Last week, you got 1 thru 5. I hope you’ve all listened to these prize winners. Whether you agreed with my assessment is another story. You dig what you dig. You dig?
So here are the five remaining “Blue Collar Songwriting’s Best Albums of 2014.” Let’s hope next year is a hell of a lot better than the current one. Don’t worry, we’re in the final days of it. The best way to drown out the death rattle that is 2014 is to listen to good music the whole time.
6. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There Yet?
This multi-talented songstress has released only great albums in a career that’s just five years old. Here, I’ll bring it up a notch: she has released only great songs. Are We There Yet follows this hopefully continuing line of greatness. I have not heard a single false note in any of her released music. Her songs have it all: top-notch vocals and instrumentation, harmonies that are pure magic, lyrics that have bite and wit and all around beauty. I saw her play live in Chicago two years ago and it remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. In 2009 I interviewed her for another publication I was writing for. She was very shy, but extremely kind and gracious. Since then, she has reached considerable fame that is still growing. Good for her, man. Good for her. If there is currently a better female singer-songwriter under 30 out there in our contemporary musical landscape, well, I haven’t found her yet. She’s also responsible for my favorite verse of the year. You can read and listen to them below.
Standout Lyric: “People say I’m a one-hit wonder. But what happens when I have two? I washed your dishes, but I shit in your bathroom” – from ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up.’
Standout Tracks: “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” “Tarifa”
7. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
This album is flat out weird and daring, yet at the same time, it’s cozy and familiar. It sounds like the old time country music our grandparents used to play us but with a lot more direct drug references. His voice is rich and meaty. So are the lyrics. Critics have cited his more bizarre lyrics in their praises of this album. Don’t get me wrong; the strange stuff is plentiful and tremendous. Still, what’s most impressive is his knack for bare-bones, “meat & potatoes” lines that later reveal their depths to you. John Prine has the same knack. Not bad company to keep.
Standout Lyric: “A picture’s worth a thousand words but a word ain’t worth a dime. We all know they’ll go on talking until the end of time.” – from ‘Voices.’
Standout Songs: “Voices,” “Life of Sin,” “The Promise” (excellent cover of the Depeche Mode hit).
8. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project
Neneh Cherry had some brief mainstream success with her 1989 single “Buffalo Stance,” then operated almost entirely outside of it. All the while, she still earned lavish praise from critics and artists alike. Her debut, self-titled album was one of the first I ever owned. It was also one of the first oddball albums that I enjoyed. Blank Project is her first solo release in 18 years. When I say that this album sounds like no other album I’ve heard, well, I mean just that. From it’s sludgy bass grooves, slightly off kilter drum loops, and a host of influences that range from punk to new wave to hip hop to flat out pop, this is essentially a singular, difficult album that could have fallen apart if placed in the hands of any other artist. In the hands of Neneh, it’s a brilliant piece of outsider art.
Standout Lyric: “New York City, she speaks to me in tongues, keeps me to her breast, pumps air into my lungs.” – from ‘Across the Water’
Standout Tracks: “Across the Water,” “Out of the Black,” “Dossier”
9. Seth Bernard: Reconciliation & the Mystical Beyonda
This album contains the kind of music that I’m honestly not terribly familiar with: protest music. I mean, it’s MORE than that. Still, this album showcases a certain politic and social conscious that, though I agree with it, does not appear on hardly any of the music I listen to. I’ve always found it difficult to listen to music that had directly political, message-driven lyrics.
However, Reconciliation & the Mystical Beyonda manages to get me fired up about causes that I’ve been fairly apathetic about. But even more, the whole album is so thoroughly playful and experimental that I’ve listened to it throughout the year with fascination. Seth is one half of the excellent folk duet “Seth & May.” Reconciliation… maintains their trademark folk sound, but explores other types of musical terrain as well. He maneuvers gracefully, even flawlessly through a host of genres. There’s folk, psychedelic, bluegrass, rock n’ roll, country, and plenty more in between. The lyrics teeter between idealistic hope for the world and a deep sadness for our planet’s current state of affairs. As a total package, this album is spectacular.
Standout Lyric: “We’re stewards of our own destruction.” -from ‘The American Earth.’
Standout Tracks: “Fire Pig,” “American Earth,” “Sore Glow”
Oh. My. Lord. It’s hard to put into words how utterly magnificent this album is. Had I heard it earlier then it may have made it to the number one spot. Honestly, I heard it for the first time today. This is perfectly-crafted, heavy stuff. It pushes the borders of R&B into so many strange, even scary directions that I can’t help but think this will go down as one of the most influential albums of its kind. This is the kind of stuff that the superstars of twenty years from now will cite as the reason they got into music in the first place.
Standout Lyric: “All we wanted was a chance to talk, ‘stead we only got outlined in chalk / Feet have bled a million miles we’ve walked, revealing at the end of the day, the charade.” – from ‘The Charade’
Standout Tracks: “Sugah Daddy,” “1000 Deaths,” “The Charade”