Top 50 albums of 2014: Late entrant D’Angelo shakes things up

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My best-of-2014 albums list was nearly complete, with only the ordering of the last 25 or so on it remaining to be done, when D’Angelo threw a wrench into the process with his unexpected  release last week of an album that was slated to arrive in 2015. While his Black Messiah LP necessitated multiple listenings in the past week and then a reworking at the top of the list, it was worth it.messiah

Until then I had Sturgill Simpson’s outstanding Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — the best real country album in the past 10 years by anyone under 40 not named Jamey Johnson – atop my list. Had it just ahead of Run The Jewels 2, the second side-project album by Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Run The Jewels bandmate El-P, which surpasses their first album and can at least be mentioned in the same sentence as Killer Mike’s sublime 2012 album R.A.P. Music.

Then D’Angelo and the Vanguard entered the fray.

Black Messiah is an instant classic. It’s on a par with, and perhaps even better, than Voodoo, D’Angelo’s last studio album, which came out a full decade-and-a-half ago. (Hey, if you’re only going to crank out one album every 15 years, might as well make it a stunner, huh?)

Beautiful, brilliant, timely, socially conscious … and so very, very funky. Put this disc in the player, or the needle on the record, or however you young folks listen to tunes, and sit back. Let it wash over you. Start to finish. It’s best appreciated through that kind of listening experience. Preferably wearing headphones with the volume way up. This is the real deal, people.

One minute it reminds you of vintage Sly & The Family Stone. Then a song like “Charade” comes on and sounds like a lost track from Prince’s Sign O’ The Times. (To be honest, this sounds more like the Prince album that a lot of us hardcore Prince fans have been holding out hope to get from the Purple One for the past 20 years.) This is seriously transcendant R&B/soul, and it also rocks like early Funkadelic in spots. That’s lofty company.

Besides Prince, nobody has combined all of these particular influences and styles into one heady brew quite as adroitly as D’Angelo, who is backed on this album by a superb band that features Roots drummer Questlove on several tracks (he also gets co-songwriting credit on a few songs).

images Sturgill’s album would’ve probably been No. 1 on my list in at least three of the previous five years. If I did the list again tomorrow, it might be No. 1 this year. It was that close a race, in my opinion. But right now, I’ve got it a close second. Looking at the top 10, including Sun Kil Moon’s remarkably personal Benji at No. 4 and Lucinda Williams’ best album in a decade, I’d have to say this is  probably the deepest top 10 since I started doing this list.

As usual, I had no rules regarding genre of music. I like what I like, and chose only from albums/CDs that I have in my possession, all but one of which I bought (the exception: a friend sent me a copy of one album on the list). No “cheating” by sampling of albums off the internet and then putting them in my list. Had to have it, and had to have listened to it multiple times.

Again, I excluded live albums – Whitey Morgan’s recently released live LP is superb – as well as greatest hits, various-artist compilations (The Soul of Designer Records set: Grade A), outtakes compilations  (i.e., Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes Raw and Wilco’s Alpha Mike Foxtrot, both terrific — and multi-artist soundtracks.

Hope you find a few you like and perhaps weren’t familiar with, either by checking them out on Spotify or YouTube or wherever you go to peruse new tunes. And here’s my best advice this year: Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of soul/funk or traditional country, do yourself a favor and try the top albums on the list. I bet you might be surprised to find you dig ‘em.

  1. D’Angelo: Black Messiah
  2. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
  3. Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2

    Run The Jewels

    Run The Jewels

  4. Sun Kil Moon: Benji
  5. Spoon: They Want My Soul
  6. Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
  7. Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers
  8. Rosanne Cash: The River & The Thread
  9. Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness
  10. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
  11. St. Vincent: St. Vincent
  12. Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather
  13. Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems
  14. Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica
  15. Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty
  16. Simone Felice: Strangers
  17. Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Elseurl
  18. Swans: To Be Kind
  19. Matthew Ryan: Boxers
  20. Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast
  21. Tami Neilson: Dynamite
  22. Strand of Oaks: Heal
  23. Woods: With Light and With Love
  24. Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love
  25. Joe Henry: Invisible Hour
  26. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: Common Ground
  27. Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait
  28. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There
  29. Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans
  30. Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right
  31. Ought: More Than Any Other Day
  32. The Delines: Colfax
  33. Statik Selektah: What Goes Around
  34. Mark Lanegan Band: Phantom Radio

    Drive-By Truckers

    Drive-By Truckers

  35. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal
  36. Beck: Morning Phase
  37. Bob Mould: Beauty & Ruin
  38. Jenny Lewis: The Voyager
  39. Wild Beasts: Present Tense
  40. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Pinata
  41. Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker
  42. Jack White: Lazarreto
  43. Thurston Moore: The Best Day
  44. YG: My Krazy Life
  45. Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class
  46. The Antlers: Familiars
  47. Future: Honest
  48. Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else
  49. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed
  50. Ty Segall: Manipulator

 

  Honorable mention (alphabetical): Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams; Alvvays: Alvvays; Black Lips: Underneath the Rainbow; Centro-matic: Take Pride in Your Long Odds; Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky; Cymbals Eat Guitars: Lose; First Aid Kit: Stay Gold; F***ed Up: Glass Boys; Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans; Interpol: El Pintor; Miranda Lambert: Platinum; Nikki Lane: All or Nothin’; Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun; Robert Plant: Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar; Nothing: Guilty of Everything; Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron; ; Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth; Shovels & Rope: Swimmin’ Time; Tweedy: Sukierae; Don Williams: Reflections; White Lung: Deep Fantasy; Holly Williams: The Highway; YOB: Clearing the Path to Ascend


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