2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Merge Records MRG 523 LP CD FLAC and MP3 Time: About 43 minutes
1) Lucia 2) Saturday’s Song 3) Mahogany Dread 4) Day O Day (A Love So Free) 5) Lateness of Dancers 6) I’m A Raven (Shake Children) 7) Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses) 8) Southern Grammar 9) Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song) 10) Drum
I got to know Hiss Golden Messenger’s (M. C. Taylor) music after perusing the online catalog of Tompkins Square, where I had purchased William Tyler’s solo album Behold The Spirit (prior to his Merge Records release Impossible Truth). I ordered the HGM album Poor Moon, and that was all it took for me to go off hunting for more, which led me to his 2013 album Haw (on Paradise of Bachelors) and ultimately to his first complete album Bad Debt, recorded in his kitchen shortly after the birth of his son in 2009. There are overtones of concern in that album, since it was created as the global economic crisis was hitting financial markets and was having tangible effects on people. It took Bad Debt a long time to see the light of day due to a warehouse fire during the London riots a few years back—most of the original CDs were lost. Amanda Petrusich has a brief essay about Taylor at the Merge Records link above, and it will give further insight on the roots of his music and her impressions.
Lateness of Dancers is quieter and a bit slower in pace compared to Haw and the recording is more intimate, even introspective with some of the qualities of Bad Debt. It includes some musicians from the previous albums along with primary collaborator Scott Hirsch (most often on electric and bass guitars) and William Tyler. Taylor’s songs appear to be largely personal self-reflections, laments on vulnerability, restrained joy, explorations of faith and optimism. This album sounds to me like it’s rooted in the early to mid-1970s in sound.
Taylor’s voice is at times like a melodic version of Bob Dylan as on Lucia, which has a gentle sway to it (as do other songs on the album). I immediately felt like I was back in the early 1970s during Saturday’s Song (a time when I listened to albums for hours on end). Saturday has a Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes vibe to it and is instantly familiar and comfortable. The spirit of Mick Fleetwood was present for the back beat of Mahogany Dread along with an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (for those of us old enough to remember!). No doubt, Taylor’s son’s voice opens Day O Day (A Love So Free) with his self-assured proclamation (present in younger children) of the song’s title. It’s quiet and contemplative and the subtitle gradually becomes an incantation of joy. Lateness of Dancers is one of the more serious sounding tracks on the album, the other being Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song), which is revealing and very contemplative. I’m a Raven (Shake Children) growls with a heavy beat and is a contrast to the slow-dance quality of Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses). Southern Grammar channels a gentler (yet still funky) version of Lowell George and Little Feat of the Dixie Chicken era (oh, how I miss Lowell George).
The album ends with a lightly orchestrated version of Drum (that first appeared on Bad Debt) and it has the spirit of a recessional, and it sounds hopeful “I’ll rise in the morning, take the good news and carry it away…” Lateness of Dancers is good news indeed, and it seems like Hiss Golden Messenger has landed at a good spot with Merge, where his work will hopefully get to a wider audience, and they will let M. C. Taylor continue unencumbered to do what he does best: write thoughtful and beautifully crafted songs.
I think I’m ready for Spring, but since that’s expecting too much at this point I’ll just stick to what’s spinning here lately…
Tompkins Square Records – Imaginational Anthem Volumes 1 to 5 (boxed with William Tyler’s Elvis Was A Capricorn, live performances) and Volume 6 (Tompkins Square TSQ 2790 and 2851): I purchased this on intrigue after a few other TSQ label purchases and upon learning that Hallock Hill’s Tom Lecky had a piece on Volume 5. It’s a wide-ranging collection of mostly acoustic guitar (American Primitive “fingerstyle”) works by some musicians well known (Max Ochs, John Fahey, James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, William Tyler, Daniel Bachman and Robbie Basho) and others more obscure. The WT live CD is a bonus in the box, which is not sold separately—his wizardry is hypnotic. Volume 6 has 14 historic recordings transferred from 78s. It’s a really fascinating collection.
Robert Rich – Morphology (Anodize AD 1304): After really enjoying Rich’s last CD Nest, I thought I’d try this 2010 live recording (released in 2013). At some sections it’s more rhythmic than Nest, but this again takes me back to the Modular Moog days of Tangerine Dream’s double live album Encore. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and take a ride.
