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My Top Ten CDs of 2014

Updated on February 11, 2015

Coming Home by Brian Keane

Brian Keane is a songwriter and performer who should be a lot better known. Two obvious things working against him are: first, he doesn't tour widely enough. Second, and perhaps more importantly, he shares a name, exact same spelling, with a much more prolific new age instrumentalist.

His awesome CD, 90 Miles an Hour was a 2011 Best CD selection. Coming Home is every bit its equal and even produced Keane's first ever #1 Texas Chart hit with "Bar Lights." He describes himself as a hardworking storyteller and recovering auto-mechanic. There are some great stories on this CD.
Starting with "You Can't Go Home:"

You can't go home again
It aint the same as then
It's gone forever, once you let it go
Nothing looks the same
No one knows your name
Well, you try forever, but you're never
going home

The CD ends with a great cover of a Wayne Sutton tune, "Nothin' Short of Disaster," but the song before that sums up the feel of the project:

"Easy to Say Goodbye"

I never asked much of you, baby
I never got much in return
Looking back on when you left me
I don't know why the hell it burned
You said that it was over
but you could not tell me why

It should have been easy to say goodbye.

Too Blessed to Be Stressed by Paul Thorn

Many know the backstpry of Paul Thorn's boxing career, his fight with Roberto Duran, and his eventual following of his dream to make music. In the learning something new department, I just found out Paul Thorn was born in my home state Wisconsin in Kenosha to be exact before growing up in Mississippi in Elvis's birthplace, Tupelo.

Thorn made by top ten in both 2008 with Long Way from Tupelo and 2010 with Pimps and Preachers. Too Blessed to Be Stressed is another tour de force like many of Thorn's records. It may be his most complete work to date.

"This time, I've written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I've done it with a purpose: to make people feel good."

"Everybody Needs Somebody:"

Some folks never stop until they make it to the top
they don't mind burning bridges all along the way
but on the way back down there be no one around
remember karma and consequence don't play

It's not all folly jolly. There's honest struggle:

"Old Stray Dog and Jesus:"

I've never felt so lonely; I've never been so blue
My world keeps getting smaller, it's down to a chosen few
I have not lost everything, but I sure have lost a lot
This old stray dog and Jesus are all the friends I got.

And finally contentment:

"No Place I'd Rather Be:"

Oh, there's no place I'd rather be
This little house is home to me
a gravel drive and an old shade tree
There's no place I'd rather be

Salvation Town by Jonny Two Bags

Jonny Two Bags is more often Jon Wicksham, guitarist for the band, Social Distortion, but not their lead singer-songwriter so this CD has a totally different sound.

"There’s always been a real American roots thread throughout everything I’ve done, with Cadillac Tramps an Social Distortion especially even to some degree in the Bombs. I’ve always written a lot of ballads and things like that. I grew up around a lot of American music. My father played in bar bands. That’s how he raised me, playing music music in bars.

With the likes of Jackson Browne, David Lindley, David Hidalgo, and multi-talented Greg Leisz stopping by, Jonny has followed through on his new vision.

Great hooks:

"One Foot in the Gutter"

I got one foot in the gutter
and one foot kicking in the door to heaven

Great emotion:

"Forlorn Walls"

Doors slamming one by one down empty halls
of opportunity I can't afford
But I'll keep fighting for the cause
without breaking laws
I'll just beat my head against the wall
and forever be ignored

Great Resonance:

"The Way It Goes"

Met a girl just the other day
So sad to say she's gone away
But the fear in her eyes was so real
Ah baby I know just how you feel
Baby baby, I don't understand
I thought I was your one and only man
That's just the way it goes...

Learning Faith by Jess Klein

Top to bottom, this may be the most complete CD on the list. There isn't a weak or even lesser entry on the entire CD.

About "Learning Faith" Klein writes on her website: "So much in life is uncertain and yet I feel the most alive when I make a conscious choice to move toward what scares me. Often, my gut instinct is to take a risk. I’ve come to see any choice to act on that instinct – artistically or otherwise – as an act of faith. This song was the first I wrote for the album and also laid out the concept for the whole album."

"Learning Faith:"

Voices say i’m crazy, i know that it’s true
but on the day i close my eyes and bid this world adieu
I will not pray for heaven or fear the fire below
I will simply be asleep with nowhere left to go

Pennsylvania Coal by Irene Kelley

Kelley's another artist who should be a bigger star. She has a voice made for radio hits, and writes songs with catchy hooks and which resonate long after hearing.

I was a little disappointed in her second CD, but she seems to have taken her time on this one, co-writing with a few great talents like Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz, David Olney as well as with her daughters.

