Song: 8 Good Reasons
Artist: Sinead O'Connor, Ireland
Notes: Part 2 of L&F's Best of 2014 show begins with this corker, just one of several sterling cuts from her most recent album - her tenth studio release - which sees the now 47-year old songstress donning a wig, full make-up and a tight black latex dress on the cover. Forthright as ever, in a recent interview with the Irish Sun, she said 'I wish I hadn't ever got married. Silly cow. Four times. What a twat. Now I can't ever get married once and properly. Anyway, I look stupid in dresses. And clearly, I'm a crap wife.' 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: This House Is A Hotel
Artist: The Wind & The Wave, Austin, TX
Album: From The Wreckage, 2014
Notes: In-tune creative duo and best friends, Patricia Lynn and Dwight Baker (apparently Baker is the Wind and Lynn the Wave) hail from Austin, Texas. They met in 2009, when music veteran Bake was persuaded to go and see a friend's band - the opening act featured Lynn. This is just one of a half-dozen superior cuts from their stunning freshman longplayer, which is knee-deep in rootsy, rustic golden tunes, highly recommended and one of the best Americana albums of this year. The New York Times also raves: 'An eclectic, radio friendly cycle that ranges from dreamy pop to foot-stomping Americana'. More at thewindandthewave.com.
Song: All I Want
Artist: Max Jury, Des Moines, IA
Notes: Another top-drawer, vintage-sounding ballad from his August-released EP. He's a 21-year old singer-songwriter from Des Moines, Iowa described as coming on like 'the missing link between Gram Parsons and George Harrison' - very much a mature old school '60s/'70s singer-songwriter sound to his work. 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: The City Below
Artist: Mackintosh Braun, Portland, OR
Album: The City Below EP, 2014
Notes: A deftly formed and executed track from the duo's upcoming long player 'Arcadia', which is finally due next month. They're a sadly under-appreciated electro-pop duo comprising Ian Mackintosh and Ben Braun, out of Portland, Oregon, releasing a stunning album four years ago titled 'Where We Are'. Their music has been featured on several TV shows, including 'Grey's Anatomy', which to musicians is what 'Law And Order' is to actors. More at mackintoshbraun.com.
Artist: Kyler England, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Golden [EP], 2014
Notes: A recent breathless gem from an L&F singer-songwriter veteran who is based in Los Angeles and who is also one quarter of the excellent folk-pop-rock combo the Rescues. She also added her great voice to Dutch DJ Tiesto''s 'Take Me' last year as well as opening for the likes of Annie Lennox, Sting and Avril Lavigne. More at kylerengland.com.
Artist: Woman's Hour, England
Album: Conversations, 2014
Notes: The intriguing closing cut on their fine, assured maiden album which emerged over the summer - showcasing the vulnerable tender vocals of frontwoman Fiona Burgess. The group is an experimental indie-electro-pop combo from England also featuring Fiona's brother William on guitar and Nick Graves on bass and Josh Hunnisett on keyboards. They're based in London but hail from the beautiful Lake District town of Kendal and have been together for about three years. More on them at womanshourband.co.uk.
Song: Under The Pressure
Artist: War on Drugs, Philadelphia, PA
Album: Lost In The Dream, 2014
Notes: Fronted by Adam Granduciel, who started out as a member of the delightfully named Kurt Vile and The Violators before forming The War On Drugs with the aforementioned Vile in 2005, the group released its solo debut, 'Wagonwheel Blues', in 2008. Vile left shortly thereafter to pursue a solo career and a second album, 'Slave Ambient', followed in 2011. Their current album has been named by The Guardian newspaper as one of 'The 10 best albums of 2014 (so far)'. Hopefully the newspaper feels the same way as L&F at year's end. More at thewarondrugs.net.
Song: I Will Be There
Artist: Odessa, Santa Rosa, CA
Album: Odessa [EP], 2014
Notes: An airy hypnotic groove from a Californian songstress in her mid-20s who has made Los Angeles her home. She has been touring with a wide variety of bands since 2008, but only now is her maiden EP emerging, a self-titled effort which came out in September. This track was released as a single back in January and received widespread exposure in a recent Subaru TV ad. She'll be hitting the road in February/March. More at facebook.com/thisisodessa.
