Best Of 2014
Director FM Program Services / Music Director / Host, Open Air
2014 felt like a year of diversity in music, as the “industry” continues to erode and releases from far afield grab hold of the ears of music lovers. I’ve got a really varied list of favorites from this year, including a best-of compilation, a not-so-new Icelandic release just out in the States, and a *gasp* bona fide country release that seems to be the catalyst to wrestle country music back from the over produced country-pop of the Taylor Swifts of the world. In no particular order, my favorites from 2014 are: Icelandic 21-year-old wonder Ásgeir: In The Silence, the beautiful lyricist Anaïs Mitchell: XOA, electro-pop upstarts Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso, Norwegian indie pop band Highasakite: Silent Treatment, the amazing Nickel Creek: A Dotted Line, country stalwart Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, soul crooner St. Paul & The Broken Bones: Half The City, Boston party band Lake Street Dive: Bad Self Portraits, electronica wizard Tycho: Awake, and Norwegian vocalist Ane Brun: Songs 2003–2013.
Host, Open Air
Once again, 2014 produced many great new recordings. There were some solid new efforts from some seasoned veterans, including Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers, Jackson Browne’s Standing In the Breach and Tom Petty’s Hypnotic Eye, and especially Robert Plant who continues to deepen his catalogue post-Led Zeppelin with another awesome effort called lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar.
There were some notable new recordings from artists in the peak of their careers including the Black Keys’ return-to-form of Turn Blue, Ray Lamontagne’s surprising Supernova (produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys), the Drive By Truckers’ English Oceans and what could be Lucinda Williams’ opus, her double album, Where The Spirit Meets The Bone.
There were some exciting new releases from new and emerging talent. The sonically surprising Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son from Damien Jurado, Asgeir’s In The Silence, Sturgill Simpson’s psychedelic alt-country romp Meta-Modern Sounds In Country Music, The War On Drugs electronic inspired Lost In The Dream and Shakey Graves’ first-rate new recording...And The War Came. Sharon Van Etten’s songwriting continues to evolve in exciting ways on Are We There Yet, as do the West African-Delta Blues inspired compositions of the Barr Brothers’ on Sleeping Operator. And finally, Pieta Brown’s Paradise Outlaw hits the sweet spot and warms the winter chill.
Classical Music Director /
Host, First Concert
My selections for the best of 2014 begin with a recording that actually was released in late 2013 but didn’t arrive in time for last year’s choices; Guilty Pleasure with soprano Renée Fleming. The music ranges from songs of Berlioz, Duparc and Canteloube to the Flower Duet from “Lakmé” with Susan Graham and an arrangement of “Danny Boy”. The young American cellist Alisa Weilerstein has a new recording of the music of Dvorák including the beloved cello concerto; this young prodigy has developed into a mature artist. Lang Lang has a new 2 CD set of music of Mozart which includes 2 concertos performed live in Vienna and 3 sonatas presented at Royal Albert Hall. The Vivaldi Cello Sonatas are music not often heard and here performed by Marco Ceccato and Accademia Ottoboni but my favorite of all is a 4 cd set of piano music of Franz Schubert. This recording has a few familiar pieces but much that is unfamiliar to the Schubert fan and all of it performed with great lyricism by pianist Alberto Miodini.
Northern California Program Coordinator /
Host, Siskiyou Music Hall
The Unknown Stars of 2014
I was lucky enough to receive a bounty of classical gems in my mailbox this year from composers and performers who are relatively unfamiliar, but definitely worthy of lending an ear. If you’re thinking of giving the gift of music to a classical music lover who’s already got a huge music library, consider one of these 2014 releases that have my official seal of approval.
Romantic Piano Concertos of Henrique Oswald & Alfredo Napoleao – Artur Pizarro & BBC National Orchestra of Wales Hyperion 67984
The Alphabet Sonatas of Johann Pezel – A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.
