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art theplaceI’ve always felt the greatest gift is the gift of music.

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of receiving presents (I’d rather spend quality time with a loved one, save your money), the gifts that meant the most to me where melodic. It was a dear friend giving me a mix CD of the “Best Road Trip Songs,” my uncle handing me a copy of The Who’s “Who’s Next” or my mother buying me a ticket for my 18th birthday to see The Rolling Stones on their “Forty Licks” tour.

With that said, 2014 was another year of incredible music, where I explore further down the rabbit hole of not only sound but my heart and soul, too. The beauty of music resides in the mere fact that one song, one voice, one lyric or note can change your life immediately. It’s hearing something that stops you in your tracks, makes your heart jump into your throat, where chills run up your spine, goose bumps down your arm, where every cell in your body vibrates happily. 

Below are my picks for the “Best Albums of 2014.” I hope all of you out there in Western North Carolina and beyond give each of these artists a whirl, and perhaps, someone you care about will find one of these records in their Christmas stocking or under the tree. 

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

First Aid Kit — “Stay Gold”

Quite possibly the album of the year. Who would have thought that some of the finest modern-day Americana songs would come from a Swedish sister duo? A hearty blend of Nashville twang, San Francisco psychedelic rock and Greenwich Village folk, this record stands alone. Meandering between heartbreak, melancholic sadness and spiritual awakening in the 21st century, the melodies find their way into the deepest corners of your mind, pulling up faces and places not seen in years, for good or ill.

Key Tracks: “Cedar Lane,” “The Bell,” “My Silver Lining”

 

Drive-By Truckers — “English Oceans”

Seemingly a Mike Cooley love letter to the world, the Truckers have given the reins to their six-string ace cohort on what is amounting to the finest record the Southern rock outfit has unleashed onto a flawed yet beautiful world. Always the lyrical champions of those without a voice or forgotten by society, the band seems to take a more humble, slow burn road in these selections.

Key Tracks: “Shit Shots Count,” “When He’s Gone,” “Grand Canyon”

 

Beck — “Morning Phase”

A shooting star across the music industry, this album is a cosmic highway of sound, of intent, and of universal proportions from the iconic alt-rock singer/songwriter. The melodies constantly straddle the line between being awake and asleep, which tends to conjure the question of what conscious or subconscious state we’re actually in when we carry on into our day. The composition is a masterpiece, where Beck brings down the glorious message from above for all to hear.

Key Tracks: “Morning,” “Say Goodbye,” “Blue Moon”

 

Sturgill Simpson — “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music”

For all the naysayers mumbling that “real country music” is dead, Sturgill Simpson shoots down that statement with a staggering breakthrough album. The record is soaked in razor sharp Nashville honky-tonk and AM radio rock-n-roll. Simpson himself is a reincarnation of Waylon Jennings, with six-string sidekick Laur Joaments’ slide playing a testament to the survival of truly good music on a mainstream level.

Key Tracks: “Turtles All The Way Down,” “Living The Dream,” “It Ain’t All Flowers”

 

Pink Floyd — “The Endless River”

Twenty years since their last studio release, the prog-rock icons gathered together what was left from their 1994 “The Division Bell” album and breathed new life into it with overdubs and vocal arrangements. It’s a swan song from one of the greatest groups ever conceived. As a tribute to late keyboardist Richard Wright, the record showcases just how vital his touch was to the lore and beauty of Pink Floyd.

Key Tracks: “Louder Then Words,” “It’s What We Do,” “Nervana” 

 

The War On Drugs — “Lost In The Dream”

Right from the opening track “Under The Pressure,” you’re immediately hooked into this groove that seemingly combines 80s synthesizer-pop, Bob Dylan freewheelin’ vocals and a sense of urgency akin to Bruce Springsteen. It’s catchy yet original, a moving target of trying to figure out exactly what you’re hearing, but the ride this album takes you on keeps you buying another ticket to jump back on for another spin.

Key Tracks: “Under The Pressure,” “Red Eyes,” “An Ocean In Between The Waves”

 

Nikki Lane — “All Or Nothin’”

If you put country legend Loretta Lynn on a motorcycle and sent her towards the horizon with a bottle of whiskey and an unknown bed to put her boots under, you’d get Nikki Lane. This Nashville femme fatale puts outlaw country right back where it’s supposed to be — in broken hearts, shattered realities and dive bars where you find your feet stuck to the beer glazed floors. 

Key Tracks: “Right Time,” “Sleep With A Stranger,” “Want My Heart Back”

 

 

Hot picks

1 The Tipping Point Brewing 4th anniversary party will begin at 1 p.m. Dec. 20 in Waynesville.

2 Christmas in the Park will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Rec Park in Cullowhee.

3 The Darren Nicholson Band (bluegrass/Americana) will perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville. 

4 The Webster Historical Society will present     its 4th annual “John Parris’ Christmas” at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Webster Methodist Church.

5 “The Ghosts of Christmas Past Tour” will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 18-19 at the Macon County Historical Museum in Franklin.

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