Top 10 Picks of 2014 by Cindy Howes
Full disclosure: I love making my yearly best-of list and I love looking at everyone else’s. I love the exercise of combing through the year of music; reliving the first emotional moments felt after hearing the perfect song or new favorite artist. Some on my list were no surprise to me: of course I’ve included Anais Mitchell and First Aid Kit. Those unexpected artists on this list now feel like new friends who kept me company throughout the long year. I hope you agree on some and find some new friends among my favorite albums for 2014 and thank you for the opportunity to throw a spotlight on folk music.
Have a listen to my Top 10 Playlist at Spotify – HERE.
Ben Howard. ‘I Forget Where We Were’
On his second full length album, UK singer-songwriter, Ben Howard manages to harness all sorts of emotive power through his striking lyrics and layered guitar work. This sounds is as if Joni Mitchell had joined Genesis and decided to play an electric guitar on her lap.
The Barr Brothers, ‘Sleeping Operator’
Montreal’s Barr Brothers have returned on a sophomore release that combines magnificent songwriting, psychedelic and world music elements… and oh yeah, they also have a harp. The experimental nature of ‘Sleeping Operator’ that can make it a challenging listen is redeemed by mostly standout, accessible tracks.
The Early Mays, ‘The Early Mays’
(The Early Mays)
Three previously solo performers come together to create beautiful harmonies and folk gems with The Early Mays: Judith Avers, Ellen Gozion and Emily Pinkerton. Thoughtfully created in Pittsburgh, PA, the trio effortlessly bring to life original, traditional and reworked songs while combining the folk music expertise of each May: Appalachia, country and modern.
The Stray Birds, ‘Best Medicine’
The Stray Birds were a new discovery for me this year, but one I won’t soon forget due to their ability to combine folk tradition with a modern approach. The fact that this album, their second full-length, was recorded live in the studio around one mic is astounding.
Anais Mitchell, ‘Xoa’
Anais Mitchell is one of the best writers of her generation. With a brilliant mind and a cool delivery that 100% drives me insane (in the best way), there was no way I wasn’t going to love this record. ‘Xoa,’ which is her signature for her email newsletter, is kind of a reworked, best-of collection (including songs from her folk opera, ‘Hadestown’). The album is just Anais and her guitar in the studio, singing and playing these incredible songs, just like it’s not a big deal at all.
First Aid Kit, ‘Stay Gold’
The first time I heard the Swedish sister-duo, First Aid Kit’s ‘Stay Gold,’ I was sanding the ceiling of my kitchen, covered in dust and wearing a face mask, which is a memory that is forever embedded in my mind. It sounds like someone seriously got their heart broken and is on an adventure, not unlike sanding a ceiling for two hours straight. I’m still astounded how well these young, non-American songwriters, manage to write such great American folk music.
Vance Joy, ‘Dream Your Life Away’
Australia is usually a few years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to finding the hip, new music, so it’s makes a lot of sense that they would be WAY on top of their own Vance Joy. They were all over his massive hit “Riptide” way before Taylor Swift ever thought to cover it. It’s nice to see the U.S. finally catching on. I’m glad to include ‘Dream Your Life Away’ on my list as it includes some stellar songs lead by Joy’s sweet tenor voice, percussive melodies (Xavier Rudd comes to mind) and dynamic build.
Damien Jurado, ‘Brothers and Sisters of The Eternal Son’
Folk enigma, Damien Jurado, calls his eleventh album as a sequel to his previous release which centered around a man who disappeared from society to a mysterious place. It kind of sounds like a weird, freaky Wizard of Oz where Dorothy never goes home.
Rose Cousins, ‘Stray Birds’
Rose Cousin’s latest EP was a beautiful sweet September surprise with covers and a couple of originals. A small, quiet celebration in contrast to it’s predecessor, ‘We Have Made a Spark.’ It was nice to hear Cousins pull back a bit on this release and show off some of her friends songs and tell us about some of her heroes.
Shakey Graves, ‘And The War Came’
Austin’s Alejandro Rose-Garcia impresses on his second release as the indie-folk act, Shakey Graves. The lead-off track, “Dearly Departed” has become one of the best new Halloween-inspired songs I’ve heard in years. Rose-Garcia seems out of place in 2014. After listening through ‘And Then The War Came,’ it’s no wonder that these songs were not around for Lomaxes to discover in the early part of the 20th century.