Song: Bright Morning Star
Artist: Cara Dillon, Ireland
Notes: Celtic Folk of the highest order, the beautifully modest art and craft of a singer from the town of Dungiven in Northern Ireland. Steeped in traditional music growing up, she won the All Ireland Singing Trophy at just 14 and joined the band Equation in the mid '90s, where she met her future husband, Sam Lakeman, replacing Kate Rusby. She and Lakeman left to form the duo Polar Star before she began a solo career in 2001, which has seen five fine album releases through to her latest, 'A Thousand Hearts'. More at caradillon.co.uk.
Artist: Linus Young, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Category 5, 2014
Notes: An eerily hypnotic groove enhanced by the harmonic co-lead vocals from Los Angeles-based newcomers Linus Young with the uber-cool, restrained standout cut from their debut CD. Seemingly obsessed with Hurricane Katrina, they named themselves after a friend who stuck it out down in New Orleans during the storm and had his house duly flooded. Iris Belson and Joseph Walker were snapped up by Island Records earlier this year. More at linusyoung.com.
Song: Down By The River
Artist: Milky Chance, Germany
Album: Sadnecessary, 2013
Notes: Still making waves with their breakthrough 2014 hit, 'Stolen Dance', which was played long ago on L&F, the laid-back laconic stylings of a German folk-pop duo comprising Philipp Dausch and Clemens Rehbein. Growing up in Kassel, where they were schoolfriends, they were members of the Flown Tones jazz quartet before outputting their own music a couple of years ago. More at milkychanceofficial.com.
Artist: Brynn Elliott, Atlanta, GA
Album: Notions Of Youth [EP], 2014
Notes: A superbly crafted nugget released over the summer from an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter who is concurrently just starting out at Harvard University. She was taught to sing from the age of three by her grandfather and picked up the guitar and piano as a teenager - but it wasn't until the tragic death of a close friend just a couple of years ago that she was inspired to pour her soul into music even though she was still attending high school. Also gaining plaudits for her live shows, Brynn described live performing thus: 'From studio to stage, something shifted'. Radio at large should pay attention. More on the talented songstress at brynnelliott.com.
Song: We Belong
Artist: RAC featuring Katie Herzig, Portland, OR
Album: Strangers, 2014
Notes: Having remixed cuts for a host of top acts over the years including the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Mr. Little Jeans, U2, Lana Del Rey, Kings of Leon and St. Lucia among many others, RAC, the Portuguese-born Andr' Allen Anjos, has finally put out his own album, a smart slice of '80s pop/dance. This enchanting highlight features the vocal class of Katie Herzig, while Tegan & Sara, St. Lucia and Penguin Prison are other worthwhile artists featured on the album. RAC, an acronym for Remix Artist Collective, did indeed begin life in 2007 as a remix collective. More at rac.fm.
Song: Sleeping Giant
Artist: Bootstraps, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Bootstraps, 2014
Notes: Sensational full-on rock and one of several worthwhile cuts on the eponymous freshman set, from a Los Angeles-based quartet fronted by Jordan Beckett with his best friend and writing partner Chris Jaymes on piano. The band came together last year as a result of its individuals being hired by Sam Jaeger to write songs for his movie 'Take Me Home'. Some of those songs made their way on to the album. Earlier this year they curiously they took on Whitney Houston's dance pop smash 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' which was cleverly featured on an episode of 'Grey's Anatomy'. The band recently finished up some dates with another hugely under-appreciated L&F preferred band, The Brevet. More at bootstrapsmusic.com.
Artist: Foxes, England
Album: Glorious, 2014
Notes: Magical melodrama on the underloved orchestral version of a song which has recently swirled around US dance clubs in a weaker dance mix. Louisa Rose Allen - aka Foxes - won her first Grammy as the featured vocalist on Zedd's 2013 hit 'Clarity', which was named Best Dance Recording at this year's awards. The Southampton, England native toured with Pharrell Williams in Europe this fall and will be featured in an upcoming episode of 'Doctor Who'. More at iamfoxes.com.
