By Peter Chianca
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It’s never too early to start compiling year’s best lists, I always say. And when I recently started to collect my favorite albums from 2014, I couldn’t help but notice how many of them were by female artists.
Not that there’s anything unusual about seeing a slew of strong offerings by women -- but this year in particular they seem to be leaving their male counterparts in the dust. Make sure to check out these must-haves from women making their mark in rock, country, soul, blues, Americana, and in some cases all of those.
“Bad Self Portraits,” Lake Street Dive. This Boston band is co-ed, but it’s Rachael Price’s sassy lead vocals and Bridget Kearney’s jangly background harmonies that give this stellar effort its heart and soul. LISTEN TO: “Bad Self Portraits”
“The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” Courtney Barnett. Laconic, witty and hilariously self-aware, this Australian singer-songwriter brings an ‘80s-style alterna-charm to topics as diverse as canned tomatoes and asthma attacks. LISTEN TO: “Avant Gardener”
“Give the People What They Want,” Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. Talk about a triumphant return: Following her successful treatment for pancreatic cancer, Jones, 58, and her backing band are back with another disc of retro soul-funk that’s as irresistible as anything they’ve ever done. Not bad for a former armored car guard. LISTEN TO: “Get Up and Get Out”
“Jigsaw Heart,” Eden Brent: The Mississippi blues chanteuse’s softer side is especially strong on this disc, but the album has plenty of winking fun too -- “Let’s Go Ahead and Fall In Love” shows that Brent never met an innuendo she didn’t like (spackling? really?). LISTEN TO: “Opportunity”
“Platinum,” Miranda Lambert. If there’s a more infectious album this year, country or otherwise, I haven’t heard it -- Lambert shimmies and winks through 16 catchy and cantankerous tracks, channeling both Southern style and Dolly-esque attitude. It’s a honky-tonk tour de force. LISTEN TO: “Little Red Wagon”
“The River & The Thread,” Rosanne Cash. At once a seasoned pro and a true original, Cash continues her family’s musical tradition of channeling heart and spirit to pull us through and lift us above the toughest times. LISTEN TO: “World of Strange Design”
“Scaredy Cat,” Grace Askew. I’ve never watched “The Voice,” but if Askew is an indication of the talent coming out of it, I may start. You can hear shades of Lucinda Williams, Wanda Jackson and even a little bit of Tom Waits in her smoky, echoey drawl, and darned if it isn’t mesmerizing. LISTEN TO: “Anywhere But Here”
“Small Town Heroes,” Hurray for the Riff Raff. The brainchild of singer-songwriter (and banjo player!) Alynda Lee Segarra, Hurray for the Riff Raff features achingly smooth Americana with just the right amount of trilly twang. LISTEN TO: “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)”
“Somewhere Else,” Lydia Loveless. It’s impossible not to get caught up in Loveless’ tawdry country-rock confessionals, unless you’ve ever been drunk dialed by a crazy ex-girlfriend, in which case she might make you a little nervous. LISTEN TO: “Really Wanna See You”
“St. Vincent,” St. Vincent. Fresh off her fantastic 2012 collaboration with David Byrne, Annie Clark’s musically adventurous alter-ego returns with a wild, challenging -- and yet catchy! -- collection of superb art-rock meditations on modern life. Maybe the album of the year. LISTEN TO: “Birth in Reverse”
“Stockholm,” Chrissie Hynde. Hynde doesn’t stray too far from Pretenders territory on her first solo album, but that’s OK -- there’s still plenty she can teach would be up-and-comers about sharp-tongued, melodic guitar rock. LISTEN TO: “Like In The Movies”
“This Is Home,” Amy Black. Black combines country charm, bluesy grit and a folkie’s knack for creating real-life human beings out of the musical ether on her sophomore LP, chock full of heartfelt paeans to home, family and perseverance. LISTEN TO: “Stronger”
“This is M.E.,” Melissa Etheridge (out Sept. 30). After a couple of by-the-numbers releases, Etheridge recaptures her early fierceness on her latest effort, even experimenting with hip-hop rhythms and sharp backing vocals. Easily her best since 1995’s “Your Little Secret.” LISTEN TO: “Monster”
“Too True,” Dum Dum Girls. Eighties New Wave junkies may hear shades of The Motels here, as Dee Dee Penny’s surf soundscapes get even dreamier on her latest foray into lo-fi alt twang, if that’s such a thing. LISTEN TO: “Rimbaud Eyes”
“The Voyager,” Jenny Lewis. The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman continues to spin perfectly realized indie rock tales of life and love on her latest solo effort, this one in a warmer, more personal tone than 2008’s “Acid Tongue.” LISTEN TO: “Late Bloomer”
A version of this article was posted on Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog at northofboston.wickedlocal.com/section/blogs. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at @pchianca and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
15 great 2014 albums by female artists
By Peter Chianca