Olde Focus 903
Panorama Argentino (Piano Music of Argentina, Vol. 2) – Mirian Conti Steinway & Sons 30023
Aranjuez (Rodrigo & DeFalla) –
Guitarist Milos Karadaglic & London Philharmonic Deutsche Grammophon 20039
Sinfonias of Franz Ignaz Beck – Czech Chamber Philharmonic Naxos 8.573248
Symphonies of Louis Glass, Vol. 1 – Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie CPO 777525
Cello Concertos 1-3 of David Popper – Wen-Sinn Yang CPO 777821
Unpublished Violin Sonatas of
Veracini – Valerio Losito & Federico Del Sordo Brilliant 94822
A Royal Trio – Arias & Scenes of Handel, Bononcini & Ariosti –
Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo &
La Nuova Musica HMU 807590
Soul of the Machine (works by contemporary composer Sarah Wallin Huff) Navona 5965
Host, Late Night Blues
The 2014 release with the biggest impact has to be Phil and Dave Alvin’s Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. As kids they were captivated by Broonzy’s music, and their first release together in 30 years (since they fronted the hard-driving Blasters) showcases the many facets of the legendary bluesman’s career. Acoustic ragtime romps and folk stylings, country swing and jump blues - the Alvins have grown into versatile musicians, as well as historians. They unveiled their new group (The Guilty Ones) at Austin’s South By Southwest last March, and I caught them twice this year. Their show mixes music from the album, some Blasters classics, several of Dave Alvin’s numbers and surprise selections. Lisa Pankratz, a veteran of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Women, brings incredible energy to the drum kit, and her husband Brad Fordham plays a lively bass, packing a wallop as well. I was knocked out the first time I saw them, and I felt it to be the best live show I’d seen since a Blasters performance in 1984. There has been a lot to enjoy in 2014’s new releases, but that album by the Alvin Brothers has created some lasting excitement. As I write this in early November, The Guilty Ones have barnstormed England, are playing in Finland tonight with dates ahead in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. Two brothers are re-united by what they shared as kids, brought back to make more magic in this world with Common Ground.
In 2014, Ani Difranco offered us sweet optimism through soulful blues, neosoul, and jazz. Beck returned with mellow California folk covered in reverb. Hollie Cook’s blissful throw-back reggae made my one year old daughter first find her rhythmic head bobbing last summer. Finally, Sinkane’s afro-beat electro-pop album revealed a new sound that was quick to impress. Here are my picks for 2014 (note: all tracks can be previewed on modulationmusic.com)
Albums * Including highlight tracks
Allergic To Water
“Dithering” “See See See See” “Woe Be Gone”
Beck Morning Phase “Morning” “Say Goodbye” “Blue Moon”
Hollie Cook Twice “Looking for Real Love” “Superfast” “Win or Lose”
Sinkane Mean Love “New Name” “Moonstruck” “Hold Tight”
Arcade Fire Reflektor “Reflektor”
Broken Bells After the Disco “Holding On for Life”
Bruce Springsteen High Hopes “Hunter of Invisible Game”
Dan Croll Sweet Disarray “Only Ghost”
Fink Hard Believer “Pilgrim”
Meshell Ndegeocello Comet, Come To Me “Conviction”
Nick Mulvey First Mind “Fever To the Form”
Nickodemus & Quantic Chef “Mi Swing Es Tropical”
Phil Beaudreau Ether “Won’t Get Away”
Röyksopp Running To The Sea “Something In My Heart”
Spoon They Want My Soul “Inside Out”
Sylvan Esso Sylvan Esso “Coffee”
The Breadwinners, City Culture & Stally As Far As I Can See (Disco Special) “Far As I Can See (feat. City Culture & Stally) [Triple Discomix]”
TV on the Radio Seeds “Happy Idiot”
Zero 7 On My Own “Don’t Call It Love (12” Version)”
Host, Open Air and
The Folk Show
It is truly amazing that we find ourselves at year’s end once again! For this column I have chosen to simply list some of 2014’s standout recordings, along with a few descriptive comments for each…
Robert Plant – lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar: Kudos to an artist that always brings something new to each recording, even when some of his contemporaries stagnate.
Damian Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: A beautifully haunting indie rock offering from this Seattle musician.
Beck – Morning Phase: Mellow and seamlessly crafted, the best since Sea Change.
Monica Heldal – Boy From The North: At 22 years old, this Norwegian Grammy winner has a beautiful voice and solid songwriting skills.
Andrew St. James – Doldrums: A deeply wise album from this talented young musician.
Ray Lamontagne – Supernova: Producer Dan Auerbach coaxes a more edgy electric sound out of Lamontagne for this solid recording.
Elbow – The Takeoff and Landing of Everything: A lush almost psychedelic sound from a gifted British alternative rock band.
Spanish Gold – South of Nowhere: Composed of members of the bands My Morning Jacket, City and Color, and Brownout, a modern indie rocker.
John Hiatt – Terms of My Surrender: A solid acoustic band offering with hard hitting lyrics from this wonderfully gruff musical curmudgeon.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye: This veteran rocker still says a lot with his , and his band continues to rock with wild abandon.
It is wonderful to be a host for both Open Air and The Folk Show and an honor to be part of JPR’s Rhythm and News Service. May you have a great holiday season, and I look forward to bringing you more great music in 2015!