2014 marked many strong albums and a handful of phenomenal ones. In all honesty, I didn’t listen to as much Canadian content as I usually make an effort to – with that said, saw more live performances locally…and local bands, nationally.
Our brothers in The Dead South had a lightning year galloping across borders and getting to the bottom of pints – it was a task alone to stay on top of where they were on the planet and all the successes that came their way. Congrats boys. I was blown away by Library Voices at this year’s Gateway Music Festival and Kathleen Edwards‘ intimate performance (backed by Aaron Goldstein) in a curling lounge above the Bruno Skating Rink for Pickers’ Cup (Bruno, SK). I got excited about Soundcloud links sent over of Colter Wall and new original material from Iron Bison. I was also very lucky this year to share the stage as many times as I did with my better half, Belle Plaine; learning how to harmonize and stronger singing techniques (not to mention being more organized and eating better!) – We collaborated in studio with our bands and Jason Plumb and are very excited to release new material together in 2015. And don’t even get me started on the pride I feel for the year Jess Moskaluke had – I wonder if her, Chris Henderson and I could get more than 8 people into the Community Hall in Young, SK now? Lastly, our loss of Derek Bachman – however people find comfort in beliefs and whatever those beliefs may be, I feel there’s another realm. One of peace and positive energy that when asked it allows itself to become transparent – if you reach out to it, it will reach back to help you. Here’s to a strong 2015 locally, provincially, and beyond.
My “top 10 of 2015” list has zero reference to a ranking of artistic integrity but simply what I filled my ears with and a quick opinion that matters as much as “tits on a boar” as my old man would say.
10. Chris Henderson – My Turn – We’ve played greasy ass honky tonks and beautiful theatres together, coffee shops and house concerts; there is no other male country artist with the potential of becoming Canada’s greatest vocalist in the genre than Chris. From his power to tone to pitch to inflections – they are spot on resulting in my favourite ‘voice’ – I wondered where it came from and then my thoughts were answered with this song – Taking Sides was recorded with Chris’ Road Warrior Father, Donn Henderson. I highly doubt 2015 will go by without i) me recording something Chris wrote and ii) not having his Dad on my album. Chris’ tunes are genuine on this release and the production is clean. I’m gonna try and get a beer in with him at some point today – I’ll dig at the bugger to put more material out ASAP.
9. Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams – I’ll be honest, I anticipated this release would have inched higher up on the list but it’s strictly me getting used to the direction Mr. Adams took. A great man (and steel player) once said “You can either choose to have a chorus pedal in your rig or a tuner” – Tim Herman. Ryan somehow chose the chorus pedal and kept the tuning spot on…impressive. Gimme Something Good is a monster track and I refuse to listen to Shadows before going to bed at night – check back in with me next May…I know this album is stellar, it will have inched up to #5.
8. Hard Working Americans – Hard Working Americans – Safe to say best Supergroup of the Year? I’d think so. This release timed up well with me reading Todd Snider’s I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like. As a fan of what Todd does (and not to shy away from the other boys in the band) I like his ‘less talk, more action’ approach with The Americans. It’s back to a greasy rock feel that was present in his recordings from the 90’s yet still so different. This album is a work of covers, from what I understand completely written by their peers. Nice. As I write this I realized that the release of The First Waltz slipped through the cracks! It’s downloading as we speak.
7. English Oceans – Drive By Truckers – The Truckers have benefited the most from my fascination of the ‘pre-order’ option on iTunes over the last few years. English Oceans proves again that The Truckers do whatever they God-damn please. Long songs and distorted vocals tie this record together – In opposition to Todd Snider’s 2014 approach, Patterson Hood nails us with stories and as much as I buy The Truckers for their songs, I do for their artwork. I mean, it’s Wes Freed man, he does no wrong in my books. MOOSN (matter of opinion side note): I think the world would move in the right direction if our friend Jason Isbell and the rest of The Truckers got in a room together again.
6. Temples – Sun Structures – A thank you to Travis Rennebohm for two things in 2014…well three. His banana bread, putting in an honest effort to try and get me allowed back into the German Club, and introducing me to Temples. It’s psych and wet. Reverb is at 11 and vocals are mixed as loud as the drums. This shit trips me out. I drank less in 2014 and thanks to this album…smoked more. The writing is incredibly strong but it’s the achievement in sound that pops this Doors-y/Troggs-y in my top 10. Temples is at the top of my need to see list for 2015.
