S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2014 (Part 1 of 4, Non-Jazz): Lucinda Williams, Me’Shell Ndegéocello

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As a husband and father of a daughter, women rule my life. They also rule my year-end list of best non-jazz albums of 2014. Lucinda Williams, Me’Shell Ndegéocello, Neneh Cherry, the man/woman duo Blue Mother Tupelo and the female-fronted MoeTar have all landed spots on this year’s selections, ranging from country to experimental. One of these ladies has had such a great year, she appears here twice. The guys gave us a lot of appreciate this year, too, and these standout discs come from veterans and newcomers alike.

Below is my top album, followed by my “Top Ten” (in no particular order), followed by a couple of special categories and, of course, the honorable mentions. Click through the nested links for the full reviews.


ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone: It’s difficult to find fault with any Lucinda Williams album; she invests so much craftmanship while carving out a niche within roots music where she finds equal comfort within blues, folk, country and rock. By carefully pacing herself in producing new material, she had been able to keep the quality at a consistent level. Or is that really the reason?

Because three years after her last release Blessed comes a double CD batch of new material — a rarity from anybody, really — and the filler is nonexistent. Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone doesn’t try push the envelope like the oft-used Williams comparison item Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, but there’s no need to, either. Williams’ strongest suit is to channel complicated emotions through her penetrating, no-bullshit lyrics and a ragged delivery that has evolved so, so well.

Greg Leisz brings his sizeale talents as producer and multi-instrumentalist to bear on these recordings, and smartly adds other notable musicians who fit nicely into Lucinda’s concept for the right songs, including Tony Joe White and Bill Frisell. From the sneering “East Side Of Town” to the deeply personal “Compassion,” Lucinda Williams holds nothing back on Bone.

Quality and quantity make a rare convergence.



THE BEST OF THE REST:

Seth Walker – Sky Still Blue: This one shows the benefits of Walker’s continual tweaking of his sound and it’s paid off in this completely solid album of roots music. Producer Oliver Wood is doing quietly what T-Bone Burnett does with much fanfare.

Mingo Fishtrap – On Time: Who needs neo-soul when old-school soul works just fine? And it rarely functions better than it does when performed by this Austin-based horn band ably led by Roger Blevins, Jr.

Me’Shell Ndegéocello – Comet, Come To Me: With her complete command of the complexion of music in its many forms and the creativity to forge something different and compelling from that command found all over Comet, Come To Me, it’s tempting to call Me’Shell Ndegéocello the female Prince. Except that lately, she’s been much better than Prince.

Blue Mother Tupelo – Only Sunshine: Direct, pure and oh so soulful, Only Sunshine is more of Blue Mother Tupelo’s handmade treats. Rick and Micol Davis do a commendable job reminding us of how Southern blues, folk and country morphed into Southern rock, a connection that sometimes gets lost these days.

Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans: As the class of Southern Rock, the DBT’s are a tight, road tested unit led by two masterful, persuasive songwriters who might not have even hit their ceilings yet. Whether English Oceans is the apex or on its way there, it’s another essential entry in a catalog that’s already full of essential entries.

Mud Morganfield + Kim Wilson – For Pops [A Tribute to Muddy Waters]: For this full-on appreciation of Morganfield’s Dad Muddy Waters came full-on commitment, and that included bringing in The Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson to be his Little Walter or James Cotton on harmonica. The live-tracked sessions lend even more to the album’s vintage feel. Whenever I listen to this record, my ears are telling me the Waters still very much alive. And, he is — in the blood, soul and heart of Mud Morganfield.

MoeTar – Entropy of the Century: After a head-turning debut, refreshingly eccentric Bay Area prog rockers Moetar beat the sophmore slump and step up their game. A delicious synthesis of early-period Genesis, mid-period Gentle Giant, classic-period Kansas and a dash of Frank Zappa is topped off by the stunning vocals of Moorea Dickason.

Derek Fawcett – Feel Better: This Chicago singer-songwriter invested the compassion, emotional gravitas, and variable mood to grab interest and hold it. Those whose songs possess the depth, maturity and easily engaging quality found on Fawcett’s songs are in such short supply these days.

David Crosby – Croz: The creation of an artist comfortable with his legacy, one who’s continuing to make music because he is moved to do it. The sympathetic instrumentation and signature Crosby vocal arrangements are the strengths of the record and the intricacies to be found here are many.

Nenah Cherry – Blank Project: Cherry shows how experimental and underground can coexist with currently popular music styles. This is the very thing that’s defined her career more than anything else, so while this new album’s angularity isn’t the same kind of angularity of her prior three albums, this remarkable comeback after an eighteen year layover is well in her wheelhouse all the same.


Best EP

Caleb Hawley – Side 2: Blue-eyed soul crooner Hawley might perform contemporary music but he still applies time-honored principles to his songwriting in crafting appealing hooks and grown-up lyrics, What’s more, the tunes are performed by a real band. Whereas Side 1 draws its motivation from the likes of Lil’ Stevie Wonder, 2 makes a lot of updated nods to Hall & Oates at their 80s apex. Party music that you don’t have to feel guilty liking; keep your eye on this guy.



Best Archival Release

Lucinda Williams – Lucinda Williams: Williams may not have made an album that’s song-for-song better than the self-titled album that first put her name on the Americana map. Twenty-five years hence with live tracks from the tour that followed the original release added to the mix, the music has weathered Father Time and sound more powerful than ever.

Best Archival Release, #2

Thank You Scientist – Maps of Non-Existent Places: A muscular fusion-minded progressive rock band that makes music that’s melodically rich as it is complex, and they mind the vocal end of things, too. Thank You Scientist put about as much into appealing to the heart of the rock fan as it does the head, which is to say, plenty. Maps of Non-Existent Places more than deserves its second audition.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Jack White – Lazaretto
Tommy Malone – Poor Boy
Eric Bibb – Blues People
Rory Block – Hard Luck Child: A Tribute To Skip James
Chicken Diamond – My Name is Charles ‘Chicken’ Diamond
Neal Morse – Songs From November
Brent Johnson – Set The World On Fire
Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue
Devon Allman – Ragged And Dirty
The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger – Midnight Sun


S. Victor Aaron’s Best of 2014 (Modern and Mainstream Jazz) >>>


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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