My songs of 2014
1. Songs of Conscience and Social Commentary
This is the first of six weekly instalments of songs chosen from among my favourite albums of 2014. Each week I’ll focus on a different area of music. This week’s list is inspired by one of the strengths of the UK folk / acoustic tradition : that again and again it produces songwriters who feel compelled to wear their heart on the sleeve and engage with the world in which they life, a world darkened by war, violence and poverty.
Amy Goddard – Taking the Edge Off the Day (Burn & Glow)
A song about alcohol dependency.
Coope, Boyes & Simpson – Hill 60 (In Flanders Fields)
World War 1 song written by Jim Boyes about a small mound in Flanders which was bitterly fought over for many weeks in 1915.
Gaz Brookfield – The Ballad Of Elizabeth Duke (Acoustic EP)
Can someone explain who is Elizabeth Duke ?
Ian Prowse – The Murder of Charles Wootton (Who Loves Ya Baby)
Jez Lowe – Names (The Ballad Beyond)
“Confronted by the rows of anonymous white headstones at Tyne Cott cemetery near Ypres, this simple and somewhat indignant song was a spontaneous reaction in the drizzle of an Autumn day.”
The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Fail to Comply (The Defiant)
Still militant after 30 years.
Naomi Bedford – Overseas (A History of Insolence)
Written by The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s Paul Simmonds,
Reg Meuross – What Would William Morris Say (England Green & England Grey)
I reckon William Morris would have some very interesting things to say about the modern world.
Ribbon Road – Last Paying Day (No Redemption Songs)
“The miners gathered together after the long strike to take a vote on staying out or going back to work. There was no real choice and for many it would be the end of their working life – their Last Paying Day.”
Robb Johnson – Bob Crow (Us & Them)
“I sort of thought Bob wouldn’t think of himself as a hero, and I knew from Tolpuddle of his fondness for having the RMT brass band play loudly whenever they felt like it regardless of whatever else was going on, so I decided to start the song off the way I did. Some of the details I checked by reading my friend Guy Smallman’s obituary of Bob too. And every time I have heard Bob speak, I have felt inspired and energised, and that last time, just before he died, he was … magnificent. Thanks Bob, maximum respect.”
Sally Ironmonger – Food Banks & Ferraris (The Company I Keep)
“The promises of 45 are just broken dreams and lies – food banks and Ferraris on the rise.”
Ten Gallon Bratz – Who’s Left to Save the Working Man (Tales from the Long Shadows)
“Convinced that stardom is just around the corner however the corner is somewhat bigger than we anticipated !”
The Young’uns – John Ball (Never Forget)
Sydney Carter wrote John Ball in 1981 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Peasant’s Revolt. John Ball himself was a priest who found in Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English new hope for an egalitarian England.
2. Global dance rhythms
It’s a global dance party, and you’re all invited.
Amsterdam Klezmer Band – Op Je Hoede (Blitzmash)
Cumbia All Stars – Quiero que Amanezca (Tigres En Fuga)
Dona Onete – Carimbo Chamegado (Feitiço Cabloco)
Habadekuk – Svenske Niels Polka (Kaffepunch)
Kareyce Fotso – Kak Pou Tseu (Mokte)
King Ayisoba – Weene Ma’le Wane (Wicked Leaders)
Los De Abajo – Mexican Underdogs (Mariachi Beat)
Meridian Brothers – Somos los Residentes (Salvadora Robot)
Ras Muhamad feat. Kabaka Pyramid – Re-Education (Salam)
Sia Tolno – African Police (African Woman)
Szkojáni Charlatans – Sheiner Shtetl Szkoján (Elixir)
Teta – Daty Raty (Blue Tsapiky)
Triakel – Lillade Anna (Thyra)
3. Underground sounds from Merseyside
Give these bands some love !
Blind Monk Trio – The Moth (Coulrophobia)
Jazz trio with sax, bass & drums.
Bolshy – Counting Fucks (Radical. Anarchic. Bolshy. Scouse.)
Ska punk septet, formed 2012.
The Bordellos – The gospel according to Julian Cope (Will.I.Am, you’re really nothing)
Three piece outfit from St Helens.
