It's that season again- the season of Christmas decorations, Menorahs and year end Best-of lists. Fan that I am of lists, I can't help but offer my choices for the best of 2014. Here they are, in no particular order:
Lori McKenna- Numbered Doors
Lori’s latest release continues her streak of stunning portraits of everyday life. She is one of the most highly regarded songwriters working today. Standout tracks: Good Marriage and 3 Kids No Husband.
Jackson Browne-Standing in the Breach
This is Browne’s 14th release of new material since he began recording in 1972, and he shows no signs of slowing down or running out things to say. Standout tracks: Doors and Walls, Yeah Yeah and a new version of The Birds of St. Marks, written in 1967.
John Gorka- Bright Side of Down
Bright Side of Down is John’s 12th release and it stands among his finest work. As poignant and insightful as ever, this record shows why John Gorka has survived where others have not. Standout tracks: Holed Up in Mason City and More Than One.
Yusuf- Tell ‘Em I’m Gone
Yusuf’s 3rd release since his return from retirement in 2006 and his first since 2009, this one echoes Yusuf’s lifelong love of R&B and the blues. Standout tracks: I Was Raised in Babylon, and great covers of You Are My Sunshine and Big Boss Man.
Hurray For the Riff Raff- Small Town Heroes
Based in New Orleans, this band is the brainchild of Alynda Lee Segarra. Their sound recalls Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Gillian Welch all at the same time, while still being unique. Standout tracks: The Body Electric and Crash on the Highway.
Drew Kennedy- Sad Songs Happily Played
This live album was a happy accident-recorded without Drew’s knowledge during the show, he was so pleased with the results that he released it as it was. Standout tracks: Good Carpentry, Age and Color and Love on the Highway.
David’s 10th record in his 21 year career is a bit of a rebirth for him. Using a new producer and altering his normal method of songwriting, he has delivered one of his strongest records. Standout tracks: Cake and Eat It, Back in the World and Mutineers.
Ellis Paul- Chasing Beauty
Chasing Beauty is Ellis Paul’s 19th release, and it is a thing of beauty. For the second time, the record was funded completely by fans, and produced by Ellis with Kristian Bush from Sugarland. Standout tracks: Chasing Beauty, Kick Out the Lights and One Kiss Could Do Me In.
Nickel Creek- A Dotted Line
A Dotted Line marks Nickel Creek’s 25th year together and is their 1st release since 2007. Recorded in between solo projects, it clearly shows their ability to change, grow and meld their separate experiences into a cohesive whole. Standout tracks: Rest of My Life, Destination and Where is Love Now.
Jana Pochop- Throats Are Quarries
Based in the Austin area, Jana is a traveling singer-songwriter that I never would have heard had I not met her through mutual friend Susan Gibson. We are all the better for it. Jana’s songs are catchy, insightful and haunting all at the same time. Standout tracks: Throw You Forward and When Your Soul Leaves Your Body.
Toad the Wet Sprocket- New Constellation
Toad’s return after 17 years is a welcome addition to their catalog. Their sound is still instantly recognizable, but with a maturity born of years on the road in various solo and band projects. Standout tracks: Golden Age and California Wasted.
Leonard Cohen-Popular Problems
Cohen celebrated his 80th birthday the week before releasing this record. The songs are classic Cohen- songs of sex, spirituality and power. Standout tracks: Slow, Almost Like the Blues and Did I Ever Love You.
Thompson Family- Family
Teddy Thompson had one rule for this record-every sound had to be made by a family member. New songs by Teddy, his sister Kami and her husband, their mother and father Richard and Linda, Richard’s son Jack from his second marriage, and various cousins. Standout tracks: Careful and Family.
Old Crow Medicine Show- Remedy
The band that got an early boost from Doc Watson and a co-write with Bob Dylan has delivered their finest record yet. A nice mix of high-energy tunes and poignant ballads, and includes a second tune given to them by Bob Dylan. Standout tracks: Sweet Amarillo and Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.