James Hill: My Top Albums of 2014

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This is the second in a series of year-end articles by WOUB contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

My 2014 list has a lot of old names on it. Think of it as music by people you’ve probably heard of. Maybe I should have reached out more; or maybe it was a good year for the familiar.

In no particular order, my top 10:

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream: In keeping with this theme, this is refreshingly retro-sounding but new. A dash of Mark Knopfler/Lindsey Buckingham/Dylan-inspired vocals. It’s an album you can put on and just listen to over and over. Start at the beginning with “Under the Pressure.”

Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers: Less “One Headlight” and more Billy Bragg. Again, start with track one, “Worried ‘Bout the Weather.”

Two legendary artists died this year but had posthumous albums worthy of sharing–Johnny Winter and Jesse Winchester. Winter’s Step Back is solid blues album with a plethora of guest artists. Any track will keep you entertained. Jesse Winchester’s A Reasonable Amount of Trouble continues his reputation as a songwriter. “Rhythm of the Rain” has an immediate familiarity that makes it comfortable to listen to.

John Gorka, Bright Side of Down: Gorka has been one of my personal favorite singer-songwriters since his debut collection. His live shows are always entertaining and his albums are always thought-provoking, melancholic, joyful and funny…sometimes all at once. “More Than One” is a typical Gorka track.

Joe Bonamassa, Different Shades of Blue: I’ve listened to the title track of this album more than any other song this year. It’s just a classic guitar-blues sad song. The rest of the album is pretty good, too.

Jackson Browne, Standing in the Breach: Consistency: that’s the Browne long game. You’ll immediately recognize the sound and the long lyrical lines. Might as well start at track one, “The Birds of St. Marks.”

Dr. John, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: Who needs a Louis Armstrong tribute album? I wasn’t overly-excited about this album until I heard it. Can you ever go wrong listening to “What a Wonderful World,” especially when it’s got that distinct Dr. John feel?

Broken Bells, After the Disco: Now for some pop. It’s fun. Try track one, “Perfect World.”

St. Vincent, St. Vincent: This is on everyone’s list this year and it’s well deserved. It’s perfectly edgy at times. Added bonus: Annie Clark et al will be at the Nelsonville Music Fest this coming year! Check out “I Prefer Your Love,” Clark’s homage to her mother.

And 10 honorable mentions:

Robert Plant, Lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar: The first half is better than the second.

Macy Gray, The Way: Gray has been prolific over the past two years. This isn’t a groundbreaking album, but will surely please her fans.

Santana, Corazon: There’s a slew of guest vocalists.

Amy Ray, Goodnight Tender: I miss the punk, but it’s still a nice country album.

GOASTT, Midnight Sun: Familiar sounds…if you’re familiar with Sean Ono Lennon’s other work.

Prince, Art Official Age: Still funky.

Lenny Kravitz, Strut: Harkens to my college days. I’m always intrigued by Kravitz’s ability to make new songs sound like something you’ve almost heard. “The Chamber” is a perfect example. Was that a Blondie song?

Damien Rice, My Favourite Faded Fantasy: Admit it. You’ve listened to “I Don’t Want to Change You” more than once.

TV on the Radio, Seeds: If you’d like Broken Bells with a little more of a Peter Gabriel sound, try these guys.

And finally, Hard Working Americans, Hard Working Americans: Todd Snider’s side project. It’s all covers about those hardworking Americans who never get a leg up. “Please Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man” is a typical track.

Listen to samples from my list on this Grooveshark playlist.

James Hill is a librarian and the Access Coordinator for Athens County Public Libraries. His job allows him to discover new artists and and explore new platforms for enjoying music. James is also an occasional host on WOUB’s Radio Free Athens.