholeville."  The band was rocking and raucous, and played a near 3-hour set that lasted into the next morning, briefly taking time out just past midnight for the audience to sing Happy Birthday to Patterson Hood, a welcome to his 50s.  While we were singing, I just kept thinking how odd it was for him to be giving us such a wonderful present when it was his birthday.