5. Rosanne Cash – The River and The Thread – From what I see, this album is the hip chart topper for the year. I’m late to the party and consciously so. I didn’t really like Rosanne and have heard diva like stories through the grapevine (1 degree away) but the buzz was enough to add this recording to my collection. Steaming the first half on my way to Christmas in Tisdale, SK with Melanie, I was floored. It’s the grooves that got me first and then the production decisions. Very out of the box, strong vocals, catchy hooks, amazing guitar tones and a deadly mix (insert more adjectives Blake) – If it wasn’t for the fact that I head this for the first time about 8 days ago it could have been at #2.
4. Del Barber – Praireography – He does it again. Knowing the process in which it was recorded, having a co-write on the single, and seeing the songs evolve from the original demos to their live execution with The Profiteers, I’ve felt invested in this album from the get-go…not to mention happy that somebody found inspiration from those god-forsaken pigeons shitting all over the windows of my old apartment (Farewell, God Bless You, Goodbye) – So, they made a reverb chamber out of an old silo…basically what this means is they played the album into a grain bin with mics set up to capture how it sounds in the structure then mixed that track back into the original recording to create the reverb on the final cut. Fuck yes. Not to get too personal or disclose anything I shouldn’t – I’m jacked for Del’s new place out on the Manitoba Prairie more than anything, if this is what he wrote living in the city of Winnipeg I can’t imagine what’s to come being in his new space.
3. Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’ – So get a radio hit with I Hope You Dance, get Willie another one with Mendocino County Line and then remind us all that you’re legit as shit, know exactly where your roots are, and sweep us off our feet with that twangy voice. I love the Hayes Carll cover Chances Are and wish I wrote The Way I’m Livin’. The male harmony is mixed quite high throughout the recordings as if the songs are uncredited duets demanding attention to the melody. In retrospect, Lee Ann’s under the radar marketing worked for me…I couldn’t wait for her new material after hearing her sing on Jamey Johnson’s Hank Cochrane Tribute Album and on my #1 pick for 2014. I hope Womack can break a couple of these tunes to mainstream this upcoming year, top the charts again, and take credit for the turning of the tide.
2. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – Dave Cobb, please expect my handwritten letter with down deposit, whenever your schedule clears up please fit me in to do a record. Sincerely, Blake Berglund.
I watched a top 40 radio DJ stop tweeting about Blake Shelton’s “amazing new song” or questions about who the “hottest guy in country music is” and post “Now I get it. Sturgill’s here. that other shit doesn’t matter anymore”. I’ll back that. I listened to the first chord of the opening song into about 0:15 on the album, hit stop, poured a whiskey, packed a hoot and had a bath – knowing what I was about to discover the setting was in place. Son of a bitch. I struggled with having this at #2 on not #1 in spite of my iTunes ‘total plays’ saying otherwise. This is an album that you tell everybody about – as simple as that. It’s converted the puppets to believers and filled up the dry writing wells of inspired artists everywhere. Sturgill reminded me of the path and what the new standard is. And it’s effortless – he wears chucks and simply strums a Martin, keeps arrangements simple and leans on his uncanny talent string words together. Nobody is gonna catch him – and that’s a damn good thing.
1. Jim Lauderdale – I’m a Song – Jim over Sturg is because Jim is comfortable and confident in the uniqueness of his sound as much as Sturgill is going to be. I’m a Song is akin to a marathon of twang. It’s like a band with 40 years of hits not leaving the stage and as you watch you recognize them all – this isn’t a greatest hits, but it feels like it. 20 tracks, all dried out like an old dance floor and as graceful as the one’s dancing on it. I developed a kink in my neck from twisting my head every time an unexpected chord change occurred. The album twists like a bar rag and Jim’s voice bends in and out of pitch like a bar waitress crossing a packed dance floor to get shots to the band. Lee Ann Womack knew exactly what she was doing by getting on this recording, Patty Loveless and Buddy Miller scored even more street cred. I love to cool factor, I love the whine, I love the homage. There wasn’t an album like it this year and there won’t be another until Jim puts it out. I’m a Song is my top pick for 2014.
This was put together without even having listened to the new releases by Marty Stewart, Lucinda Williams, John Mellencamp, Shovels and Rope, and Shakey Graves. I want to end on a positive note but first I’ll ask the question, why did almost every note to come out of George Strait’s mouth on his The Cowboy Rides Away live album have a disturbing amount of auto-tune on it? There, that’s out of the way.
At the risk of length, there’s one more top 10, in no particular order. Taron Cochrane, Jeff DeDekker, Ken Kuzminski, Sheldon Birnie, Alex Macpherson, Danny Dyck, Pat MacIntyre, Rebecca Windjack, Lorena Kelly, and Derek Bachman. Thanks for doing what you do.