Artist: Chloe Howl, England
Album: Rumour [EP], 2014
Notes: Just 19, Chl'e grew up in the lovely county of Berkshire near London, recorded her first home-made CD at the age of 10 - a collection of Christmas covers which she sold to help raise money for her primary school and was wisely snapped up by Columbia Records at 16. The first fruits of her major label contract emerged last year, now collected on the 'Rumour' EP. She opened for Ellie Goulding this summer in advance of her self-titled debut album the following month. More at chl'ehowl.com.
Song: Come Back Now
Artist: Cody Fry, Chicago, IL
Album: Keswick, 2014
Notes: Recorded on a microphone in the singer's living room, with no editing or overdubs, no artificial flavors, just one simple authentic take - and all the better for it. A former jingles writer now calling Nashville his home, he was in the backing band for another L&F alumnus, Ben Rector on his US tour last year. More at codyfry.com.
Song: Back Burner
Artist: Amy Stroup, Nashville, TN
Album: Tunnel, 2014
Notes: Her second full-length long-player - and selected as L&F's Album of Year for 2014 - it was produced by her Sugar & The Hi Lows partner Trent Dabbs and is knee-deep in lost treasure. The Nashville-based songstress describes the set as 'a process of healing and a place to express the small self actualizing truths I've learned over the last couple of years'. Talking about 'The Other Nashville', her website proclaims it's 'a community that's geographically close, but artistically far away from the country music business. It's a place where songwriters like Stroup are fearlessly demolishing the boundaries between genres, floating freely through the musical universe to create music that blends elements of folk, pop, country and rock into a unique style that encompasses them all, without fitting easily into any existing category'. Right on. More at amystroup.com.
Artist: Bear's Den, England
Album: Without/Within [EP], 2014
Notes: An affectionate ode from a London-based jangly indie-folk trio, comprising Andrew Davie, Joey Haynes and Kevin Jones, unsurprisingly signed by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons to his uber-hip Communion label a couple of years ago. They toured in 2012 with Ben Howard and the Staves - and there are a number worthwhile videos for your perusal at their web destination: bearsdenmusic.co.uk.
Song: Fade Out Lines
Artist: Avener, France
Notes: A sexy, cool new vibe, deep house revision of a 2011 recording by Phoebe Killdeer & The Short Straws. Already a recent and big smash in France and Germany, the Avener is the performing name of French producer/electronica whiz, Tristan Casara. He uploaded this cut to Soundcloud in late 2013 and word of mouth took it to the clubs and radio stations of northern Europe. More at theavener.com.
Song: Over You
Artist: Ingrid Michaelson featuring A Great Big World, Staten Island, NY/New York City, NY
Album: Lights Out, 2014
Notes: A new modern classic - sheer class, superior emotive genius on an insanely beautiful diamond of a song recorded with A Great Big World - the duo of Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, who broke through big-time with 2013's best-selling ballad, 'Say Something'. The chamber orchestral arrangement which graces the song half-way through takes this gem to a different level. More at ingridmichaelson.com and agreatbigworld.com.
Song: Seasons (Waiting On You)
Artist: Future Islands, Baltimore, MD
Album: Singles, 2014
Notes: Old school, nu-school synth pop with a modern rock twist from their fourth studio effort. Fronted by Samuel T. Herring, the new wavers got together in Greenville, North Carolina in 2006 before relocating to Baltimore and are now signed to the top-drawer pioneering British indie label, 4AD. The label was formed by music maestro Ivo Watts-Russell way back in 1979 and which has counted the likes of David Byrne, Camera Obscura, Iron & Wine, The Pixies and The Cocteau Twins on its amazing roster. More at future-islands.com.
Song: Uptight Downtown
Artist: La Roux, England
Album: Trouble In Paradise, 2014
Notes: Catchy new electro-pop with lovely choppy Nile Rodgers-inspired rhythms from Elly Jackson, who goes by the name La Roux, and wrote the song as an homage to her home town of Brixton in south London. She had a musical falling out with her original La Roux co-conspirator Ben Langmaid in 2011 but kept the name when she went solo. Her disparate musical influences range from Nick Drake and Carole King to Bowie and Prince. More at laroux.co.uk.
