Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Burning Wood's Favorite Records of 2014

It wasn't a difficult task to think of the records that got played most in 2014. I play them so often, I could rattle them off in under a minute. Watch me!

The Who Sell Out
The Who- Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy
David Bowie- Low
Led Zeppelin- III
Queen-A Day At The Races
Todd Rundgren- Liars
The Zombies-Odessey & Oracle
Bruce Springsteen- Magic
Bruce Springsteen- Born To Run
Rolling Stones- Through The Past Darkly (U.K. MONO LP)
Bob Dylan- Blood On The Tracks
The Kinks- Face To Face

I could go on with another dozen or so titles that I never tire of and that seem to never get filed away. But I should stop, otherwise I will never get to the business at hand.

2014 had its moments, the rollout of Jimmy Page's new Led Zeppelin remasters, for example. We've seen thousands of reissues come and go, but for my tastes, none have been so perfectly executed. Beautiful vinyl packages with tremendous sound, interesting bonus material, priced affordably in comparison to new vinyl in general. Yes, I do love The Complete Basement Tapes, and that 1974 CSNY set is damn good. But the LZ remasters take the cake as my favorite reissues of the year.

Bubbling under my Top 10 of the year:

The critically acclaimed "The River & the Thread" from Rosanne Cash was a terrific way to start the year, and as much as I liked the record, I do think it was a bit overrated and not the best of her career as so many stated.

The New Pornographers released another solid record with "Brill Bruisers," an album that never relents on sound, hooks and melodies. Usually, that's exactly what I want. My only issue with this record, like all other New Pornographers records is that, as great as they are, they are all interchangeable. Put their last four records on shuffle and I'm hard-pressed to tell which is which. (And I never know what the hell A.C. Newman is talking about.) Still, this one is a keeper.

The Thompson Family record, the brainchild of Richard and Linda's son Teddy and featuring mom and dad, siblings and grandchildren, is short and sweet and a great late year add to a somewhat weak year for new records.

The Rival Sons continue to kick ass and take names with their 2014 release "Great Western Valkyrie." It's really good to see a band rockin' out and having fun!

Number Ten:


As you may or may not recall, I don't love Teenage Fanclub. I know I should, but I don't. I won't use this post to explain in detail just why, as it was all said on an earlier post. I would like to add that I saw the Pernice Brothers live on two separate occasions and they bored me both times. I listened to The Sadies some years ago and I don't have feelings either way.

So here come The New Mendicants, a band featuring Joe Pernice, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Mike Belitsky of The Sadies and it absolutely killed me.

Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, my favorite LP length, The New Mendicants deliver a beautiful record full of the jangle and hooks I seem to be missing when listening to TF.

(Okay, I'll say one thing.)

I recognize Teenage Fanclub's ability to write accessible pop hooks, but what I found on "Into The Lime" was something unique, a collection of songs where each one stood out from the other. With TF, it was too often I couldn't tell one song from the other.

I'm not here to bury TF, but to praise The New Mendicants.

Number Nine, Nunber Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine:


Brian Eno's first four vocal records are some of my favorites of all time and for years I wished there would be one more non-ambient, totally wacko release from the man. This collaboration with Underworld's Karl Hyde is not quite as wacko as I had hoped, but it really comes close. Great rhythms, unique arrangements and very hooky. This one got better with each spin.

Number Eight:


Whether  he ripped up a check for millions of dollars or not, Robert Plant has no interest in a Led Zeppelin reunion. I understand completely. As long as Plant continues to create fresh new music as satisfying as "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar," the rigors of the road and having to slog through the same old material becomes less and less appealing.

On this record, Plant and his band, the Sensational Space Shifters, offer a collection of music that covers British folk and blues, with heavy Celtic overtones, and yet still feels very riff-heavy, as to not let you forget that the singer was once in a very popular hard rocking band. Plant's vocals rarely rise above a whisper or croon and that's not a negative. The man is singing and is singing beautifully.

There is a lot going on here, but it remains incredibly musical. Yet another strong release from Robert Plant, starting with 2005's "Mighty Rearranger." Jimmy Page should listen to Robert's advice and put away any thoughts of a reunion tour, pick up the acoustic, and write some new tunes the way he did at Headley Grange in 1970. Plant has already said he'd be happy to sing them.

Number Seven:


Still hooky after all these years, one half of the brilliant Squeeze songwriting team Glenn Tilbrook has released an absolutely charming album. Stripped down to what resembles an early Tyrannosaurus Rex album without the fairies and prophets, "Happy Ending" is a pop joy from top to bottom, with Tilbrook and his band mates successfully taking turns on vocals.