From the Pennsylvania coal country:

"Pennsylvania Coal"

And everyday hear that whistle blow
To make a better life for someone down the road
And pray one day the ones you love will know
You don’t sell your soul for another load 
of Pennsylvania coal

To distant loves:

"You Don't Run Across My Mind"

You don’t run across my mind, you’re in there all the time
You don’t travel through my heart, you are not a moving part
You’re here and here you’ll stay, and though you’re far away
Years and years and still I find, you don’t run across my mind

And some regrets:

"Things We Never Did"

Memories and photographs
Trips to the south of France/Sometimes they make me laugh
A world full of wonder and a house full of kids
Forever me and you, nearly a dream come true
You don’t know how I miss the things we never did

Put Your Needle Down by The Secret Sisters

The sisters are the duo of Laura and Lydia Rogers. Lydia had an early audition and Laura showed up to sing with her. I guess it was a secret.

"Put Your Needle Down is symbolic of many different things,” affirms Lydia. “There’s a rebirth of the vinyl trend going on, but it really represents the fact that we’re not little girls anymore. We want to put the needle down. Our mom isn’t still sewing our clothes. We’re doing our own thing.”

They readily admit they enjoy singing songs from older styles, but this CD proves they can take those styles to new and wonderful places. They also wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. Much of that independence and wisdom beyond their years comes through in many of the songs including:

"Let There Be Lonely:"

Let there be daggers that tear through my skin
Down to my heart where the whole thing begins
Make me a new one and I'll love again
Until then, until then
Let there be lonely

"If I Don't:"

If you wanna know the truth, I don’t wanna be apart
But I don’t like the way you’ve been careless with my heart
You gotta straighten up, but baby you won’t
Who’s gonna love you if I don’t?

Stay Gold by First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit is the Sisters Söderberg, Johanna and Klara, from Stockholm. Once again, more foreign artistry lifting our music beyond what we are doing in this country, harmonies, ranges, songs.

They have received support from and sung backup for Conor Oberst, Jack White and the group, Bright Eyes.

Still in the their early twenties, they already have a gold record with Stay Gold.

"My Silver Lining:"

I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I've made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won't take the easy road

"Heaven Knows:"
You've spent a year staring into a mirror
Another one trying to figure out what you saw
Paid so much attention to what you're not
You have no idea who you are

"Stay Gold:"
What if our hard work ends in despair?
What if the road won't take me there?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold

Parker Millsap by Parker Millsap

Millsaps' Palisades was one of my Best CD selections in 2012. This one, entitled merely Parker Millsap may be even better. It seems more mature and certainly includes more production and accompaniment. The songs are as solid and more varied. There is also an edge to them and a bit more pointed commentary. These are softened by a playful cleverness which hints at some very fine work to come.

"The Villain:"

I don't wanna be the guy 
that straps you to a railroad tie 
and listens for the rumble and the roar 
I don't wanna be 
the villain in your dreams anymore

The voice that comes out of the this unassuming kid sounds more sage and well-used than is possible.

"Forgive Me:"

I've got shadows in hiding 
Way down inside me 
Sometimes they work to the surface 
In just the right lighting 
You can see them beside me 
Well I swear, I don't let 'em out on purpose

Standing in the Breach by Jackson Browne

It's been a while since Browne has put out as complete a CD as this one. I grew up with this guy's voice in my head. Like with his great albums in the past, there is a perfect mix of personal honesty and measured outrage. Also, of all the recent versions of "found" Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music by contemporary artists, Browne's "You Know the Night" is the most surprising and unexpected.

"The Long Way Around:"

When I was a kid everything I did was trying to be free
Running up and down Tinsel Town with the fire inside of me
My planets all in retrograde, the best of all my plans got laid
I made my breaks, and some mistakes
Just not the ones people think I made

"Standing in the Breach:"

So many live in poverty while others live as kings
Though some may find peace
In the acceptance of all that living brings
I will never understand however they've prepared
How one life may be struck down and another life be spared

The Clock by Paul Creane and the Changing Band

For a long time, I have been commenting on how Canadians, Australians, and Scandinavians are doing Americana so much better than homeland performers. With Paul Creane, now I can apparently add the Irish.

Paul and his band, mostly brothers from the legendary musical Byrne family of Ireland, recorded most of the songs live in a big room they converted into a homemade studio.

Creane's voice has all the best parts of a Ray LaMontagne -- Jason Isbell mix.

"I was reading a lot of Charles Bukowski," Creane explains about the CD's title. "And thinking a lot about the passage of time. He has a line which goes: 'There is loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movement of the hands of a clock.'”

"She Was an Adventure:"

Never trust your body
when your mind's been buckled by a drug
It's out to get you
Do not trust your heart when there lies
Empty wine bottles on the rug 

Tied for 11th:

Ride Out by Bob Seger; River and the Thread by Rosanne Cash; Nocturne Diaries by Eliza Gilkyson


(a 2011 release which gained a wider release in 2014)

Killin' Uncle Buzzy

by Travis Meadows


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