Song: God Only Knows
Artist: Bryan Adams, Canada
Album: Tracks Of My Years, 2014
Notes: Unexpectedly superb, and wisely not trying to compete with the unbeatable vocal harmonies of the original but making full use of the husky tones which almost get lost in his throat, a sensational new cover of the Brian Wilson classic, completely reimagined by the veteran Canadian rocker. Slowed down, just the naked melody, a piano and the plaintive beauty of Wilson's masterwork in full evidence. The standout number on Adams' otherwise rather average new covers album. He recently said of the recording: 'You can't help but be in awe of that song. You can't think about topping the original, so we kept our simple and stripped down.' More at bryanadams.com.
Artist: Chet Faker, Australia
Album: Built On Glass, 2014
Notes: Chet Faker - clearly a homage to the late jazz great - is in fact Nick Murphy, who signed to Downtown Records in the US a couple of years ago. Already a big deal in his home country of Australia where this album topped the chart, he is primarily an electronica musician, influenced by Bob Dylan, the aforementioned Chet Baker and the Motown catalog. There's a highly original roller-skating babes video clip of this number which is well worth a look on youtube. More at chetfaker.com.
Song: Take It Back
Artist: Toni Braxton & Babyface, Severn, MD/Indianapolis, IN
Notes: From an album simply brimming with rewarding old-school soulful outings - neither artist has ever compromised their desire to simply create well-crafted, highly melodic pop/soul - Babyface in particular incapable of writing or producing mediocre fare. Braxton, described the union with her 'musical husband': 'My voice is a thick chocolate milkshake, and Kenny's the straw that comes in and helps you drink it a lil bit'. Her autobiography 'Unbreak My Heart - A Memoir' was published earlier this year. More at tonibraxton.com and babyfacemusic.com.
Song: Grand Union
Artist: Arthur Beatrice, England
Album: Working Out, 2014
Notes: An intriguingly low-key song from a below-the-radar English group which tried hard to hide its identity when first emerging in 2010 - relying solely on word-of-mouth. Formed by frontman Orlando Leopard, keyboardist/singer Ella Girardot and siblings Hamish and Elliot providing the rhythm section, they released their debut album this spring - hotly touted by British press including the ever-reliable Guardian newspaper and music paper, the NME. They have a simple website at online-presence.info, but more can be found at their facebook page - facebook.com/arthurbeatrice.
Song: To The North
Artist: Matthew & The Atlas, England
Album: Other Rivers, 2014
Notes: Yet another intriguing signing to the always worthwhile Communion Records label co-founded by Mumford & Sons member, Ben Lovett in London's fashionable Notting Hill, the band is led by Matthew Hegarty. The Independent newspaper describes their music as 'absolutely spellbinding', while Baeblemusic describes the record as 'possessing a beautiful sense of desolation with faintly alarming string and synth arrangements, all of which are held together by Hegarty's shakily hesitant howls'. More on them at matthewandtheatlas.com.
Song: Real Love
Artist: Tom Odell, England
Album: Real Love [single], 2014
Notes: UK retailer John Lewis has created a tradition of taking a well-known song and using it for their annual Christmas TV commercial campaign. For 2014 it was Tom Odell's refined and stripped down cover of the 1979 John Lennon demo chestnut which was of course subsequently reworked by the remaining Beatles as a single in 1996 as part of their 'Anthology' series. Few may remember that Lennon's original version appeared in a 2007 TV commercial for J.C. Penney over here, so, mainly thanks to Yoko Ono, it's turned into a revenue stream for licensing to major department stores on both sides of the pond. Regina Spektor and, incongruously, Adam Sandler have both previously covered the song.