Number Six:


"The Terms Of My Surrender" is the closest Hiatt has gotten to a straight blues record. While it's not completely barebones, the songs are basic. Acoustic guitar and harmonica at the core, but by no means an acoustic record, Hiatt's 2014 entry offers some of his best lyrics in the simplest setting. Songs like the country-folk of the"Wind Don't Have To Hurry" and the front porch strumming of "Nothing I Love" are both taken to a slightly higher level...like most of the songs here... by adding just the right brushstrokes of backing vocals, or hammond organ, or swampy drum grooves. Just when you think you've been served a Howlin Wolf retread, Hiatt and his band surprises you in the best of ways, like on the gospel shuffle "Old People," with my new fave couplet:

"Old people are pushy/they don't have much time/they'll shove you at the coffee shop/And cut ahead on the buffet line."

It's not all tongue in cheek, as Hiatt can still break your heart, as he has done so many times in his career. This time it's in the album closer "Come On Home."

Number Five:


Few artists have released solid albums as consistently as Chuck Prophet. I love this man. Chuck Prophet can spin a yarn. He can write a hook. He can play guitar.  2012's "Temple Beautiful" was all about San Francisco and it was a fave of that year. "Night Surfer" feels very autobiographical. I was moved. It thrilled me both musically and lyrically. I cannot recommend Chuck Prophet or "Night Surfer" enough.

Number Four:


I'll bet that those of you who visit New Orleans on a somewhat regular basis, whether for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras or just to enjoy a long weekend of food and music, have your go-to artists. It's been 15 years now that Stanton Moore has been my go-to artist. I'd search weeks in advance for club dates featuring Stanton, either playing with Galactic or leading his own bad-ass funk trio with the great B-3 player Robert Walter and the ubiquitous and talented Will Bernard on guitar, or anyone of the collectives like Dragon Smoke with Ivan Neville or Garage A Trois with Skerik, Mike Dillon and old pal Charlie Hunter. If I was in New Orleans for a week, good chance I saw Stanton Moore play somewhere with someone 4 of those 7 nights.

100+ performances, with a good dozen or so different bands over 15 years, and nothing thrilled me as much as seeing the Stanton Moore Piano Trio live. One main reason is that my other go-to band is the city's legendary jazz outfit Astral Project, once a quintet, now a quartet. Stanton's piano trio features Astral Project's bass player and one of the most unique and innovative bass players in all of music, James Singleton and original Project piano-player, the brilliant, melodic and always daring David Torkanowsky. I may be gushing, but this line-up is a New Orleans dream of mine and what they exhibited that night, and probably every Tuesday night at their regular residency in NOLA's Snug Harbor was beyond your piano-trio norm.

These guys are the best at what they do. They are never satisfied. Whether taking on a Monk classic or highlighting the work of legendary New Orleans musician and producer Harold Battiste, this trio makes the music of twice as many players. If a jazz trio can put on a rock and roll show and still keep the purists happy, then you know, this trio needs to be heard.

"Conversations" does what so many records have tried to do but failed, it perfectly recreates that live vibe.

Number Three:


An unlikely pairing? You'd never tell from the result. This record is a burner, with a once-dying Wilko Johnson playing better than ever and Daltrey screeching like he did in the days of The High Numbers. The Dylan cover is a misstep, but the other 30+ minutes is stellar.

For the first time ever, I have a tie for my Number One slot and I'll tell you why...

These two 2014 releases got played the most. They both got better with each spin. They both offer something completely different from each other. I felt that these two records represented two great qualities in record making, so they both win.


These are my favorites records of the year.


Neil Finn has not rested on his laurels. As a member of Split Enz, Neil Finn was responsible for some of new wave's catchiest singles. As a member of Crowded House, he left a bit of the quirk behind with his brother Tim and created a pop anthem in "Don't Dream It's Over," not to mention some of the finest pop albums of the 80s and 90s. His record with brother Tim, "Everyone is Here" is possibly the best work that either has to offer. But it's "Dizzy Heights" that has taken all of those qualities to new...uh...heights.

This record is an epic. It unfolds slowly, revealing hidden charms as it goes along. Underneath the production which at times can be a bit daunting, you will find a trove of Finn's trademark melodies and harmonies. Like any epic, whether a novel or a film, if you stick with it, however demanding, the rewards will be rich. I love this record and I am still finding new things to love as I continue to play it.


