Hold up. It was just December. What?
As winter finally fades, it’s time to look back on the tracks that made the new year new. I’ve got everything from new releases to new discoveries and a couple artists that just keep hangin’ on. These are my favorite tracks from January – March.
Without doubt, Bill Callahan’s “Dream River” was the album of winter 2014. I first read about Callahan in Mojo magazine and heard him from sample clips on Amazon.com. He’s got a killer speak-singing baritone style that hits me right between the Hold Steady and The National pleasure centers. The album’s sparse alt. country/jazz arrangements suit the story songs perfectly. They’re simple songs where a repeated word sung two different ways can be a completely different experience. Check out “The Sing” and then “Small Plane” to get hooked.
Unfortunately, “Dream River” is not available on Spotify. But I’ve filled his spot on the list with other fantastic tunes.
Pharrell Williams ft. Daft Punk, “Gust of Wind” – What’s not to like? Wish it built to a big climax, but nearly five minutes solid groove ain’t bad.
Arcade Fire, “Flashbulb Eyes” – Didn’t like this one when the album came out, but the creepy vibe just clicked for me.
Rhye, “The Fall” – Sexy. Slinky. Lush. Refreshing. Drove to work so many mornings rocking the whole album.
Best Coast, “I Don’t Know How” – First heard this song on NPR’s All Songs Considered. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but this song grinds away until it just… flies. Love it.
Gary Allan, “Like It’s A Bad Thing” – From Allan’s 2007 album, “Living Hard”. I’ve been digging the outsider, Bakersfield country of Gary Allan all winter. A lot of the ballads are over-wrought, tortured-soul clunkers. But this one’s just fun to sing.
Houndstooth, “Francis” – Sampled this on a sampler CD from Mojo or Uncut and loved the psychedelic Wilco vibe.
Mikal Cronin, “See It My Way” – What if “Pinball Wizard” had a scuzzy guitar solo in the middle? Love the strummy, singer-songwriter schtick cut-up with face-melting distortion.
Vance Joy, “Riptide” – This song has been on TV, I’m sure of it. What medical drama music producer could resist? Saw him live with Young The Giant, though, and the songs were louder and harder. This dude’s gonna metaphorically blow-up. Watch for a plucky young songtress to cover this one on The Voice.
Real Estate, “Primitive” – Simply, the most gorgeous guitar pop I’ve ever heard. Immediately made me want to put on old America records too.
Donny Hathaway, “Giving Up” – Heard this first when I was trying out a radio station in the Beats Music app. Incredible vocal performance with a swaying, swelling blues backdrop.
The Wild Feathers, “Hard Times” – The best “Free Bird”/Petty/Zeppelin ripoff I ever did hear. Watching for this group to mature their own voice, but the skills are certainly on point.
Haim, “Running If You Call My Name” – Never liked the second of their debut half as much as the quicksilver first half. Until I cranked this song and it wowed me. Can’t wait to see what they do next.
Fernando Ortega, “The Good Shepherd” – Sang “Our Great God” in the choir during worship one Sunday and looked up the songwriter. Outstanding. Simple, gorgeous, affirming, comforting, personal lyrics accompanied by a sweet, sweet melody. The whole album is wonderful. I like it in the same way I like “Dream River”. Simple, deep, easy to get lost in, easy to let wash over you.
Young The Giant, “Firelight” – The quietest song on their new album might be the best. It has a Pink Floyd-esque stargazing quality that’s easy to listen to, but not uninteresting.
Aloe Blacc, “Love Is The Answer” – Really hate the Avicci chart-topper “Wake Me Up”. But the song was written and performed by Aloe Blacc, who’s pretty cool. Look him up for more info and listen to his neo-soul folk music while you’re at it.