Folk Alley’s Best of 2014 – Chris Dudley’s Top Picks of the Year

Top Picks of 2014 by Chris Dudley

It’s pretty easy to say that we’ve had some excellent albums 2014. While my tastes are constantly changing, I chose five (okay, six actually) that were my favorites, that I kept going back to more consistently. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other albums that aren’t on this list that could be on any other given day. I chose these albums not only because of how often I listen to them, but because of how they stretch the genre of what we consider folk. All of these albums have songs that we play on Folk Alley, but the albums themselves expand outward into other realms that challenge the listener and that challenge me. Whether it be through production, instrumentation, lyrically, or harmonically, these albums have something in them that have stood out.

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Noah Gundersen – ‘Ledges’

With its warm and earthy tones, ‘Ledges’ strips down the songwriting elements to its bare bones. The songs are spacious and allow the lyrics to shine. It seems like a very minimalist setup, but it allows for his words to remain dynamic and carry most of the weight. The lyrics are introspective and evoke those tugging internal conflicts that we experience daily– the struggle of living without or having baggage that constantly weighs on us. With its tentative moments that slowly bloom and burst into public confessions, ‘Ledges’ deals a heartfelt punch for those who are living a struggle.

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Nickel Creek – ‘A Dotted Line’

What isn’t there to be thrilled with in this album? With power that continuously drives, their harmonies and technical excellence is enough to make your ear swoon and beg for more. This album is chalked full of memorable melodies. It’s an exceptionally well produced album with musicianship that is articulate and interesting. You can’t help but love the fun way it catches you by surprise. I love occasions in the album where the chords are peculiar and the melodies are even a littler stranger. There is enough oddity to challenge you, but enough familiarity to keep grasp of what’s going on.

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Ryan Adams – ‘Ryan Adams’
(PaxAm Records/Blue Note)

The gritty and raw sounds from ‘Ryan Adams’ are quick to shake you up. I adore the raspy guitar tone and the crunchy vocals. Every time I listen to this album, I get my “aww yeah” face on. While not quite folk in a traditional sense, the acoustic songs on this album still carry that folk vibe while still maintaining that raucous shadow that you continue to sense. This album makes great driving music. I had “My Wrecking Ball” and “Let Go” on repeat for a while.

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First Aid Kit – ‘Stay Gold’
(Columbia Records)

This album has a very ethereal sound to it. The drones and sustained sounds definitely have uniqueness to it. The album has largeness to it, and the harmonies are very lush. I enjoy how full and different this album sounds. The enormity of the sound is like an ocean wave. Lilting melodies keep you singing every time. You can get lost in this album, but it still has rhythm to it. I love the way the flutes, strings, organ, and other sustained instruments cradle you along as you move through the songs. A wonderful mix of indie/pop and folk.

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Robert Plant – ‘Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar’

The juxtaposition between natural and processed sound in this album is very alluring. I try not to limit my listening to any specific sounds, and albums like this are why I don’t. There are so many colorful and contrasting sounds that can paint an enticing and vivid picture. Robert Plant mixes some heavily processed and overdriven drums and synths with the likes of acoustic guitars, banjos, and hurdy gurdy (at least I think it’s a hurdy gurdy). It somehow manages to sounds mechanical and organic at the same time. Talk about some avant garde folk.

Honorable Mention:

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The Henry Girls – ‘Louder Than Words’
(Beste! Unterhaltung)

I just simply like this album and the songs. It’s a very natural folk sound, and the songs are ones that I happen to press the play button on a lot. I like the feel of the songs on this album, and I just like the harmonized melodies. The songs, even the minor ones, seem bright and make me sway back and forth. At the end of the day, you don’t need a complicated or particular reason to like something. Sometimes you just simply like it. I like the songs. It’s as simple as that.

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