Last year we called it early and looked at some albums that were floating just below the mainstream. This year we’re highlighting the revival of a genre that critics keep saying has been dead for awhile. Across magazines, newspapers and blogs, writers have lamented the demise of guitar rock in all of its forms – punk, country, blues, garage, etc… They say that dudes with guitars are dead. They’ve been replaced by dudes with synthesizers, dudes with laptops, and dudes with samplers. This year, however, might be an exception. You don’t have to search too hard to discover that 2014 was actually an incredible year for straight-ahead, guitar-toting songwriters. Here are some of the best:
Though he worships at the altar of The Highwaymen, Sturgill is absolutely the genuine article. His Metamodern Sounds In Country Music is a classic country album filtered through a contemporary lens of drugs and existential dread. His songwriting point of view is fresh and his voice is timeless. Now if only the rest of Nashville could follow his lead.
Hiss Golden Messenger
After a series of great folk albums over the last few years, North Carolina’s M.C. Taylor dug deeper on Lateness of Dancers and struck gold. He and his band channel Dylan, The Band, The Dead and J.J. Cale like no one else has recently, keeping one foot firmly planted in swampy Southern R&B.
Steve Gunn’s Way Out Weather is the most experimental and inventive of the group. He is a rare guitar talent who can make the complex sound simple and stretch guitar lines to the point where riffs become meditations. His deep baritone sits low in the mix, anchoring a melody in all the glorious noise.
Just look at the title – Marigolden sounds like a pop album and it is. The best kind in fact – big hooks, sad as hell ballads and get-stuck-in-your-head choruses. The production is smart and subtle. Lyrically, singer and songwriter Chris Porterfield goes to unexpectedly real places for this sort of album, adding a thoughtful depth to the clean pop instrumentation.
Writing simple songs is actually one of the hardest things to do and Kevin Morby is a master. On his latest – Still Life – think Lou Reed, Jonathan Richmond, early Dylan. He writes songs built on just a few chords with brilliant lyrics that weave in and out of the basic song structure. It’s something you swear you’ve heard before, but haven’t. His debut, Harlem River, is just as fine.
The War On Drugs
Of all these albums, The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream is the most high-profile release. Already named album of the year by numerous UK music magazines, it will surely top lists stateside as well. Frontman / songwriter Adam Granduciel has hit a nerve with his masterpiece of American 70s rock revivalism. Imagine a hazy, reverb-drenched venn diagram with The Boss, Dylan and Don Henley – The War On Drugs hits right smack in the middle.
And Next Year… A Couple Dudes With Pianos
Father John Misty
Grantland’s music editor Steven Hyden tweeted in early November, “Prediction for 2015: The Father John Misty LP will inspire rapturous reviews and unreadable thinkpieces.” I Love You, Honeybear is out in February and it’s already my album to beat in ’15. He gets all Randy Newman on Letterman for the single “Bored In The USA.”
Tobias Jesso Jr.
“True Love” is just a demo from Jesso Jr.’s upcoming album. It’s a gorgeous Lennon / Loudon Wainwright III / Nilsson ballad that hopefully won’t get too produced for his debut release in ’15. Try to listen to it just once.