Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best in Music 2014

Rosanne Cash's album The River & the Thread is on John Corcelli's 'Best of' list for 2014 (Photo by Stephen Lovekin)

I’m always impressed by the love and passion other people have for music, usually matched by my own. Time to share! So, here are some of my most notable music moments in 2014.

1. Best video about music in 2014.
It’s called “The Final Frontier” featuring Tom Allen from CBC Radio2. Brilliant!

2. Best newsletter and website:
Not just another website about music, Direct Current, based in Illinois, fosters the belief that an informed lover of music is the best lover of music. Why? Because they love music too, especially contemporary pop and Americana. Their weekly newsletter is a must for any music fan to find out about current and future releases and to hear from the artists themselves. Ironically, it almost died when the founder Dave Curtis closed it down on July 25th but came back a month later.

3. NPR and the Tiny Desk Concerts. 
Nothing pleases me more than watching these charming and buoyant little concerts from the NPR studios. My personal favourite from 2014 was by The Pixies in an acoustic setting, but there are more on the YouTube web page. The NPR Tiny Desk Concerts offer music lovers a simple, unadorned pleasure every time.

4. Best Pop Song in the 2014 Zeitgeist. 
The beauty of pop music is that every few years we all get a song that offers a simple, catchy and positive message. The Beatles gave us a great anthem in 1967, “All You Need is Love”, and to me “Happy” by Pharell Williams is the 2014 equivalent. It seems over a half-a-billion viewers agree.

5. Best Bach Tribute. 
Just when you thought classical music had no currency, the Netherlands Bach Society has embarked on recording and releasing the complete, catalogued works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Each week new adds are made until the whole body of Bach's work is available from one source. By the end of the year, the group had recorded 39 of 1080 works. Remarkable! Go to

6. Best New Group. 
Putting my faith back into spirited rock ‘n' roll is a new band called, The Strypes from Cavan, Ireland. They released their debut record Snapshot last spring and made their American debut on The Late Show with David Letterman in March.

7. Favourite music review in print. 
In my reviews, I strive to accomplish two goals: brevity and clarity of thought. In his extraordinary review of Steve Lehman's album Mise En Abime, John Corbett of Downbeat magazine takes it to the next level.
It's a marvelous review that speaks volumes about the music, the writer and the fine art of music criticism that draws you into the recording in question. After hearing the record, I wholeheartedly agree with Corbett's assessment.

8. Favourite Orbison anniversary.
The 50th anniversary release of Roy Orbison's “Oh Pretty Woman” (Monument) that went to Billboard’s Number One position on Sept 26, 1964 and stayed there for 3 weeks. It was succeeded by Manfred Mann’s catchy little song, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” Mercy!

9. September 9th, 2014.
A day that will live in music history, as U2 in partnership (or should I say collusion) with Apple Inc., releases a long-delayed new album, Songs of Innocence (Universal). The band again proves that a loud, bombastic launch to a new record takes the sting out a potentially bad review and, to some, devalues music overall because they gave it away to millions of Apple customers without asking them. In one of the more articulate critiques of U2’s unimpressive choice, Mark Erelli, an American singer and songwriter, offered his heartfelt opinion on the band’s decision to give their music away.

Remember the brand U2 is as much a corporation as it is a rock band. Bono said so himself, in an EPK before the release of No Line on the Horizon in 2009. Unfortunately the new release completely over-shadowed one of the finest records of the year: Map to the Treasure, Re-imagining Laura Nyro (Sony). Led by pianist/arranger Billy Childs, this set of 10 majestically orchestrated and performed tracks was a year in the making, but well worth the wait. It barely registered in the noise of U2’s release, but it was nominated for a Grammy award in three different categories. U2 was nominated in one. Apology accepted.

10. Best Doors cover ever. 
Thanks to Jimmy Fallon for not being afraid of humour in music.

11. Mystery Walk (30th Anniversary Edition): Martha & the Muffins or M+M.
Using, what some would consider patented Lanois soundscapes and highly sophisticated dance mixes, Mystery Walk by the Toronto-based band celebrates 30 years with great relish. This album features four extra tracks, but the strength of the album is in its creativity without sounding like so much of the forgettable decade when guitars sounded like synths and synths sounded annoying. It’s a welcome return. Highlights include "Nation of Followers" and "Black Stations, White Stations" featuring The Brecker Brothers.

12. Rosanne Cash, The River & The Thread (Blue Note)
A colleague asked me the other day, which CD stood out this past year and Cash’s superb album came immediately to mind. The reason is simple: craftsmanship. It was recognized by the Americana Awards as the number one album of the year, which saw some excellent releases by Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt and Sturgill Simpson. But Cash’s record is an important musical mark in her storied career.

13. Frank Zappa
Back in March, due to the generosity of my friend and editor, Kevin Courrier, I was approached to write a pitch for a book about Frank Zappa. I had two weeks to come up with a proposal for Backbeat Books, a Hal Leonard imprint, for a series they call FAQ: All That’s Left to Know. To date the series has a fine selection of books about the biggest groups and artists in rock music, such as The Doors, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. After a few modifications, my pitch was accepted and I’ve started to write my first book. So since April, I’ve been focused on Zappa’s life and work that will take me into 2015 with a deadline of June 1st. Consequently, I’ll be taking leave from Critics at Large to finish it, with pictures, for possible publication in late 2015 or Winter 2016.

Happy New Year!

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra. He's currently writing a book about Frank Zappa for Backbeat Books.

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