Best of 2014: Jay Hertel (CAJ)

As 2015 kicks off, various WTJU Folk staff look back on some of their favorite 2014 releases (or in a few cases albums which arrived at WTJU in 2014).  To see the other lists, including the final WTJU Best of 2014 compilation, click here.

Host: Jay Hertel, Co-Host of Cosmic American Jamboree (Wednesday, 4-6 pm)

1. Old 97s – Most Messed Up (ATO)
This band of roots rock lifers confront their midlife crises head on with a raucous collection of expletive-laden songs about behaving badly. Their best in over a decade, and that’s saying a lot. Key Tracks: Longer Than You’ve Been Alive, Give It Time, Intervention, Most Messed Up

2. Spider Bags – Frozen Letter (Merge)
Alternating between Byrdsy jangling and angular feedback-driven guitar (jangular?), but always punchy rock with sly slacker baritone vocals. This Chapel Hill trio operates while looking backwards and forward simultaneously. Key Tracks: Back With You Again In The World, Japanese Vacation, Summer of ’79, Coffin Car

3. Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers – The Age of Exploration (Self)
Trad jazz saxophonist & vocalist Aurora Nealand channels her alter ego, Rory Danger, and leads her band of New Orleans misfit allstars through a stunningly weird yet brilliant concept album. Rockabilly, indie pop, circus marches, unanticipated covers (who covers Johnny Corndawg?), and readings from doomed explorer Ernest Shackleton’s diary – trust me, it works. Key Tracks: Danger Danger, One One One, Tongue Tied, Call Of The Wild

4. Denney & the Jets – Mexican Coke (Burger)
If Doug Sahm and The Faces had a baby it would have birthed this retro rock outfit with a soulful drawl. Lots of songs about drinking, drugs, & relationship problems, sung as if these things might somehow be interrelated. Key Tracks: Water to Wine, Bye Bye Queenie, Hooked, Pain Pills

5. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (Sacred Bones)
Leaving their punk origins behind, this Brooklyn band produced a jangly, steel guitar and horn-infused heartland rock treatise. Solid gold.  Key Tracks: Pearly Gates, Dark Waltz, Another Night, Settle Me Down

6. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Dereconstructed (Sub Pop)
Crunchy and squealing  guitars over shouted vocals, this is undeniably the southern rock album of the year. Keen narrations on the modern South that could easily be a sequel to the Drive-By Truckers’ 2004 masterpiece The Dirty South. Key Tracks: What’s Good and Gone, Dereconstructed, The Company Man, The Weeds Downtwon

7. Hurray for the Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes (ATO)
Socially conscious folk music for the 21st century. Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra leads her mostly acoustic band through timeless sounding songs of worry, woe, and joy. Key Tracks: The Body Electric, I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright), St. Roch Blues, Crash On The Highway

8. Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans (ATO)
Alternating shots from Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley compliment each other exceedingly well, with Cooley’s nuanced character studies standing out on this one. More stripped down than recent releases with Hood’s rockers being more expansive than crunchy. Key Tracks: Natural Light, Hearing Jimmy Loud, Grand Canyon, Primer Coat

9. The Allah-Las – Worship The Sun (Innovative Leisure)
Drenched in southern California sunshine and reverb, this album never shifts out of second gear. It’s surfy, psychedelic, and pure comfort. Key Tracks: Better Than Mine, De Vida Voz, Artifact, Yemeni Jade

10. Corb Lund – Counterfeit Blues (New West)
There’s not much alt in this country. Canadian Lund and his band, the Hurtin’ Albertans, deliver an inspired set of country rave-ups, weepers, and rockabilly. Key Tracks: Hair In My Eyes Like A Highland Steer, Counterfeiter’s Blues, Big Butch Bass Fiddle

11. Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer (Yep Roc)
Another outstanding release from this criminally under appreciated talent. Poppy and soulful roots rock to shout along with, mixed with occasional introspective brooding. Key Tracks: Felony Glamour, Countrified Inner City Technological Man, Ford Econoline

12. Bonsoir Catin – Light the Stars (Valcour)
Female quartet from southwest Louisiana delivers a fantastic collection of mostly Francophone zydeco gems. Honoring the past and pushing the future. Key Tracks: Jours Si Longs, Baby Please Don’t Go, Tu Parles De Trop

13. Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker (ATO)
Raucous debut mixing rock and blues (but it’s definitely not blues rock) provide frequent changes in mood and tempo to keep the listener maximally engaged. Punk undertones delight. Key Tracks: Wicked Waters, Violent Shiver, Spoon Out My Eyeballs

14. Jenny Lewis – Voyager (Warner Bros)
Indie pop with pristine vocals meets roots rock, but inside the sunny pop lies dark themes and insecurities about lost love and realizing one’s youth is gone. Key Tracks: You Can’t Outrun ‘Em, Aloha & Three Johns, Just One of the Guys

15. Ben Miller Band – Any Way, Shape, or Form (New West)
Bluesy and boisterous, occasionally with a banjo. Good stuff. Key Tracks: Hurry Up and Wait, The Outsider, You Don’t Know


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