Song: Are You Living
Artist: General Ghost, Philadelphia, PA/Mechanicsburg, PA
Album: Not available, 2014
Notes: A crisp, hook-laden rhythm track from the Nashville duo of Kyle Rictor and Jon Howard, with their respective wives Kelsey Rictor and Natalie Taylor adding sweet vocals. They got together two years ago and have released two EPs in that time, recording at Howard's The Anchor Room studio. Howard also plays guitar for Paramore, while Rictor and his wife perform as Rictor. More at generalghost.com. Regrettably this cut still isn't yet available for commercial consumption, although word has it that it will emerge on their full-length debut next year. More at generalghost.com.
Song: Did We Live Too Fast?
Artist: Got A Girl, Los Angeles, CA
Notes: Retro-styled, too-cool-for-school blend of '60s French pop, vintage 007 backtracks and some psychedelic pop thrown in for good measure, all graced by the seductive vocal stylings of actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead - who paired with San Francisco producer-whiz Dan Nakamura aka 'Dan The Automator' in 2012 for a side career in music. They first met on the set of 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' in 2010 in which Mary starred as delivery girl Ramona Flowers. Plenty of actors try and fail to be decent musicians - Ms. Winstead may be different. More at got-a-girl.com.
Song: Bringing Back Paradise
Artist: Noonie Bao, Sweden
Album: Not available, 2014
Notes: The catchy vocal stylings of a 20-something Swedish songstress, who quit school at 16 and left Stockholm, initially moving to a mountain village in Switzerland before heading to Paris, France to work on her songs in a recording studio. On her return to Stockholm, she signed with EMI, and has since released one album and a sprinkle of one-off singles released to date. She's been based in Los Angeles since last year, apparently working with David Guetta and Kanye West.
Song: Christian Eyes
Artist: Max Jury, Des Moines, IA
Notes: A top-drawer ballad with a lovely Beatlesque 'White Album' era guitar solo in the bridge from a 21-year old tunesmith described as coming on like 'the missing link between Gram Parsons and George Harrison'. He began playing the piano at the age of six, wrote his first song at 13, before enrolling at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but dropped out - twice. More at facebook.com/maxwelljury.
Song: Take It Easy
Artist: Jetta, England
Album: Start A Riot [EP], 2014
Notes: Favorably compared to Florence + The Machine and already an opening act for the likes of Paloma Faith and Cee Lo, the Liverpool born Jetta John-Hartley is now taking center stage. Based in London since 2007, musically influenced by Annie Lennox, Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman, Jetta began writing songs on her laptop at the age of 16 when she also made her first performance in a small bar in Liverpool with her mom on backing vocals. More on her rising star at jettaofficial.com.
Artist: Ella Henderson, England
Album: Chapter One, 2014
Notes: A top-drawer production which was a smash across Europe this summer, and now available in a remix by Oliver Nelson, from the then 17-year old finalist on the ninth series of 'X Factor' in the UK, and immediately snapped up by Simon Cowell's Syco label - despite finishing sixth. Much of this song's success can be attributed to hitmaker, Ryan Tedder being its co-writer and co-producer. More at ellahenderson.co.uk.
Song: Blame It On Me
Artist: George Ezra, England
Album: Wanted On Voyage, 2014
Notes: The lead-off cut from his 2014 blues/folk-dipped freshman set, musically influenced most by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Hard to believe with his mature blue-eyed vocal style that this British newcomer was born in 1993. He arrived on the scene at last year's Glastonbury Festival and recently wrapped up a sellout UK tour, but will be heading over here next month. More at www.georgeezra.com.