Broken3Ways – Work On It (Return to the Shack)
Seven piece ska punk funk band from the Wirral.
Iain Till – Haunted By You (The Rise and the Fall EP)
Former bass player with The City Walls, went solo in 2013. Acoustic folk / country.
Låpsley – Painter (valentine) (Station single)
Teenager from Formby whose style has more than a few echoes of James Blake. Recently signed to XL Recordings.
Lizzie Nunnery & Vidar Norheim – Drunk in a Midnight Choir (Songs of Drink and Revolution)
The song title’s nicked from Leonard Cohen (Bird On The Wire). Very thoughtful and interesting if rather sombre song.
Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies – Dead’s Not Punk (I Heart Here)
My June 2014 band of the month, and the cd’s still getting plenty of listens …
The Vibes – I’m gonna shake you (Dust Trail EP)
Garage rock band, formed in April 2013.
We Are Catchers – Isabella (We Are Catchers)
Debut album release on Domino Records with a melodic 60s vibe.
Zombina and the Skeletones – Tonight, There Will Be No Survivors (Charnel House Rock)
“Five deformed rock n’ roll monsters from Liverpool. Zombina and the Skeletones mix garage punk and girl-group pop with spooked out B-movie sonics.”
The 69 Watts – Get On (Put Out Some Light EP)
Three piece rock and roll band formed in 2012 – this is their debut EP.
4. Back to the roots (traditional music from the British Isles)
What was the music that we now call traditional ? It was music of the music of the working classes. Music played in alehouses, or on the street. Music for people to sing along to, and to dance to. So, enough polite tasteful renditions : let’s remember what these tunes are all about.
Anna Shannon – Polly Cooper (A Celebration of Old England)
The first song on the list isn’t strictly traditional at all, it’s from an album of self-penned songs, but it feels wrong to put these songs in any other category. My October 2014 artist of the month.
The Dollymopps – Newtown Randy (Wight Cockade)
Vocal harmony trio specialising in songs from the Isle of Wight.
Elaine Cormican – Máire Mhór (Cluain Amhrán / Meadow of Song)
Elaine is a singer and tin whistle player from east Galway who’s performed with the bands North Cregg and Líadan. This is her debut solo album.
Fiona Hunter – The Bleacher Lass o’ Kelvinhaugh (Fiona Hunter)
Debut solo album by the Glaswegian singer previously best known as the frontwoman in the band Malinky.
Debut solo album from Malinky frontwoman from Glasgow
The Friel Sisters – When My Love and I Parted (The Friel Sisters)
Anna, Sheila and Clare Friel are three sisters from Glasgow with family roots in Donegal. On the album they play fiddle, flute and uilleann pipes, though this song is all about the vocal harmonies.
Kilnaboy – Byker Hill (Prison Bars and Battle Scars)
Revving it up for you are a Cardiff based folk rock band named after a village in the west of Ireland. “Most of our ideas and influences stem from a protesting background and the constant frustration of trying to exist in an industry where music is lost in a void of cloned popstars.”
Louise Mulcahy – Reels: The Templehouse / The Tailored Jacket (Tuning the Road)
Louise is an expert player of the flute, uilleann pipes and tin whistle, and each of these is featured on her debut solo album. Louise grew up in a very musical family in Abbeyfeale, West Limerick : she says that her sister and father in particular are a constant source of inspiration. Her sister Michelle plays harp and piano on the album.
Lynne Heraud & Pat Turner – I Must and I Will Get Married (Far Distant Stars)
Two veterans of the folk circuit, this is Lynne and Pat’s 4th album as a duo on the Wildgoose label. Between them they play a wide variety of instruments, but their vocal harmonies are also something to enjoy.
The Mad Ferret Band – All For Me Grog (A Rare Swally)
More folk rock : this duo from Perth and Kinross expanded their sound on their debut album by adding a fiddler and a drummer.
The Mischa Macpherson Trio – Leanabh an Oir (free download)
Mischa is a twenty year old harpist from the Isle of Lewis : she plays the Scottish Harp also known as a clarsach. Making up the trio is Conal McDonagh on Scottish border-pipes and whistles and guitarist Innes White.
Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha – John Dwyer’s / Silver Spear (Draíocht Na Feadóige)
From Connemara, best known as a presenter on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta for whom she presents three two hour programmes a week, she’s also found time to release a debut solo album on which she shows that she’s no mean player of the flute and tin whistle.
Shannon Vale Ceili Band – Molly Bawn / The New Mown Meadow (Reels) (Shannon’s Lovely Vale)
“The original band was formed in Ballyduff in 1960 by Dr. Mick Sweeney. Following the revival of the Shannon Vale by leader Danny O’Mahony in 2009, they have since achieved huge success including winning the coveted title of All-Ireland Senior Céilí Band Champions at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Cavan in 2011.”
Tom & Barbara Brown – Spanish Ladies (Just Another Day)
“Cecil Sharp collected a number of songs from two retired sea captains in the town during a series of visits between August 1904 and May 1909. Cpt. Lewis (1835-1915) gave him 26 songs, Cpt. Vickery (1842-1916) gave him 13, and we came across them while researching for the Short Sharp Shanties project. The selection on this CD includes just some of our favourites : seven from Robert Lewis and five from James Vickery … The other three songs come from the Minehead Harbour Maritime Heritage Project. We were commissioned to find (trad.), adapt (localise) or create (there aren’t many songs from 400 A.D. which relate to Minehead maritime history!) a series of relevant songs – one each for the seven periods. Three of the seven songs we’ve borrowed back for this CD.”
5. American Gold
Folk, country, bluegrass, blues : it’s all here.
Alice Gerrard – Teardrops Falling In The Snow (Follow the Music)
Pure gold from an icon of American roots music. 2014 was the year of the octogenarian, with Willie Nelson and Leonard Cohen also coming out with strong releases.
Ben Harper & Ellen Harper – How could we not believe (Childhood Home)
“My mom and I making a record together is something we have talked about doing for a very long time,” Harper tells Rolling Stone. “I guess you could say a lifetime.”
Brian Payne – Coffin Song (Brian Payne EP)
After the release of his first self-titled EP in February, Brian was awarded a top 10 finalist position in both the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and 2014 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival songwriting competitions.
Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – Natural Thing to Do (I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands)
Seattle duo who’ve given old-time American roots music a new lease of life.
Dave & Phil Alvin – Just A Dream (Common Ground)
The two brothers may have had their fallings out, but a shared love of bluesman Bill Broonzy brought them back together to record 12 of his songs. “We argue sometimes, but we never argue about Big Bill Broonzy,” Dave Alvin explains.
Dawn Landes – Try to Make a Fire Burn Again (Bluebird)
After her divorce from Josh Ritter, “I suffered and I cried and after the crying stopped the songs started to come. This album is the rainbow after the storm. When a relationship ends, both people walk away hurt. It just so happens that both of us wrote albums in the aftermath. I am stronger now and I can only hope that these songs might bring strength to anyone going through the kind of heartache that I did.”
Eric Bibb – I Heard the Angels Singin’ (Blues People)
Cover version of a gospel number by blues legend Reverend Gary Davis by Finnish resident Eric Bibb with guest vocals by the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The Howlin’ Brothers – World Spinning Round (Trouble)
Ian Craft : “I just love being able to play a quieter show and still have 100 people dancing and rocking just as hard as if we were playing with twin amps and two drum sets … I love that about Southern music, it’s subtle. It doesn’t have to be like loud thrasher rock ‘n’ roll. That stuff’s cool too, but I think we’ve just kind of developed an appreciation for the subtleties as we’ve grown up. Folks like Doc Watson and John Hartford just changed our world as far as we see music. There’s just so much beauty in simple acoustic music.”
Jamestown Revival – Headhunters (Utah)
“We recorded the whole album in a log cabin in Utah and we took it a step further and got a tape machine – an old tape machine with 16 tracks – and used all ribbon mics and recorded live in the living room. That’s how we recorded the album – all live tape. There were no headphones, no overdubs, it just was what it was.”
John Hammond – Jockey Full of Bourbon (Timeless)
“When I was 7 years old my father took me to see Big Bill Broonzy.” It was the start of a lifelong love affair with the blues. Hammond’s latest release marks his 50th year as a recording artist. This is a Tom Waits cover.