Lambchop – Nixon (MRG175): This is a reissue of the 2000 release to help celebrate Merge Records’ 25th anniversary. I opted for the CD, which includes a second CD White Session 1998 “How I Met Cat Power” recorded in 1998 (Lambchop “represented” by Kurt Wagner on vocals, tape loops and guitar recorded for Radio France). Gone is the jewel box of the original and everything is contained in a double gate-fold sleeve with enhanced artwork. This album was my introduction to Lambchop and the 5 track bonus CD (with 4 tracks from Nixon and The Saturday Option) is like having a private concert by Kurt in your living room.
The 78 Project – Volume 1 (http://The78Project.com – 78P-001): Somewhat like the Black Cab Sessions, this is the first of what looks like many forthcoming albums, most of the songs are traditional, recorded in one take on one blank lacquer disc on a 1930s vintage Presto direct-to-disc recorder working at 78 RPMs in full ruby-cut monaural with ambient noise and all. Artists on this first volume include Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal, Marshall Crenshaw and 9 others. The LP is mastered for 33-1/3 RPM. Old school and a fascinating concept.
Porya Hatami – Shallow (Tench TCH 06): Recorded in Sanandaj Iran, Hatami’s latest album is a gorgeous instrumental work with three extended pieces (Fen, After The Rain and White Forest) of field recordings, loops and minimal instrumentation that are hypnotic, peaceful and produce a strong sense of place, and an escape.
The Autumn Defense – Fifth (Yep Roc YEP-2354): The core of the band is still Wilco’s Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt and this album for the most part picks up where their last album Once Around left off—well crafted songs with a relaxed but catchy vibe (some feel like they’re from the 60s and some could be from the 70s–make me think of Graham Gouldman’s work.)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon and Bad Debt (Tompkins Square 2660 and Paradise of Bachelors PoB-11): I got to HGM by poking around in TSQ’s back catalog and that led me to these two albums by the core of M. C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch (the latter being a reissue of Taylor penned and recorded songs which were a reaction to the 2008 financial crisis). Stark at times, but I was immediately drawn into the genuine nature of the lyrics and roots-like instrumentation and arrangements. Real solid albums and I’m looking forward to their 2013 album Haw when it arrives.
Steven R. Smith – Tableland (Emperor Jones EJ35CD website: http://www.worstward.com/): Smith has a number of musical personas and in addition to music he is an instrument builder and print maker. I’m most familiar with one of his aliases, Hala Strana (that work is more eastern European and traditionally-rooted). Tableland is a (sadly, this 2001 CD is out of print, but download is available here: http://worstward.bandcamp.com/album/tableland) haunting and somewhat moody collection of largely electric guitar-based soundscapes that could easily be a soundtrack for a roadtrip to a long forgotten territory.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (Blue Note Records B00195t202): Some musicians and artists with well-known predecessors often have periods of distancing themselves from those strong roots, breaking away to establish themselves. Rosanne Cash (whose dad was Johnny Cash) and John Leventhal have produced a beautiful album of songs tracing RC’s memories and influences that have gradually resolved with time and understanding of the struggles of humble beginnings and the trials of fame. The song Night School is stunning. Get the CD version with the bonus tracks.
Ben Lukas Boysen – Gravity (Ad Noiseam ADN168CD): The striking cover illustration drew me into the wake of this album and Boysen’s placid rhythms and harmonious aura suspended time.
Harold Budd – Avalon Sutra (Darla DRL 285): This is a completely remastered (by sound engineer Bradford Ellis, who has worked with Budd for 30 years) reissue of the Samadhisound double CD that was first released in 2004 (often referred to as Harold Budd’s last album before he retired from composing and recording—lucky for us it was a false alarm!). This double CD has new artwork and photographs, and the recordings have greater depth and clarity.
Harold Budd & Jane Maru – Jane 1-11 (Darla DRL 287): This is a two disc CD and DVD video release. The CD is the same as DRL281, and the second disc includes video companions (by artist Jane Maru) to each of the tracks on the album. Some of the videos are a very light touch with minimal effects and others explore colors, depth of field, transformation and the passage of time. I wrote last year about this very special Harold Budd album. Jane Maru did the cover artwork for this and the original CD release—she also does some really wonderful batiks.
And let’s not forget a favorite of mine – Kraftwerk!
I’m ready for the Spring Thaw! Happy listening.