Better late than never, here are Write on Music’s favorite songs from last year (in alphabetical order):
Amy LaVere – “Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Boy to Dance”: Inspired by her own adolescent exploits on the lam, this Memphis singer/songwriter and upright bassist turned out one of last year’s most imaginative, musically adventurous albums, Runaway’s Diary. Songs by Townes Van Zandt (“Where I Lead Me”) and John Lennon (“How”) help to tell its story, but its finest moments – like this scene-stealing selection – are of LaVere’s own making.
Angela Moyra – “Bubbalu”: From this Dutch singer/songwriter’s charming debut LP, Fickle Island, this little ditty about a crush is so adorable it’s easy to forget that it’s really a lovelorn lament. Hurts so good, indeed.
Bruce Springsteen – “Harry’s Place”: The Boss’ most recent LP, High Hopes, inspired generally mixed reviews among fans and critics – except for Rolling Stone, which deemed it better than every other album released in 2014 save for U2’s similarly polarizing Songs of Innocence. Still, the album has its moments, like an electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (featuring Tom Morello’s scorching guitar) and this song, which had been in the works for years and reflects an urban, edgier sonic perspective of Springsteen’s songwriting.
Cat Power and Coldplay – “Wish I Was Here”: This one (from the Zach Braff film of the same name) is so empathetic and universal it’s almost a wonder that it hadn’t been written before. “Every road that’s wrong feels like the road I’m on,” Chan Marshall sings like she knows the feeling all too well. Maybe you do, too.
Coldplay – “Oceans”: For those who were perhaps disoriented by Coldplay’s more experimental efforts over the last six or seven years, Ghost Stories recalls some of the melodic, piano-rich balladry of earlier albums, Parachutes especially. This song in particular, enriched by an almost spectral intimacy and Chris Martin’s angular falsetto, is among its most intoxicating highlights.
Eilidh McKellar – “Home”: Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, this burgeoning guitar prodigy summons a mother lode of moxie and musicianship on her remarkable debut LP, Delta Devil Dreams. With this song in particular McKellar not only displays her rich, ribald guitar playing and honeyed vocals but also an endearing melodic disposition.
Jenny Lewis – “Love U Forever”: There has always been something irresistibly quirky about Jenny Lewis, a quixotic mix of understated musicality and narrative chops that at times includes fun bits of kink and blunt confession. Maybe this song is about a lifelong love affair, but you can dance to it even if it’s not.
Jessie Ware – “You & I (Forever)”: With her second album in two years, Tough Love, Ware has proved her debut (Devotion) was no fluke. This lovely song is among its highlights, and it features the most charming video you’ll see all day.
Johnny Marr – “Dynamo”: The former Smiths guitarist and all-around six-string wizard expanded his sonic canvas for his second solo LP, Playland, illustrated here by what Marr described to described to Write on Music as a love song originally written about a building. “But it was important to me that it felt like someone could sing it to a person who they love,” he added, “romantic love, family love, anything really.” Mission accomplished.
Kasey Chambers with Bernard Fanning – “Bittersweet”: The unflinching honesty expressed in this one is damn near chilling, and its video – shot in one take, ostensibly portrayed by children each representing Chambers and Fanning’s narrators – does little to break the tension or heal the heartache.
Leonard Cohen – “Slow”: Brandishing his old poet’s phonetic authority and a knowing, implicit nod to erotic metaphor, the world’s sharpest-dressed octogenarian heralds the virtues of taking one’s time.
Lera Lynn – “Lying in the Sun”: While the Nashville-based singer/songwriter’s recently released second LP (The Avenues) is currently earning rave reviews, the title track from her previous EP release is just too damn good to overlook. Lynn’s singing on it is breathtaking, her voice coming on as sultry as a slow Southern sunset.
Lily and the Tigers – “Just a Memory”: This aching, mournful gem is but one of the standout moments on the Atlanta, Georgia trio’s masterful LP, The Hand You Deal Yourself. “I definitely was listening to a lot of Otis Redding at the time,” lead singer and principal songwriter Casey Hood told Write on Music last year of the song’s conception. “I love soul and R&B music and Motown.” It certainly sounds that way.
Lucinda Williams – “West Memphis”: The alt.country icon shines a light on the case of the West Memphis Three while a raw, wicked groove sputters and snarls beneath her breath. Consider it a sort of conviction conniption, if you will.
Marissa Nadler – “Firecrackers”: There are artists who sing for you and ones who sing to you, touching a soft spot while your guard’s down to remind you you’re alive. Nadler is of the latter distinction. From her sublime LP, July, this song is utterly exquisite.
Nicole Atkins – “The Worst Hangover”: This stone-soul throwback appears on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser, which is not only the culmination of a gifted artist coming into her own but also the best work of her career to date.
Priscilla Ahn – “Diana”: With her third LP, This is Where We Are, Ahn signalled a shift, if not a complete departure, from the acoustic-informed aesthetic of her earliest recordings while this, the album’s sensuous opening track, sets the tone.
Sharon Van Etten – “Nothing Will Change”: Van Etten summoned a tour de force with her 2014 LP, Are We There, translating often intense, personal introspections into universal revelations and, in songs like this one, delivering each lyric like a visceral, nerve-exposed soliloquy.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Forgotten Man”: Stinging with anger and resentment, this one starts off sounding a little like “American Girl” but soon imposes its own ornery indignance on Hypnotic Eye, easily Petty’s best album in years.
Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – “I Keep it to Myself”: Literally knocking on Heaven’s door, the iconic Dr. Feelgood guitarist sought to make one last album, on which The Who’s indomitable frontman was more than happy to join together with the man. As Johnson told Write on Music last year, the chemistry between the two was immediate. “Everybody got on well,” he added. “We just started working ferociously.” And the resulting album, Going Home, is invigorating...almost as much as the miraculous twist of fate that ultimately saved this beloved legend’s life.