Let me start by saying that 2014 was a great year for music and that once I sat down to make this list I didn’t want to. You see there was so much amazing music last year that I feel like any attempt to sort it all out in to some sort of arbitrary ranking wouldn’t do justice to any of it. So I’m not numbering these, nor will I say anything more than what follows are my favorite releases of 2014. Hell I honestly don’t even know how many there’ll be when I finish!
Matt Woods is one of my favorite people, bar none, on the planet. On top of that he makes amazing music. With Love From Brushy Mountain came out way back in May, 2014 and it hasn’t left my rotation since. It was Michelle’s first and only Essential Listening review and I agree with her assessment. Seriously, if you wrote a top list and this wasn’t on it then I think your list was, at the very least, lacking. On top of all that, Matt is reason I finally got to meet Larry Fulford in real life and, while not an album, that was one of the Top Things that happened to me all year.
Caleb Caudle is an artist that I overlooked for way too long. I remedied that this year when I wrote up the initial review for Paint Another Layer On My Heart and I’m glad I did. One of the things that you find when you listen to and write about as much music as we do here is that some albums are good but in a few months they lose something and drop out of your daily rotation, sure you may queue them up sometimes but it’s the harsh truth that there is only so much time in a day to listen to music. For me what shows the true strength of an album, over time, is how long it stays in regular rotation. Well, Mr. Caudle’s record is still my daily rotation seven months later. I’m, pretty sure that says more than I did in my initial consideration.
Dereconstructed, in my opinion, was the most important album of 2014. The argument that Lee starts on this release is one that needs to be had. It is no longer time to couch the debate in niceties, we’ve moved beyond that. The attitude that comes through in these songs is how the issues involved need to be addressed. On top of that, because I’m hesitant to say an album is my favorite because I like its politics, I love the production on Dereconstructed. It was divisive and loud and everyone had an opinion on it which brought more ears to the party than a safe approach would have. This one will have a spot in rotations for years to come.
I have often said I don’t like politics in my music but I’m thinking I’ll have to revisit that thought. While there aren’t overt politics on this album the plight of the working man is chronicled on Songs Before The War and that honestly shouldn’t be political but is in this country so that makes this a political album whether it was intended to be or not. And I don’t think it was intended to be, I think this was meant to be an album that people could relate to and find some solace in and it succeeds in that very well. The way Brendan writes songs reminds me of some advice that Rilke gave in “Letters To A Young Poet”: If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. Brendan is quite capable of taking every day life and turning in to art and I think that’s the highest praise I can give any artist.
There are times, and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in my review, that one just needs some goddamn rock and roll in their life and We Are Already Dead fill that need quite well. This is music you can knock back a tall boy of your favorite beer to and get to that point where you don’t feel any pain. The songs here would be at home on the jukebox in any dive bar that I’ve darkened the door of and some days that’s just what you want to be listening to when your coworker taps you on the shoulder to complain that, even with you wearing your headphones, he can still hear your music.
Lost & Rootless came in almost under the radar for a lot a people and I even managed to not write about it in a timely manner and that’s a damn tragedy. On this release we get to witness a shift in Tim’s life through the lens of his music. It’s obvious that the changes in his life have shifted his perspective. There are more ditties and fun to be had here than in the past and things are little less dark on this album than on his others. I think this shift started on 40 Miler and I like that it continues here. Even if you’ve never met Tim it’s easy to feel like you know him through his music because he puts so much of himself in to these records, and so as long he keeps releasing them I’ll keep writing about them and I have no doubt they’ll make the year end list every time!
At this point I think we can refer to Mr. Branan as venerable without being ironic. The No Hit Wonder is just plain good. Cory isn’t one to limit himself, in any aspect, and that quality really shows in his studio work. If you’ve seen him live then you only have half the picture as it’s more than likely you’ve seen him solo as he usually doesn’t have a band with him on tour. To capture the full genius of this man one must listen to his studio work. I know there are some of you out there that wish he’d release an album where all the songs are what you’ve seen at the shows but let’s face it, it ain’t in the cards. I’d love to see that as well but only if we get them with his full vision for the songs as well. I’m really excited to see this one released on Bloodshot and see them supporting his vision for the music. If I had a crystal ball I think it’d predict a live album sometime in the next little bit, that’s nothing official or even from Cory, it’s a just a feeling.
That’s right, Tim Barry makes the list twice! I am not always a fan of live albums as a lot of them fail to capture what makes live music so special but Raising Hell & Living Cheap does a fine job of doing what so many other live offerings fail to do. If you’ve never seen Tim live then you this is pretty damn close to the real experience. There’s just something about being able to hear him ramble on about the songs, life, or whatever pops in to his head that makes the live experience special. That goes for most every songwriter, but once you’ve seen Tim, or listened to this one, you’ll understand why it goes double for him.
I almost missed Columbia and I’m damn glad I didn’t. The kids in My Life In Black And White didn’t think it would the sort of thing we’d cover. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for a good punk rock album and that’s exactly what this is. I don’t care if you don’t like middle-school punk or if you get in to all the BS of sub-genres and that rot. I’m just going to call this punk and be done with it. I’m also going to listen to it way too loud and make no apologies. I’d advise you to do the same.
To Hell And Back is a screaming rock album that demands one get their ass in gear and it does it with style. This is what and Americans metal band should sound like. It’s only metal in the way that a lot of Americana is punk, by that I mean you can feel the metal roots in the music but these kids have added their own Kentucky take to everything and made it something completely different. Since AIV wrote about these kids I’ve been able to see them live twice, their bassist, Cory Hanks, has married our interviewer extraordinaire Michelle, and I got to hang with Brian Minks at Holiday Hangout. I think it’s safe to say these kids are as much a part of the 9B family as any of the folks that are on staff.
No Salvation is another one of those albums that deals with every day life but this time it’s one that comes from a punk perspective. And as I make this list I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe I’ve just drifted in to a different perspective. I came up on country music and in that era there was a lot of working class themes in country so it’s no surprise that I’ve never really stopped liking those themes, even if I see them from a different perspective than I did when I was young. This is definetly a darker perspective both musically and lyrically but it’s a perspective that needs to be recognized and The Devil’s Cut does a fine job of putting it in front of us without doing anything more than making kick ass music.
Looking back at a year is always a pain in the ass. I know there are other albums that should be on this list, stuff I’m missing, which is why I always hate doing these. But there you have it, my Top Albums of 2014 in no particular order. I always feel like I’ve screwed up these lists because I already told you about these albums, I’ve already written the reviews, called them Essential Listening, or someone on here has, and now I have to say which ones are better than the others. Yet every year I feel obligated to make one of these. Some years I resist and some years I don’t. I failed to resist this year so you get a list…