Song: Say You Won't
Artist: Amy Stroup, Boston, MA
Album: Tunnel, 2014
Notes: The Nashville singer-songwriter's second full-length album is knee-deep in lost rubies, like this mellifluous beauty. She describes the album as representing 'a process of healing and a place to express the small self actualizing truths I've learned over the last couple of years'. In February, Amy and her Sugar & The Hi Lows cohort Trent Dabbs collaborated with the Nashville Ballet company for an original work set to the iconic music of Johnny Cash - the CD for which 'Wild Desire (Johnny Cash Live Sessions)' was released in July. More at amystroup.com.
Song: All Of The Stars
Artist: Ed Sheeran, England
Notes: Recorded specifically for the 2014 star-crossed weepie 'The Fault in Our Stars', arguably the most considered and well-curated film collection of 2014. It also includes other emotionally wrought offerings by the likes of other British artists like Birdy, Jake Bugg and Tom Odell - the soundtrack is brimming with relevant class - inexplicably this melodic pearl failed to make the Hot 100 and was only a Top 30 success anywhere in Ireland. Still only 23 - and first featured on L&F in early 2011 long before he came a household name, his current album was the biggest-selling record of the year in his native country. More at edsheeran.com.
Artist: Madi Diaz, Greenwich, CT
Album: Phantom, 2014
Notes: A neat roller from a consistently rewarding new album, which NPR station KCRW premiered when it came out this fall. Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, raised in Pennsylvania and home schooled by her Peruvian mother and Danish father, she began playing piano at the age of five. Another alumnus of the esteemed Berklee School of Music, she's opened for the likes of The Civil Wars and Landon Pigg and has released three highly recommended CDs since bowing in 2007. More at madidiaz.com.
Song: Cool Kids
Artist: Echosmith, Chino, CA
Album: Talking Dreams, 2013
Notes: Cool vibe faintly recalling Foster The People's 'Pumped Up Kicks' with a splash of Gotye thrown in. The Chino, California based indie-popsters comprise four young siblngs, lead female singer Sydney, Noah, Jamie and Graham Sierota - Jamie is the eldest, the rest are all still teenagers - and spent last summer on the Vans Warped Tour. More at echosmith.com.
Song: How About I Be Me
Artist: Sinead O'Connor, Ireland
Notes: A brand new version of a track she originally recorded in a completely different reggae style as a 2011 single, but now the lead-off track on her latest album. She claims that the cut is the only autobiograpical tune on the new collection, which is her tenth studio release. Yet another tour de force, multi-genre winner by the now 47-year old songstress who gets satirically all dolled up in a wig, full make-up and a tight black latex dress on the cover. Ever controversial, she has just announced that she has joined the Irish political party, Sinn Fein - considered to be the politicial wing of the IRA. More at sineadoconnor.com.
Song: First Light
Artist: Bob Carpenter, Canada
Album: Silent Passage, 2014
Notes: A Canadian country/folk tunesmith from the 1970s, his vocal style clearly an acquired taste - perhaps midway between a gruff Cat Stevens, Marianne Faithfull after two packs of smokes and even Levon Helm. The LP was recorded in 1974 but disagreements between the artist, label and management prevented its release until 1984 with 30,000 vinyl copies sitting idle in the Warner Bros. warehouse for ten years. An untapped talent, Carpenter coulda been a contender but just got dumped on by the record industry. He died in 1995 and reportedly became a Buddhist monk on his deathbed. The great Tom Rush and Emmylou Harris covered his songs, indeed Emmylou and fellow Canadian Anne Murray contributed backing vocals to the album and the studio band included members of Little Feat. Producer Brian Ahern said that 'Carpenter's affable simplicity belied his deep, poetic soul ... I threw Bob into the deep end of the pool knowing his great voice and aggressive, hypnotic acoustic guitar style would infect them with equally powerful performances'.
Artist: Grace Mitchell, Portland, OR
Album: Design [EP], 2014
Notes: Clearly circling Lorde and Lana Del Rey, Grace is a 16-year-old newcomer armed with authentic songwriting chops and boasting a remarkably mature vocal range: this is a spanking new exuberant pop pleaser from her maiden offering. Originally from Queensland, Australia, her only previous outing was a crafty cover version of Daryl Hall & John Oates' chestnut, 'Maneater', which emerged on 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' soundtrack last year. Being groomed by Universal Records as a major new talent, her EP is certainly a promising start. More at gracemitchell.com.
