And what a rebound.
Last year was so bad that my top ten was a top six.
There weren't even ten albums worth singling out.
2014 has brought a plethora of choice offerings.
So many, in fact, that any in my top nine could have been number one.
I spent three weeks listening to all ten albums and debating who went where. It was neither easy nor consistent. Each day produced different rankings.
1) Stevie Nicks' 24 Karat Gold (tie) and Chrissie Hynde's Stockholm.
1994's Street Angel remains the nadir of her solo career. In retrospect, with the exception of "Docklands," the songs on that album were often solid, they were just poorly arranged and sequenced and, ultimately,, lackluster.
2001's Trouble in Shangri-La kicked off a resurgence that's been one high point after another and includes not only the studio album In Your Dreams but also the live album The Soundstage Sessions.
And now comes 24 Karat Gold, an artistic high point for anyone. "The Dealer," "Mabel Normand," "Blue Water," "Lady," "Cathouse Blues," "She Loves Him Still" and "Hard Advice" are among the best songs she's ever written -- and this is a songwriter whose body of work already included "Sara," "Edge of Seventeen," "Stand Back," "Landslide," "Gold Dust Woman," "Dreams," "Nightbird," "Gypsy," "If Anyone Falls In Love," "Crystal," "Beauty & the Beast," "Leather & Lace," "Rooms on Fire," "Sisters of the Moon," "I Can't Wait," "Secret Love," "Silver Springs," "Beautiful Child," "Paper Doll," "Say You Will" and "I Don't Want To Know."
This is the Stevie Nicks album every Stevie fan needs to have in their home.
Stockholm's the rock album U2 wishes they had released. Instead, even giving it away for free via iTunes, U2 couldn't, in fact, give the album away.
If Stockholm had half the promotion bloated and bombastic Bono received, the whole country would be singing along with "Dark Sunglasses," "You or No One," "Like In the Movies" and so much more. As it is, this album's going to be a slow grower, akin to Dusty Springfield's classic Dusty In Memphis. In 20 years, the world will marvel at how a musical treasure wasn't immediately and universally embraced.
As the head of Pretenders, Chrissie's been part of classic albums in the past (Learning To Crawl, The Isle of View and Packed! among them) but Stokholm is still a huge revelation and a reminder of just how many 'artists' release filler that neither makes you think nor makes your ass shake.
3) Prince's Art Official Age.
Leave it to Prince to show up this fall with not one but two albums. Art Official Age and Plectrunemlectrum were both outstanding. (The latter made it to number 12 on my 20.) From the start, though, Art Official Age was the one that spoke the most to me.
It pretty much picked up a strand from every album he ever released while tying it up and bouncing it around the room in a manner that created a wholly unique sound which reminded Prince remains the most vital artist who dominated 80s radio. Back in the summer of 1984, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner and others battled it out for top honor. Tina's stopped recording and is missed while Bruce continues recording despite the fact that no one's interested in buying his tired and dull recordings. If High Hopes made clear that Bruce had nothing left to say, Art Official Age makes clear that Prince not only remains vital but his best work may still be ahead of him.
4) Tori Amos' Unrepentant Geraldines.
Has Tori ever made a bad album?
She's made a few challenging ones. Boys for Pele, for example, took about fourteen months for me to get into. I loved "In The Springtime of His Voodoo" but the rest of the album escaped me for months and months. Today, she's one of the last real artists. She can stand with earlier greats like Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd and others.
This go round, she's offered a stripped down sound that sets off her gorgeous vocals to tremendous effect and allows her explorations to be immediately appreciated. This stands with Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink, Scarlet's Walk and Night of Hunters as one of her all time classics. "Wild Way" is simply the best studio track she's ever recorded. And, unlike so many of her 'poltical' peers (Bruce The Twinkie Springsteen, for example), Tori actually can (and does) comment on the world around her.
5) Neil Young's Storytones.
Sometimes an album speaks to us in a way it doesn't to others. That's how I felt about Storytone. It's perfection but every time I read a review I'm hearing skip the tracks for this album and just enjoy the stripped down version of the same songs on the deluxe version.
I didn't -- and don't -- get it.
But one thing that made me really happy was all the e-mails that came in after my review went up, people saying that they preferred the album Neil intended as well.
It's really something special.
I do get it.
Neil's a singer-songwriter. He's got a huge number of fans -- many of which just want him to do Zuma over and over.
Just the fact that he refuses to that is something to give him credit for. That he's made this expansive, big canvas recording that haunts and thrills and that a large number of people would prefer to ignore it to rush over to the same songs basically demo-ed is really sad.
6) Aretha Franklin's Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics.
The new album is Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics was a stunning one which yet again reminded everyone that Aretha gets respect not because she asks for it but because everything she does demands it.
For years here, I've noted how 'feminists' like Judy Collins do one album after another celebrating men -- Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Paul McCartney -- while doing nothing to uplift or applaud women.
Leave it to Lady Soul, the Queen, to rectify the void with an album celebrating the work of women. Specifically, she's celebrating Adele, Diana Ross, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Gloria Gaynor, Barbra Streisand, Dinah Washington and others.
And she's engaged and having fun making it a real celebration -- and the finest album she's done since A Rose Is Still A Rose.
7) The Afghan Whigs' Do To The Beast.
With Kurt Cobain's death, alternative rock suffered a huge blow. While Tori Amos, one of the genre's true artists. explored the the world as a woman, few were around to offer the same artistic take from the male point of view. Eddie V brought Pearlm Jam down not with is hogcalling vocals but with his on the nose attempts to provide suggestions and his inability to write a song about anything. Henry Rollins explored something -- who knew what?, the mind of a serial killer? or just a poser? -- and Billy ruined Smashing Pumpkins to the point that what remained should have been Bitchy Boys. The sole exception was Greg Dulli.
The group's singer and chief songwriter charted new territory and was a true explorer. But, let's not kid, he needed the band. Twilight Singers and other follow up acts were always interesting but it was the work of the Afghan Whigs that kept us listening and hoping. And now the group -- all but one -- came back to rock out and demonstrate yet again that they were true originals.
8) Ben Harper and Ellen Harper's Childhood Home.
How cool is Ben Harper?
He does an album with his mother and it's a classic.
As Bruce Springsteen's become the old geezer you wish would just go home, Ben's stepped forward to become the rocker who leads the pack.
And how cool is Ellen Harper?
Not just because she raised Ben, but there is that. But mainly, how cool is she that she's able to hold her own on this album -- recording with one of our rock greats, she holds her own.
To hear this album is to fall in love with it. If you made it through 2014 without hearing it, you did yourself a disservice.
9) Cloud Nothings' Here and Nowhere Else.
One of the great surprises of the year was the band's Here and Nowhere Else -- a hard hitting roller coaster that has you screaming through the final track ("I'm Not Part Of Me"). Along with "Pattern Walks" and "No Thoughts," "I'm Not Part Of Me" is one of the must-listen-to tracks of the album.
10) La Sera's Hour of the Dawn.
This is one of those albums I never could wrap myself around in terms of a review. It's a great album, a solid listen and probably what we'll be hearing from rock for the next five years as everyone copies Katy Goodman and company. If there's any justice at all, at least 10% of the copycats to come will give credit to La Sera and this album.
Click here for my 2004 music piece, here for 2005, 2006 in music, 2007 in music, here for 2008, here for my 2009 piece, here for my look at the decade, here for my 2010 piece, here for my 2011 piece, here for my 2012 piece and here for my 2013 piece.
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