Artist: Birdy, England
Album: Fire Within, 2014
Notes: Born 18 years ago with the delightful name Jasmine van den Bogaerde (her great uncle was movie star Dirk Bogarde), she won the Open Mic UK contest in 2008 when she was 12 and followed it with her debut single, a stunning cover of Bon Iver's 'Skinny Love' and her self-titled debut album in 2011. She was nominated at this year's BRIT Awards in the Best Female Solo Artist category, losing out to Ellie Goulding, while picking up the Female Solo Artist International award at the German Echo Awards. This song, which leads off her sophomore album, was co-written and co-produced by the ubiquitous Ryan Tedder. More at officialbirdy.com.
Artist: Jeremy Messersmith, Charleston, SC
Album: Heart Murmurs, 2014
Notes: Tasty, lovely melodic sensibilities matched with neat lyrics on the standout cut from the Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter's fourth long-player. Politically active, he did some opening gigs at election rallies for both President Obama and Vice-Election Joe Biden. Named as Time magazine's One of 14 Artists to Watch in 2014. More at jeremymessersmith.com.
Song: Lost and Found
Artist: Us & Our Daughters, Nashville, TN
Notes: A real treat, recorded in an old house just outside of Nashville by the duo of husband and wife act, Phillip and Lia LaRue. Phillip started out in the music business when he was 16 as one half of Christian duo LaRue with his sister Natalie. After they split in 2003, he released a couple of EPs in 2009. The sound is raw and stripped down, harking back to their roots of early folk and alternative country albums. The couple calls this EP 'a celebration of the beautiful and chaotic journey of love'. More at usandourdaughters.com.
Song: Edge of the Dark
Artist: Armon Jay, Chattanooga, TN
Notes: A Chattanooga-born tunesmith who raised close to $14,000 on Kickstarter to record this debut album in two weeks with producer Joshua James near American Fork in Utah. Introduced to the music of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, even Kenny Loggins and Whitney Houston by his parents, he learned his trade as a member of Christian bands Nevertheless and Revive when he went by the name of AJ Cheek. Diagnosed with Adult ADD, he writes of his predicament, 'It's been quite a trip, but the most liberating thing is to be able to walk in my own skin, whatever that means ' the good, the bad or the ugly. And not follow what somebody else thinks I should be. I don't have to hide my sickness in the dark anymore. This is me. Nothing's changed. Even if everything's different.' More at armonjay.com.
Song: We Are Done
Artist: Madden Brothers, Waldorf, MD
Album: We Are Done [single], 2014
Notes: A nice retro vibe with some happy '60s inflections, a moorish guitar refrain and a fab chorus from the Madden siblings, Joel and Benji, the leading lights of alternative rockers Good Charlotte. They took a hiatus from the group in 2011, releasing a mixtape called 'The Madden Brothers - Before Volume 1', which featured new artists the brothers had faith in. After a long sabbatical and time spent in Australia, the most tattooed twins in showbiz worked on their first album, 'Greetings From California', which was released back in September. More at themaddenbrothers.com.
Artist: Natalie Taylor, Mechanicsburg, PA
Album: Not available
Notes: Astonishingly this drop-dead catchy, engaging EDM-flavored pop nugget is currently unreleased. Original from Alabama, but unsurprisingly now based in Nashville, her influences include Jon Howard, John Mayer and Sara Bareilles. L&F featured a super, acoustic track by General Ghost last year, which featured her as guest vocalist. More at natalietaylormusic.com, where she declares 'I do musical things, am an esthetician, and could do R&B riffs in harmony for days. Oh and Roll Tide :)'
Artist: Pharrell Williams, Virginia Beach, VA
Notes: A superior love song from the most successful singer-songwriter-producer of the past two years. He has been writing, producing and recording hit music either on his own or under his formative production unit, The Neptunes, for more than two decades and as one-half of the N.E.R.D. act, with Chad Hugo, racking up dozens of hits for more than 100 artists, but only releasing two albums himself in that time - one in 2006 and one last year. Featured as the main guest artist on the two biggest hits of 2013, Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' and Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky', he's a multi Grammy award winner, a co-founder of two clothing brands and owns several media companies. He's currently building a $35 million afterschool in his home town. No wonder he's happy. More at pharrellwilliams.com.