Artist: Mr. Probz, Netherlands
Album: The Treatment, 2013
Notes: A chilled blend of vintage soul vocals and contemporary ambient electro beats in the shape of German electronic producer Robin Schulz's edit of a 7+ minute original, finally hitting on these shores. Written, produced and performed by Dennis Princewell Stehr, who goes by the performing name Mr. Probz, the song was released in his native Netherlands last November and has steadily made its way around the European charts through this year. Probz was shot during a street incident with fellow rapper Flex in August 2010 but mercifully recovered to kickstart his recording career just six months later, scoring his first domestic hit soon after. More at facebook.com/MrProbz.
Artist: Caitlin Harnett, Australia
Album: The River Runs North, 2014
Notes: A young lady from Sydney, Australia, who blew the roof off the place at this year's NXNE Music Festival in Toronto, with a current gem, featuring delectable horns and strings swirling around, offering a splash of Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill, which is no bad thing. A pleasing Laurel Canyon feel glosses her entire new album, her first, which also features a duet with L&F alumnus Kathleen Edwards. It's an outstanding collection and one of the best singer-songwriter sets of 2014. Emma Dallas of PAN Magazine said of Caitlin's music: 'Her sound is earnest and wonderfully simply, like a straight answer in a sea of bullshit'. More at caitlinharnett.com.
Song: Without Words
Artist: Ray LaMontagne, Nashua, NH
Notes: A second extract from the 'Fault In Our Stars' film soundtrack on our year-end review, and maddeningly only available on this album - this plaintive offering is arguably far superior to anything on his own 2014 long-player, 'Supernova'. Interesting to note that while he was working at a shoe factory in Lewiston, Maine in his mid-20s the Grammy winner heard the Stephen Stills song 'Treetop Flyer' on his alarm radio and decided there and then to quit his job and pursue a career in music. Turned out rather well.
Artist: Ingrid Michaelson, Staten Island, NY
Album: Lights Out, 2014
Notes: Beautifully constructed, a heartbreaking crescendoing slice of music heaven from her predictably superb new album, her fifth long-player to date, which also features Mat Kearney on another cut. A little check on iTunes reveals that this song is currently the least popular downloaded track. After a short break for Christmas, she'll be back on the road next month. More at ingridmichaelson.com.
Song: Turtles All The Way Down
Artist: Sturgill Simpson, Jackson, KY
Notes: Despite his wizened, old school Waylon Jennings-recalling delivery, Sturgill is a relative newcomer, still in his mid-30s and based in Nashville where he lives with his wife and recently born first child. Formerly the founder of bluegrass combo, Sunday Valley, he went solo a couple of years ago, and has two fine albums already in his pocket. Rhythmically reminiscent of 'Me And Bobby McGee' for sure, the song recently featured on FX's 'The Bridge' series. He's back on the road next month with a series of dates through March 1st. More at sturgillsimpson.com.
Artist: Haerts, New York, NY
Album: Haerts, 2014
Notes: A sensational synth-pop rhythm track underwriting a modern rock corker from a New York-based combo with a multi-cultural transatlantic lineup; led by Nina Fabi and Ben Gebert, its five members variously hailing from the US, England and Germany. This is one of several gems from their debut album released last month. More at haertsmusic.com.
Artist: Coldplay, England
Album: Ghost Stories, 2014
Notes: The confessional scars and bruises from Chris Martin's recent uncoupling from his wife are in every groove of Coldplay's melancholic sixth album, not least right here on this plaintive gem. Many so-called critics have hammered the album, many of them citing self-indulgence and a too-maudlin vibe: well, all art is arguably self-indulgent and Coldplay are past masters of sensItive, rather sad, reflective songs. The band has a brand new single, 'Miracles', from the movie 'Unbroken' and has just announced their next album will be their last. More at coldplay.com.