Mary Gauthier – How You Learn to Live Alone (Trouble & Love)
Probably my favourite song of the year. “I wrote this with my friend Gretchen Peters … all in all, it’s been a magical little song. We wrote it in a very short period of time, I’d say less than 2 hours. It came fast, and I am not sure how we did it … I remember Gretchen sitting at her little red piano working on a melody. I remember her saying maybe we should do a list, ‘First you fall, then you’ and so on, and the rest is a blur. Lines came to me, lines came to her, and we rode the flow.”
Old Crow Medicine Show – Tennessee Bound (Remedy)
One-time buskers; now festival headliners, chart toppers, and members of the Grand Ole Opry. And they’ve achieved all this without compromising their music or who they are.
Otis Gibbs – It Was a Train (Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth)
He has a big beard. He tells great stories. And he gives a damn. Thanks for coming to Liverpool, Otis !
Sunny Sweeney – Everybody Else Can Just Kiss My Ass (Provoked)
“It was hard being a girl in the male-driven Texas scene, but when I found a little crack to slip into, I wanted to make sure I didn’t let any of the fans I was gaining or myself down. I wasn’t singing the kind of bullshit songs that I think a lot of people sometimes expect from a girl. I was singing about real things: marriage, divorce, dying, and most importantly, living. My biggest compliment is when someone says, ‘Man, I hate chick singers, but I love me some Sunny Sweeney.’”
Willie Watson – Stewball (Folk Singer, Vol 1)
He’s a singer, guitarist and banjo player and longtime member of Old Crow Medicine Show. The album’s an exploration of old time roots music. This is a song about a British racehorse which has become part of the American folk canon.
6. Rock and roll music
Basically stuff that I like, but there’s a kind of theme going on here. This is the wild side of rock and roll : music that’s in your face, that takes you out of your comfort zone, music that’s raw and rough and not afraid to offend, but music that’s also sharp enough and clever enough to make you believe in rock and roll all over again.
Acid Baby Jesus – Vegetable (Selected Recordings)
“Representing the primitivism of Athens, Greece”
Birmingham Six – Move On (Move On)
“Taking its name from the six men wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Birmingham Pub bombings, the Philadelphia band mixes traditional, rebel, contemporary and original Irish music to form its sound.”
The Blow Ups – I lose Control (Turn On,Tune In, Blow Up)
“Berlin’s own The Blow Ups have been around for a few years now. Playing a solid mix of Garage, Punk, R’n’R with hints of Powerpop and most of all a sincere FUN attitude.”
Chain & the Gang – Never Been Properly Loved (MINIMUM ROCK N ROLL)
From Washington DC – “You’ve had the maximum. It was not sufficient. Now try the minimum. Minimum Rock N Roll.”
Daddy Long Legs – Castin My Spell (Blood from a Stone)
“Daddy Long Legs-named for its harp-blowing, blues-bellowing frontman, is a blues hollerer who blurs any definition by age or color. He growls, barks, yelps, and wails without sounding like an imitation of anyone or anything.”
Jeff Packer – Dances Of The Swamp Witches (Lift Up a Standard)
From Dallas Texas, “a one man band … playing drums with his feet, guitar/bass hybrid, singing, and using no loop pedals or samplers. ”
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Hot Wax (Oddments)
Psychedelic rock from Melbourne, Australia
Mischief Brew – We Are The Ground (O Pennsyltucky!)
“A song about the tragic death of Ann Coulter” from the Philadelphia folk punkers.
The Mystery Lights – Too Many Girls (At home w/ The Mystery Lights)
“Secular garage rock for the boys & girls”, from New York.
Needle Exchange – She’s a Trip (Is this my program ?)
Punk band from Berlin, Germany.
Rail Yard Ghosts – Steel and Smoke (Blackgrass)
“This is a collective of ever changing members. We all fucking sing.”
Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz (Divide and Exit)
They’re from Nottingham, and they like a good rant.
Teenanger – Think About It (EPLP)
“Toronto punk rockers Teenanger sound like their name: bratty, pissed off and full of hormones. ”