Dawn Jewell
Dawn Jewell

Dawn Jewell: My Top Albums of 2014

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This is the 10th in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

For me, 2014 was a return to regular radio after a hiatus, while finishing The Phantom Sessions recording of original music.

I managed to broadcast Jewelbox Radio on KKCR (Kaua’i Community Radio) throughout the first half of the year, and weekly all summer long on WDRT in Southwest Wisconsin, near my hometown.

I then had the honor of sitting in as guest host of WOUB’s Crossing Boundaries for a week in November.

Constant exposure to new music is one of the finest aspects of radio involvement, and this year was a fantastic year for music!

Here are my top picks…and in the spirit of Spinal Tap, my list goes up to ELEVEN.

1. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Give the People What They Want (Dap Tone)

Released just two weeks into the year, 2014 was off and running as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings set the tone for a solid year of fabulous new music. Give the People What They Want is exactly that. It has also given the band their first Grammy nomination for “Best R&B Album,” and well deserved.

2. Mirah, Changing Light (Absolute Magnitude Recordings)

Currently based in Brooklyn, Mirah’s indie music career began in Olympia, Washington, in the late ’90s. Her first DIY-style solo recordings were well received on K-Records. Changing Light has evolved from her punk sensibilities to a more sophisticated production style, yet often sparse. The song “Fleetfoot Ghost” offers sweet guitar work, while the powerful “Oxen Hope” exposes Mirah’s vulnerabilities, wrapped in genuine beauty.

3. Hassan Hakmoun, Unity (Hassan Hakmoun)

Master of the Moroccan sintir (a 3-string bass lute), Hassan Hakmoun plays traditional Gnawa music from Morocco mixed with rock, and he does it comfortably well. I’ve been a follower of his music for more than two decades, and Unity is an example of an extremely talented artist who continues to evolve his craft.

4. Shakey Graves, And the War Came (Dualtone Music)

I first saw a video of Shakey Graves (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia) performing with his homemade suitcase drum, which he pounds with heel pedals while also playing guitar and singing with great vocal range. Driving alt-country blues: I was hooked. And the War Came features the melodious voice of Esme’ Patterson, formerly of Paper Bird and now a solo artist. Esme’ is touring with Shakey Graves, and their tight duet harmonies and obvious chemistry is impressive to experience.

5. Beck, Morning Phase (Capitol)

As a huge fan, I often find it difficult to answer which Beck recording is my favorite. They all offer something uniquely different…though Sea Change is indeed special, and now its follow up, Morning Phase, is equally so. Beautiful string arrangements and haunting vocal melodies…it’s another masterpiece.

6. The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers (Matador)

Neko Case’s powerhouse vocals enhance The New Pornographers’ full, upbeat and infectious sound, which at times is reminiscent of The Shins or The Dandy Warhols. Bill Bruisers continues to grow on me with each listen.

7. The Shivas, You Know What To Do (K Records)

From Portland, Oregon, The Shiva’s stellar garage and indie surf-rock could be right out of 1964. In fact, the first time I heard it I figured they were a vintage act that had slipped through my awareness. This recording includes their fantastic song “You Make Me Wanna Die,” first released as a single earlier this year. And I’ve always loved bands with kick-ass female drummers!

8. TV on the Radio, Seeds (Harvest Records)

This anticipated new release delivers, from the first song “Quartz,” which includes the plinking loop of a drumstick being dropped onto piano strings, to “Careful You,” with their signature motor-like force whirring underneath a pop melody full of hooks. Seeds has the potential to bring in many more fans, and they will be glad they found TV on the Radio.

9. Jen Wood, Wilderness (Radar Light)

Based in Seattle, Jen Wood started her first band Tattle Tale at age 15. Continuing to release solo recordings, she was also a guest vocalist with The Postal Service, singing a duet with Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie fame). Wilderness is quickly getting exposure and positive reviews. The first song, “Fell in Love,” showcases her new choice of piano over guitar, and her lovely, lovely voice.

10. Winterpills, Echolalia (Signature Sounds)

Began as a side project for singer/guitarist Phillip Price and singer/keyboardist Flora Reed, Echolalia has more of a stripped-down melancholy sound than their usual indie folk-rock pop. Covers include songs by XTC, Buddy Holly and Nick Drake. My favorite is their version of Lisa Germano’s “From A Shell.” Winterpills make it their own, while retaining the solemn dark beauty that is the song’s original essence.

11. D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Black Messiah (RCA)

With recent protests against the killing of unarmed black men by police, D’Angelo decided to rush the release of Black Messiah from its original 2015 schedule. It arrived completely unexpected on Dec. 15, taking music lovers and professionals by storm. It features a mesh of adventurous, thick, rich layered production that is funky and sexy, yet immensely political and spiritual. The Vanguard includes drummer Questlove of The Roots and guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter. If Sharon Jones’ release two weeks into the year was the first half of a set of musical bookends for 2014, D’Angelo’s release two weeks before year’s end makes the perfect match.

Also excellent from 2014:

Tinariwen, Emmaar (Anti)

Originally from the Saraha Desert region of Mali, Emmaar was recorded in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree, as they remain in exile from their homeland.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye (Reprise)

I’ve always had great respect, though it’s this recording that truly hooked me in. Songs like “Fault Lines” and “You Get Me High” show Petty continues to be a great songwriter.

Mecca Normal, Empathy for the Evil (M’lady’s Records)

Duo Jean Smith and David Lester have been making raw, stripped-down garage rock since the mid 1980s. It’s rare to have this much power and emotion come from one guitarist and one singer. They always keep it real.

Various Artists, Beck Song Reader (Warby Parker)

Beck published sheet music of his songs to be interpreted by other musicians, which, on this album, range from Jack White to Jack Black, Laura Marling to Norah Jones, and even Beck himself.

Tune-Yards, Nikki Nack (4AD)

Delightfully quirky, complex, and full of surprises, this genre-defying act is sure to dazzle.

Dawn Jewell is a longtime music DJ, performing musician and songwriter. She’s been involved with radio stations in Washington, Hawai’i, Wisconsin and currently with WOUB in Athens as part of her Masters in Public Media program at Ohio University. She hosted Jewelbox Radio for a number of years, known for its wide, eclectic mix of well-curated musical gems.