Artist: Field Report, Milwaukee, WI
Album: Marigolden, 2014
Notes: Lovely chorus from a six-piece folk outfit led by Chris Porterfield, hence the band's anagrammatical name. He was originally in a group named DeYarmond Edison fronted by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver before putting Field Report together while recording their 2012 self-titled debut. They've personally been invited to tour by the likes of Aimee Mann, Counting Crows and Emmylou Harris. They hit the road for half a dozen dates in mid-January before heading to the UK to introduce their music to a new audience. More at fieldreportmusic.com.
Artist: Blake Mills, Santa Monica, CA
Album: Heigh Ho, 2014
Notes: A rather neat blues-folk shuffler from the California-based musician's just-released second CD. He occasionally stages ad-hoc collaborative music evenings at his local Mollusk Surf Shop in Venice Beach which have featured the likes of Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Jenny Lewis, Dave Rawlings and Jackson Browne and he's received the ultimate accolade from Eric Clapton who describes him as 'the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal' after his performance of 'Save The Last Dance For Me' at Slowhand's Crossroads Guitar Festival last year. More at blakemillsonline.com.
Song: Shark Fin Blues
Artist: Missy Higgins, Australia
Album: Oz, 2014
Notes: The standout cut from her lovely new long-player - this track written by Gareth Liddiard who is lead singer for Australian rock outfit, The Drones and was recently voted Australia's greatest song in a poll of fellow musicians undertaken by the country's leading rock radio station. Already Top 10 in her home country, the album is an often lush, orchestral affair on which she tackles covers of songs by other fine Aussie tunesmiths. In addition to being one of Australia's best singer-songwriters in her own right, she is also a strident animal rights and environment campaigner and a top vegan. More at missyhiggins.com.
Song: Ghost In The Machine
Artist: The Fire & The Sea, Los Angeles, CA/Miami, FL
Notes: The close-harmony class and soul-searching of L&F alumni Kyler England and Adrianne Gonzalez, recently uniting as a new duo. They initially got together in 2008 as part of the quartet The Rescues, becoming known for their song 'My Heart Is With You', which was featured in Pretty Little Liars and last year England had a successful collaboration with DJ Tiesto on the track 'Take Me'. Gonzalez has also joined up with Garrison Starr to form the duo The Silent War. More at thefireandthesea.com and thesilentwarmusic.com.
Song: Cedar Lane
Artist: First Aid Kit, Sweden
Album: Stay Gold, 2014
Notes: Yet one more beautiful swayer from the first-rate latest offering from the Swedish sister act of Johnna and Klara Soderberg, despite their utterly authentic American alt-country stylings. They became critics' darling a couple of years ago and have recently finished a successful US tour in October and November. More at thisisfirstaidkit.com.
Artist: Saint Johns, St. Augustine, FL
Album: Open Water [EP], 2014
Notes: Sweet, easy harmonies, a broken heart, a lovely string arrangement and deft execution, a lost gem from the debut release by the Americana duo of Jordan Meredith and Louis Johnson originally out of Florida, indeed naming themselves after the river which wends its way through their home state, but they've now migrated north to Nashville. This gorgeous number is one of five currently streaming on their website: thesaintjohns.com.
Artist: Cherry Ghost, England
Album: Herd Runners, 2014
Notes: Radiant but noirish melodic pop with stellar strings from an indie rock combo who took their name from the Wilco song 'Theologians'. Firmly built around the talents of a former Maths teacher, Simon Aldred, who's from the northern English town on Bolton. (Their first single was called 'Mathematics'.) One of the band's most popular cuts is 'People Help The People', which gave Birdy her first hit in Europe. Aldred also released a synth-pop solo album last year under the moniker Out Cold called 'Invasion Of Love', which is also worth a sniff. More at cherryghost.co.uk.