Song: It's That Simple
Artist: Act As If, Los Angeles, CA
Album: Steady, 2014
Notes: The gorgeous closing track from their recently released sophomore album. The band is a tight Los Angeles-based indie-rock quintet fronted by singer-songwriter, Peter Verdell and featuring Sara Lindsay on keyboards. Verdell worked in A&R for Drive-Thru Records during the mid 2000s, before setting out to create his own music. In May 2010, his debut 'There's A Light' was released and the song 'About Saying And Meaning Goodbye' was used by Apple for its OS X Lion demo video. More at actasifmusic.com.
Song: Carry You Home
Artist: Jamie Scott, England
Album: My Hurricane, 2014
Notes: This glorious ballad is the standout track on the precociously talented singer-songwriter-producer's sophomore solo set. It's an atypical love song, more about sterling friendship than the usual soppy topic of romance. He released a terrific album in 2007 as Jamie Scott and The Town, before teaming up with Tommy D to form the duo Graffiti6, which released a new album called 'The Bridge' last year. During his seven-year recording hiatus he has been writing hit records for the likes of One Direction, JLS, Enrique Iglesias, 5 Seconds Of Summer and Christina Perri. More at jamie-scott.com.
Song: The Old Magician
Artist: Prefab Sprout, England
Album: Crimson/Red, 2014
Notes: Lord have mercy and be kind, when our faculties unwind' - superior lyrics, extraordinary subject matter, a predictably strong melody and a sublime harmonica bridge. The refined art and craft of singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon and his Prefab Sprout chums - celebrating three decades of largely overlooked top notch fare. Following a four-year hiatus, they returned last year with a stunning new collection, which McAloon dedicated to his wife and daughters. No-one else weaves lyrics and instrumentation in quite the same fashion.
Song: True Love
Artist: Coldplay, England
Album: Ghost Stories, 2014
Notes: Just tell me you love me, If you don't - then lie to me - call it true love', howling like a sad lonesome wolf for his uncoupled spouse with some seemingly dissonant guitar wails by Jonny Buckland perfectly juxtaposed with angst against the overall mournful vocal melody by Chris Martin. A tour de force by the group and probably the finest moment on their sixth long-player (and amazingly neither a hit in the US nor the UK), which is their only album to date for which there hasn't been an accompanying tour. 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: Rebecca Roubion, Nashville, TN
Notes: A Mobile, Alabama native who studied public relations at Louisiana State University, Rebecca's been focusing on her music career since relocating to Nashville in 2012. Influenced by the music of Carole King and Eva Cassidy, she's a gifted pianist and singer-songwriter who released a couple of EPs in 2012/2013 funded by a 164% crowdsourcing effort. She says of her song craft: 'Every composition is a child, born of (my) oversized heart and raised by (my) hands and voice with nothing but the best of intentions.' She's just finished her 'Christmas Lights' tour around some southern states. More at rebeccaroubion.com, where you can also link to her superb new festive collection, 'Christmas Lights'.
Song: Thinking Big
Artist: Martin Gallop, Canada
Album: Most Beautiful Song, 2014
Notes: Lost & Found's Song of the Year, 2014: on the face of it merely an unassuming little folk ditty - but a close listen reveals unmatched quality - remarkable that after 100 years of popular music composition, a musician can still compose such a simple, lilting, beautifully modest tune married to such kind-hearted and romantic lyrics which have never before been thought up before. This A+ acoustic shuffler comes from a Canadian born singer-songriter, who at the age of 20 left his birthplace and travelled to Germany to pursue his craft. In 2000, he won the Canadian National Songwriting Contest and used his prize money to record his debut album 'How Much Is The World'. He's released four lovely albums to date, the most recent being last year's 'Most Beautiful Song'. He now lives full-time in Berlin. More at facebook.com/martingallopofficial.
Song: Your Song
Artist: Dave Edmunds, Wales
Album: Again [EP], 2014
Notes: A beguiling instrumental version of Elton John's classic from the veteran singer, guitarist and producer, who's been making records since 1968. Astonishingly the EP from which the track comes features his first new material this centur. Cool Jerry Reed-style guitar licks and a sumptuous string arrangement make this one of the better cover versions of this standard.