Unlike "Dizzy Heights," this NRBQ record offers exactly what you'd expect from this legendary band. If you love, say, "Blonde On Blonde" and have waited years for Bob to release another "Blonde On Blonde," you have been disappointed time and again. This is not to say Dylan hasn't released some fantastic work. But in NRBQ's case, "Brass Tacks" IS the album you want 40 years on.

The arguments continue over whether this really is an NRBQ record. "Oh it's not the same since Big Al left." You know what? It kinda is and every track on "Brass Tacks" is a joy. Terry Adams can still write that sweet pop gem and then blow your mind with his Monk via Sun Ra via Fess piano playing.

I love this band. I love this record. And I can only hope there are more albums and live shows coming soon.



William Repsher said...

Robert Plant may not want a Zep reunion ... but it sounds like you'd be perfectly OK with one! I wasn't as impressed with Plant's album. Ditto, Bryan Ferry, which folks are carrying on about. Both have a clearly-heard weakness in their voices now that just doesn't sound good to me. I don't know what it is. With Ferry, it's like he's almost whispering the lyrics, and not on purpose. Page and Plant already did the reunion thing creatively, and that worked out OK.

Tillbrook: glad to see some recognition. Roddy Frame also put out a very good solo album -- both these albums sound legitimately good to me, not riding on the backs of past glories.

But I have to say, that Neil Finn album leaves me cold. Tillbrook has done the same in the past, as has just about every 70s/80s pop rock icon I've loved has. I could almost predict that album before I heard it: each song between 4 and 6 minutes long, well produced, filled with interesting quirks and nice suggestions ... but it never adds up to anything substantial. It's like these guys forget how to write straight-on 2-3 minute pop songs that just kill on the first listen and age well. I half expect Mitchell Froom to have produced ALL these albums, as they always have "that sound." There's just nothing here for me on the level of "Don't Dream It's Over" or "Better Be Home Soon" -- it's like he's wandered down some dark, meandering path of pop that surely sounds full and heavy, but just doesn't click with me as a listener.

But it's surely clicked with you, and that's what best-of lists are for. This sounds like me prefering Los Lobos doing "I Got Loaded" to the Kiko & the Lavender Moon album.

A walk in the woods said...

Very interesting list - can't wait to check out some of them more.

Let me heartily and happily second your choices of Stanton Moore's record and the NRBQ. Both are records I likely wouldn't have gotten (or in Stanton's case, even known it existed) without your approbation and enthusing about 'em. I play them all the time and they are soooo good.

cmealha said...

Plant is the only album I have or heard. Can't wait to research the rest of this list.

Ken D said...

Solid list, Sal. For maybe the first time I've actually heard half of your year's-best albums. And will seek out the Stanton Moore.
Coincidentally I had the Neil Finn on this morning...

A walk in the woods said...

Also - thanks for your shout-out to the Teenage Fanclub side project. I am one of those who thinks those Scottish lads hung the moon.

Kevin M said...

I never got around to the Wilko/Daltrey project so now I'll have to check it out. Also, the Stanton Moore release looks very promising so I will seek that as well. Thanks Sal!

buzzbabyjesus said...

I've heard about half your list.

I put Neil in my phone when it came out and he's still there.

I really wanted to like Percy's album, but it's kind of samey, and I wish there was one real riff in it somewhere. I liked the one with Alison a lot better.

I liked LZ lll and played the reissue twice. I'm not curious about the rest. I've heard them so many times I can play them in my head.

I can't get into Squeeze and I've tried, so I can't work up any enthusiasm for Glenn's album.

Every time I put that Eno album on, I take it off halfway through the first song and think, "Maybe later".

I've thrown shit at John Hiatt on stage because I found "The Negroes Were Dancing" so irritating. That was in 1979 and I still won't go near one of his albums.

I like Teenage Fanclub's version of
"Chords Of Fame", but that's about it.

NRBQ is still The Q as far as I can tell. "I'm Not Here" is a real corker, whatever that means.

Anonymous said...

Seconding your love of the Chuck Prophet record. Only listened to it a couple times, but struck me as unusual in being both meat-and-potatoes-y but also inventive and surprising. Maybe that's just good rock and roll songwriting?

Bruce H

buzzbabyjesus said...

Chuck's album has received a lot of play over here and Bruce H called it.

"unusual in being both meat-and-potatoes-y but also inventive and surprising"

Michael Giltz said...

Damn! I'm both excited to have more great recommendations from you and disappointed in myself -- yet again -- for not having listened to more of these sooner. I can't win! :) Now where are the runners-up we can peruse?

Martin said...

Soooo right about NRBQ. Thanks.

(And nice piece in NYTimes...Sad but true.)